21% reduction in stress. 12% increase in focus. 8% improvement in communication. All in just 8 hours of training. Is this too good to be true?
Not for three tech companies that recently trained their employees using the latest neuroscience and behavior change research.
Over an eight-week period, participants met each week for one hour, in person, in groups of 15-20. They learned basic mindfulness exercises targeted at improving emotional intelligence. Participants showed improvements in three key areas: (1) stress management, (2) focus, and (3) communication.
Effectively managing stress first requires identifying the moment that we are stressed. Most of the time, we realize that we are stressed when it is way too late. We’ve already let stress affect our decision making, communication, and health. To reduce stress, we need to improve our ability to catch it at onset. To do so, participants learned what stress feels like in their own body and strategies to reduce it.
The graph below shows that these strategies work. The number of people that could almost always manage stress effectively increased 3x. In addition, everyone that started out in the lowest stress management category improved at least to managing stress effectively some of the time.
Less stressed employees typically make better decisions, communicate more effectively, and are less likely to burnout. For employers, reducing stress has far-reaching benefits.
Our brains evolved for our minds to wander, and technology has made this problem worse. To focus for longer periods of time, we need to retrain our brain in two key skills, attention and awareness. The stronger our attention, the more we can focus our brain on what we want. The stronger our awareness, the more quickly we can realize when we are distracted and return our attention back to what we want. Improving both are fundamental to staying focused for longer periods of time, and participants built these skills through a daily one minute exercise called focused attention training.
The graph below shows two things: (1) most people have a lot of trouble focusing, and (2) improvement is possible regardless of what your starting point is. Before the course, only 11% of participants could focus almost all the time or more. This group tripled in size after the eight weeks.
Increasing focus has obvious benefits to work productivity and listening skills. In addition, research has shown that people are more likely to be happy when their mind is not wandering.
Communicating with colleagues has become a required part of getting anything done these days. Good communication can motivate teams, boost creativity, and cut out unneeded work. Bad communication has caused people to leave their jobs.
How we communicate with others is linked to our underlying emotions. We will likely have a different response to the same situation depending on if we are overjoyed or frustrated, and neither response may be effective. Participants learned how to identify their underlying emotions and use the data to better determine how to communicate. Individuals cited their ability to decrease reactionary behavior and more consciously choose a response.
In just 8 hours of training, participants increased their ability to manage stress, focus, and communicate. What was the magic sauce in the eight-week course that drove so much change? Check out the next post, coming soon, to learn more about how to design a training program to maximize behavior change.
Want to bring similar benefits to your company? Contact the Dynamic Leadership Center to start a conversation (firstname.lastname@example.org).
The fine print:
Participants completed self-assessment surveys before and after the course that measured work-related skills across many dimensions. Three skills showed a statistically significant improvement with at least 95% confidence using a paired t-test— stress management, focus, and communication with coworkers.