Bringing Mindfulness to Work

How mindfulness can increase attention and engagement at work - precious resources in our fast-paced, ever-expanding world.

by Maugan Dixon & Nicole Winchell, February 18, 2016

Ever feel like the complexities and demands of your work-life are increasing exponentially? For many of us, the answer is yes.

Now would you say your capacity to meet that increased complexity and demand is increasing at the same rate? Hmm. We thought so. The good news is that you are not alone. 

In this talk, Dr. Richard Fernandez, co-founder of Wisdom Labs, explains the pressures that the modern workforce faces and how mindfulness can help overcome the challenges associated with the increased demands of an increasingly fast-paced world. We’ve assembled some of his key arguments as to why modern workers need mindfulness. 

As Fernandez notes, one of the downsides of contemporary living is that the demands made on us seem to be outsized. In fact, he claims that 90 % of the data that humans possess in our knowledge base, collectively as a species, has been created in the last two years. Our brains are quite literally becoming scrambled as we struggle to process huge amounts of information and respond to incredibly diverse and complex tasks.

A recent McKinsey study claims that always “on” work environments are killing productivity, dampening creativity and making us unhappy. So how do we navigate this complex world and reinstate happiness in the workplace? 

A State of Mindfulness 

It could be easier than we think. In recent months, the term mindfulness has been popping up everywhere. Mindfulness promotes autonomy in employees and leadership in employers. It also leads to a happier, better functioning workplace where people want to go work and are excited to begin their days. 

So what is mindfulness? Fernandez avoids using a singular definition but rather defines mindfulness as a set of mental skills that can build capacity. 

Skills that can be built through mindfulness:

Focus 
Mental Clarity and Agility 
Collaboration 
Creativity/Innovation
Emotional Intelligence
Empathy and Compassion 
Resilience
Happiness

To be mindful means to simply be on-message, focused and ready for the task ahead. It sounds easy, but it’s not something we always do well. As one area of life becomes better integrated with the next, it is sometimes difficult to draw lines between activities.

As this article on "switching-off"  and this guide to workplace productivity explain, separation between tasks is paramount for both your up-time, down-time and tasks in between. For this reason, being mindful, particularly at work, is as much a skill as being able to fulfill your job description.

One could even argue that instead of practicing work-life balance, we should distinguish the two.

When you’re ON - you’re really ON and when you’re OFF, practice being completely OFF. The gray area, fueled by non-stop availability and late-night emails sent from your smartphone, is perhaps the most dangerous zone. 

Why Mindfulness Matters 

So, why is mindfulness as important for work as the rest of the things you do to begin your day? Fernandez claims the benefits are two-fold. On a personal level, being mindful can help improve overall well-being and work satisfaction. From an organizational persepective, it can save money (in at least three ways) and makes for a more productive, motivated workforce. Below we’ll outline these points in more detail. 

Personal Well-Being 

The most important on the list: personal well-being. Being mindful makes you happy. Happiness is good for you. It’s that simple. We’ve all had that day where you were late for work, didn’t prepare the day before and it all just begins to go downhill from there. Those days are stressful. Those days you weren’t being mindful.  But if you were awake that little bit earlier, if you had prepared for work – basically, if you were mindful, the day would have probably gone more smoothly. Being mindful at work starts before you even get to work. 

Being mindful is actually good for your mind – literally. Aside from an actual thickening of the frontal cortex, being mindful actually helps to reduce the 47% of mind wondering time. It aids you in thinking more fluidly and directs your mind to the tasks at hand. Being more focused and cutting out the time in between can help you get a better grasp on your tasks, reduce stress and give you a greater sense of purpose and accomplishment. 

Becoming the Best 

Did you know that mindfulness is shared by many of the best leaders? They make for better team members and really can bring out the best in a team. If everybody is working towards the same goal and has that as the central focus in discussions, it makes it easier to act as one unified body. Mindfulness helps strengthen leadership skills and also fosters collaboration, creativity and empathy - all skills that will help you be the best leader you can be. 

Cost-Cutting & Productivity 

Being mindful can save you and your business money. If no one wants to be at work and those who are, are on the verge of burning out, it’s costing organizations a lot. Fernandez shares the results of research and claims that there has been as much as a 47% reduction in staff turnover cost and 19% less sick-leave costs in places with higher levels of employee engagement.

How? Well it’s simple really. The organizations with happier teams have happiness in common and although there is no direct link between happiness and staff retention and absences, there most certainly is a strong correlation between the three. When we feel better and more engaged, we simply do better. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never jump ship (it seems that we may need to for that big promotion), but it does mean we’ll be better team players and have a brighter take on our working day ahead.

You know what else the organizations also have in common aside from cost cutting? A 12% increase in performance and productivity. This one is a no brainer: when you feel better you simply do better. There’s a spring in your step and work is your contribution to the world, not a weight around your ankle. According to new data from research presented in Fernandez’s talk, the happiness factor is now a metric to be measured and being mindful certainly seems to add up. 

So what does it all boil down to? When we go about our lives in a mindful way, we have a general sense of heightened awareness, peacefulness and physical relaxation. These are certainly great reasons to practice mindfulness in themselves, but as evidenced above, the benefits in the workplace go far beyond that.