Mindfulness isn’t a new concept. In fact, the idea of mindfulness has been around for hundreds of years, since the birth of early Buddhism (5th of 6th century BCE). However, deliberately bringing mindfulness into the workplace is fairly recent in our evolutionary history. The idea came about in the late 1970s, when pioneers like Jon Kabat-Zinn developed mindfulness-based programs like the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs embraced Buddhist teachings (and a little LSD) after discovering ancient practices.
Today, some of the esoteric, new-agey fascination around mindfulness has worn off, and what’s taken its place are scientifically backed programs and clinical research that has proven the benefits of mindfulness. Large employers, including corporations and school districts, have taken notice of these benefits. They have developed their own workplace programs or have hired consultants to provide guided instruction on how to “do” mindfulness, and what the benefits really are.
As an employee, mindfulness might seem like one more thing you need to figure out how to fit into a busy work day. You have emails, phone calls, meetings, reports, and presentations that you need to deal with. How can you apply the principles of mindfulness so that you can reap some of those proven benefits?
This article will examine the benefits of practicing mindfulness at work. We will give you some context by offering descriptions of some of the companies that have started formal mindfulness programs. We will provide you with some ideas for practicing mindfulness both in an at-work and a work-from-home situation.
Benefits of Mindfulness at Work
Mindfulness at work might seem counterintuitive to someone who doesn’t practice it. Take time out of a busy day to just sit quietly? That’s not productive, a supervisor might say! That’s time spent away from selling, making, driving, and doing.
It turns out that mindfulness at work has the opposite effect and can actually increase productivity. There are many other benefits to adopting a mindfulness program at work, as well. Although taking some dedicated time out of your schedule to sit and be quiet is wonderful, you don’t always need to stop what you’re doing. In fact, you can keep doing the same work, but just be more mindful about it.
What are some of the tangible benefits that employers and employees can both see when adopting mindfulness at work?
Employees who regularly engage in mindfulness at work report significantly less stress during the work day. A 2017 scientific study found significant stress reductions and better sleep among employees that participated in a mindfulness workplace program for 8 weeks (60 minutes/week). The positive results were maintained at least 8 weeks following the program.
Better focus and productivity
Rather than spreading yourself thin and multi-tasking, employees are better able to focus on the task at hand. That relates to better problem solving, higher quality work, fewer errors, and more concrete goals accomplished. A 2017 study of productivity in a manufacturing department in Thailand showed that there was a significant positive correlation between mindfulness and work quality, work quantity, and timeliness.
Less situational reactivity
Workplaces are a hotbed of situations that can be stressful and difficult to manage. These challenges could involve micromanaging supervisors, upset employees or clients, emergencies, projects or orders that have derailed, schedules and budgets that have blown apart, and a variety of other normal business situations. Mindfulness teaches you strategies for handling difficulties calmly and thoughtfully as they arise. In other words, you don’t react quickly and impulsively.
Increased job satisfaction, less burnout, and increased employee retention
We are in a unique position right now. Unemployment rates are low and companies are hiring. Employees are switching careers in unprecedented numbers, leaving jobs to pursue other priorities and goals. Practicing mindfulness has been shown to increase employee’s enjoyment of their work and to reduce attrition rates, which saves companies oodles of money in employee searches and onboarding processes.
Improved interpersonal relationships at work
Participants in mindfulness studies have reported feeling better connections among their work colleagues, including supervisors, employees, co-workers, colleagues, and others they encounter throughout the day.
Saving on health care costs
Employees have reported needing to seek less medical care when they have adopted a daily mindfulness practice. Numerous scientific studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation have positive effects on blood pressure, cardiac functioning, and immune response. Mindfulness equates to savings in the pockets of employees and employers alike. Fewer sick time off from work also translates into more productivity and cost savings for companies. At Aetna, employees who participated in an at-work mindfulness program had 7.3% fewer medical expenses than those without the training.
Although there are tangible and quantifiable benefits from practicing mindfulness at work—in terms of captured productivity, reduced health care costs, and better employee retention—it’s important to remember that mindfulness has a holistic benefit to individuals and companies alike. These holistic benefits are often difficult to quantify, but they are incredibly important.
For example, a regular mindfulness practice can help give an individual a better sense of clarity about what their priorities are and how their daily work fits within the “bigger purpose” of life. Holistic health is crucial if a corporation and an individual are going to thrive and succeed. Mindfulness is one strategy for building well-rounded wellness.
Mindfulness at Work Success Stories
Mindfulness in the workplace is not a new concept. Large companies, starting in Silicon Valley in the 1980s and expanding across the globe, have made headlines showing that these mindfulness programs have delivered positive results. Here are a few companies you’ve heard of that have adopted mindfulness programs at work:
Let’s add one or two Pittsburgh examples, for more relevancy. Here’s a program that Pitt does.
University of Pittsburgh
At the University of Pittsburgh, the Office of Human Resources has numerous resources for employees and students to encourage mindfulness. For employees, their MyHealth@Work Health & Wellness Center provides services and programs that promote mindfulness. The Center offers one-on-one coaching, with a focus on how to practice “on the go,” such as while teaching or running to the next task. The Center also teaches strategies for managing stress through mindfulness. For students, the University offers a Stress-Free Zone, with relaxation stations and Mindful Moment Meditations. The university offers students ways to connect through social media and also opportunities to engage in mindfulness-based research programs.
SAP is a software solutions provider, with 105,000 employees globally and more than 3,300 employees across Pennsylvania. The company provides a Global Mindfulness Practice, with the goal of achieving “a positive social and economic contribution while enabling employees to thrive in a connected world.” More than 11,000 employees have taken the formal training, and more than 8,000 employees remain connected in their internal, virtual community. Among other strategies, SAP brings mindfulness to their employees by teaching about focusing before work and meetings, introducing breathing strategies, encouraging mindful walking, educating about mindful eating, and also how to check-in with the head-body-heart. Read more about the Global Mindfulness Practice here.
Intel began its Awake@Intel program in 2012. Two years later, Intel had invested $75,000 into the 90-minute weekly program. The workplace mindfulness program combined meditation, breathing, and journaling. After completing the nine-week program, participants reported improved interaction with peers and direct reports, increased focus, decreased stress, and the ability to solve problems more quickly. But the benefits didn’t stop there. Employees also reported a two-point increase in new ideas, insights, mental clarity, creativity, focus, quality of relationships, and engagement at work. Learn more about Awake@Intel.
In 2007, Google began its Search Inside Yourself, which was led by one of the company’s earliest engineers, Chade-Meng Tan. The program takes a science-based approach that combines neuroscience, mindfulness, and emotional intelligence. The program then helps participants to integrate those building blocks for well-being, collaboration, and leadership. Participants self-report improvements of up to 30% in the areas of focus, performance, resilience, well-being, and leadership skills.
Search Inside Yourself has since branched out to help other global organizations. The organization offers formal training programs, which many companies other than Google use. For example, SAP uses the Search Inside Yourself program as a basis for its corporate program. (Learn more about Search Inside Yourself.)
Aetna established a Mindfulness Center at the corporate headquarters in Hartford, where the company has trained 13,000 employees in mindfulness practices. As a result of their program, the company has reported a reduction in stress levels of 28% and annual productivity improvements of $3,000 per employee, with 62 minutes of captured productivity per week, per worker. The company furthermore claims that in 2012 they saw a 7.3% reduction in medical claims. This translates to a $9 million savings. When starting the mindfulness program, Aetna started gradually, with brief meditations in executive team meetings. Eventually they incorporated yoga and meditation classes for all employees. (Read more here.)
Other companies that use mindfulness programs include:
· General Mills
· Goldman Sachs
· McKinsey & Co.
· Royal Dutch Shell
· UK’s Parliament
· U.S. House of Representatives
If you are looking to begin a mindfulness program at your workplace, you aren’t alone. In fact, large businesses have been seizing the benefits of mindfulness for their organizational and employee well-being.
Tips for Practicing Mindfulness in the Office
If you are an employee that works in an office environment, whether that’s a corporate office, a hospital, or a traveling vehicle (i.e., EMS or truck driver), here are some practical tips on how you can incorporate mindfulness at work.
Practice walking meditation
You can choose short areas to walk, such as from your car to the office front door or taking the stairs from the first floor to your office floor or get up and walk around the building outside. Walking is a great way to clear your mind, stretch, and engage other senses. Listening to birds chirp and feeling sunshine on your face are wonderful elements to concentrate on for just a few minutes. That’s a mindfulness practice!
Pause for one minute before a meeting begins
You can take a brief pause by collecting yourself in the hallway, next to the copy machine, or in the bathroom. Even better, try to pause together as a group. There’s a tendency in the workplace to rush from place-to-place and person-to-person, talking the whole way. Pausing as a group reminds everyone that it’s okay to take a breath to reflect on what another person is saying.
If you are brave, maybe you can even start each meeting by saying, “let’s all be comfortable with short moments of silence as we reflect on what everyone is saying.” You’ll be surprised at the positive effect this has on the meeting and everyone in the meeting.
Practice deep listening
One great strategy for deep listening is to reflect back on what someone just said to you. For example, you could say, “What I heard you say just now is that because this project is delayed, you are anxious that the client will be upset. Is that right? How can I help you resolve this issue?” Reflecting back is beneficial because it helps people to feel heard, and it helps build a rapport between you and the other person. Medical staff are frequently good at—and trained in—this kind of reflection. Other workplaces can benefit from this practice as well.
Turn off or pause pop-up notifications
Your computers are non-stop distractions. When you are working on a project, close your email and your company chat application. Set your desk phone and cell phone to “do not disturb” mode. Allow yourself a set period of time to just work. Come up for air and re-check emails in 45 minutes or an hour.
Make your meetings more mindful
Do you ever have trouble with low engagement or digital distractions during meetings? It can be useful to set some simple ground rules aimed at creating a more mindful environment at work, especially during meetings.You might even shorten the meeting by a few minutes if you don’t allow distractions in the room! Set a rule for no phones or computers during at least part of a meeting. Ground rules encourage everyone to pay attention to what’s being said (and subtly what is being left unsaid) and encourages everyone to be engaged in the meeting.
Tips for Practicing Mindfulness in a Home Office
If you work from home permanently or in a hybrid manner, finding moments of mindfulness has its own challenges. Mixing home life with work life leaves a lot of gray areas that quickly overrun each other. Boisterous children can interfere with Zoom calls, and work projects can interfere with meals with your family. Here are some tips on how you can capture moments of mindfulness in a work-from-home situation.
Define your work space
Have places designated for work, quiet, and family time. This will help you keep yourself focused and with fewer distractions. Avoid completing work on the couch. Then, once your space is defined, dedicated time just for working. Don’t try to multitask!
Define your quiet/get-away space
It can sometimes be difficult to feel relaxed and peaceful when practicing meditation at your desk in front of your computer. If you find that it’s helpful to have a space for quiet time, carve out a corner of a quiet room (like a bedroom, or a basement) where you can be still without distractions. A front porch is another wonderful option as a getaway space.
Set your intention for each day when you wake up
You can ask yourself, “What’s most important for me today?” Intentions are not a to-do list. They are more of a “to be” list. This might be harder than you think! One example of an intention could be: “I want to lead the meeting today in a way that makes everyone feel like they are good contributors.” It’s helpful with intentions to visualize the outcomes you wish to occur.
Pause periodically and notice where your thinking is
It’s helpful to put down your pencil, turn your computer monitor away, or to turn sideways in your chair to look at something other than your work. Just pause for a moment, like 20 seconds or three slow breaths. Pausing helps you re-center yourself, remember to focus on your intention, and eliminate distractions.
Practice walking meditation. Get up and walk around, even if it’s just down the hallway of your house or around your bed. How do you feel while you are walking? What is your brain spinning around about? Just non-judgmentally observe how you feel. Practicing a body scan meditation is also a great way to enjoy mindfulness at your home office desk.
This is a wonderful opportunity to check in with your body and ask yourself, “How do I feel right now?” What areas of your body feel tight? I like to take the moments spent stretching to feel a second of joy. It feels wonderful to bend to the side, roll my shoulders back, and stretch out my neck. This is a great chance to say to myself, “that feels great! This movement makes me feel happy!”
Looking for a Workplace Mindfulness Facilitator?
Are you interested in learning more about adopting mindfulness strategies in the workplace, but you just aren’t sure how to implement it as an official program?
Working with a mindfulness facilitator has numerous benefits. First, you are working with experts who have dedicated their lives to understanding how mindfulness works and to search out the best tools, practices, and methods. Secondly, you are ensuring that the methods that you use are scientifically proven to be beneficial to your employees and workplace community.
Additionally, a workplace mindfulness facilitator can craft a program that’s customized just for your business. How an Emergency Management Services (EMS) group can incorporate mindfulness would be vastly different from a classroom with students, or a building contractor with labor staff. A good workplace mindfulness facilitator can provide customized programs, scientific-based evidence for your human resources staff to provide to employees, and facilitation to teach these methods to employees.
Awaken Pittsburgh can help! We are a Pittsburgh-based, not-for-profit organization that provides training for workplaces like yours. We provide curriculum, instruction, workshops and seminars, and practical application demonstrations to clients across the greater Pittsburgh area. A sampling of the types of programs we have facilitated includes:
- Wellness programs for employees with strategies for coping with stress, developing resiliency, resolving conflict, and more.
- Mindfulness programs for educators and classroom settings.
- Mindfulness programs for public safety employees, such as EMT, fire fighters, law enforcement personnel, medical examiners, 911 dispatchers, and others.
- Bias awareness programs.
- Mindfulness for helping professionals, with goals of decreasing burnout and compassion fatigue, increase effective communication skills, increase work satisfaction, and increase well-being.
- Training in delivering trauma-sensitive mindfulness practices to those you serve.
We have some great, short, instructive videos to help guide you through some mindfulness techniques. Check out our resources here!
Awaken Pittsburgh offers mindfulness training for all skill levels, including beginners just like you. Our introductory program introduces a spectrum of practices that can benefit all levels. Once you’re on your way, we offer programs to build your mindfulness practice into long-term habits.
Through our proprietary approach, Mindful Connections™, we offer essential, evidence-based mindfulness trainings designed to meet many needs—from individuals looking to deepen their practice, to educators, to public safety teams and others working in high-stress professions.