One of the most exciting developments in the business world is the recent focus on the principle of mindfulness in the workplace. Nationally, major developments are taking place at the intersection of technology and health, involving industry giants such as Aetna, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook. Remarkable transformations are taking place at both the organizational level for these companies and on the individual level for a growing number of employees. But first, a few things on mindfulness in the workplace…
What is mindfulness and what are the benefits of engaging in mindfulness in the workplace?
As the phenomenon of mindfulness in the workplace sweeps across some of the most forward-thinking companies in the nation, two common questions arise: what is mindfulness, and what are the benefits of mindfulness practices?
As a leading progenitor of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, author of such books as Mindfulness for Beginners, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” This is a practice, a skill, and an awareness that can be honed to serve us well in our lives and in our workplaces. For example, if one’s mind is wandering during a meeting, we can choose to indulge in those thoughts and miss essential information and participation, or we can practice the discipline of bringing our awareness back to the present moment. Other examples of practical applications of mindfulness in the workplace include:
- Meditation to reduce stress, improve concentration, and boost the immune system
- Yoga to promote flexibility, focus, good posture, healthy circulation, and more
- Breathwork to calm the nervous system, release tension and provide peace of mind
Advanced mindfulness programs such as Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” employee program seek to improve everything from overall wellbeing to focus, creativity, and productivity. Most mindfulness initiatives include practices such as meditation, yoga, breath work, and guided self-inquiry. Although many of these practices have an Eastern, religious origin, their application in the workplace is non-sectarian.
A recent article via Wired.com about the surge of mindfulness in tech attests to the effectiveness of meditation:
“Repeated studies have demonstrated that meditation can rewire how the brain responds to stress. Other research suggests that meditation improves working memory and executive function. And several studies of long-term practitioners show an increased ability to concentrate on fast-changing stimuli. One paper cited by the Google crew even implies that meditators are more resistant to the flu.”
Regular mindfulness practice in the workplace is effectively managing stress, worry, lack of focus, addictions, and more. Employees at Google, and other companies report that mindfulness in the workplace is benefiting them by increasing their creativity, collaboration, peace of mind, and productivity.
How can businesses integrate mindfulness within the fabric of our culture?
In order to lead the change we want to see in the world, healthcare and technology executives must spark the mindfulness revolution through holistic organizational initiatives—setting the standard for leadership by giving our employees the resources and the education they need to open the doors for mindfulness. Healthcare and technology are already pioneering the integration of mindfulness practices within our corporate culture.
For example, Mark Bertolini, the chief executive officer of the health insurance giant, Aetna, is one of the leaders of the workplace mindfulness revolution. After a near-death experience, Bertolini transformed his personal health and well-being through mindfulness practices, and then he shared those gifts with his company. The New York Times reports that more than 13,000 of his employees have participated in his free yoga and meditation classes, and the employees describe enjoying “a 28 percent reduction in their stress levels, a 20 percent improvement in sleep quality and a 19 percent reduction in pain. They also become more effective on the job, gaining an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity each, which Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year.”
The results are clear that mindfulness in the workplace has significant benefits for both employees’ well-being and the overall health of the company.