Despite a plethora of research supporting mindfulness programmes, many businesses don’t see the relevance to the workplace. Cool big companies like Google and Twitter have mindfulness programmes, but there’s an attitude that they’re businesses with plenty of money to throw around on staff wellness, while mindfulness is non-essential to the bottom line.
In my opinion, as a past Career Management Consultant, most businesses are wrong.
Today’s business world is a complex and demanding beast. There’s more change and uncertainty than ever before, and ever-increasing pressure to do more with less. You snooze you lose! Business disrupters are rapidly changing the way business is done. The fallout from endless restructures is taking a toll on morale and engagement. It’s pushing people to their limits.
And while the pace of the modern workplace gains momentum, there’s also the million and one other things most of us juggle, like home commitments, squeezing in exercise and study, and finding quality time with family and friends.
It can all feel too much. People need new ways to work smarter, not harder.
Rushing, multitasking, and living in go-go-go mode, increases stress and exacerbates excessive ‘unhelpful’ thinking and mind wandering, removing you more and more from the present moment, and effecting your ability to execute your role.
Being chronically stressed (and many people don’t realise they are!) compromises all your brain’s executive functions. Your ability to think well, concentrate, focus, plan, make great decisions, problem-solve, be innovate and creative, learn and remember, all suffer. They literally power-off.
You’re paid to think (well, most of us are) and to think well. Operating at your best means being able to focus your attention, think clearly, stay on task, make sound decisions, problem-solve, while being creative and flexible. When the proverbial hits the fan at work (or at home) you need inner resilience to respond with equanimity and calm. That way, you can do something constructively to rectify, or manage the situation.
If you think mindfulness is just a nice to have in the workplace, answer these questions:
- Can you listen to others without getting lost in your own thinking?
- Are you able to see your perspective, as one of many (not necessarily the right one)?
- When you’re angry, can you pause for a nanosecond, before hitting bcc to everyone?
- Can you stay on task, or have ten programmes open at once?
- Under pressure can you positively self-care without needing to self-medicate?
- How often do you get sick after periods of prolonged stress?
- Does it often feel like Groundhog Day in the office? Same stuff – different day?
- When people behave badly at work, can you step back and respond with kindness?
- Do you shy away from drawing a firm line in the sand denoting what’s unacceptable?
- Are you often exhausted at the end of the day and struggle to find quality time with your family?
- Do you prioritise your workday, or spend much of it answering unnecessary email, while essential work backlogs.
- If your work is criticised, are you able to respond in ways you’re proud of later?
- When others disagree with you, do you push harder to have opinion heard, rather that listen to other people’s ideas?
This is where mindfulness comes in. It isn’t just a feel-good-unnecessary-nice-to-have if you can afford it type of thing. It’s essential to your business. My goal is to help businesses join the dots.
Research shows that meditators increase grey matter density (grow more connections and increase blood flow) in the regions of brain that handle attention and emotional regulation. Practising mindfulness, literally changes the structure and function of your brain, interrupting mind wandering and unhelpful emotions.
11 ways that practising mindfulness will benefit you and your business
- When you learn to focus your attention, you get more done, with fewer mistakes.
- Focusing on one thing at a time makes you more productive and less tired at the end of the day.
- Workplace safety is compromised when people zone out, are easily distracted, and don’t pay attention. Mindfulness practices enable you to be more present-moment focused, more on-game, and reduce the risk of accidents and errors.
- Improved health benefits following mindfulness programmes reduce illness and absenteeism.
- Interrupting unhelpful emotions shortens the amount of time to bounce back during periods of increased stress, change and uncertainty, making you not just the calmest person in the room, but the most powerful.
- Mindfulness enhances creativity by reducing cognitive rigidity. Stress and busyness, make you more problem-focused, inflexible and risk averse. You need a relaxed, open mind to be creative, innovative and find great solutions.
- Mindfulness builds compassion and empathy in yourself and toward others. Seeing beyond yourself and recognising we’re all in this together, makes you a better team player, manager, and leader.
- When you’re more in tune with your body and what it needs, you can put your own oxygen mask on first, and be more use to everyone, including colleagues and family.
- Heightened self-awareness means you’re more likely to notice, question and act when your values (or those of the business) are breached.
- Learning to tame the voice in your head builds your empathy muscle, making you kinder to yourself, and more likely to extend that kindness to others, reducing workplace conflict.
- People who are more mindfully present, actually listen differently. Their intention is to hear rather than be heard, making for more meaningful and trusting relationships. This skill is vital for leaders.
I’m not saying mindfulness is the answer to every issue in the workplace, but it’s hard to beat as far as improving attention and building emotional intelligence goes.
Of course, you also need to eat well, get enough good quality sleep and physical exercise, have a creative outlet, be a part of a social group, and feel a sense of purpose. But these are an outcome of prioritising self-care. They are virtually impossible to achieve, if you’re disconnected from yourself, what you need, constantly distracted, and living with a harsh inner critic telling you you’re not good enough, or undeserving!
Michael Bunting (in his book The Mindful Leader) refers to mindfulness as a value proposition. As he sees it, businesses are either open to viewing mindfulness as an opportunity for accessing a superior way of working, or will decide to stay living with habitual mind wandering and zoning out.
The choice is yours.
Kerene Strochnetter is the Managing Director at Mindful at Work. Mindful at Work delivers programmes across New Zealand and Australia to produce unprecedented levels of engagement, performance and well-being.
Workplace mindfulness is not just learning how to meditate. It is a robust set of practices (generated from comprehensive research) used to align values with behaviours and transform workplace culture. You can find out more about Kerene and Mindful at Work here.
It’s all about changing the way you work to positively influence workplace culture.