The Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace
“Mindfulness should no longer be considered a “nice-to-have” for executives. It’s a “must-have: a way to keep our brains healthy, to support self-regulation and effective decision-making capabilities, and to protect ourselves from toxic stress. It can be integrated into one’s religious or spiritual life, or practiced as a form of secular mental training. When we take a seat, take a breath, and commit to being mindful, particularly when we gather with others who are doing the same, we have the potential to be changed.”-Harvard Business Review
There have been numerous studies done that illuminate the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace. However, perhaps the most important reason that companies such as Google are investing in it is its ability to directly improve performance. Ellen Langer, a professor of Psychology at Harvard University, conducted a study with symphony musicians, who, I can tell you from my experience knowing several, are really tired of playing The Nutcracker twenty times every holiday season. Her study delved into this boredom and told some musicians to replicate a previous performance they liked, or, in other words, to play it mindlessly. The other group was told to make their own performance new and fresh in small ways (i.e; to play mindfully.) To the untrained ear, these differences would be very subtle, but when they played the recordings of the symphonies for people who were unaware of the study, the audience strongly preferred the mindfully played pieces. Although each member of the orchestra had their own new interpretive ideas, the result of everyone working together in the same context and being fully present was overwhelmingly better.
Alongside the overall benefit of improved performance that comes from mindfulness, there are several other benefits that contribute to overall well-being at work:
Reduces Stress & Anxiety
Mindfulness makes perfect sense for dealing with stress and anxiety because it takes you out of fight-or-flight mode and brings you into a relaxed state of mental clarity and calm. By becoming more aware of your thoughts and body, you can better assess and identify your feelings and approach them in a more positive way. Scientifically, Mindfulness practice reduces activity in the stress initiating part of your brain called the amygdala.
Improves your Focus
Studies show that meditation training can improve your ability to focus on one thing at a time and help curb our tendency for distraction. This ability to focus will start to translate to everything you do. It helps you to avoid multi-tasking, and places an emphasis on mono-tasking. A focused mind is a productive mind.
Creativity greatly depends on your mental state. Mindfulness helps you to get into a creative frame of mind by combatting the negative thoughts that hinder creative thinking and self-expression. The fact that mindfulness focuses on the present helps you to think freely and creatively and allows your mind the space to bounce off ideas.
“I believe that mindfulness represents a state of mind that speaks-Ravi S. Kudesia, Mindfulness and creativity in
rather directly to the kind of cognitive flexibility and creative insight
required in the modern workplace. It builds unique cognitive abilities
that enable creativity in individuals that otherwise would be trapped
in conventional ways of interpreting their world. It is all the more
promising because unlike other individual difference factors, it is dir-
ectly trainable, which increases its promise as a possible workplace
creativity intervention. “
Increases Emotional Intelligence and Resilience
According to Peerayuth Charoensukmongkol, mindfulness meditation helps increase emotional intelligence in three major ways: It improves your ability to comprehend your own emotions; It helps you learn how to recognize the emotions of other people around you; It strengthens your ability to govern and control your emotions. He also notes that mindfulness improves a person’s ability to use their emotions effectively by helping them determine which emotions are beneficial when undertaking certain activities.
Archana Patchirajan, successful CEO and Founder of Sattva, shared that in her early years as a leader, she wanted things to happen how she wanted them to happen and on her schedule. “I didn’t tend to understand what my team was going through. I would just get angry if they did not perform according to my expectations. Thanks to meditation I have developed patience,” Archana says. ”I have a better relationship with my team. Best of all, I maintain my peace of mind.”
We live in a world full of distractions. With the constant influx of texts, tweets and IM’s, many of us have lost our ability to actively listen and be present. By incorporating mindfulness into your day, you can retrain yourself to focus on the present moment and truly listen to people with compassion and kindness. Not only does this have a positive impact on the people around you, it makes your day more interesting because you are engaging in active conversations with people and learning about them.
Mindfulness & ROI
So can pursuing mindfulness be good for the bottom line? In David Gelles’ Mindful Work, he delves into the subject of mindfulness in business, revealing evidence to support its benefits and real-world examples of companies who are seeing results. Probably the most compelling case of this can be seen with Aetna.
Mark Bertolini, the CEO of Aetna, initiated the company’s mindfulness program after mindfulness helped him deal with chronic pain after a ski accident. Aetna partnered with the American Viniyoga Institute and eMindful and began a pilot program with 239 employees. Now, more than one-quarter of Aetna’s work force of 50,000 has participated in at least one mindfulness class, and those who have report, on average, a 28% reduction in their stress levels, a 20% improvement in sleep quality and a 19% reduction in pain. They also become more effective on the job, gaining an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity, each which Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year. Additionally, Aetna is seeing a decrease in healthcare costs as a result. The following excerpt has been taken from Mindful Work, Chapter 7: “Socially Responsible.”
“Take the study Aetna did with Duke. One of the findings was that highly stressed employees incur an additional $2,000 per year in health care costs, compared to their less-stressed peers. Scaled across a large company, this quickly amounts to millions of dollars a year in stress-related charges. And while it’s hard to draw a direct causal connection, Aetna is already starting to see results. Health care costs at the company — which total more than $90 million a year — are going down. In 2012, as the mindfulness programs ramped up, health care costs fell 7 percent. That’s $6.3 million going straight to the bottom line, partly thanks to mindfulness training, it appears. Not all of that is attributable to meditation, of course. But stress exerts a tax on an organization — in terms of both productivity and health care costs. Reducing stress, therefore, is going to help the bottom line. Aetna figures the productivity gains alone amounted to $3,000 per employee, an eleven to-one return on its investment. That’s an impressive ROI for any program. “
As seen, bringing mindfulness to the workplace has the potential to decrease people’s stress and anxiety through heightened awareness, which in turn leads to improved performance. Also, perhaps most importantly from a leadership perspective, mindfulness encourages engagement. Being fully present as a leader— and allowing your team to be fully in the moment — will reap rewards both personally and professionally.
So how can you start? Take a few mindfulness breaks at your desk each day. Stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, relax, and take a few deep breaths. Breathing in I know that I’m breathing in, Breathing Out I smile. That’s a great place to start and you can build from there.