Work can be overwhelming at the best of times. Meeting tight deadlines, conflict with colleagues, and balancing home life with a job can all lead to burnout. COVID-19 means many employees are struggling more than ever, as they continue to adapt to new ways of working and the lines between work and leisure time become increasingly blurred.
One good outcome from the health crisis is that more companies are becoming aware of the importance of employee wellbeing. Practicing mindfulness – the state of being consciously present in an open and non-judgmental way – may be the way forward in ensuring your workforce is happy, healthy and able to deal with the ‘new normal’.
We can split mindfulness into three stages – focusing on the present, paying attention to what is going on around you as well as within you, and being accepting of the experience. The state of being mindful isn’t about emptying your mind. Instead, the aim is to fully focus on feelings, sensations and thoughts in the moment.
Today’s fast-paced work environment may seem at odds with slowing down and taking the time to think, but mindfulness doesn’t just promote employee wellbeing, it can also improve business.
Mark T. Bertolini, CEO of insurance company, Aetna, was feeling desperate in 2004 following a near-fatal ski accident. After feeling the benefits of mindfulness therapy himself, he began to transform the company. Aetna launched and studied two mindfulness programmes and the results were so impressive, they are still used today. Employees who participated saw a 28% drop in stress levels and productivity increased considerably. Within the first year, a staggering $9 million was saved in health care costs.
Mindfulness can improve relationships, as mindful people are present. It’s easy to tell if someone has checked out and isn’t focusing – and if that person is a line manager for example, this is a major issue. Not only does it make the employee feel undervalued, but it also sets a bad example.
When a leader is fully present, it conveys an important message – they respect their employee. Studies show that employees who feel valued and respected have higher job satisfaction and commitment, which in turn reduces turnover and attracts new talent.
Research by experts at the University of Minnesota found that mindfulness promotes resilience. Those who practice mindfulness approach people and situations positively and are less likely to allow negativity to affect them. Mindful people are also less reactive and will assess situations objectively.
During these uncertain times, employees who possess resilience are a valuable asset, as they can push through challenges and inspire others to do the same.
As Janice Marturano, founder of the Institute for Mindful Leadership states, “Mindful leadership is about embodying focus, creativity, clarity and compassion. It’s about an individual’s ability to more often influence for better, and less often influence for worse.”
Being mindful increases self-awareness, making it clearer which areas need improvement. It also increases compassion and understanding, as mindful people truly listen. When employees have a transparent, empathetic leader, it inspires confidence and sets the tone for the entire company.
Research carried out by INSEAD Business School revealed that mindfulness can increase rational thinking in the workplace. The study also found that mindfulness reduces sunk-cost bias, when leaders focus too much on futile projects, neglecting more important issues.
Mindful employees use their rationale, enhancing decision making processes. These employees make better choices and tend not to over-think, driving for a more streamlined, productive business.
Implementing mindfulness into the workplace doesn’t mean a complete overhaul of the company practices. Lead by example, take these simple steps, and share your experience with co-workers:
Productive employees take regular breaks. After about an hour, our brains switch from high activity to a short period of low activity. Breaks don’t have to be long stretches of time. In just five minutes, you can practice a breathing exercise and feel rejuvenated.
As soon as you leave the office, or shut down your home office, turn off all work notifications. Don’t be tempted to check emails after working hours, it can wait until tomorrow. Be fully present at home - you’ll appreciate the break and start the next day refreshed.
Multi-tasking reduces productivity by 40%. ‘Single-tasking’ aligns perfectly with mindfulness, as it’s all about focusing on what you’re doing in the moment. When you find your mind wandering, pull your thoughts back to the present. Once that task is completed, move onto the next.
Being ‘on’ and available 24/7 is damaging to employee wellbeing. Janice Marturano states, “The information we’re being bombarded with can be anxiety producing and can overwhelm us in our personal and professional lives.” Schedule time in your calendar to step away from distractions and give yourself room to breathe.
Truly listen to what your co-workers say. This promotes understanding and allows you to better resolve conflicts, as well as foster a culture of collaboration. Moreover, this will strengthen relationships and promote a mindset of working towards a common goal.
Take a look at these useful resources to promote mindfulness in the workplace: