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The Art and Science of Well-Being at Work

February 2016 – McKinsley & Co Podcast Transcript

Featuring Manish Chopra

“Leaders of high-intensity, high-performing organizations are beginning to recognize the important effects of mindfulness, exercise, and sleep on the body—and the brain.

Living in a fast-paced, digitally focused, hyperconnected world often means sacrificing the ability to step back and take a breath. In this episode of the McKinsey Podcast, McKinsey Publishing’s Lucia Rahilly taps principal Manish Chopra, specialist Els van der Helm, and author and McKinsey alumna Caroline Webb for their experience and expertise on the mind–body connection and why executives are increasingly taking notice.

Podcast transcript:

Lucia Rahilly: Welcome to the McKinsey Podcast. I’m Lucia Rahilly, McKinsey’s publications director—and I have a confession to make: today I am really overtired. Nonetheless, I plan to have a pretty productive day through some combination of caffeine, maybe a little sugar, hopefully the odd adrenaline rush. So I’m doing what most of us do, which is powering through the fatigue. But is my lack of sleep having more of an effect on my performance than I realize?

We’re going to talk about sleep and other risks to executive well-being posed by today’s relentlessly fast and furious work culture. We’ll also discuss some techniques that high- performing business leaders use to manage those risks successfully. Joining me in New York today are Manish Chopra, a partner in McKinsey’s New York office and author of the book The Equanimous Mind, which chronicles the impact of meditation on his personal and professional life. Welcome, Manish.

Manish Chopra: Thank you. Glad to be here.

Lucia Rahilly: We also have Els van der Helm, a specialist in McKinsey’s Amsterdam office, who advises McKinsey clients and consultants on the importance of sleep in organizations. Welcome, Els.

Els van der Helm: Thank you.

Lucia Rahilly: And Caroline Webb, a former partner in McKinsey’s London office and an external senior adviser to McKinsey on leadership. Caroline is also the CEO of Sevenshift, an advisory firm that uses behavioral science to help clients improve their professional lives, and she is the author of the new book How to Have a Good Day. Welcome, Caroline.

Caroline Webb: Thank you.

Lucia Rahilly: I want to start by asking each of you to give a few words of context on what seems to be a burgeoning interest in wellness, and particularly in wellness in the workplace. People have been griping about the accelerating pace of working life and its effects on attention and well-being for 150 years, basically since industrialization, and probably before. So why now—why this intensifying focus now on how best to cope in the workplace? Els, let’s start with you and what you’ve learned from your research on sleep.

Els van der Helm: Even though people are used to being tired, I do think it’s changed in that with new technology there are fewer moments in the day where we take a break, have some self-reflection, and take it easy.

When I ask people in my workshops where their phone is at night, 80 percent say it’s in their bedroom. Over half of them check their email in bed. I think there is definitely something that has changed compared with, say 20 years ago. We’re also much more aware of what the effect is of a healthy lifestyle so that in general we know we should eat more healthily and spend more time exercising.

I think mindfulness and sleep are the next things to focus on. Companies are starting to realize that they have these highly educated employees who are very capable, but that that’s not enough. You need to make sure that they are engaged, happy, and healthy.

Lucia Rahilly: What about some of the research on brain science? Has that illuminated the effects of well-being on performance in a way that businesses can see? Caroline, do you want to take that one?

Caroline Webb: Oh, enormously so. I would say everything that Els has just said is absolutely right, that the shift in technology has led to our always-on lives. That’s obviously raised awareness of the impact of executive well-being.

But I think it’s also the fact that the evidence is just much sharper and more compelling. There are statistically robust studies that show that when you are sleep deprived it affects your cognitive functioning and your emotional resilience. There are studies, across the board, that show that, effectively, what you’re doing is depriving the part of your brain that is more sophisticated, what I call the Deliberate System—you’re making it very difficult for it to do its job fully. For data-driven, evidence-hungry, senior people who need to know that there’s a real reason for shifting behavior, the scientific evidence really helps.

Lucia Rahilly: Manish, your journey seems to have been more of a personal one. We were talking before this podcast started about the broadening of meditation in the culture. Do you have thoughts on that that you’d like to share?