It seems as though everyone is currently jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon: from Google through to Nike. But is it just another trendy fad or could there be something in it? If the notion of mindfulness conjures up an image of yoga mats, incense burning or mantra chanting, then it’s time to think again. You see the likes of Google and Nike have discovered that promoting mindfulness at work can lead to improvements in staff members’ concentration, focus and energy levels and so can have a significant impact on efficient and effective working as well as a happier and healthier office. But what is mindfulness and how can you introduce it to a somewhat skeptical workforce? In this post, we define the concept of mindfulness and what it means in the context of the workplace. We then go on to look at some practical ways that you can encourage mindfulness in the workplace amongst employees.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is essentially about awareness. It means being focused in the moment and not allowing yourself to be distracted by what happened at that meeting yesterday or what tasks must be completed tomorrow.Practicing mindfulness enables you to really concentrate on the task at hand. And in a workplace full of distractions, the ability to focus on what’s important is becoming an increasingly useful skill not only to get the job done, but also to absorb and synthesize the sheer volume of information that passes across our desks or screens every day. And that’s why the big corporates like Nike, Google and Deloitte are implementing mindfulness techniques.
Far from being a new fad, mindfulness actually has its origins in Buddhist teachings. In Buddhism mindfulness is practiced to encourage self-knowledge and wisdom and it’s this element of taking a step back and adopting a more measured approach that is behind the popularity of mindfulness in the workplace. With as many as one in four Americans identifying work as being a source of anxiety, responsible employers are becoming increasingly creative in seeking ways to relieve stress and anxiety while at the same time enhancing concentration and focus.
The Benefits Of Mindfulness In The Workplace
We’ve touched on several of these already, but it’s worthwhile being upfront about the potential benefits on offer, especially if your staff members (or even managers) are unconvinced of its value. In a recent article the Harvard Business Review examined in detail the benefits and the scientific research into the effectiveness of mindfulness. The benefits can be summarized as follows:
Mindfulness helps to build resilience. Practicing mindfulness techniques and more specifically meditation can decrease the effects of anxiety and stress. It has the potential to enhance your sense of resilience and ability to perform under stress.
Mindfulness can strengthen emotional intelligence. Being mindful helps to improve our levels of patience and ability to regulate our emotions. Having an inner sense of calm makes it easier for us to cope when things don’t go our way. It also means that we’re better equipped to deal with workplace disagreement or differences of opinion and are less emotional in our reaction to events.
Mindfulness promotes creativity. Being relaxed and chilled out as a result of practicing mindfulness means that we are also giving ourselves the opportunity to be more creative. Empirical research suggests that mindfulness enables greater insights and more out-of-the-box innovatory thinking. And so as well as helping you to be calmer, mindfulness will encourage your innate creativity.
Mindfulness enhances personal relationships. All that stress, anxiety, anger and distraction apparent in the non-mindful workplace makes for strained interpersonal relationships. Practicing mindful techniques including meditation makes us all a bit more tolerant and compassionate and, therefore, has a positive impact on the personal connections between colleagues.
Mindfulness helps you focus. How many times have you caught yourself daydreaming at work? It happens to the best of us. Even CEOs can find their minds wandering onto thinking about what’s for dinner. We’re all guilty of operating on autopilot from time to time. Multiply this natural tendency with all the distractions evident in the modern workplace: from the ping of an email notification, through to phone calls or colleagues dropping by with a query and it can be hard to stay on task. However, studies have shown that mindfulness with its emphasis on the present helps us to stay more focused and improves our ability to concentrate.
The Pitfalls Of Practicing Mindfulness In The Workplace
As with most things, there are two sides to the story and there are some potential pitfalls that you need to be aware of. A recent HuffPost blog article looked at the pitfalls which include the following:
Mindfulness should be voluntary. Employees shouldn’t feel pressured into practicing mindfulness if it’s not a good fit for them. To do otherwise would be counterintuitive and goes against the essence of mindfulness. So any program of workplace mindfulness, if it’s to be a success, has to respect the individual’s right to opt out. It should be seen as one of the tools in an employer’s toolkit for promoting employee wellness generally in the workplace.
Mindfulness isn’t a productivity tool. Employers that introduce mindfulness programs as a means of increasing productivity are being disingenuous. Mindfulness is all about promoting different ways of thinking and acting in the workplace and a useful by-product may well be that all-round productivity receives a boost. However, it shouldn’t be the main motivation nor should it replace genuine attempts to address obstacles to productivity such as stress or anxiety in the workplace.
Having established the potential benefits of promoting mindfulness at work along with some of the pitfalls to avoid, let’s turn our attention to practical ways to implement mindfulness. The first point to make is that not all employees are going to embrace the idea from the get-go. The image of hippies, incense and earnestness will be hard to break. Many will need to be persuaded of the benefits mindfulness has to offer either by presenting clear evidence or through a suck-it-and-see approach. Once they’ve had a chance to experience for themselves mindfulness techniques such as meditation, then they may feel differently.
Practical Ways To Introduce Mindfulness At Work
1. Encourage Staff To Use Short Mindful Exercises At Work
Get staff members to kick-start their day with the right mental attitude. After a long commute in traffic or a restless night with sick children, starting the day off with a mindful exercise can reinvigorate and reenergize employees to face the challenges ahead. A great way to do this is with a breathing exercise. It takes just 10 minutes and involves closing your eyes, sitting upright and relaxing. Concentrate on your breathing. Be conscious of every breath as it comes in and goes out. If other thoughts creep into your mind or you find it hard to concentrate try counting up to three at each exhalation. The main thing is to enjoy these minutes and the calmness that they bring. This simple exercise can help staff members to start off the day with the right mental attitude. They will be more focused and able to concentrate on the job at hand.
2. Introduce A Quiet Space
Meditation is an important part of mindfulness in the workplace. Some companies have gone as far as bringing in a meditation expert to teach staff how to meditate. And there’s no doubt that the ancient practice of meditation is extremely beneficial to many people. In the context of mindfulness at work, it’s important to provide those employees that want to with a quiet space where they can meditate.
Not all employees will be into meditation though and the quiet space can be utilized by them for some time out, providing an opportunity to refocus without the distraction of emails, phones or office chatter. Some businesses have found it helpful to include in the room photos or images from nature which have a calming influence, along with classical or special relaxation music. Or they have used positive images pertinent to the company mission as a means of reminding staff about why they are there. For example, a charitable organization may include photos and images of successful projects and happy clients in the community.
3. Mandatory Regular Staff Breaks
Make it mandatory for staff to take regular breaks including a relaxing lunch break. When the pressure is on it’s tempting to just keep going and before you know it, you’ve missed out on lunch and haven’t even stopped for a cup of coffee. This kind of pace is unsustainable in the long run. In fact, it is downright detrimental to our health and wellbeing. Any program of mindfulness at work needs to have at its core the necessity of regular short breaks and taking a proper lunch break. Far from being a time waster, taking regular breaks and completely detaching yourself from work for even 15 minutes will ensure that employees are better able to concentrate as well as being more aware and refreshed. A quick breathing exercise, stretch or walk round the block in the fresh air is all that’s required. Make sure though that you switch off as many distractions as you can – log out of your email account and switch off your phone.
And taking time out to really enjoy lunch rather than just grabbing a sandwich at your desk is also an important part of practicing mindfulness as well as enhancing overall employee health and wellbeing. As a responsible employer, it’s important to encourage regular breaks and insist on proper lunch breaks.
Some companies have even gone as far as scheduling five minute breaks into daily schedules so that at the end of a meeting for example, there’s a five minute break to allow staff to refocus and reset ready for the next task.
4. Introduce A System Of Gratitude Notes
Most of us have a natural tendency to focus on things that have gone wrong rather than those that have gone well. Ask your partner how their day has gone and the chances are they will recount some event that didn’t quite go as planned or some negative episode.They are unlikely to share something positive and this unbalanced way of thinking has an impact in the workplace, allowing anxiety, negativity and stress to flourish. The way to counteract this is through actively practicing gratitude. Encourage staff members to write gratitude notes at the end of every day. It could be a positive event or achievement, an enjoyable lunch with a colleague, a successful meeting or even something simple such as being one step closer to completing a project. The aim is to train the brain to be more positive. Staff members that exercise gratitude and generally have a more optimistic outlook will in turn impact on working relationships, health and wellbeing as well as creativity and overall quality of work. What’s more, practicing gratitude generally can have just as beneficial an effect at home and in our personal relationships outside of work.
Mindfulness: Set The Ball Rolling In Your Workplace
The concept of mindfulness at work is here to stay and it has much to offer. Any initiative that improves positivity, focus and concentration among employees has to be a worth a try, right? Use the office intranet to spread the word about the value of mindfulness. A staff body that isn’t necessarily convinced of the benefits may need persuading with lots of evidence and video testimonials from individuals and companies that have successfully introduced mindfulness. And while you’re at it why not showcase some of the mindfulness techniques by publishing on the intranet how-to videos for meditation and breathing exercises. In addition, a follow-up intranet survey or poll can be used to assess the success of the mindfulness program by canvassing staff views. With its all-staff coverage, the intranet is the perfect platform for promoting the message about the value of mindfulness at work.
If you would like to find out more about how an intranet can support mindfulness at work, then get in touch with the knowledgeable team at MyHub. Our easy to set up, out-of-the-box intranet solutions can support a range of business functions and processes including mindfulness. Get in touch for a no-obligation demo or 14-day free trial.