Mindfulness is a current buzzword. You can find the word “mindfulness” on newsstands and in magazines. The word “mindful” is thrown around regarding the way we speak, act, write and think.
But, what is “mindfulness?”
I can tell you that it is not a religion, although some of the teachings are rooted in Buddhist meditations. It is not mystic, and it does not have to be practiced in a specific place at a specific time. Mindfulness can be done anywhere at any time.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, the father of mindfulness in the United States, defines mindfulness as paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally. Easy enough, right?
Try it right now. Simply notice your breath. Allow your gaze to go soft, and pay full attention to ONE inhale and ONE exhale. Stop reading, and try it now.
Now, ask yourself how it felt to stop for ONE breath. Perhaps you noticed nothing. That’s okay. Perhaps your mind had difficulty focusing on one breath in and one breath out, that’s okay, too. (Remember that nonjudgmentally part?)
But HOW does mindfulness bring any value to the workplace? Here are three reasons you need to start a mindfulness program at work.
- Increase Productivity
We live in a world of distractions. Thirty years ago, our computers didn’t buzz every five minutes with an alert. Our mobile devices were used for making an emergency call. Distractions are everywhere, and regardless of devices, distractions exist in life. Our brains are a distraction. It wants to think of everything all at once. It’s possible you’ve had to reread part of this article because your brain reminded you of something REALLY important. That’s okay. You’re a normal human living in 2019.
Mindfulness training works by removing the clutter from the brain and focusing on one thing. The exercise above where you focused on one inhale and exhale was a breath awareness exercise. By giving the brain a task of focusing on ONE thing, you are training the brain to become more focused and attentive. A New York Times article by David Gelles interviewed Aetna CEO Mark Bertollini, who introduced a mindfulness program for Aetna employees where they offered free yoga and meditation classes. According to Gelles, more than one-quarter of the company’s workforce of 50,000 has participated in at least one class. Participants have become more effective on the job, gaining an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity each. Aetna estimates this is worth $3,000 per employee per year.
- Decrease Work-Related Stress
Mindfulness training teaches how to manage stress and sit with it. Although the breath is an anchor in mindfulness training, focusing on the body, an image or a point on the wall are all also forms of mindfulness training. The mere act of focusing on ONE thing, not thought, brings us into the present moment. As you deepen your focus through mindfulness training, you also gain awareness. By quieting the noise, you can hear clearly what is going on inside and outside. You become more aware of your thoughts and can take a step back and not take them so literally.
In a study titled Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on Medical and Premedical Students by Shauna Shapiro, they found that participants reduced anxiety and reduced overall psychological distress including depression. In addition, the levels of empathy increased for the participants. Mindful.org states, “Mindfulness not only reduces stress but also gently builds an inner strength so that future stressors have less impact on our happiness and physical well-being.”
- Increase Resiliency and Work Retention and Satisfaction
What do you do? Where do you work? Are you happy? Have you considered switching your role, or switching companies, or perhaps even quitting altogether? I bet your employer doesn’t want to hear that. According to an HRdive Study, turnover in employment costs employers 33% of a worker’s annual salary to hire a replacement. For an employee making $45,000 a year, that is a $15,000 hit for the employer. In addition, there are the added productivity costs to the organization from time lost that is spent on finding a replacement, training said replacement, and the time it takes to have him/her fully functional.
Mindfulness training at work helps build resiliency. Mindfulness has many benefits in addition to the ones already mentioned. It boosts creativity and critical thinking, increases emotional intelligence and cooperation, in addition to raising levels of empathy and compassion, and leads to higher levels of well-being. In jobs with a high burnout rate, all of these traits work together to build resiliency. When you are mindful, you don’t cry over spilled milk; you get a towel, clean it up and move on.
According to a study titled The Protective Effects of Mindfulness Against Burnout Among Educators, “Educators reporting higher levels of mindfulness reported less burnout than educators reporting lower levels of mindfulness.” The study also found that mindfulness moderates the effect of perceived stress on emotional exhaustion such that it is most protective at high levels of stress.
Starting a mindfulness program at work can be simple and does not require much time. The 20 minutes spent on mindfulness for the employees is made up in the increase in productivity, reduction in stress, and might keep your employees working for you a bit longer. But don’t take my word for it; companies like Aetna, Google, Nike, Apple, Goldman Sachs, and General Mills have all implemented mindfulness offerings for their employees. Companies like threeR, Release, Reconnect, Reset, can help create a mindful workspace where employers create a healthy and productive environment.
Natalia Foote is the owner of threeR, a company bringing mindfulness, meditation and yoga practices to the workplace. Her mission in life is spreading love and light in the world. When not spending time with her family, you can find Natalia taking and teaching yoga all around Lake Nona.