Mindfulness in the workplace is the holistic way to find space and peace in your life. Corporate life in the UK has become more stressful and harried than ever before. Long hours, looming deadlines, tedious commutes and tense interactions can characterise a typical day at work. The next project, the next meeting, the next performance appraisal, the next altercation with the boss, the likelihood of job loss……. the mental rollercoaster is relentless. As a result, the mind wanders, worries and flits from subject to subject and we feel drained and exhausted in the process.
Modern day living has our brains wired for constant stimulation and activity. When this scenario is played out day after day, week after week, we lose concentration and productivity suffers as a result. We stop enjoying our work, become less effective and dread the thought of having to go to work at all. However, the secret to a happier working life lies within us and not in the external challenges that we experience every day.
Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace
Prolonged mental stress and negative feelings like worry and anxiety sap you of health and vitality. Mindfulness training is a powerful way to reduce stress and is associated with numerous benefits including improved cardiovascular health, reduced healing time from sickness, higher immunity levels, better memory and enhanced concentration. Mindfulness practices help strip away distractions, release mental space and pave the way for creativity.
Mindfulness in the workplace is a way to increase current-moment awareness and check your emotions before they run amuck in a haze of toxic thoughts. It helps us to make empowering mental choices, rather than react to situations on autopilot, and reconnect with our emotions in a healthier way.
Mindfulness Training in the Workplace
To use an analogy, mindfulness training is rather like visiting a mental gym; the process is challenging but the rewards are great!
While mindfulness is an excellent concept, how does one incorporate mindfulness techniques in the context of a busy workday? Let’s start off with some simple exercises. Remember that being mindful involves eliminating mindless and unconscious behaviour.
- Start off your day by setting the intention to be as present as you can – being aware of your surroundings and yourself, and not running on autopilot. Take a few minutes to breathe and internalise the thought.
- When you find distracting thoughts flitting across your mind, simply observe them and allow them to go their way; avoid engaging with them or resisting them.
- Start mindfulness practices by paying conscious attention to mundane tasks such as washing your hands, opening the door, eating a sandwich or dialling a number. Later, you can start extending mindfulness to more complex tasks.
- Start by using mindfulness practices for one sense at a time. For example, if you are focusing on sight, try observing the colour of the wall or ceiling or the sunlight entering a room. Disturbing statistics from the Office for National Statistics indicate that, in 2016, UK employees took 15.8 million days off (out of a total of 137.3 million sick days) due to mental health conditions. The result is increasing employee absenteeism, reduced productivity and increased health costs. Research also shows another interesting fact about human psyche: for roughly 47% of our time, we tend to think about things other than what we are doing in the current moment.
When you notice yourself starting to feel overwhelmed, pause, close your eyes for 3 to 5 minutes (you can even begin with a one-minute meditation) and bring your attention to your breath. Allow thoughts to come and go and every time you feel distracted, bring your attention back to your breath. This simple exercise can be done at any time; at your desk, in your car in the parking lot or before an important presentation.
Meditation and mindfulness are interrelated concepts but not the same. However, meditation is an important tool for enhancing mindfulness. Here are some other strategies for increasing mindfulness in the workplace:
- Pay full attention when someone is talking. Every time you notice your mind wandering off to other things like your plans for the evening or a disagreement that you had previously, bring your attention back to the conversation. Mindfulness listening helps improve concentration and communication.
- Focus on any one object and reconnect with everyday objects around you. For example, you can observe the office coffee machine, its texture, colours and material and think about how it works.
- If it is practical, you can try walking out into the park or bench outside your office for a few minutes. Leave behind distractions like mobile phones and pagers and listen quietly to the sounds of nature.
- Try to spend at least five minutes of the day doing nothing at all.
Mindfulness training is becoming increasingly popular in workplaces across the UK. Top organisations like Google, Nuffield Health and British Telecom have embraced mindfulness as the path to enhanced feelings of wellbeing and harmony.
Here are some more mindfulness practices that you can implement in the workplace:
- Consciously try to focus only on answering important emails. Bring your attention back when you are tempted to open every email in your inbox; avoid checking your email first thing in the morning as it increases the level of mental distraction.
- Take 2-3 minutes to pause before leading a meeting. As a matter of fact, you can encourage team members to pause for 2-3 minutes before beginning. This helps lead shorter and more effective meetings and helps make a mindful transition to the next meeting.
- Try keeping a timer to go off on your phone every hour or so. Take this opportunity to perform a one-minute meditation and free-up mental space, in order to avoid poor decision making.
- Mindfulness practices are especially important for the time after lunch, as our brain tends to tire and lag and we get distracted more easily.
Mindfulness is not about performing tasks in slow motion – it refers to being more present in daily tasks. It enhances concentration and awareness in the workplace. Mindfulness in the workplace helps us realise individual and organisational goals by helping us gain control over what we choose to think about.
Most importantly, we learn to appreciate that every moment is a conscious choice and that we can feel relaxed and contented while at work. Mindfulness practices help you feel more present, alive and more productive in the workplace.