Mindfulness is a term that’s entered the public consciousness over the past few years. A psychological technique, mindfulness refers to a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
It’s been used sell products that range from adult colouring-in books to meditation apps and put forward as a solution for everything from anxiety to weight loss.
But is there merit to adopting mindfulness in the workplace? If so, how should you go about doing it?
Beyond the fad
On one level, mindfulness seems to fly in the face of so much accepted business wisdom, which posits that you should always have one eye on the future. To some, it can also feel like the latest in a long line of touchy-feely fads that have promised, and failed, to revolutionise the workplace.
Beyond the colouring books and apps, however, it’s important to remember that mindfulness is an established psychological technique with a long history. There’s also strong evidence to suggest that it can be a valuable management tool with the power to lift an entire workplace.
In a meta-study by Case Western University, it was found that injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.
In fact, of the 4 000 scientific papers on various aspects of mindfulness looked at by the university researchers, only two reported any downside.
“Historically, companies have been reticent to offer mindfulness training because it was seen as something fluffy, esoteric and spiritual,” said Christopher Lyddy, an organizational behaviour doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management. “But that’s changing.”
Evidence of that can be found in the fact that high-profile organisations such as Google, Aetna, Mayo Clinic and the United States Marine Corps all use mindfulness training to improve workplace functioning.
There’s a reason it works for such a diverse array of organisations too. No matter what line of business you’re in, there are moments you’re going to have to be fully present and aware of everything you’re doing.
“When you are mindful, you can have a greater consciousness in the present,” Lyddy said. “That’s vital for any executive or manager, who, at any given moment, may be barraged with various problems that call for decisions under stress.”
Mindfulness isn’t just good for managers though. Evidence from the papers reviewed by the Case Western Reserve meta-analysis suggests that it also affects interpersonal behaviour and workgroup relationships.
One reason for that is mindfulness may improve relationships through greater empathy and compassion. That in turn suggests it has major potential for workplace processes that rely on collaboration and teamwork.
Knowing how effective mindfulness is, is one thing, but how should you go about building it into your work day?
On an individual level, it’s fairly simple and can start from the moment you wake up in the morning. As you lie in bed, concentrate on your breathing. Whenever a thought about all the things you have to do during the day pop up, let them go and return to your breathing.
At the office meanwhile, you can take 10 minutes in your car or at your desk to practise mindfulness exercises.
There are other things you can do too. Avoid looking at your email first thing in the morning, for instance, or spend two minutes practising mindfulness before a meeting to ensure that you stay focused and on-task.
Meetings are also a good place to practise group mindfulness. Ending a meeting five minutes early, for instance, can allow all the participants a mindful transition to whatever it is they have to do next.
Getting everyone involved
If you’d like to take things to the next level and include mindfulness in your wellness programme, then you have to be a little more careful.
Forbes suggests starting off by educating your staff about mindfulness and its benefits.
You can also organise yoga and breathing classes to ensure that everyone has a good grounding in mindfulness. From there you can try out some activities in meetings or at staff outings.
Just remember that you’re defeating the point of the exercise if you force everyone to participate.
Nothing to lose
It’s clear then that mindfulness is both effective and not overly difficult, or expensive to implement. So why not get started right now? Finish this article, close your eyes for a couple of minutes and just concentrate on your breathing…