A Guide to mindfulness in the workplace – how it can help staff wellbeing and productivity

When it comes to the subject of employee wellbeing, it is very easy for employers to push it to the bottom of the agenda, or shrug it off as a waste of valuable time.

But with many firms now taking staff wellbeing seriously, and beginning to recognise the benefits of a focus on ‘mindfulness’, this guide explains what business owners and leaders need to know about mindfulness in the workplace and highlights the benefits in can bring to modern businesses.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is all to do with awareness – being consciously aware of our thoughts and feelings.

In short, it can be described as a mental state achieved by focusing our awareness on the present moment, through calmly acknowledging and accepting feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.

What can it achieve?

An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting our bodies with the sensations it experiences on a day to day basis. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment.

Too often we rush through life without stopping to notice certain things. By introducing mindfulness we allow ourselves to become more aware of the world around us and can reconnect with our bodies and the sensations we experience. This can be extremely valuable as it allows us to change the way we see ourselves and our lives.

In the workplace mindfulness can be extremely useful as it can help to reduce stress, anxiety and conflict, whilst increasing resilience and emotional intelligence. It can allow us to take a step back and consider alternative perspectives, rather than acting on impulse and reacting in irrational ways.

With a focus on mindfulness we are able to navigate through testing and stressful situations with more composure and grace. It can also help to manage stress-levels and stop us from functioning on auto-pilot mode. All of which are positive changes for any business, big or small.

How can mindfulness be introduced at work?

Introducing mindfulness into the workplace doesn’t have to be a laborious and expensive task. Small changes can make a big difference and employees can benefit from as little as a one-minute focus on mindfulness a day.

Encouraging employees to take a minute out of their busy day if they start to feel their stress or anxiety levels rising, could have a beneficial effect in the long run.

Taking a minute or two out, moving to a quiet more relaxing place can be just what you need to re-focus your attention and get yourself back on track for the day.

For employers, doing something as little as dedicating a quiet area for employees to refocus could have huge benefits as it has been scientifically proven that those that take the time to meditate, have higher concentration levels and are therefore more productive throughout the day.

Companies are increasingly taking mindfulness very seriously and there are an endless numbers of experts that can offer advice and guidance on the different techniques that can benefit employees.

Who else is doing this?

As the saying goes when the US coughs, the UK catches a cold. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that British businesses are finally starting to catch on when it comes to mindfulness in the workplace.

Major global companies like Google and Apple are already leading in this sector, having rumoured to have dedicated meditation rooms and meditation experts at their HQ in LA.

However, it isn’t exclusively US companies that are doing this. The NHS and Transport for London are just some examples of UK organisations that have introduced mindfulness in the workplace, and they definitely won’t be the last to do so.

With more and more businesses starting to realise the benefits, it seems the employee wellbeing sector is set to be a huge priority for 2015 and this is only just the start.

Why should my business embrace mindfulness?

Introducing mindfulness into your business can allow you to reap the benefits of a more focused and productive workforce, whilst making the work environment a more positive place to be. Some of the key benefits for businesses include:

1. Increased ability to focus

Concentration is key to meditation – it is the central core of practice. So, a daily practice of meditation is a daily practice in concentration – and, like everything, the more you practice, the better you get.

Increased concentration also leads to increased memory. Concentration and memory are absolutely key to every task in the workplace, and with better concentration and memory, you get a better result, more efficiently performed.

2. Better problem solving

A daily practice of meditation for as little as six weeks will produce a change in the structure of your brain, particularly the pre-frontal cortex, just behind the forehead – this change is measurable with MRI scans and leaves the meditator able to modify their behaviour.

The changes that meditation can bring in making you less fearful means that you are more willing to approach a problem than previously. And all problems get worse by being left to fester.

Approaching problems fearlessly is the best way to find resolutions – and a daily practice of meditation can result in just this.

Fear of failure is something that can hold everybody back. It is what stops many people from starting and growing their own business, so mindfulness could also help would-be entrepreneurs to take the plunge.

3. Improved cognitive ability – clearer thinking

A lot of people claim they ‘work best under pressure’, and a lot of managers feel they get the best from their team by being aggressively demanding. Neuroscience has now shown this to be far from true.

Stress, pressure, aggression – all of these, as opposed to making us work harder – actually produce a reaction in our brains that sends a signal for us to ‘shut down’.

This means that anyone who thinks they are operating best under pressure is quite simply not thinking straight! And a manager who induces stress is imparting their team’s ability to think.

A practice of meditation leads to a general calmness, and reduces the activity of this part of the brain – it means we can think straight!

4. Banishing negativity

Too often we dwell on negative thoughts which, in turn, stunt our progress and result in us giving up. Negative thoughts and feelings can in fact be a major barrier when it comes to business and can stop people achieving their true potential.

The decision to focus on the positive and forget the negative is an ability controlled by the mind, and is an active decision that we can all make. Meditation can help to facilitate this decision, enabling you to ditch the unhelpful thoughts, and stay focused on the positives!

5. Better work-life balance

In the modern environment of instant information, instant reaction, and availability 24/7, it is difficult to achieve any kind of work-life balance. Taking some time to meditate is of itself restful and calming, it is ‘time off’.

What will mindfulness in the workplace look like in the future?

It is no doubt that this is just the start for mindfulness in the workplace and in the future we are must likely to see mindfulness a major focus of employee wellbeing.

Just as many companies offer employee benefits such as bonus and pension schemes, free healthcare and company cars; employee wellbeing is likely to play a large role in attracting future talent and will be a staple part of any benefit package.

As we move into the ‘always on’ company culture, where we are constantly connected to the digital world, it is inevitable that more focus will be placed on achieving a better work-life balance.

With employees finding it increasingly difficult to leave their work at the office and switch off at the end of the day, to maintain positivity and productivity, both employers and employees need to realise that wellbeing must come first, and this begins with mindfulness.

About the author

This article has been written for ByteStart by Graham Doke. He is the founder and narrator of the ground-breaking meditation app, Anamaya. The app contains 350 meditations, exploring 11 different focus areas including worry, anxiety, stress, pain and sports. To find out more, or to download the app, visit www.anamaya.co or the iTunes app store.

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