The Case for Mindfulness in the Workplace

So much has changed about the landscape of the workplace in this past year. For some of us, that means we’re working from home and for others, it may mean that your physical work environment has drastically shifted. A constant throughout this time, however, has been and continues to be the importance of our mental health and wellness. 

In a discussion conducted in 2017, members of the Forbes Human Resources Council relayed both personal and organizational benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Sara Whitman of Peppercomm pointed out that in an ever-changing world, “where stress levels are high and the to-do list is more often growing than shrinking, employees are taxed and lack control,” a feeling that has no doubt been exacerbated over this past year throughout the pandemic. Whitman goes on to note that mindfulness helps, “people control their reactions to external conditions, to remain calm and reduce stress, to stay focused and produce.” So, what’s keeping companies from investing in mindfulness and mental health?

Mindfulness and meditation in the workplace are not by any means new concepts, and yet there’s still a need to share, “empirical data about the benefits of mindfulness for workplace performance and individual well-being,” psychotherapist Banu Cankaya Sahin says. Too often, there is a “sense that [mindfulness and meditation are] too spiritual or religious in origin […] and that it is a belief system that does not involve empirically supported and useful techniques,” she adds. 

Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace

Let’s look at three resources that provide useful data that can help to inform your investment in mindfulness and meditation in the business world. 

  1. This article from the Cambridge University Press Public Health Emergency Collection provides an illuminating distinction between mindfulness and meditation, two buzzwords we’ve heard tossed about quite frequently over the past year. Author C. Behan notes that, “meditation usually refers to a formal practice that can calm the mind and enhance awareness of ourselves, our minds and our environment,” whereas mindfulness, “means being aware of the present moment.” While the terms are inevitably linked, Behan goes on to detail how such practices can reduce stress and anxiety through crises like the global pandemic, including a host of sources indicating a positive correlation between meditation and stress relief. Particularly interesting is the idea that that mindfulness has become more accessible as we’ve seen an uptick in apps providing guided meditation. 
  1. Forbes Council Member Laura Sage writes about six proven benefits of meditation in the workplace in this article. Sage discusses how meditation can reduce prejudice, improve cognition, counteract stress, foster collaboration, boost memory, and curb emotional reactions. Beyond those benefits, Sage suggests that integrating meditation into corporate culture doesn’t mean that “you have to really work at it over a long period of time,” but rather you can start small, beginning with, “meditating for 1-3 minutes once a day,” or even “incorporat[ing] a 90-second meditation to begin or end a meeting,” to frame the conversation. 
  1. In this Harvard Business Review article, Matthias Birk discusses three strategies for proactively navigating difficult emotions in the workplace. From feeling our feelings, to reframing the narrative around our feelings, to just expressing them, Birk suggests that mindfulness is an effective vessel through which to process especially during global crises or major events/changes. We so often compartmentalize, isolating the emotional experience from our work life, but mindfulness can not only deepen our self-awareness of those very feelings but also enrich our connection to those we work with and our careers themselves. 
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All three resources cite information that both empirically and anecdotally supports mindfulness and meditation practices in the workplace. The question is, do you want to be a part of the mindfulness difference? 

If you’re wondering how to begin answering that question, you can start by approaching your workplace culture from a place of inquiry. Ask yourself and your employees:

  1. What tools do we offer to help manage stress?
  2. How do we make time to utilize those tools during the workday, week, year? 
  3. Do we feel connected to one another as colleagues?
  4. In which scenarios do we feel most productive?

Investing in mindfulness in the workplace isn’t just a trend, it’s a commitment to broadening the scope of what work-life can be in a time where empathy and connection, both for ourselves and each other, are more important than ever before. 

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