Mindfulness is a 21st-century skill; here’s how to increase your ability to stay mindful and improve wellness in the workplace.
Mindfulness matters. The ability to be present and mindful — to stay focused intentionally without passing judgment — is a 21st-century skill. Businesses with mindful teams are better equipped to compete in today’s ever-changing environment.
Mindfulness At Work
As most of us have experienced firsthand, stress and anxiety can take a significant toll on the mind and body. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nearly 40% of Americans feel that the stress of the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health. Not only is stress taxing, but it also increases inflammation and can lead to chronic diseases of the brain and heart.
On the other hand, research at companies like Google, Aetna, and Intel have shown that increasing mindfulness in the workplace can decrease stress levels while improving focus, thoughtfulness, decision-making abilities, and overall well-being. Mindfulness gives employees permission and space to think — to be present — leading to mental agility, resilience, and self-awareness. In addition, mindfulness can reduce emotional exhaustion, increase openness to new ideas, and develop compassion and empathy.
In this day and age, being able to stay calm and rapidly adapt to shifting circumstances with an open mind is and will continue to be a competitive advantage. Moreover, a mindful workplace can be a powerful tool for recruiting purposes. After all, if given a choice between a company that invests in its employees’ well-being and one that doesn’t, which would you choose? Similarly, increasing mindfulness at work may lead to higher levels of commitment at work and increased engagement, ultimately reducing costly turnover.
Here are a few (perhaps unconventional) tips for increasing mindfulness and wellness in the workplace.
Yoga And Meditation For Mindfulness
In 2018, the “Employer-Sponsored Health and Well-Being Survey” of 163 companies by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments found that 52% of companies offered mindfulness training that year. While there are many ways to offer mindfulness training, yoga and meditation are some of the more cost-effective methods. Yoga (which I’ve practiced for 25 years) and meditation is good for your mind and body, with benefits including stress management, concentration and focus, self-confidence, and overall fitness.
The past five years have seen an explosion of apps and programs for meditation and yoga: Shine, Meditation Studio, Headspace, Yoga Ed., and Calm are just some of the apps and training programs available for improving wellness and mindfulness. What I particularly like about Yoga Ed. is that it not only equips individuals with yoga and mindfulness tools to enhance their own wellness, but it also improves the lifelong health of the children and teens in their lives.
Moreover, workout apps like Nike Training Club, ClassPass, and Peloton also offer on-demand yoga and/or meditation classes. Most of these apps and programs listed above are relatively inexpensive and easy to implement via corporate partnerships — and certainly cheaper than hiring Jon Kabat-Zinn himself, who pioneered formal mindfulness training in the workplace, to run a corporate mindfulness seminar.
Brain Breaks And Unscheduled Time For Mindfulness
You probably think that long (boring) meditation sessions are necessary to achieve mindfulness. But research out of Wharton has found that even short — seven- or eight-minute — bursts of mindfulness result in more productive, helpful, and pleasant employees. Even these short brain breaks have been found to increase rational decision-making skills and may improve attention and focus. Just a few minutes of mindfulness can increase “divergent thinking” to generate new ideas, an extremely valuable skill during times of uncertainty (and also a skill necessary for succeeding in the future of work).
I also recommend purposefully scheduling blocks of unscheduled time. These moments of planned solitude provide the silence needed to focus on higher-level thinking and stimulate creativity while increasing mindfulness. With the frenetic pace of our modern lives, it’s become harder to find quiet moments, hence the need to schedule them into our busy calendars.
Create Time For Mindfulness By Leveraging Automation
To make time for mindfulness, I’ve been relying heavily on automation. Technology is rapidly changing the nature of work, especially as artificial intelligence and machine learning become more sophisticated. These technologies are paving the way for the automation of repetitive tasks — a little-known cause of employee burnout. Research out of McGill University suggests that repetitive tasks impair judgment, aptitude for goal planning, capacity to focus, and risk assessment abilities.
I recommend taking advantage of the myriad of companies and services that increase automation, allowing your employees to focus on innovative thinking and other work that cannot be replicated by software. In particular, Zapier makes it possible for anyone to create automated workflows without code. I use this service to help automate marketing “busy work,” but there are thousands of use cases for every role and industry.
For example, services such as Coupa, Bill.com, and Liquid streamline accounting through automated payment approvals. Automating your accounts payable processes will not only reduce errors but also increase productivity and the overall well-being of your employees. The more you empower employees to automate their repetitive tasks, the more mindful they can be about the work that matters.
Leading With Mindfulness
Similar to emotional intelligence, increasing mindfulness in the workplace starts from the top down. Lead by example by taking brain breaks and blocking out unscheduled time. Invest in automation software or services. Start with yourself and your executive team and the effects will trickle down.
Bringing mindfulness to the workplace is advantageous on several levels. After all, investing in the well-being and resilience of all employees is simply the right thing to do. But mindfulness is also a sound business investment that pays dividends. It allows businesses to decrease stress, reduce turnover, improve productivity, recruit top talent, and increase innovation.
The future of work is more than remote work. It is human-centered, where workers thrive and mindfulness, wellness, and well-being become more than just buzz words. The human-centered future of work is a movement and it starts with each of us.