Mindfulness Can Save High Potential Employees From Burnout

High potential employees (HiPos) are the highly sought after, cream of the crop, high performing, next generation leaders. Senior management proactively seeks these stars and then sends them through numerous assessments, coaching, special training, and other rigorous developmental opportunities with the intention of producing a bigger, better, faster, stronger next generation of leadership for their company. Despite confidence and extra investment in HiPos, these shining stars often fail to live up to their fabled promise, or worse, burn out. So how can companies increase the likelihood of retaining their stars and successfully develop them without burning them out?


Some researchers are pointing to something called mindfulness as a possible solution. The author of this article (Lee, 2012) describes mindfulness as “being fully present and aware of what is going on right now.” The author ascribes three primary components of mindfulness: 1) present focus – thinking about the here and now, not the past or future, 2) awareness – actively monitoring one’s own thoughts and emotions and, 3) non-judgment – keeping an open mind, allowing one to see things for how they are. The author suggests that developing one’s mindfulness leads to improved personal well-being (also related to increased commitment and reduced turnover intentions) and social functioning. Additionally, increased mindfulness may serve to prevent irrational decision making, lessen the need to defend one’s ego, and lead to greater empathy, stress relief, and improved mood.


What does mindfulness training look like? Mindfulness is a more widely used concept in the therapeutic setting, and only recently is it making its way into the workplace. While the author says there are no current standards or best practices yet, some companies have already developed mindfulness training programs. Quality programs will measure an aforementioned outcome (e.g., improving employee well-being). They will also involve some form of coaching and consistent advice towards developing mindfulness, and apply mindfulness principles to work-related challenges. Value may also be added by working to specifically identify one’s biases, values, and priorities. The author emphasizes the importance of patience, as mindfulness does not happen overnight.


The author says that using mindfulness training as a HiPo development tool produces several work-related benefits. Because it improves one’s capacity to take in and consider information about the current moment, mindfulness training may hasten learning during challenging and stressful situations. Additionally, mindfulness may help to abate risk of derailment. These are meaningful outcomes for retaining top quality talent and developing a strong organizational succession plan.


R.A. Lee (2012). Accelerating the development and mitigating derailment of high potentials through mindfulness training. The Industrial Organizational Psychologist, 49(3), 23-34.