Everyone is talking about workplace mindfulness as a way to improve productivity. So is it just a craze or is there proof? Here are the facts
There is already a host of scientific studies which show that mindfulness meditation has a positive impact on overall human functioning. It is effective in treating various mood disorders, including stress, anxiety, depression and even drug addiction. But how does this relate to your average person on the street?
It’s easy to think “I don’t suffer from any of those, therefore what value can it bring to my life?” The truth is most of us suffer from low level, underlying stress to some degree – the feeling of unease when contemplating a looming deadline, the frustration and agitation when you’re crammed like a sardine on the Central Line….
Aside from the scientific proof, mindfulness is a useful tool to help us live more in the present, to enjoy the moment we’re in for what it is. It allows us to be aware of our “autopilot”. How many of us forget the details of our morning commute, or wolf down our food without noticing how it tastes? Do we ever notice how diverted our attention often is, away from the moment we're actually in, dwelling instead on all the things we need to get done? I’m sure we don’t need reminding of how much time we spend with our minds in the past, future or elsewhere.
Is mindfulness just a craze?
I’ve often been asked if the mindfulness “craze” is a fad which will eventually pass. My response is always the same. Mindfulness has its roots in Buddhism and stems from the “sati”, which means awareness. It has been around for thousands of years in the East, so the concept is not new.
Mindfulness, as this ancient wisdom is packaged in the west, was introduced by John Kabat-Zinn through his Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programmes in 1979. Steadily over the years it has gained momentum as an effective way to lead a more satisfied life, however only recently it has become more recognised and widely known. So do I think mindfulness is a fad? The answer is no – it’s simply taken us longer to realise it exists.
The case for the workplace
Most of us spend a lot of our lives at work. Based on the sheer amount of time it accounts for, this in itself is a case for mindfulness. Being more mindful at work allows us to channel our efforts more effectively, as we can see more clearly what the priorities are.
“Historically, companies have been reticent to offer mindfulness training because it was seen as something fluffy, esoteric and spiritual, but that’s changing” said Christopher Lyddy, an organisational behaviour doctoral candidate at the Weatherhead School of Management in the US.
Lyddy was co-lead author on a review of more than 4,000 scientific papers on the topic of mindfulness, culminating in their paper “Contemplating Mindfulness at Work (An Integrative Review)", published in the Journal of Management in late 2015. The report looked at the three workplace-related measures of performance, interpersonal relationships and wellbeing, considering how mindfulness impacts how people think, act, feel and relate to others around them. His team included experts in the fields of both management and mindfulness, as well as psychologists and neuroscientists. The report found that, out of the 4,000 studies they reviewed on mindfulness, only 2 found any downsides.
In addition to this, there is a growing body of work which looks specifically at mindfulness from the workplace perspective. So far, it has thrown up some interesting findings, most notably:
It improves attention, a skill critical to workplace functioning: specifically in relation to three qualities of attention – stability, control and efficiency. People who had completed mindfulness training were able to concentrate and stay vigilant for longer. This indicates that it improves control over the wandering mind, which would reduce procrastination and inefficiency. Translating this into the business world, increased efficiency means we get more done
It enhances communication skills: mindfulness encourages greater empathy and compassion, which are critical in our dealings with others. The increased awareness it brings to our interpersonal behaviour makes us better communicators, team players and leaders. Applying this to the corporate environment, meetings are easier and more fruitful and politics becomes less of an issue. People become more open to hearing others’ perspectives and appreciate more the value each person contributes
A number of innovative companies already run successful mindfulness programmes. Some of them have issued survey results which measure employee satisfaction both before and after participating in mindfulness programmes. Although these are less scientific, they still show interesting positive trends when it comes to measures such as energy levels, the ability to cope with stress, work relationships and creativity. Some of the largest differentials were seen in focus and how connected people felt to those around them.
Translating mindfulness into something solid
Mindfulness isn’t just a fluffy concept or craze. It can be translated into a solid set of tools and techniques applicable to the modern workplace. Let's take a couple of examples. The morning commute - something to endure or an opportunity? Being more mindful about how you spend your time can help you achieve more, as you clarify your priorities for the day. Or mindful meetings - a waste of valuable time or a means to create stronger ties and formulate stronger solutions? Being more aware of yourself and others in meetings fosters more fruitful working relationships and helps you achieve more as a team. There are multiple "hacks" which are easy to implement but yield serious results for productivity and satisfaction
Urban Guru has taken the concepts of mindfulness and packaged them into workshops specifically targeted to the challenges of the modern corporate environment. From workplace productivity to work life balance, how to deal with stress and mindful communication, we’ve identified common pinch-points in the workplace and devised practical solutions to help your people deal with them. Take a look at our DoJo menu or contact us for more details.