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Peace of mind

The idea that practicing “mindfulness” can lead to more focused and collaborative workers is just beginning to catch on at credit unions.

Search “mindfulness” on the Internet and you get a flood of definitions, almost all of them about how an individual can find peace and calm in a harried world. But a University of British Columbia research group has stepped back and examined how this latest healing art could enhance the well-being of an entire team of people if its members practiced mindfulness.

Mindfulness, as defined by the University of California at Berkley’s Greater Good Science Centre, means “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. It also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them or believing there is a right or wrong way to think or feel in a given moment.”

Lingtao Yu, an assistant professor at UBC’s Sauder School of Business, says he was intrigued there was so little research on “team mindfulness.” That fact — and some fascinating anecdotal evidence from the big-money world of professional basketball — led him to pursue the study. Yu explained that after National Basketball Association coach Phil Jackson introduced team mindfulness training to the Chicago Bulls in 1989, and later to the Los Angeles Lakers, the results were impressive: both teams went on to win multiple NBA championships.

In his UBC project, Yu and his fellow researchers conducted three field studies: two in the United States involving 394 graduate business students and a third involving 292 health workers in China, where yoga and meditation were practiced in the work place. The results, published last year in the Academy of Management Journal, “found that when teams are more mindful, [it] reduces interpersonal conflicts and helps teams better focus on the task at hand.”

A casual survey by Enterprise of credit unions in Western Canada suggests it may be a while before such high-powered techniques take hold here. All the institutions are acquainted with the concept, essentially as a means of reducing employee stress. But only two were beginning to explore the idea of using mindfulness to boost team performance. And their efforts were emerging mainly through programs created by employees volunteering to lead their peers on their free time.

At smaller credit unions such as Synergy Credit Union (27,000 members, $1.4 billion assets) in Saskatchewan, human resources manager Erin Close says mindfulness is part of the Global Challenge, (formerly Global Corporate Challenge), a strategic management system that sets goals for those in corporate life, by focusing on everything from individual nutrition and mental balance to sleep patterns. “We have talked about creating quiet spaces or spaces for employees to go with mats for breaks,” says Close.

“However, we haven’t established anything and we definitely haven’t started the dialogue about teams doing it.”

Coastal Community Credit Union on Vancouver Island, (80,000 members, $3 billion in assets) is just now designing mindfulness into its leadership training. Deborah Edwards, associate vice-president of human resources, says Coastal Community has mainly focused on mindfulness to counter the effects of stress on its 634 employees. “There is a general awareness that is beginning to emerge across the industry about the importance of the human dynamics,” Edwards says.

At Western Canada’s largest credit unions, mindfulness is being adopted into the work environments, albeit at a cautious pace. At Vancouver City Savings Credit Union (525,000 members, $26.4 billion in assets) marketing employee Kuille Yee has volunteered her time since 2016 to teach mindfulness to handfuls of employees on their lunch hour at the credit union. “I’m hoping that it will eventually be offered during their work hours,” Yee says.

Lyne Moussa, manager wellness, safety and disability at Surrey, BC-based Coast Capital Savings Credit Union (571,000 members, $24 billion in assets), says mindfulness is part of the proprietary Mindwell-U program offered to managers and regular employees. “We use it to get into strategies about how to overcome stress,” says Moussa. Many stressors are either worries and anxieties about the future or ruminations about the past, she adds, so mindfulness can be used to bring oneself back into the present moment ◊