Lauren Dixon in a Talent Management Magazine article, Calm Employees’ Minds With Mindfulness, contests that more and more companies are incorporating mindfulness at work.
Experts on the practice say it can help employees calm their harried minds, which are increasingly driven to distraction thanks to high-pressure work environments and attention-draining mobile devices.
Some employers, like financial services firm Goldman Sachs Group Inc., have even included mindfulness in its so-called “resilience training,” with the aim of conditioning employees to operate with more confidence and calmness in its fast-paced business environment.
Lolly Daskal, founder and CEO of Lead From Within, a global coaching and executive consulting firm, defined mindfulness as “bringing attention to the present moment on purpose and without judgment.”
To practice mindfulness, individuals simply focus on the present, which experts say can be more difficult than it sounds. Perhaps the most well-known form of mindfulness practice is meditation, the act of sitting still in a silent state of awareness.
Daskal said mindfulness isn’t limited to sitting in silence. “I think you can be mindful in everything that you can do,” she said.
The study and application of mindfulness has grown, with many highlighting the cognitive benefits of the practice.
People who meditate have more activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that regulates distraction and impulsive behavior. As a result, those who meditate are able to demonstrate greater resistance to distraction.
Moreover, research in Harvard Business Review showed that people who meditate have more activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, the part of the brain that regulates distraction and impulsive behavior.
As a result, those who meditate are able to demonstrate greater resistance to distraction, the article said.
Mindfulness can also change the body. A Time magazine article highlighting research published in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine showed that “people with low levels of mindfulness had a 34 percent higher prevalence of obesity compared to people with high levels of mindfulness.”
In conjunction with the ability to change the brain and benefit the body, Daskal said mindfulness can reduce stress — something prevalent in most employees’ lives.
Through her own surveys, Daskal has found that 91 percent of respondents who practice mindfulness daily see positive changes in their lives, relationships and general well-being. Nearly 90 percent of those surveyed reported higher levels of productivity and better decision-making since beginning daily mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness = Productivity?
Organizations whose business often requires employees to operate in high-stress situations can benefit from mindfulness, experts say.
At Goldman Sachs, its in-house mindfulness program is part of a larger resilience training initiative, which the company defines as “the state of health, energy, readiness, flexibility and the capacity to adapt to change with confidence,” said Laura Young, the firm’s vice president of benefits and wellness.
According to Lead From Within’s Daskal, companies that have successful mindfulness programs have the right tools and practices, including a proper physical space. They also must embrace the program’s benefits and have clear expectations.
Specifically, Daskal said successful corporate mindfulness programs should include four components:
- Willingness. “You have to have a desire to do this,” Daskal said. If people are forced into the practice, they will resent it.
- Someone to create it. This person should also be respectful of participants who might feel uncomfortable.
- Two kinds of environments. A physical room, which is a designated, distraction-free space. The second kind of environment is the culture. The people within the organization should also keep an open mind during the practice.
- The willingness to shift from within. “We have so many biases and judgments about how things should be,” Daskal said. “And mindfulness is just the opposite of that.”
Another popular method of practicing mindfulness that companies are embracing is yoga.
The Makings of a Mindful Morning
“Everything that you do can become a mindful practice,” said Lolly Daskal, founder and CEO of Lead From Within, a global coaching and executive consulting firm.
When waking up, think about the process of waking up. Rather than looking to the future, ask yourself, “What do I want for this moment?”
When taking a shower, focus on how the water splashes and how the soap feels and smells.
When drinking coffee or tea, what does the mug feel like? What does the drink taste like? How does it smell?
When walking to work, how fast are you walking? Why are you going
To bring purpose to the day, remind yourself of your commitment to work. Think about your passion for your job to focus on why you’re working. “Mindfulness connects you to your purpose,” Daskal said. —Lauren Dixon
Enablon offers employees a yoga session once a month with the intention of helping employees that choose to participate a way to better manage work-related stress and overall well-being.
“I think having that session not only was an opportunity for our employees, but it was an opportunity for myself,” Eettickal said.
The idea of first implementing yoga as an after-work practice came through a survey created by Eettickal and her human resources colleagues.
“I think the fact that [employees] didn’t have to go anywhere, that they can do it right here in our office … I think it kind of encouraged them to have more wellness and more mindfulness within their work and within their life,” Eettickal said.
Sprout Social, a social media management firm, also uses Bottom Line Yoga. Because its employees sit for most of the day, the company wanted a practice that is focused on reopening the chest and stretching muscles that have been idle, said Jim Conti, the Chicago-based company’s director of talent.
Conti said the company’s yoga offering is one of many in the wellness arena. Many employees participate in cardio-based events like races.
Alicia Johnston, a marketing associate at Sprout Social, said: “Attending a yoga class always helps me unwind at the end of a long day, and it also helps keep me mindful of other wellness-related habits I can improve on.”
Even though mindfulness has been proven to have great benefits to employee health and performance, if not approached in the right manner it can actually have some detrimental outcomes.
In particular, Center for Mindful Living’s Goldstein emphasized that if a mindfulness practice is taught as an avoidance mechanism — say, to reduce stress or anxiety — it might increase the thing trying to be avoided.
Timing is also important. People sometimes think they’ll get less work done if they take time out to practice mindfulness. But time spent practicing actually helps people be more productive once back on the job.
Goldstein said that online mindfulness programs or apps can help employees make their own practice time instead of having to attend group sessions.
When asked if there’s such thing as too much mindfulness, Goldstein said that he doesn’t think so. Rather, “we can’t be mindful all the time. It’s just not human.”