Mindfulness at work: Catch-phrase or Game-changer?

“Mindfulness at work” certainly feels like a buzz word at the moment. So many people are talking about it, writing articles and blogs and promoting it in organisations. And yet, there are still many people out there who are not sure of the benefits. Is it just another leadership catch-phrase or flavour of the decade? Have you had mindfulness sessions offered in your workplace? Did you go? Do you consciously practice mindfulness at work?

 

Mindfulness is the purposeful awareness of the present moment, as it is – without judgement. As this statement reads, it would seem to be the easiest thing that anybody could set out to do. And yet, why is there so much time and effort dedicated to teaching and promoting mindfulness? Mindfulness is not just sitting meditation, and although it includes formal meditation, mindfulness is paying attention to the present moment – whatever you may be doing – whether it’s brushing your teeth or sitting at your desk.

Mindfulness has been around for thousands of years, mostly practiced in the East. It found its way into the Western culture from the late 1800’s and through the 1900’s, but it only really became part of the American research culture in the late 1970’s with the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and colleagues.  Mindfulness has been extensively studied, predominantly as a basis for the reduction of stress. Research has showed that it is effective in a number of medical conditions and further research has expanded to other areas, including the workplace.

 

Is your stress at work inevitable or created?

The work environment has always had a level of stress associated with it, and some jobs are particularly stressful by their very nature, for example being a firefighter, police officer or a hospital emergency professional, rank in the top 10 most stressful jobs. Other jobs are stressful because of tight deadlines or the responsibility of the decisions required.

In recent years, the work environment seems to have become even more stressed due to the increased demands of instant technology. Global business culture has changed in the way we work and interact with one another. Some leaders have realised that their management style and corporate culture has had to change to keep in touch with the evolving behaviours and expectations, from within the organisation as well as the marketplace. They have realised that old management styles are not conducive for bringing out the best productivity in their employees. Employee wellbeing – physical and emotional – is now considered a strategic element to the success of the business.

However, there are still some leaders and managers who are holding on to old ways of interacting with their staff, old management structures and styles. The culture in these organisations is very different – one foot in the old and one foot in the new global business world. This results in a lot of stress for those that create this environment as well as those who have to work in it!

 

Is ‘Mindfulness at work’ here to stay?

‘Mindfulness at work’ seems to be the latest catch-phrase in organisational development. Most leadership consultants promote mindfulness in the workplace with far-ranging benefits, some of which have been backed by research, such as:

  • Greater resilience and ability to cope under pressure
  • Higher levels of job satisfaction & employee engagement
  • Greater productivity
  • More effective decision making
  • Better time management
  • Enhanced creativity and leadership in the workplace
  • Improved abilities to address conflict in the workplace
  • Reduced workplace absenteeism and turnover
  • Improved teamwork and relationships
  • Clearer and more effective communication

 

But why should you as a leader or manager in an organisation promote mindfulness? The benefits of mindfulness are very subjective and studies showing the absolute benefit to the bottom line are near impossible. The return on investment is often intangible and not routinely measured. How do you measure some of the points I have mentioned above, such as ‘more effective decision making’? Why should you spend time and money promoting mindfulness in the workplace? Some of your employees may be asking for it, but many are not interested or don’t care. Is there any reason you should encourage mindfulness in the workplace?

 

Mindfulness is a very personal thing, it changes a person’s awareness of their life and how they interact with the world around them. The effects of long-term mindfulness practice are unique to each person – it’s their journey in life and the benefits are unique to that person. Yes, there are many studies qualifying and quantifying the benefits and impact of mindfulness on stress in a number of areas. Studies give you statistics – but I’m not a statistic and neither are you! The benefits of mindfulness are very real and very personal.

 

Mindfulness crept into my life - I started focusing on my breath while driving home each night as I found that it was the best way to disconnect from the craziness of work and arrive home ready to be present for my kids. From those humble beginnings mindfulness has grown into a way of life. It has helped me cope with hectic schedules at work and the roller coaster of life. Most importantly I have become the observer in my own life, making conscious decisions instead of choices from within the spiral of emotions.
 

Is the practice of mindfulness in the workplace good for the business?

In my opinion, anything that helps a person be more present will bring greater focus, greater productivity, greater compassion and less stress into every aspect of their life, and this naturally includes their presence at work.


In a Forbes Magazine article (2012), they listed a number of well-known companies that have implemented mindfulness programs for their employees:
  • Apple
  • Google
  • McKinsey & Company
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Astra Zeneca

This list is growing and as Arianna Huffington so aptly put it “2013 was the year when CEOs came out not as being gay – but as being meditators!” (Wisdom 2.0 Conference 2014). Leading CEOs have personally acknowledged that meditation has been an integral part of their lives and their success.

Even though there are an increasing number of companies promoting mindfulness, you really shouldn’t believe what you read – you should experience it for yourself and within your own organisation. In this way you can see exactly how mindfulness changes your working experience and those of your employees. With committed practice and over time, you will hopefully notice the changes within your organisation and towards customers, such as:

  • Productive meetings
  • Decreased interpersonal conflict
  • Increased effectiveness of teams
  • Collaboration between teams
  • Company culture as a whole becomes more compassionate and understanding

Promoting mindfulness in the workplace has quantifiable benefits, but the REAL benefits lie in how it makes YOU feel, how it helps YOU cope and how YOU interact with others. And when you change, others will change how they respond to you – Now multiply this effect throughout your organisation!

 

Mindfulness techniques

Developing mindfulness in everyday life takes effort. For many, the workplace is one of the most stressful places in their lives. Pressures are constant and the differences amongst people require a lot of energy to manage, even in non-conflict relationships. In the current business culture, most people work long hours, often without any breaks. Mindfulness practice offers the possibilities of mental and emotional rest, despite the events that surface in the average workday.

 

Most techniques that bring the attention into the present moment will help with reducing stress.

There are many techniques and it’s just a matter of finding the one that suits you the best. Over the years, I have tried a variety of meditation techniques. There are days where I favour a sitting mindfulness meditation and yet other days where I prefer a very active Dynamic Meditation developed by Osho. A friend of mine runs, another cycles and yet another walks on the beach. It doesn’t matter which path you take to your stillness – as long as you commit to keep coming back to the present moment in whatever you do.

 

10 ways to bring mindfulness into the workplace

  1. Commitment to practice mindfulness – The first step is to become more aware of being aware. I found that it took real commitment to remember to be mindful, but as with all habits, it's your choice to stick with it or give up.
  2. Start the day with conscious awareness – Instead of jumping right out of bed into your routine, take a few minutes to notice how you feel and consciously set your intentions for the day.
  3. Start slowly – “Today I will become more aware of _________ and practice by placing my attention on that.”
  4. Slowing yourself down – Even if you have to get many things done in a short time frame – you can control the racing to-do list in your mind.
  5. Listening to others – This requires you to shift your energy to the other person and take the focus off you and your mental to-do list, even for a few minutes.
  6. Become the observer – When you face conflict at work, take an attitude of curiosity and discovery. Instead of arguing your point, ask questions. You may find new ways of handling difficult situations.
  7. Body language – Notice the way you use your body, it has a powerful effect on closing your attention down – or opening it.
  8. Watch your language – The words you use affect your physiology. When you tell a colleague that you are “so busy” in terms of work – you are signalling your brain that it is having an unpleasant experience.
  9. Know your intention for your actions – Take a few minutes to identify what you would like your outcome to be in certain interactions – an important call, email or meeting.
  10. Self-reflection – Find some time, at the end of your workday or in the evening for self-reflection. Journalling is a good way to reflect on the day, without judging.

 

We depend on our mind to be creative, perform and stay focused, but we don't look after it, instead we allow stress to take over. We can recharge the mind, and all it takes is bringing the attention to the present moment.

 

Do you practice mindfulness and/or meditation? Please share your story, I would love to hear of the changes you have noticed in your life over time.  Feel free to contact me if you are interested in finding out more about mindfulness meditation or promoting it in your workplace – paula@awaremind.com.au

 

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