Why we need mindfulness in the workplace
If you've ever wondered what one thing Google, General Mills, Target, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and Oprah Winfrey have in common, it is a commitment to mindfulness practices in their workplace.
Once associated with a highly spiritual lifestyle set apart from the mainstream, mindfulness training courses are becoming the norm in huge corporations in big cities around the world. Companies are finding it reduces stress and absenteeism, increases productivity, develops better leaders, and generates more creative workplaces. It also enhances cognitive thinking skills and triggers more imaginative solutions.
The things workers stress over include the burden of a heavy workload, a difficult boss, the concept of change that eats up even more of their day, and worries about losing their jobs.
Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Thich Nhat Hanh describes mindfulness as "the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment".
For an employee, it means being fully present in a moment, thinking only of the task at hand, not what is piled up in the in-box or what might appear there in the future. It is the energy of being aware of what is really happening and of refocusing on your work and its purpose.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn notes in the book Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, the habit of ignoring the present moments in favour of those in the future leads to a lack of awareness of the web of life in which we are all embedded.
Mindfulness involves the intentional and non-judgmental focus of our attention on our emotions, sensations and thoughts in the here and now. According to a Pennsylvania State University Study by Daphne M. Davis and Jeffrey A. Hayes, it provides emotional regulation, decreased reactivity, increased response flexibility, interpersonal benefits and intrapersonal benefits.
Here are some ways to encourage mindfulness in your workplace:
- Make time for mindfulness. A corporation can be committed to mindfulness, but if no time is allowed for an employee to sit quietly for a few minutes, it will fail to get the results wanted. In times of greatest stress, remember the Zen proverb that suggests you should meditate quietly for 20 minutes a day; if you are too busy to do that, you should meditate for an hour.
- Offer courses in mindfulness. Introduce mindfulness into your workplace by offering it within executive development courses. Offer mindfulness-based stress management programs to managers and all levels of employees.
- Be sensitive to the workplace culture. If your audience doesn't respond well to the term mindfulness, call it something else like presence or "the now". Just make sure the employees use it to open their minds about it.
- Encourage a climate where co-workers accept each other regardless of strengths and weaknesses. The people who work with you have their own strengths and weaknesses. No matter where you go, there will be people you naturally warm to and those who upset you. Do not judge the latter. Just like you they have had to undergo an upbringing and you have no idea how it moulded their character. Do your best to recognise people for where they are now in the present, not for who they were yesterday or who they might become in the future.
- Encourage employees to practise mindful breathing to restore their centre of calm. When employees feel stressed, it can be extremely helpful to experience mindful breathing. Simply breath in and out three times, focused on nothing but your breath. Eliminate all other thoughts and just let calm return to the present.
- Create a room where employees can be comfortable meditating and an outside garden for summer days. Pay more than lip service to a mindfulness at work program. Designate an area where employees can feel comfortable doing mindful breath exercises or can meditate without distraction.
- Cultivate a habit of abundance. Express gratitude for the good things people around you are doing.
- Do one routine task mindfully. Return your attention to the current moment. Abandon your concerns about the future or the past. Choose a task you have to do and do it focusing completing on the task. See it in a new way.
- Email mindfully. Type out your email and then step away from your keyboard. Take three deep breaths and focus only on your breath. Return to the email and re-read it. Do you still feel that way? Imagine how the person reading it will feel. Is that the reaction you want to achieve?