The Well-Trained Brain: How to Implement Mindfulness Training in the Office
Mindfulness can be the key to clear thinking and stress reduction in the workplace.
Your office is the centre of your operations and a hive of productivity, but it can also be a busy and occasionally stressful place. In a world increasingly dominated by technology, some employers are turning to a surprisingly non-technical option to reduce stress and encourage clearer thinking.
Focus on the here and now
Mindfulness can help your employees not only manage their stress but also maintain focus, enhance cognitive abilities, improve relationships and boost their health. Mindfulness is essentially awareness. It works by focusing on the moment while acknowledging and accepting personal emotions, thoughts and bodily sensations. Meditation, breathing exercises or yoga are often used to help achieve that focus. Evaluation, interpretation and judgment are discouraged as are the kind of random thoughts which can be the source of negativity or distraction and which are often the source of our stress.
What results can be expected?
Mindfulness is not a new concept, but it is catching on, with a growing number of corporations from auto makers to banks to technology firms implementing it in some way. And, it’s producing tangible results. Aetna, for example, realized cost savings of $2,000 per employee in health care utilization costs and over $3,000 per employee in increased productivity. Another 2016 study found mindfulness improved employees' life satisfaction and reduced their anxiety. More critical for employers, it also revealed that participating employees demonstrated much higher levels of concentration on their work and improved workplace relationships.
Avoid the one and done
Mindfulness may also help your company attract and retain employees. A recent Accenture study found that emotional factors including engagement and quality of life are far more important to today’s workers than wages or benefits. However, consistency is key. Avoid the temptation to hold a single one-off event with little to no follow up. Instead, implement a cultural change that encourages mindfulness and embeds it into the daily routine.
An easy tool to implement
Unlike many employee wellness initiatives, mindfulness is inexpensive and relatively easy to implement. Everyone in your office will experience stress or anxiety at some point, but some handle it better than others. Implemented as part of a daily routine, mindfulness can help your employees prevent the negative health effects of long-term stress and deal better with unexpected stress. Here are a few tips for implementing mindfulness in your office.
Aim for work-life balance
Work-life balance is something many companies address, but real implementation involves embedding mindfulness into the office routine. For some employers, this translates into scheduled and mandatory time for personal development including things like meditation.
Start by embedding mindfulness into your culture
Take a look at every aspect of your business with a focus on how your current wellness culture encourages mindfulness and where you could implement further supports. Additionally, train key members of your team, such as managers, on what mindfulness is and what its benefits are. Poll them for ideas on how it can be embedded into your company culture. Their support could make or break mindfulness implementation at your workplace. In your assessment, consider:
- Wellness and health promotion programs and training
- Modelling behaviours (do your managers, CEO and other C-suite executives practice mindfulness?)
- Benefits or incentives (such as gym memberships or healthy snacks)
Dedicate time and space
Although it may not be the first thing that comes to mind, structure can be the key to a successful mindfulness practice. A dedicated space for meditation, for example, can help your employees stay focused on the here and now and allow them to more effectively separate work and meditative practice. Mindfulness also works best when there is a space specifically dedicated to it. The same is true of time. Structure the workday at your office to include dedicated time for mindfulness, particularly at the start and the end of the day. The former puts your people in the right headspace for the work day while the latter allows them the time to leave their workplace stress behind before going home.
With multitasking increasingly becoming a staple of all facets of life, insisting that your employees make time to focus can pay off. Chanje, a Los Angeles based electric van maker, expects employees to spend 20% of their day on mindfulness-related activities, including meditation. Their staff do not answer emails on the weekend and employees are given unlimited time off with the one stipulation that people actively disengage during holidays.
Provide support for the learning process
Consider large group seminars or workshops to introduce a mindfulness practice to your workplace. Then, tailor the specific support you provide to your team according to their response. Options can include:
- Additional courses and training
- Onsite experts or coaches
- Apps or tools
What does mindfulness look like?
Mindfulness can take a variety of forms in the workplace. The most common form is meditation, but mindfulness can also be achieved through breathing exercises and yoga. The common thread is achieving personal awareness.
Meditation seeks to clear the mind of distracting thoughts. It can be done alone or in groups, with an instructor or without. It may mean clearing one’s thoughts completely or it may involve focusing just on an existing thought or feeling. Consultants can lead your employees through the basics of meditation and then you can either provide time and encouragement for self-meditation or organize group meditations on site. (Learn more in The Incredible Benefits of Meditation For The Brain That All Companies Need To Understand).
This is one of the easiest and quickest ways to achieve mindfulness. All it requires is sitting in a comfortable position and taking ten minutes or so to focus on your breathing, the inhale and the exhale. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth after holding your inhale for several seconds. Repeat for several minutes.
Yoga builds both physical and mental strength and mindfulness as participants attempt and hold a series of poses. You may want to offer yoga classes to your employees and provide a room and mats. There are also several apps which offer video guides and can lead you through a yoga session.
The app option
Despite the obvious irony of using personal technology to escape even momentarily from the demands of technology and the office, there are numerous apps available that your employees can access that may help in the pursuit of mindfulness. Purists might object, but companies including KPMG, Goldman Sachs and the Bank of England now offer meditation apps such as the Mindfulness App, Headspace and Calm in their wellbeing seminars.
Written by Jennifer Crump
Jennifer Crump is a former freelance journalist and author and now full-time content writer and strategist. She contributes to magazines and blogs throughout North America on issues related to business, training, financing and workplace safety.