Mindfulness in the workplace: Passing trend or secret weapon?
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Mindfulness in the workplace: Passing trend or secret weapon?

You’ve no doubt heard of the supposed power of “mindfulness” – and you’d be forgiven for being skeptical about its seemingly endless array of benefits. But there is a growing body of research that demonstrates that the effects of mindfulness aren’t just wishful thinking.

When Google incorporated mindfulness techniques into their corporate culture a few years ago, for example, it was noteworthy but not surprising – it’s Silicon Valley after all. But when the U.S. Army followed suit, it’s hard to argue that mindfulness is just for squishy offices with bean bag chairs.

So if the claims around mindfulness are true, how exactly can it help your organization? And how should you impart mindfulness techniques to your learners? To answer this question, a team of researchers across multiple universities, including Harvard Medical School, looked at the body of research to date on mindfulness in the workplace. They ended up analyzing over 4,000 studies to offer suggestions on how mindfulness can benefit your organization.

The research 

The team of researchers looked at the body of research to determine what specific benefits mindfulness can offer in the workplace. Here are three of the primary areas where mindfulness has shown significant results.

Attention

Mindfulness training has been shown to have a profound effect on attention in the workplace. In theory, this should come as no surprise: The more you are “present” and in the moment, the more you’ll be able to focus on the task at hand. And research backs this up.

According to the research, the human mind is estimated to wander approximately 50 percent of the time while at work. That’s half the workday. So sharpening attention could have a significant effect on your employees’ productivity and quality of work.

Numerous studies show that just a few hours of mindfulness training can reduce mind wandering and increase focus – whether on the job or during a workplace learning experience. For example, research from the U.S. Army found that soldiers who received mindfulness training were more focused during their pre-deployment training and therefore had better recall of the training content than a control group.

Attitude

Stress, setbacks and negative events can take a toll at work. And they’re inevitable over the course of any job. While nothing can fully remove stressful moments from the workplace, studies have shown that mindfulness can help employees weather the storm and stay positive in the face of serious pressure.

In one study, researchers taught quick, easy mindfulness exercises to accountants at a New York City auditing firm during the height of tax season. The result: Compared with a control group, the accountants who engaged in these brief daily exercises felt less stressed and more positive about their jobs and were significantly more productive. What’s more, when the researchers came back four months later, they found that the accountants who’d engaged in the exercises continued to be less stressed, more productive, more engaged and more satisfied with their jobs, compared with their peers in the control group. 

Other research demonstrates the power of a positive attitude at work. An analysis of 225 academic studies on workplace performance found that employees with a positive or optimistic outlook average 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, and are three times more likely to come up with creative solutions to problems than their not-so-optimistic colleagues.

So if mindfulness can keep your employees positive, your organization stands to reap some significant benefits.

Pro-social behavior

Another primary benefit of mindfulness training, according to the research, is an increase in pro-social behavior or empathy towards others. In the workplace, this has an important effect on teamwork and collaboration.

A variety of workplace studies have shown that mindfulness can help improve communication quality, relationship quality and team collaboration. In one study focused on empathy, one group of participants was given mindfulness training aimed at stress reduction while the control group received no training. Later, when the study participants were sitting in a waiting room, the researchers sent in an actor on crutches who pretended to be in a lot of pain. Over half of the participants who received mindfulness training quickly offered up their seat to the person on crutches, as opposed to just 20 percent of the control group.

Recommendations

The body of research puts forth a compelling argument for integrating mindfulness training into your workplace learning program. Exactly how you do it will differ by organization but the research suggests some guidelines.

It doesn’t need to be complicated

For example, in the New York accountant study, the accountants practiced very simple mindfulness exercises, such as meditating silently for two minutes, writing a “thank you” email to a colleague, or writing down something you’re grateful for. You don’t need to transform your employees into practiced yogis or solemn monks to take advantage of the benefits.

It doesn’t need to take much time

Many of the studies described in the research utilized mindfulness activities that lasted only two to 15 minutes. So it doesn’t take much of a commitment to integrate into your employees’ routine. And many activities can be done during a quiet moment at your desk. Given the multitude of benefits that mindfulness can offer, it appears to be worth the time. 

Just-in-time mindfulness works too

Even if you don’t want to commit to integrating mindfulness into your workplace culture, studies suggest that using it in the moment of need can work too. So consider teaching mindfulness techniques during a particularly stressful time, like in the accountant study. Or share the research with an employee who may be struggling to stay focused on the job. The research suggests that you can pick up mindfulness exercises whenever you need them and achieve similar benefits.


Sources

Good, D. J., et al. (2015). Contemplating mindfulness at work: An integrative review. Journal of Management, 42(1): 114. doi: 10.1177/0149206315617003

Achor, S. (2012). Positive intelligence. Harvard Business Review, 90(1), 100-102.

 

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