What are the Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace?
It’s not uncommon for employees and executives to suffer burnout, fatigue, and high levels of stress due to pressures from work. Stressed people have a way of sucking happiness out of themselves and others, which may possibly lead to a chaotic personal life. Stressed workers, therefore, almost always have troubles with other areas of their lives.
This problem has been plaguing the workplace for decades now, and company leaders are beginning to more actively search for solutions. One such solution that surfaced through the years – thanks to the extensive works of various researchers including Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University who studies the illusion of control, decision making and mindfulness theory.
What is Mindfulness?
In its simplest term, mindfulness is the practice of being aware of the present moment, without the pressure of always figuring out or knowing what should be done. In Langer’s own words, “Mindfulness is the process of actively noticing new things. When you do that, it puts you in the present. It makes you more sensitive to context and perspective. It’s the essence of engagement”.
If you are mindful, then, you notice the events and new things in the present moment – which may potentially be opportunities for innovation and creativity –and you do not feel threatened for not knowing the explanation, or solutions, to such events.
To put it in the context of the workplace, leaders are presented with problematic situations constantly. If they are mindless, they will always see these situations as “problems” with a fixed solution that the company has developed some years ago. This is why employees are always given a specific solution to a given problem; companies think they always have to know the answers. This results to mindlessness, wherein employees and leaders mindlessly follow rules without understanding the present context. Of course, this hinders engagement, creativity and innovation.
To promote the practice of being mindful in the workplace, companies can offer sessions of mindfulness meditation. This form of meditation is rather simple – employees can take as little as 10 minutes each day for purposes of relaxation and clearing the mind. It involves focusing on present sensations such as a person’s breath or an individual activity, allowing distracting thoughts and feelings to occur, and then refocusing on the sensation.
Why should mindfulness be practiced in the Workplace?
There is a growing body of literature that supports the benefits of being mindful in the workplace. When leaders are mindful, they see challenges in a different light. If an employee is guilty of absenteeism, the leader can either look at it as a sign of incompetency or he/she can take on a more empathic view and actually take the time to understand the situation of the employee.
Being mindful in the workplace is shown to reduce stress levels and even physically alters the brain. Hölzel and colleagues, in a 2010 study among Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) course participants, showed that daily 27-minute meditation for eight weeks reduced grey matter in the participants’ amygdala. Amygdala is the area of the brain that receives threat signals and triggers the fight-or-flight response. It is known that lower stress level reduces risks to cardiorespiratory illnesses and generally contributes to a more positive mood.
Daniel Goleman, a researcher in the field of emotional intelligence, puts forward the concept of “emotional contagion” which argues that good and bad moods spread throughout an organization rather fast. He asserts that this is especially true for leaders as they have greater impact on the moods of others. Given that their moods tend to “go viral” faster, leaders should then be mindful of their moods and its effects on the employees. When leaders are better able to handle stressful events, they can impact the whole organization by creating a more positive atmosphere conducive to creativity and active learning.
With the help of this practice, companies have higher chances on innovation, flexibility, and a higher sense of corporate and personal success.