- Workplace Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation
- Leading with Mindfulness in Mind
- The Importance of Self-Care As A Leader
- Minding New Employee Challenges
- How to Mindfully Manage Workplace Stress
It would be akin to stating the obvious, if I began by saying that the conditions of our times are rapidly changing! In a sense, this ever speeding evolution is nothing new. The Information Age and its fast-evolving array of new technologies have been growing exponentially for some decades already. However, more recently since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, our lives have transformed in numerous unprecedented ways. The way we work, the way we learn, the way we feel, and the way we relate to one another have all shifted considerably – and, it is difficult to say what will it look like to ‘return to normal’ when the pandemic subsides.
This changing landscape has brought with it new and complex challenges for business leaders around the world. Increases in remote working, stress and anxiety,environmental uncertainty and increased substance use are just a few of the shifts that are requiring leaders to reassess how business is being conducted. How do we manage remote work teams? How do we support our employees through these changing times? And, how do we best support ourselves?
None of these new challenges come with easy answers or clear solutions. In order to come up with new ways of working, we need to think not just about how we can ‘solve problems’; we need to shift the way we are thinking and the fundamental principles our organization is built on. One powerful way to do this is through reimagining the organization as institutions that adopt self care and wellbeing as core values. This is also where the exploration of mindfulness and meditation as modalities to support this value become key.
Workplace Benefits of Mindfulness and Meditation
Incorporating mindfulness and meditation into the workplace can enhance both qualitative and quantitative measures of wellbeing of the organization as a whole. In other words, they can help to address the wellbeing of our employees while also working to support the bottom line. Though they might seem like simple practices, they can have a profound and lasting impact on both individuals and the collective (the organization).
Some of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation related to the workplace include:
· Mindfulness improves focus and attention, namely three qualities of attention: stability, control, and efficiency.
· Mindful communication by leaders can help to satisfy the basic needs of employees, which increases employee satisfaction.
· Mindfulness in the workplace can increase productivity and cooperation.
· Mindfulness can also help to reduce turnover, increasing employee retention.
· Mindfulness and meditation can help to reduce employee stress, increase resilience, and enhance social relationships in the workplace.
· Mindfulness enhances communication, reducing miscommunications and improving conflict resolution.
· Mindfulness can stimulate creativity and innovation.
· Mindfulness helps us to connect with the quiet place inside of ourselves – our inner center. As we strengthen the skill of mindfulness, we are better equipped to stay grounded and focused amidst the changing times.
These benefits exemplify the mutually-enhancing impact of mindfulness and meditation on both employees and the organization that hosts them. And these benefits have never been more vital than today. As stress, anxiety, and depression have increased considerably since the beginning of the pandemic, it stands to simple reason that organizational wellbeing has taken a big hit. Because, after all, the collective is only as strong as its parts.
By introducing mindfulness and meditation to the workplace (both indirectly through our own practice and directly by sharing resources with employees), we can enhance wellness in multiple ways. Not only will employees feel more resilient in the face of our changing times, but performance in the workplace will be enhanced. In fact, one study found that employees who reported being stressed at work were 19% less productive than those that did not report being stressed!
Intuitively, we can sense why this might be the case. When we are stressed, we tend to lack energy and focus – and, we tend to spend a whole lot of time worrying. Under stress, the mind is preoccupied with worst-case-scenarios and visions of things that might (actually mostly) never come to fruition. It becomes impossible then to grant our work our full attention or as one can say bring the best version of ourselves to work!
Reducing employee stress is therefore paramount to increasing organizational wellbeing. By equipping ourselves and all of our employees with the tools of mindfulness and meditation, we are one step closer to finding our new nourishing normal in an increasingly uncertain world.
Leading with Mindfulness in Mind
The journey towards creating a mindful or selfcare conscious organization must begin within. In other words, those who create policies and who communicate from the heart of the organization need to be grounded in the principles of mindfulness.
To clarify, mindfulness in its simplest form is the practice of paying non-judgmental, open attention to our experience. Meditation, on the other hand, is an intentional act of consciously cultivating a more wholesome state of being by nurturing virtues and qualities that are important for us, like joy and compassion or peace and calm. Both enhance wellbeing and we can easily begin with mindfulness as this creates a ripple effect that impacts the degree of care that our organization embodies.
So, what is mindful leadership then and how do we implement it at work?
We can understand mindful leadership to be a style of leadership that addresses the needs of the collective with presence, non-judgment, clarity, and compassion. It requires a high degree of self-awareness so that we are able to make wise, clear decisions in all areas of business (from hiring and firing to communicating company policies and expectations).
To implement mindfulness at work, we first need to root ourselves in some fundamental mindful principles. We won’t be perfect at embodying them all right away, but we can start by setting an intention to bring the following principles into our interactions in the organization:
These principles sound great, but what do we do with them? To put these guiding principles to use, we can weave them into our interactions across four core processes of any organization:
1. Hiring and firing (i.e. embracing curiosity while hiring, coming from compassion when letting someone go)
2. Performance appraisal (i.e. harnessing openness, kindness, and transparency while giving a performance review)
3. Customer communication (i.e. communicating with honesty, gratitude, and transparency)
4. Learning and development (i.e. providing workshops and resources to enhance employee growth and wellbeing)
The opportunity to weave mindfulness into each of these processes is quite endless. Each moment grants us an opportunity to tune into what we’re faced with in a new, more mindful way.
The Importance of Self-Care As A Leader
All of the above might sound idyllic and maybe even out of reach. How can we show up in a mindful way when we ourselves are uncertain about the future? This is precisely why self-care as a leader is crucial. We cannot fill another’s cup if our own is empty.
Self-care comes in many forms, meditation being key here. Meditation might not be something that comes with us as we jump from meeting room to meeting room; however, it can grant us the inner centeredness required to help us face those meetings with grace, strength, and resilience.
Your own self-care practice will vary according to your schedule and unique needs, but presence and rest should be at the center of it. Some examples as to how you might incorporate self-care into your life as a leader include:
· Starting the morning with a ten-minute peace and calm meditation
· Practicing love and compassion meditation, harnessing compassion for both self and others
· Exploring mindful movement during lunch breaks, i.e. mindful walking, yoga, simple stretches
· Listening to guided meditations before the workday begins or during breaks
It can also be helpful to remember that self-care is not selfish. It does not entitle us to ignore the needs of others; in reality, it helps us to gain the strength, compassion, and presence required to support other people to the best of our ability. If we ourselves experience high stress levels, it will be incredibly challenging to listen openly, communicate compassionately, and make wise, clear decisions.
Minding New Employee Challenges
Now, when it comes to leading mindfully during post-pandemic times, it is helpful to note the changes our employees have undergone. There are a number of new stressors and challenges they could be facing that will impact their sense of resilience and wellbeing. For instance, some of the stressors that many of your employees are likely facing include:
· Learning how to work from home (and managing the loneliness and isolation of this)
· Experiencing meaningful human connection with less face-to-face interaction
· Navigating new ways of connecting with loved ones and grieving (where parents are reaching their end of life)
· Spending increased time looking at a screen
· Learning to balance work and home life when everything is taking place within the home
Some of these things are beyond our reach as employers. However, where we can, we can ensure our employees know that we see and acknowledge their challenges – and, that we are doing what we can to support them through the changing times. For instance, to help our employees adapt to more time spent in front of a screen and working from home, we can encourage:
· Quality, screen-free breaks
· Online lunch or social gatherings (with or without video)
· Participation in group meditations or mindful conversations
· Physical activity, whether that is a midday walk or an online yoga streaming service that we could provide
But beyond what we encourage our employees to explore for their own wellbeing, we can continue to cultivate an environment where employees feel safe and free to share what they are experiencing. We do this not just through our words but through our actions as well. Are we modeling openness, transparency, honesty, and self-awareness? In other words, are we modeling those foundational principles of mindfulness?
How to Mindfully Manage Workplace Stress
So, when it comes to workplace stress, what concrete actions can we take to reduce the tension we are experiencing? Simple mindfulness practices can help to ease the stress response (or the sympathetic nervous system) and initiate the relaxation response (by way of the parasympathetic nervous system). One simple exercise is as follows:
1. Come to a seated or lying down position, closing your eyes and turning your attention towards your breath. Breathe naturally for a minute or two.
2. Place one hand on your belly and one on your chest. Then, see if as you breathe you can create greater movement in the handing resting on your belly. This is the practice of diaphragmatic breathing, which is known to initiate the relaxation response.
3. Continue to belly breathe for a couple of minutes. You only need to breathe this way for a few cycles to notice a shift in your energy.
4. When you are finished, observe any differences in mind and body. How has your sense of presence and centeredness shifted? Return to this practice as often as you need.
This is a simple breathing technique that you can also share with your employees. Through guided meditations, workshops, and other resources, we can support our employees (and ourselves) to live, work, and breathe more mindfully. Breath by breath, we can raise the wellbeing of all.