3rd September 2015
Mindfulness is a relatively new phenomenon storming the business world due to its suggested ability to increase productivity and reduce levels of stress within the workplace. For the purposes of this blog, we shall define it as a non-judgemental concentrated observation of one’s perceptions, thoughts and in emotions within the present. (1) The concept revolves around the exercise of breathing in order to bring awareness to the present and ‘quiet the mind’. Common mindfulness practices include yoga and meditation but can also involve journaling or attention training and therefore, mindfulness can be made applicable to all. In fact, this new form of meditation is being used very prominently within society, with the military adopting mindfulness in order for soldiers to improve emotional health and mental performance within combat situations.
Therefore with roots dating back 2500 years this is no new concept. So why has the movement only just come to the forefront of techniques used to aid mental wellbeing? The answer is simple. In today’s world, we face multiple stress inducing demands as well as high levels of pressure and continuous connectivity through smart phones and social media. Such over-stimulating environments, increased expectations and constant requirements to stay alert are resulting in significantly high levels of workplace stress. (2) In a study conducted in 2011 by Opinion Matters, of the 500 IT administrators studied 72% claimed they were stressed, with a massive 67% considering a change in career as a result. (3)
Therefore, it is no surprise that the main obstacle blocking the successful implementation of mindfulness is a lack of time to do so. It is extremely difficult to slow down within society today but it is essential we do just that in order to achieve in the long-term. William George, a former chief executive argued;
“The main business case for (mindfulness) is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be a more effective leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people.” (4)
It is no secret that western society today is experiencing a major mental health crisis, with no less than 921,498 individuals in contact with mental health services last year in the UK and levels are rising. (5) More specifically, work-related stress caused workers to lose 11.3 million working days in 2013/2014. (6)
For those of you still sceptical by Buddhist influence, it does have scientific backing. Cortisol levels are positively correlated to levels of stress and in a recent study conducted by the Centre for Mind and Brain at the University of California, those who undertook a three-month mindfulness and meditation retreat had far lower levels of cortisol in their system. (7)
So how do we achieve this in the everyday without taking a significant time out of our working day, as heralded by businesses such as Google, NASA and the World Bank? It’s simple really – just follow the steps below.
The concept is becoming increasingly popular with Google having a six-month waiting list for their ‘Search Inside Yourself’ mindfulness course. This consists of a 2½ day retreat involving 19 sessions with the aim of helping participants learn to relate to themselves and others in a more successful way. The course is constituted of three sections; attention training, self-knowledge development in a bid to master emotions and ‘creating mental habits’, such as kindness. This teaching of emotional intelligence helps understand others’ motivations within the workplace and as a consequence, a better handling of stress, higher patience levels and a calmer attitude. (8)
This ability to psychologically step away from the stresses of the workplace for even a few moments improves creativity and innovation as well as a resilience to stress, a form of psychological hardiness. It’s not all meditation and dreadlocks but a revolution in methods of improving productivity by simply pausing, observing your presence within a situation and proceeding with your day. The technique isn’t just about increasing productivity, however. In fact, mindfulness is also about gaining the ability to open up to new information from different points of view as well as controlling stress. In a report by Vickers & Overholt, 85% agreed that mindfulness helped them resist high levels of stress. (9) In dismantling the process, we can understand that mindfulness practices reduce these levels of stress and increase productivity by helping individuals becoming more accepting of their work situation, obtain more realistic work goals and enjoy their work more as a consequence.
Happy employees = an harmonious working environment
However, much the same as everything within the workplace, without mindful leadership, this working environment will not be maintained. Only a quarter of respondents felt their leaders were above average in this respect. (10) However it is an effective method of improving leadership quality. Bill George, a professor at Harvard Business School found from experience that some form of meditation, whether that be praying, journaling and so on, led to a calmer mind. This in turn accounted for a dismissal of trivial matters in order to understand the bigger picture and make better decisions as a result, through helping leaders become less reactive. Mindful leadership promotes an increased self-awareness and a sensitivity to the influence their actions have over others. (11) So why not replicate Google’s success and get your own team motivated and inspired with our incentive programmes - improving your internal communications, whilst creating tomorrow’s business leaders. Through the design of bespoke programmes on our management retreats, your future leaders will learn to work more effectively together, often through the inclusion of mindfulness which we’re sure you’re now sold on, just like us!
Therefore, it is clear to see what a positive influence taking a few moments of your day to calm your mind has on your work life, as well as your personal life. Practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to be a chore and is widely used within the business world - you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.