Anyone who pays attention to health and wellness trends – or even skims popular media from time to time – is familiar with the term “mindfulness.”
The concepts of living in the moment and practicing self-compassion are based on values long-held in Eastern philosophies, particularly Buddhism. Their mainstream adoption in the West, though, has largely focused on buzz-worthy subjects like meditation. The popular focus on mindfulness has also centered on its importance in personal life rather than business environments.
However, mindfulness is much more than meditation, and its role in creating a successful and caring corporate culture shouldn’t be understated.
Why Mindfulness Is Important At Work
An increasing number of major companies, particularly in the high-tech sector, offer mindfulness training. A 2016 study by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health found that nearly one-quarter of the companies surveyed offered the training to employees, and an additional 21% expected to offer it this year. That’s great.
But here’s the problem: businesses often make the mistake of equating mindfulness solely with meditation. Many simply encourage employees to meditate (or practice yoga) at work in order to improve their ability to concentrate and lower their stress levels, two common issues in workplaces. Twitter, Zappos, Medium and Google are among the online giants that provide meditation classes or spaces for employees.
Medium actually built its meditation room right in the center of its offices to provide easy access.
Relieving stress and increasing concentration in the workforce are worthwhile goals from a company’s perspective, as each can boost employees’ overall wellness and productivity. And mindfulness certainly embraces techniques like meditation and yoga. But it aims much higher than just enhancing relaxation and focus.
In reality, mindfulness is a way of life. It teaches people how to “stay in the present” and focus on everything happening in their environment without becoming overly reactive, emotional or judgmental.
That allows them to properly observe the behavior of those around them – as well as their own behavior – without over-thinking, worrying about the future or obsessing over the past. It also allows them to seek personal fulfillment in furthering their individual or shared goals. Mindfulness enables people to move past potentially-troublesome roadblocks like low self-esteem or a desire for personal aggrandizement, letting them fully appreciate their surroundings and the people in them.
There’s scientific research that explains why the process works, too. Brain scans show that the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for humans’ “fight or flight” responses, actually shrinks after two weeks of mindfulness training. At the same time, the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is in charge of concentration and awareness, expands. These changes allow thoughtful responses to stimuli to replace deep-rooted primal reactions.
It should be obvious that truly-mindful employees benefit a company far more than ones who simply have lower stress levels. These workers are able to let go of the baggage holding them back, and can become more creative, more focused, and better teammates. Any organization that encourages its employees to pursue mindfulness will be rewarded with a more productive, more connected and happier workforce.
What a Mindful Corporate Culture Looks Like
An organization staffed and led by those who practice mindfulness is, among other things, a joyful place to work where workers and bosses love what they do. The company focuses on well-conceived and carefully-defined short-term tasks and long-term goals, with managers and employees working in concert to achieve them.
It is honest with its customers or clients, honest with its staff – and rewards honesty in return.
Most importantly, a mindful organization doesn’t try to create “artificial” team unity with once-a-year picnics or distracting productivity contests. Its corporate behavior and policies fully embrace and support the concept of mindfulness, both in organizational conduct and employee development.
Offering mindfulness courses and training as a company benefit is a good start, but it’s only one step toward a culture of mindfulness. To achieve that goal, the organization must make bigger changes – because creating a mindful company starts at the top.
Here are some of the key mindsets an organization should adopt:
- View employees as people, not disposable assets: No successful company is going to guarantee a subpar employee’s job for life. But treating staff members as valued members of the team, even if their work needs improvement, pays lasting dividends. That means providing them with every necessary tool for self-improvement, and every opportunity to learn, blossom and advance. This caring approach is a hallmark of focused and successful organizations.
- Maintain a calm and supportive workplace: Distractions are the natural enemy of mindfulness and overall wellness. A work environment should minimize drama and encourage the sincere cooperation that promotes a unified focus on the tasks at hand. Sensitive yet honest feedback is another crucial way to foster a supportive climate, which makes employees feel valued and encourages self-actualization.
- Create an atmosphere of acceptance: Mindful organizations create a diverse and tolerant environment where individuals’ differences, personality quirks and opinions are accepted and celebrated. They also encourage employees to practice self-compassion: accepting their mistakes, forgiving themselves and moving on. But these organizations practice acceptance at a corporate level as well, since living in the past and resisting change can be a fatal mistake. A successful company realizes and accepts changes in its industry and shifts its focus accordingly.
- Practice openness: Not all company secrets can be shared with every employee, of course, but a mindful corporate culture encourages the sharing of information throughout the organization. Secrets invite distrust and create walls; information-sharing creates trust and breaks down walls. The latter also helps staff members better understand their jobs, their assignments, the company’s goals, and the importance of their role in the company’s operations and successes.
- Encourage questioning: Answering honest and relevant questions with demeaning responses like “that’s just the way we do it” or “that’s not your job” doesn’t just shut down an individual worker’s creativity and desire to contribute. It sabotages a company’s efforts to create a supportive team atmosphere, and derails employee suggestions and ideas which could theoretically improve the company’s efficiency and results. Informed questions aren’t an annoyance. They’re an opportunity, and the sign of a mindful employee.
- Focus on the “now”: More than anything else, mindfulness means living in the present. A successful corporate culture will allow the entire team to focus all of its attention on the day’s tasks and challenges – while, to use a sports cliché, “ignoring the noise.”
Many old-fashioned managers still believe that mindfulness is too “new age” to fit with their existing business model, or that it’s only a fad. They’re wrong. A comprehensive 2016 study at Case Western Reserve University has shown that a mindful corporate culture provides enormous benefits for both employees and the organization.
It also creates a much more enjoyable place to work.