Organisations are investing huge sums in mindfulness training. Here I explore some of the benefits that mindfulness might bring to a workplace. It must be said though that mindfulness is not a silver bullet. Whilst it may have a place in wider programmes to protect and support mental health, it should not be rolled out in isolation, pushed onto employees or used in lieu of improving working conditions and policies.
I believe that being mindful and the associated effects of a regular meditation practice can benefit all aspects of our lives, hence the name worklifemindfulness.
Across this site mindfulness is defined as paying attention to the present moment experience, internally and externally, without judgement.
An ever-increasing body of research has found that such mindful attention, once trained, can positively effect our cognitive, emotional, behavioral and psychological functioning (Hyland et al., 2015). Whilst at work such changes can bring a number of advantages. Below are seven of them.
7 benefits mindfulness can bring to your work day
1. Manage stress responsibly
We all experience pressure to some degree everyday. Mindful individuals tend to have greater self-awareness so can observe their internal responses (thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations) and notice when they feel overwhelmed or stressed.
They can recognise the symptoms of stress within themselves and act to remove/reduce the stressor or find ways to mitigate the reaction. Trained to take a witnessing stance they can also choose to refrain from attaching meaning to a situation which in turn leads to a more neutral or positive reaction.
2. Reduce emotional exhaustion
There are usually unspoken rules about expected behavior in a workplace including displays of emotion. Controlling and/or suppressing our reactions to the demands and challenges placed upon us, sometimes termed surface acting, is emotionally exhausting and depletes both cognitive and emotional resources.
Hulsheger et al. (2012) found that by taking a mindful, observational stance that notices the emotion arising and attends to it does not cause emotional exhaustion. Separating the individual from the emotion also decreases automatic internal commentary.
3. Increase efficiency and productivity
Most workplaces these days expect us to do more with less. Being able to work without distraction and/or interruption is a luxury few have – especially in the open plan offices we may be asked to work in. Learning how to be mindful teaches us to both focus and recognise mind wandering.
Such skills have been shown to increase sustained attention and notice when we have been distracted, enhancing task endurance. Additionally, changes to the actual structure of the brain associated with regular meditation practice have been found to improve working memory and thus performance (Chambers et al, 2008).
4. Enhance listening
No matter the size, communication is the backbone of all business. Good listening is more than just hearing. It means not only understanding what is being said but also giving the speaker your attention so that they feel acknowledged, valued and enabled to speak.
Mindful individuals can give others their full attention without becoming distracted by self-referenced thoughts, feelings or sensations. They can be open-minded and fully present with a speaker.
5. Cope with change
Nothing remains the same and this is just as true in our work lives as in our personal ones. But dealing with change can be difficult if it is unexpected, uncomfortable or unwanted.
Mindful individuals, whilst perhaps being surprised by an unexpected change, are less reactive and more objective. Choosing to defer judgement about something until more facts have been presented. Being self-aware, they are likely to recognise their habitual negative-thinking tracks but not identify with them.
6. Improve collaboration
In most workplaces, there is a need to work with others, some of whom we don’t necessarily like. Learning mindfulness teaches us to allow and accept. This helps us to work with others with reduced reactivity and negativity.
We can respect and listen openly to another’s view without judgement or defensiveness. Such abilities can lead to improved relationships, enhanced creativity and greater team working.
7. Increase workplace intimacy
We want to bring our whole selves to work, after-all we don’t hang up who we are with our coats. But letting our true self be present, being authentic and acting with integrity can’t happen without vulnerability. Being shamed or judged may lead us to hide who we are.
Mindfulness can bring a greater and more honest connection between employees as the non-judging, allowing state of mind enables us to respect each other for who we are. Accepting the not so good, as well as the good.
No silver bullet
I initially started writing this post because of an article on the BBC website that discussed a piece of research that suggested mindfulness may negatively impact employee motivation.
Whilst the piece of research is not particularly robust, it helps make the point that mindfulness is not a cure all and may have unintended consequences when an organisation decides to bring it to work.
Greater self-awareness may put one in touch with core values and unmet needs (Ericson et al, 2014). It can, therefore, lead to people noticing what might not be working for them, realising that the values of a company don’t fit their own or recognising a poor work-life balance.
Such awareness might lead to someone reviewing their options.
Nevertheless due to the plethora of research concerning its benefits, there's a buzz around mindfulness and what it might bring to the workplace.
Organisations are naturally interested and going on to invest huge sums in mindfulness training.
The success of such training is mixed.
Rolling out mindfulness in lieu of improving working conditions and policies is no more than a sticking plaster.
Using it as a quick fix to help employees go that little bit further when what is needed is a change in workplace practice or review of workload is non-sustainable.
Those organisations that have seen a return on investment see the wider benefits of mindfulness than just improved performance. They understand that learning and being mindful is a personal choice, it can not be pushed onto employees. Instead they offer it as an activity within a wider programme to create supportive and inclusive workplaces.
To discuss how best to bring mindfulness into your workplace get in touch.