The benefits of mindfulness in the workplace

Research shows that employees who work long hours have a higher risk of stroke than those working standard hours.

In a culture of overwork, pushing yourself too hard becomes a self-defeating cycle. No one can continue to push themselves beyond their limits before burnout becomes inevitable. Burnout then leads to a significant reduction in motivation and productivity, and an inability to successfully function.

So, it seems that working too hard does not necessarily equal productivity. However, research has shown that where fewer than 10% of employees used to check their email outside of working hours, today it is 50%. Clearly, our modern-day work-life balance is declining, despite the rise in the use of technology.

The question remains then, how can we enable employees to manage their workload better? To ensure they don’t just avoid burnout but are happy in their workplace. After all, happy employees are up to 20% more productive.

What is mindfulness?

According to Mindful, mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. Mindfulness originates from Buddhist meditation practices, although practical everyday techniques don’t require any study or dedication to a specific ideology. Essentially, the practice of being mindful should both centre and focus you, enabling you to remain unaffected by external distractions.

Why is it useful in the workplace?

A lack of distraction should inevitably boost productivity. As well as this, the ability to be aware of and remain connected to your own personal centre is an extraordinarily helpful tool for taking care of your mental health.

In today’s world, far too little attention is paid to mental health in general, let alone the mental health of workers. The World Health Organisation has estimated that stress costs American businesses 300 billion a year. So, investing in the mental health of employees could, in the long run, save companies an enormous amount of money.

As well as this, the neurological benefits of mindfulness have been linked to an increase in emotional intelligence, specifically empathy and self-regulation. This enables employees to communicate more effectively, making the workplace less stressed and ultimately happier. Mindfulness then creates a positive cycle, as employee retention rates tend to go up when people are happy at work.

Who else is doing it?

In response to such research, more and more companies are implementing mindfulness programs to promote positive mental wellbeing in the workplace. For example, Goldman Sachs, Google, Apple and Nike all prioritise mindfulness meditation as part of their employee development programs.

In 2007, Google developed a programme called Search Inside Yourself. The programme is now so successful that it is not only utilised within the company by employees but is being offered to the public beyond Google. The programme begins with 2 days of live training before the participant undertakes 4 weeks of virtual practice, ending with a 1-hour webinar. According to Google, the programme has been proven to: “reduce stress, improve focus, raise peak performance, and improve interpersonal relationships.” Search Inside Yourself has proven so popular it normally has a “wait list stretching six months.”

American healthcare company Aetna reported that after implementing a mindfulness programme, healthcare costs fell “a total of 7 per cent”. Productivity gains alone were about $3,000 per employee. Results like these prove that mindfulness is a worthwhile pursuit for employers.

As not all companies are large enough to establish their own programme, here are some “mindfulness hacks which can be implemented in the workplace.

Breathing

Breathing mindfully can help to centre your attention by focusing your thoughts on your breathing alone. Get into a comfortable position in a quiet place, with no distractions, and focus on your breath. You could even try counting to centre your thoughts even more. One example of how to do this is by breathing in for 3 seconds, holding your breath for 2, and exhaling out for 4 seconds. So, in total, a 9-second breath. This is a great hack not just for your everyday mindfulness, but also in stressful situations. Practicing breathing exercises can “help employees stay on task and reduce stress.

Take a mindful break

Staring at a screen for too long can cause insomnia, brain fog, short-term memory loss, vision strain and headaches in droves. So, take a break. Go for a walk. Instead of taking your laptop into a meeting, take a notepad. Walk away and observe the world around you, the way your colleagues are behaving, the sounds and smells in your work location. Take a moment to engage with your surroundings. When you rest from your work you are, in fact, giving your prefrontal cortex (PFC) chance to take a break. The PFC is responsible for logical thinking, executive functioning, and using willpower to override impulses. When one area of the brain is used for so much, it’s hardly surprising it needs some downtime. Allowing it chance to function properly will aid your productivity in the long run.

Mindfulness podcasts & apps

If there’s anything we have an abundance of now, it’s podcasts. There’s a podcast out there for everything, including mindfulness and meditation. There are also several apps available which are programmed to deliver short guided meditations. Just a 15-minute journey with your headphones in can give you the space you need and boost your motivation levels. Sometimes, when a lot is going on, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. Taking yourself away from the noise with a podcast or meditative episode can enable you to find your centre and focus in on the most essential task.  Some TWI favourites include Calm, which provides meditations of various lengths, and Binaural, which generates beats to help you meditate, sleep and concentrate.

Focus on being, instead of doing

While you’re away from your desk, take a few minutes to pay attention to how you feel away from the distractions of tasks and deadlines. It doesn’t matter if that feeling is negative, simply noticing your natural state can keep you in touch with your centre. It might be that noticing how you really feel gives you the opportunity to pay attention to your needs. If you’re feeling stressed, make sure you treat yourself kindly. Do something that makes you feel happy or calm, like walking, or yoga. As Positive Psychology says, being mindful of your thoughts and emotions promotes wellbeing.

Mindfulness is what you make it. There are no definitive rules, but the above suggestions are great techniques to get you started. Giving your mental health the time, and space it needs could give you the clarity you need at work. For employers, it could be the difference between happy employees, and unhappy employees. Try implementing some of the above techniques into your routine and discover what a difference they make.