Mindfulness@workplace: happier people, better results

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Mindfulness is emerging as a high interest area in companies worldwide as a way to encourage employees and managers to be more balanced and productive at work.

A happy worker is a productive worker. We have heard this adage over and over in various forms, and at various stress-reduction workshops. Mindfulness is chief among the strategies that employers and executive coaches are increasingly considering today while aiming to create happier employees, and consequently greater productivity.

Mindfulness, in the simplest terms is awareness of the self and its thoughts and emotions. It is the ability to live each moment with full awareness without judgment—acceptance being the operative idea here—and finds its roots in the philosophies of Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism.

As it turns out, human minds have the tendency to wander either to the past to linger on regrets or to the future to brood over imagined fears. Mindfulness addresses this frailty of the human mind, and urges people to overcome powerful distracting thoughts related to the past or the future, and focus on the present moment.

Mindfulness must neither be seen as a substitute for deep critical thinking for problem-solving at the workplace, nor as a substitute for medical care in pathologically ill patients.

Many a spiritual tradition includes practices designed for training the mind to enhance control over thoughts, and consequently on actions. Such traditions are linked to larger life values such as detachment and contentment. It is no surprise then that present-focused thinking, which these traditions essentially promote as near-panacea for many stress- and anxiety- related issues and ailments, has become a popular corporate best practice.

While there are several corporate best practices adopted by companies to build sustained employee engagement such as team building initiatives, learning, challenging work, and recognition and rewards for performance, the results have not been spectacular.

Enter mindfulness. Drawing upon the idea that the overall wellbeing of an employee plays a crucial part in his sense of job satisfaction and emotional connect with the organization, mindfulness is emerging as a high interest area in companies worldwide looking to encourage employees and managers, subsequently leading to better balance and greater productivity.

How it works
Technological advancement in every sphere of work has made multi-tasking and poor attention spans the new widely accepted-norm. This is not to relegate technological advancement as being evil in itself, but such efficient lifestyles with insane demands on people’s mental faculties aided by a technology proliferation in every sphere of life and work come with a heavy price—relationships, performance, and true satisfaction has taken a wallop.

Wandering Mind

Research is increasingly pointing to the benefits of the practice of mindfulness: Lower stress, increased awareness, better focus in all activities, self-control and balance, higher productivity, improved quality of output, better relationships, and acceptance of situations and people. Mindfulness also inculcates a practice of introspection and course-correction.

Mindfulness programmes at work often comprise of exercises promoting awareness, and secular meditation techniques. This has made these programs acceptable to employees of different backgrounds, since they do not promote a particular Eastern spiritual philosophy.

Key considerations
The primary purpose of mindfulness is to create a holistic life by building awareness and self-control. There may be well-founded apprehension about mindfulness programmes as being “quick techniques” to solve many ills.

Benefits of mindfulness: Lower stress, increased awareness, higher productivity, improved quality of output, better relationships, and acceptance of situations and people.

While the benefits of the art are said to accrue with as little as 10-15 minutes of meditation a day, the practice still needs to be understood and linked to larger life values and principles. If expectations are very high, viewing it in a limited form as a set of procedures will not yield the necessary impact, and can also potentially lead to cynicism over time.

Meditation, as traditionally practiced, has physical, mental and spiritual dimensions. Therefore it is not fantastic to claim that each person will have different experiences with its practice, and the practice has to be personal. Expectations from the organisation and the individual have to be aligned—mindfulness cannot be promoted primarily as a productivity improvement technique, for instance. There are various different forms of meditation, and it is best to read about, attend introductory sessions on, and then select a practice one is most comfortable with.

Bharath Ramakrishnan

Mindfulness cannot change external circumstances or people. If there are frustrating elements at the workplace, these have to be dealt with in any case. Nor can mindfulness improve underlying health conditions, which need clinical treatment. Mindfulness must neither be seen as a substitute for deep critical thinking for problem-solving at the workplace, nor as a substitute for medical care in pathologically ill patients.

Technology & mindfulness
There are several ‘mindfulness’ applications, which can be used as aids in the practice of mindfulness. Most of these apps provide timers, bells, guided meditations, and forums where people can discuss their experiences. Some of the popular apps are Headspace, Insight Timer, Stop Breathe & Think, Omvana, and Calm. Many organisations also have internal digital forums, which can be used for discussions.

Irrespective of whether your organisation has a mindfulness program, the benefits of the practice of mindfulness at work are undeniable. Without much investment of time, introducing mindfulness into your company’s work culture might change your employees’ and your life so much for the better.

(The author is a lead consultant in the Human Capital Management Centre of Excellence at Tata Consultancy Services.)