Mindfulness in the Workplace: How it Can Improve Your Work Life


It’s rooted in the ancient practices of Buddhism. University of Massachusetts academic, Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn popularized mindfulness. There have been many wild claims for its effects but some benefits of mindfulness at work do exist.

Going to work every day can be hard, but stressed people around you can make it unbearable. Read on to learn how to practice mindfulness in the workplace and how it can improve your work life.


What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is often associated with meditation. Meditation is a mindfulness activity but mindfulness is not another term for meditation. A simple definition is awareness of the moment.

When being mindful, you become aware of yourself and your immediate surroundings. You are conscious of your own thoughts as if you are an independent observer. You observe these things without reacting or responding to them.


Not Just Meditation

It’s easy to see how this description might apply to meditation by an experienced practitioner. It’s also possible to experience other things in a mindful way. You can eat a sandwich or wash the dishes with heightened awareness, observing the experience and your thoughts and feelings.

Being conscious of the things around you is a mindful activity. Start with quiet moments in the shower or when having a coffee. After a while, you’ll be able to be mindful on the bus or in a crowd.

Listening in a mindful way to your partner or friends can improve your relationships. Give them your total attention and make great eye contact. Don’t judge or focus on your own thoughts and prejudices.

The key is repetition. Take time each day to develop your mindfulness, even if it’s for a few minutes. It can become a helpful habit.


Mindfulness in the Workplace

Many workplaces offer opportunities to learn and practice mindfulness. This can include mindfulness group exercises and meditation rooms. There are courses to develop mindful practices too.


Mindfulness and Engagement

As organizations have become interested in promoting engagement, mindfulness training has become popular. Engagement is about aligning the commitment of employees with the goals of the organization.

When employees engage they use their discretionary effort in support of the organization. If there’s a problem at work engaged people pitch in and help out. Unengaged people look the other way or wait for the boss to do something.

So why do organizations who are looking to engage people, provide mindfulness training? When you are being mindful, you are conscious of your own and others emotions. You are able to connect more with what is going on in the organization.

This means that mindful people are less stressed. They cause less stress in others. They are also able to connect with a purpose for themselves and the organization.


Mindfulness and Stress Reduction

The mental health benefits of mindfulness have been well documented. The early promoters of mindfulness in the modern era had stress reduction as their prime aim. There is now a body of research showing how mindfulness can be helpful in reducing the symptoms of stress.

Research demonstrates that it is effective in helping to regulate emotions. People are less reactive to stressful situations. People who practice mindfulness are less prone to negative emotions.

Relationships improve with mindfulness. It reduces interpersonal stress. This suggests mindfulness is helpful in reducing workplace conflict.

Reducing workplace stress seems good for the organization and for its employees to. A win-win for mindfulness programs.


Mindfulness and General Health

There are clear links between mindfulness practices and psychological health. There may be other health benefits too. Anxiety at work can cause high blood pressure, skin complaints, problems with sleeping and diet.

Discussion about mindfulness practices tends to concentrate on meditation. This is not the only practice available. Some other practices can deliver more physical well-being benefits. Introducing movement is one way of achieving this.

Qi Gong and Tai Chi are examples of activities that have a meditative aspect to them. Yoga uses a combination of movement and contemplative techniques. They combine meditation with a physical exercise.

Introducing movement to the mindfulness practice can make them more accessible to people. People might otherwise struggle to engage with meditation in a work environment. Stretching, moving and activity is useful in counteracting physical problems. They help people to be more energetic and alive.


Connecting to a Purpose

Engaging people with the purpose of an organization goes to the root of why people work. If you believe it’s only for the money then organizations have a simple mechanism to work with. The old stick and carrot management style.

Research shows that the story is actually more complex than that. Intrinsically motivated employees outperform extrinsically motivated ones.

The top 25% most engaged workforces outperform the 25% least engaged workforces. They are 21% more profitable and 20% more productive.

According to Dan Pink, intrinsically motivated employees have autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Mindfulness helps support these factors.

Mindfulness increases the sense of control and autonomy people feel. Reduced stress, control of emotion and connectedness all contribute.

Mastery of meditation, relaxation, focus and emotional intelligence provides the second factor. Last, a sense of purpose seems to develop with mindfulness activities.


Emotional Intelligence

Being aware of your own and others emotions is the first goal of people who seek to develop emotional intelligence. After that, being able to manage your own and others emotions is the goal. These capabilities are typical of successful people.

The practice of mindfulness involves gaining the self-awareness to understand your own emotions. With practice, detachment from these feelings means gaining emotional control. It’s often a lack of control that leads to conflicts and poor relationships.

Mindfulness works to improve emotional intelligence and create a happy and productive workplace. The relationships that benefit are between colleagues and between leaders and their teams.


Mindfulness and Leadership

Strong emotional intelligence is especially useful for leaders. It allows them to provide the emotional support their people need.

High performing teams will be under pressure from time to time. Having a leader who understands their thoughts and feelings is invaluable. Mindful leadership is about being present with your people, aware of what is happening.

Leaders who practice mindfulness provide a good role model for their people. They encourage good physical and mental health as well as emotional intelligence. They walk the talk as well as talk the talk of connecting with their people.


Mindful Organizations

Many organizations are introducing mindfulness practice. Among the best known are Google, General Mills, and Intel. Each has a clear purpose behind the strategy.

Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” program began in 2007. The aim is to improve emotional intelligence and resilience. They also believe it defuses emotions.

General Mills, who started their program in 2006 have a quite different aim. They aim to improve focus and creativity. They have a meditation room in every building the Minneapolis headquarters as well as yoga and meditation classes.

The tech giant, Intel, delivers a mindfulness course and measures the results. Participants report a three-point increase in happiness and a two-point reduction in stress. Creativity, relationships and engagement are all improved.


How to Introduce Mindfulness at Work?

Introducing mindfulness at work is much like any change management project. It has to start with top leadership getting behind the program. When top leaders engage with mindfulness their behavior communicates commitment.

Technology at work can be a hindrance and a help to mindfulness programs. Being present means sometimes turning off the babble of email, messaging and information. Yet, mindfulness apps can support and educate people as they learn how to be mindful.

Organizations can provide some structure for mindful practices such as group meditation sessions. Better still they can provide time and a location for people to take some time out for meditation. A meditation room, garden or a quiet atrium are all viable options.

As people become more experienced and skilled they can work more mindful way. As everybody understands that this is the way things are in this workplace, it becomes easier to take a moment out at your desk to breath. People understand that there may be times when turning off alerts and instant messaging is ok.

Many organizations buy into mindfulness programs and have external trainers come in. The next step is to own it. Training your own staff to be mindfulness practitioners and teachers internalizes the program.


Improve Your Work Life

The benefits of mindfulness to you as an individual are clear. The case for mindfulness in the workplace is strong. Mindfulness works.

To learn more about improving life in the workplace, click here.