Professional Mindfulness: Increased Productivity; Decreased Stress

Practicing mindfulness can help tune out the added work environment distractions and stressors which COVID-19 has created. Even so, it might not seem intuitive for a successful midsize company to advance its continuous quality improvement program by training its employees in what we call professional mindfulness.

During my years as president & CEO, Northeast Delta Dental has adopted policies resulting in engaged and empowered employees. We offer training beginning with multi-faceted new employee onboarding and provide many training opportunities preparing employees for internal advancement. Despite outstanding employee survey results and winning awards for our HR practices, a few years ago we recognized that our employees were feeling the stress that comes with complex business issues in a distraction-rich environment. After researching possible stress reduction remedies, we decided to offer monthly training in the facets of mindfulness that could be applied in a business setting.

Mindfulness is often equated with meditation, possibly because the word has many definitions. At Northeast Delta Dental, we define mindfulness as “intentionally directing awareness to the present moment, in a focused and sustained manner, with nonjudgment”. The word “nonjudgment” is important because we’re trained in nonjudgmental communication, and “sustained” reflects our training in time management. We apply three elements of mindfulness: effective communication, time management, and meditation.

Mindfulness is important for communication because we are a service organization and many of us communicate directly with stakeholders, including our customers. Effective communication includes listening respectfully and trying to understand the speaker’s viewpoint before talking. Mindfulness has helped us identify time management tools that help employees work more efficiently, be more productive, and experience less stress. We also explore ways to make our meetings more mindful, apply mindfulness to our email and texting habits, and encourage unitasking rather than multitasking. Meditation is at the heart of mindfulness, and we encourage our employees to meditate regularly and provide quiet space in which they can relax, clear their minds, and let go of distractions.

Employees are encouraged to participate in training and apply mindfulness principles. About 30% of our employees have participated in mindfulness training offered since 2017. Feedback from confidential interviews conducted by an independent research consultant shows that those regularly practicing professional mindfulness receive positive benefits that include increased focus and productivity and decreased stress and anxiety.

If you are interested in exploring this topic further and are a member of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), you can read my May 2020 article entitled “Living for the Moment” in their publication, Quality Progress (QP), or you can click here. Another source on the topic is Mindfulness: A Better Me; A Better You; A Better World, a book I coauthored with Annabel Beerel, PhD, the organizational expert who trains our employees in professional mindfulness. If you have any questions about professional mindfulness or practice it in your business and want to share some of your experiences, I’d be happy to hear from you.

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Pandemics of the past. Clues to the future?

The current Coronavirus pandemic is one of a series of widespread health disasters our world has experienced, so I recently began reading two historical novels about plagues: A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel DeFoe, and The Plague, by Albert Camus.

Defoe was only five when, in 1665, the bubonic plague swept London, killing 100,000 people. The narrator of his story, H.F., offers his observations while he wanders the dirty streets of London. At the time of writing, the origins of “The Great Plague” were unknown, resulting in the exploration of some of the major themes of the period: religion, superstition, and the nature of disease and death. We now know it was usually transmitted through the bite of infected rat fleas. Like all historic novelists, DeFoe blends facts with what he imagines, but it’s still thought to be the best account of this plague.

I could relate to H.F. as a businessperson. His profession was saddlery, working with merchants who traded in the English colonies in America. When his older brother urged him to flee to the country, first his responsibilities kept him in London. Although single, he was responsible for a family of servants, a house, shop, and warehouse. As the number of deaths mounted, he made unsuccessful attempts to leave the city, and finally decided to stay, believing that providence was hindering those efforts. At the end of his account, H.F. observes that the people who survive are starting to be less thankful than they ought to be and are already beginning to practice their evil ways again.

If you’re interested in reading this book online, it’s available as an eBook (for free) through Project Gutenberg at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/376/376-h/376-h.htm.

The Plague, by philosopher and journalist, Albert Camus, is a novel set in Oran, a coastal town in North Africa, about the outbreak of the bubonic plague in North Africa in the 1940s. The setting is a rather otherwise ordinary town, a large port on the Algerian coast. With illness and death afflicting the good and the bad, and society and its institutions breaking down, Camus’ Absurdism philosophy shows the conflict between the human tendency to seek value and meaning in life and the human inability to find it in a chaotic, irrational world. In part, it’s an historical allegory of the German occupation of France during World War II. The narrator is a reporter/historian, bearing witness to the plague-ridden people to memorialize them. One of the websites where you can find the full text of this book is https://archive.org/details/plague02camu/page/n11/mode/2up.

These are both thought-provoking books as we consider how the countries afflicted by the coronavirus epidemic have responded, what lifestyle changes we have made to cope with it, and what our new “normal” might look like when it is no longer a threat. What changes do you think will have long-lasting impact on the choices we make moving forward? Please let me know what you think.

Pandemics of the Past

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Communicating Clearly, Consistently, and Accurately

We believe that effective communication is essential for our continued success as a great place to work and a stellar place to do business for all customers, service providers, and employees. Communication is one of Northeast Delta Dental’s four values. My colleagues and I believe in clear, consistent, and accurate communications. We like to be as transparent as possible in the way we do business, and everyone seems to appreciate that.

It’s been interesting to see how businesses communicate during this period of COVID-19 interruption and social distancing; some communicated messages broadly and immediately, and some rolled out their messages well into the business shutdown. One of the challenges that businesses and nonprofits currently wrestle with is the need to communicate messages that have to be updated often, knowing that the information we pass along today, will be outdated tomorrow.

In my role as President & CEO of Northeast Delta Dental and leadership roles on boards and advisory councils, I value face-to-face communication. But now I use phone calls, emails, and online conferencing to get things done. It’s not what I prefer, but these are the limitations we must work within. I continue to encourage my team to be resilient and resourceful, and at times like this, that really pays off.

We’ve shared several general messages about the fact that most of our employees are working remotely, people with essential positions are working at our headquarters at a distance from each other, while maintaining the mindset to do business as usual. We’ve shared messages with each of our stakeholders to reassure them, and when appropriate, describe the relief that we are providing to them, or are considering. On our website (nedelta.com), you will find my videos to stakeholders, which I created and posted early during this time of crisis, and new videos were posted today.

Now, perhaps more than ever, we need to provide information by using the most reliable sources available and communicate messages of hope and reassurance.

What are your communication challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how have you met them?

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A Fresh Perspective

We’re living through times of high stress and anxiety, and it’s natural to be worried about something you have no control over. We all process troubling information, and react to it differently.  It’s important that we guard our emotional health for our own wellbeing, and to help our friends and family members.

Here are some ways to deal with stress and anxiety during periods of uncertainly. I use these methods to make sure I am taking care of myself, my family, colleagues, and the business.

  • Take care of my body. I am a runner, and I find that exercising regularly helps to relieve stress. I also try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals and get enough sleep. Oral health has many links to overall health and wellness, so I brush and floss my teeth every day.
  • Balance my news intake. As the CEO of a mid-size company, it’s vital that I stay informed. I watch, listen to, or read the news for updates. I get my news from reliable sources, because there is a lot of misinformation circulating, and I find it helpful to take a short break from the news.
  • Take a break from work. Many of us are working at home and homeschooling our children. Your added responsibilities may be different than mine, and it could be harder than ever to take a break. However, taking time to participate in enjoyable activities unrelated to work (like running, for me) helps me return to responsibilities with a fresh perspective.
  • Connect with others. It is business as usual at Northeast Delta Dental, with more than 90% of our employees working from home, and those working in the office distancing themselves from each other to stay safe and healthy. I miss the on-campus interactions with many of my colleagues. Although it takes a little more effort for me to reach out with a phone call, email, or a face-to-face online conversation, it’s worth it. I am investing in keeping my support system strong, and I am reminding others that I am part of their support system.

If you have found other ways to preserve and protect your emotional health during these challenging days, please tell me what they are. We can learn from each other.

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A message from Tom regarding COVID-19

This is a time of uncertainty. Like all businesses in Northern New England, Northeast Delta Dental is closely monitoring developments around the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Our priorities are the health, safety, and overall well-being of our employees, our stakeholders, and the people of our communities.

To protect the health of our employees, while still providing the high level of service that our customers and dentists expect, we reduced the risk of infection and transmission of the virus by enabling most of our employees to work from home, increasing the space between employees who must be at our offices, and reducing or cancelling in-person meetings.

Our disaster recovery plan included actions to take in the event of a pandemic, and our response team implemented measures to minimize service disruptions. It’s pretty much business as usual for us as we continue to process and pay claims, enroll subscribers, and provide the personal service our stakeholders deserve. But we certainly miss those social interactions we enjoyed each day at work!

With so many messages on this health crisis, some more reliable than others, we regularly monitor these trustworthy information sources:

Many businesses are adapting to new ways to deliver goods and services that protect their customers while continuing to serve them. Let’s support those efforts whenever possible to help and encourage each other, so that all of us are better able to recover when our present challenges are behind us.

And let’s resist those emotions that cause us to hoard vital antiseptic cleaning products to the point where first responders are having difficulty purchasing them and are asking for donations. This would be a good time to use some good old Yankee common sense.

When unexpected difficulties present themselves, it’s important to remember what we value most and continue to treat each other with respect, compassion, and generosity.  We’ll get through this together.

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Boards Consider the Complexities of Impact Investing

Senior managers and board members of businesses and nonprofits wrestle with the issues inherent in balancing profitability and social responsibility in their investments, so I read “The Power of Money With a Purpose” in  The November/December 2019 issue of NACD Directorship, a publication of the National Association of Corporate Directors. Authors Erin Essenmacher and Judy Warner say that impact investing is rooted in the desire for organizations and their stakeholders to live in a healthy environment that is sustainable, yet they also expect to receive a return on their investments.

In saying that it’s important to understand what investors want, they trace some of the origins of impact investing. While it once may have been rooted in faith-based practices, it is more often today associated with an understanding that businesses share a responsibility for the world’s condition. They give examples of how some businesses and nonprofits have influenced the rise of impact investing.

The NACD Public Company Governance Survey (2019-2020) revealed this about the attention that boards gave to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in the last year: “52% Improved understanding of the company’s current ESG-related performance, 50% Reviewed ESG-related risks and opportunities, 49% Discussed the link between ESG and the company’s strategy, 49% Worked to improve the company’s reporting about environmental and social efforts to investors or stakeholders, and 37% asked management to develop and report better performance metrics for ESG to the board.”

Board members of business and nonprofits must discuss impact investing and ESG practices regularly, and make decisions in light of these considerations, because stakeholders are concerned about the socially responsible practices of the organizations they do business with and how they invest their money. If you have some thoughts to share on this topic, please post them.

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National Children’s Dental Health Month

February is National Children’s Dental Health Month and is brought to you by the American Dental Association (ADA). The ADA website explains that in 1941, this program began as a one day event, changing to a week-long event in 1955, and month-long national health observance in 1981.  Today this brings together thousands of dedicated professionals, healthcare providers, and educators to promote the benefits of good oral health to children, their caregivers, teachers and many others.

In past years, Northeast Delta Dental partnered with the Manchester Boys & Girls Club regarding a new program incorporating the expertise of Dr. Richard Bolduc, a well-known area dentist, to provide dental care on site. Northeast Delta Dental had the great honor of funding the first tele dentistry program in New Hampshire providing visits for youth to improve dental health, and it doesn’t stop there.

Through the Northeast Delta Dental Foundation’s support of the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, we are excited to share that throughout February, the Children’s Museum will host a series of age-appropriate activities related to oral health, introduce expert speakers about dental hygiene and nutrition, and offer product giveaways and raffles. You can find more information about the Children’s Museum of New Hampshire, here.

We also donate toothbrushes and Grin! for Kids! activity books to schools and dental centers who schedule oral health educational programs.

Download our Grin for Kids! activity book here, to help your child or family member learn more about good oral health.  The pages are filled with fun interactive activities and coloring pages.

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