Mindfulness and the workplace
By Melanie Kramer, Steph Andel and Brie DeLisi
What is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., the man credited for inventing the fundamental of mindfulness, describes it as the moment to moment, non-judgmental awareness. In other words, by paying attention in the present moment without reacting or judging (13). Even more simply, it is noticing what is happening while it is happening. Kabat-Zinn (13) argues that the greater the mindfulness, the greater the awareness (and thus insight) that may stem from it.
From an evolutionary perspective, it is clear that being mindful served as an advantage – to be aware of what was happening in the moment and know how to respond in that instant was advantageous, and likely the determinant between who survived and who didn’t in many situations. While we all have an inherent ability to be mindful, it is also something that can be learned and developed. As the world becomes more complicated, overloaded, and stimulating, it is arguably more difficult to be fully present. By practicing mindfulness, you develop your ability to be present, and thus aware of what is going on around you; by noticing the present, you are able to develop greater choice and act with purpose, as opposed to being reactionary and being driven my mindless habits and patterns.
But why? Why is being mindful worth your time?
Researchers posit that by practicing mindfulness, and thus by being more mindful, you experience a number of cognitive gains (i.e. enhancing attention, increased self-awareness) that lead to effective emotion regulation strategies. These benefits include: better self-control, the ability to be more objective, affect tolerance, ability to be more flexible, less emotionally reactive, enhanced mental clarity, focus, improved working memory, decreased rumination, increased cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence, stress reduction, relationship satisfaction, and the ability to relate to others and yourself with kindness (4, 6, 12, 14, 15, 17,19). There is also research support for mental health benefits related to mindfulness practice, such as decreases in stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms (10, 11), as well as benefits to physical well-being, such as decreased medical symptoms, improved sleep quality, decrease in pain symptoms, and decreased physical impairment (3, 11).
These benefits also spill over into the work environment. For example, when we are more mindful, we enjoy our jobs more, and tend to put more effort into our work tasks. We also experience less burnout, as we are better equipped to “bounce back” from stressful events at work (9). This may be especially important for jobs that regularly expose employees to emotionally draining and difficult situations. In fact, researchers are continuously exploring the effectiveness of mindfulness interventions at alleviating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the military, emergency medical services, and other trauma-exposed work populations (18).
Interestingly, there is also extensive research to suggest that mindfulness is linked to higher job performance among employees (8), likely because mindfulness enhances our ability to avoid distractions and focus on the task at hand (9). This positive relationship between mindfulness and performance is evident across a variety of occupations, including food servers (5), healthcare clinicians (2), and supervisors (16). Mindfulness also plays a role in enhancing safety performance. Two different studies found that nuclear power plant employees who were more mindful demonstrated higher levels of safety performance behaviors on the job (21,22). Similar results were also recently found in a sample of nurses, such that nurses who were mindful took fewer task shortcuts, and in turn had fewer occupational safety failures (7).
What would a mindfulness intervention look like?
The process of applying mindfulness techniques to the workplace is multifaceted. The first and most important concept to realize is that practicing mindfulness is much like implementing a regular exercise routine. Mindfulness requires gradual skill development and a personal commitment to the goal of being more mindful.
The next step to applying mindfulness is education on the tools available. There are multiple methods of instruction including lectures, discussions, videos, podcasts, live sessions, and personal practice. In addition to the various methods, there are also a number of mindfulness practices including breathing, meditation, reflection, writing, and habit-recognition. Just like with a workout routine, effective practices vary from person to person. Resources including Mindful.org recommend regularly scheduled times to practice mindfulness, for example: when starting the day, when first arriving to work, and whenever focus begins to shift away from the task at hand.
At Propulo, we help to identify when organizations struggle with mindfulness through our assessment process. We’ve found that common workforce mentalities include rushing, production pressure, multitasking or high levels of stress will directly impact employee safety, quality, and production rates. In addition to providing recommendations and guidelines for shifting the organization focus and priorities, we also deliver executive and leader coaching to drive effective change in the workforce.
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