The term mindfulness is used a lot and is a great concept to integrate into daily life. The workplace is no exception, but how do you incorporate the principles of mindfulness into your workday and shift into a more mindful work culture? We talked with the mindfulness experts at Mental Health America in Sheboygan County to learn more about what mindfulness is and how it looks in a work environment.
What does it mean to be mindful?
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, "Mindfulness is awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally." And we, as mindfulness instructors, like to add "with kindness and curiosity." Simply put, mindfulness is the ability to see what is going on (within ourselves and/or our external environment), without getting completely carried away with it. It is the capacity to notice our thoughts and feel our sensations and emotions—even painful ones—without letting them control us.
What does research tell us about mindfulness in the workplace?
While the application of mindfulness in workplace settings, in the grand scheme, is in its infancy, and even though there is definitely a need for more systematic empirical research in this area, there is enough research to show a direct correlation between the reduction of anxiety, depression, and stress in the workplace with an increase in focus, self-regulation, and positive well-being.
Recent studies have shown that, on average, one million workers in the United States miss work every day due to stress. Research also says that 64% of employees list their work as the number one stressor in their life (American Psychological Association, 2017). These numbers, while astonishing, are not far-fetched.
Mindfulness, on the other hand, has been shown to help reduce stress and have a positive impact on the workplace. Research out of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research shows that mindfulness has been shown to reduce burnout and perceived stress, improve overall well-being, and increase team and organizational climates and personal performance. It has also been concluded that mindfulness may be linked to more effective work styles.
What does mindfulness look like in the workplace?
Depending on the work environment, mindfulness can look very different. Large corporations such as Google, Amazon, and Ford have senior executives practicing meditation and work hard to bring these practices into their workplaces. Other companies have begun implementing insurance plans that cover meditation classes, while smaller organizations may simply allow staff to take guilt-free breaks to walk, take deep breaths, etc. No matter the size of the workplace or implementation strategy used, simply giving employees permission to take moments of self-care is important. Employees need to know that this kind of behavior is encouraged and should be done without feeling any guilt.
While some of these mindful workplace techniques seem like quick fixes, it is worth mentioning that mindfulness should not be viewed as a check-the-box fix. While mindfulness tools themselves can be quick, convenient one- to five-minute mindful moments, it is important that we communicate that mindfulness is not a magic pill and does require some time and patience to cultivate.
David Gelles, New York Times writer and mindfulness practitioner states, “ . . . mindfulness can help to change us from the inside, out. It can make us compassionately accepting of imperfection. It can shift us from reaction to response, from greed to gratitude, from fear to forgiveness.” While his statement pertains to individuals, the same can be done for business. Through mindfulness, workplaces can become more intentional, humane, and connected. Mindfulness, when adopted by organizations fully, can slowly begin to change the culture within the workplace.
What benefits are there to incorporating mindfulness into the workplace?
Employee. The statistics suggest we don’t know how to turn off. Forty-two percent of people check their phones on vacation. We’re taking fewer vacation days than we’re allotted. And at the same time, a Gallup Poll shows that 70% of us also admit to having “checked out” or “actively disengaged” at our jobs. It’s the work hamster wheel du jour: never checking out from our jobs, but barely checking in. Mindfulness not only helps us give more of our attention when at our place of work, which the average person will spend about 1/3 of their life at) but it also helps us transition from “work-self” to “home-self” and be more present in our personal life. It is this kind of balance that aids in overall well-being.
Employer. Research in economics attempts to calculate the return of investment made from the implementation of mindfulness in the workplace. However, mindfulness and meditation are not done to “make a killing.” Instead, we should do it so work and life stressors do not kill us. As a leader, gaining back lost productivity is a huge benefit, but an even bigger benefit (and even more rewarding)—a team that feels supported, present, and fulfilled in their jobs.
In summary, whatever kind of work we do, mindfulness can bring new depth to our jobs. As an office worker, mindfulness can help reduce stress and make drab cubicle days bearable. As an educator, mindfulness can help improve focus and improve classroom management. As a leader or executive, mindfulness may help foster connections with employees and open the space to lead more effectively. The important thing to remember is everyone has the power to implement this kind of beneficial change within themselves. To get started, make it your own—it all starts with a single deep breath.
How does a mindful leader guide a team?
A mindful leader starts with practicing mindfulness from within. One cannot lead without demonstrating complete nonjudgmental attention in the present moment. When you lead a team with awareness to your biases, judgments, and emotions, you bring forth better decisions. Letting go of your ego is key to successful leadership. It gives way to compassion and hearing what is driving your team to work. Supporting and hearing your team drives productivity and brings forth a work culture that is working toward the same vision for your company. A team can only be as a strong as their leader.
Can you provide some examples of mindfulness practices that can be implemented in the workplace?
If an organization is new to mindfulness, what resources would you suggest to help them get started?
For more information on MHA’s mission, vision, resources, and offerings, visit their website at https://www.mhasheboygan.org/.