Blog »

Mindfulness in the Workplace: Can It Help, or Is It Hype?

It’s hard to find an article or blog on leadership practices these days that doesn’t mention – and recommend – trying mindfulness. But what is this practice, and how can it help achieve your organizational goals?

operates. Organizational structure is often loosely divided into two categories: tall (or vertical) and flat (horizontal). Each type has its own advantages and disadvantages.

What is mindfulness?

It is a particular way of being that is not reactive, but instead pays close attention to what is happening in any given moment – both externally and internally. It facilitates a sense of ease, which allows the practitioner to recognize the factors that are impacting the current situation and make wise decisions accordingly.

For example, let’s say you receive an email from a Subject Matter Expert who says he is going to be late with his script for your eLearning course. You might immediately realize that this delay is going to have a big impact on the course delivery, and fire off a furious response.

With mindfulness, your attention – rather than zeroing in on blame and anger – would notice the way that stress shows up in your body in the moment. For example, your shoulders might become tight, and your breathing more rapid. That open attention might also produce the realization that writing an angry email will simply escalate the situation and create unnecessary drama.

So in a very simple way, mindfulness can become a habit that leads to less reactivity and better decision making. That is one way it can benefit organizational culture.

What does the research say?

The mindfulness boom has inspired plenty of empirical studies that boast the potential benefits of a mindful organization, including:

One study even demonstrated that when leaders practice mindfulness, their employees experience greater wellbeing and better performance at work. The employees didn’t practice at all – but the benefits seem to be contagious.

How can mindfulness save companies money?

The authors of Mindfulness: Making Peace in a Frantic World recount the comprehensive list of ways that mindfulness impacts physical and emotional health, including improving cardiovascular health, enhancing brain function, reducing self-destructive behaviors, improving mood and quality of life, reducing pain, and decreasing anxiety and depression.

How does this impact organizations? Healthier, happier employees mean fewer sick days, decreased healthcare costs, and increased productivity at work – all factors that impact the company’s bottom line (as well as the culture of the organization!). Insurance company Aetna tripled its stock after implementing a mindfulness program for employees.

It’s hard to argue with statistics like these. Mindfulness in the workplace seems to be more than hype – the documented benefits shown by multiple studies, as well as the financial impact reported by top-revenue companies, are compelling.

Try for yourself

Want to try mindfulness for yourself? Close your office door, turn off your phone, and take the next five minutes to do an experiment.

First, sit comfortably. Your posture should be upright but not forced. Take a few deep breaths in and out, gently guiding your attention to the sensation of air touching your nostrils.

Then simply allow your breathing to return to normal, and keep gently placing your attention on the sensations of your nostrils. When your mind tries to wander, simply bring the attention back to the nostrils. There’s no agenda, no results to try to achieve – you can step out of the fast-paced, stressed-out rhythm that typically characterizes a day at work.

That’s it – a simple exercise that, over time, can produce all of the benefits described above.