The modern world is one that is subject to disruptive technology, leading us deeper into the state of constant connectivity. This constant connectivity – a constant buzz of phone calls, emails, texts, chat conversations, notifications; the never-dying social media buzz; colorful, funny and satirical advertisements – have lately become sources of distraction, sometimes overwhelming too. This digital fast-paced era adds further to the million thoughts that race in our minds, providing negligible moments for the human mind to rest. Thus, we humans, are in a constant state of flux, prone to anxiety and stress.
It is in this vulnerable state that we all step into our workplace each day, a place that is often cited as the epicenter of stress for the modern man. Chasing deadlines, hopping in and out of meetings, juggling more than a handful of tasks, difficult conversations, ticking off to-do lists, long days and much more, are a part and parcel of the modern work world, adding further to the anxiety and stress. Yet at the same time it is this very work we do, day in and day out, that occupies most of our waking hours adding meaning to our lives. How then can an individual stay focused and be efficient at work despite the hectic work life filled with stringent deadlines, coupled with other life events? How can one find “inner peace” in the midst of the corporate bustle?
Corporates have recently found that the answer to beating stress and anxiety, and increasing organizational effectives lies in “Mindfulness”. Directly linked to motivation in the workplace, mindfulness is defined as the ability to stay focused yet flexible and is a way of reprogramming the mind to think in a healthier, less stressful way. The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) describes Mindfulness as a way to train the mind, while also paying attention to the body and the world around us. It helps us recognize that we are not a slave to our thoughts and that we can choose how we respond, two strands highlighted by MHF.
The benefits of being mindful at work are manifold:
- Stronger mental & physical health: Many scientific studies have found mindfulness to potentially improve both physical and mental wellbeing. It is found to help combat several ailments including heart disease, chronic pains and blood pressure issues. World over psychotherapists have found mindfulness to help alleviate mental health issues and behavioral disorders as it helps people to accept their experiences and emotions rather than react aversely and avoid them.
- Improved focus: A distracted mind thinking of twenty odd things can never complete a single task, be it at work or outside. While replying to that important follow-up mail from your boss your thoughts may wander away to the upcoming weekend outing with your buddies, and you end up planning for the weekend instead of replying to that important mail! To get things done on time at work has become quite a challenge for many. Mindfulness helps you cut through these distractions and focus on the job in hand, focusing on one thing at a time.
- Enhances Productivity: By being more aware of what one is doing and not focusing on the thoughts churning the mind, one is mastering their ability to orient attention. This will certainly help in finishing any given task quickly with greater accuracy. Mindfulness thus helps us to be more productive.
- Boosts creativity: Several studies and experiments have proved that mindfulness helps control the neural networks in the brain. It stimulates divergent thinking which is essential for creativity. Creativity at work is essential to come up with solutions and be innovative. Being mindful helps us to overcome distractions and streamline our thoughts better, essential for creativity.
- Improves relationships: Mindfulness certainly helps in reducing the stress levels, keeping us calm and balanced. It helps us regulate our emotions with a greater sense of compassion and active listening. It teaches us to pause and reflect on the situation and overcome spontaneous, unfavorable reactions. Mindfulness involves noticing what is happening without evaluating, analyzing or reflecting upon it. When put in practice regularly, it will help people approach their work non-judgmentally and help improve our relationship both at work and in our personal life.
Organizations are beginning to realize the importance of mindfulness with many implementing special programs to integrate mindfulness at workplace. Here are some simple steps to begin with:
- A purpose–driven culture: What keeps employees ticking and truly engaged is a sense of purpose, both personal and professional. Mindfulness helps one to pay attention to what really matters. Its helps us to practice the pause and reflect on the choices than to be reactive. This helps employees to better identify their values and purpose, helping them function with greater clarity and thus keeps them more engaged. As an organization that is more mindful, it helps create a purpose-driven culture with higher employee engagement levels.
- Lead by example with an emotional connect: Mindfulness at work can be truly practiced only when each of the leaders truly practice it. Practice mindfulness in your daily life and encourage others around you to do the same. Establish an emotional connect with your team and colleagues to gain a better understanding of their struggles. This will not only help you to resolve their challenges, but also assist them in overcoming their emotional blocks and difficulties which are impeding their performance at work.
- Employee buy-in: For any new practice/program to be successful in an organization, employee buy-in is of utmost importance. Mindfulness can be a relatively new concept for many people. The management needs to firstly educate employees on this new practice emphasizing on the multitude of benefits it would result in. Also identify ambassadors who will champion this new effort and can encourage others in the organization to adopt and follow this new practice.
- Do not micromanage: A mindful leader is one who entrusts his team with complete responsibility of the tasks assigned to them. Constant hovering and checking n number of times on their progress will only hinder their thinking and creativity. It would not give them the space and time needed by them to finish their tasks efficiently.
- Mindful meetings: Meeting rooms are places where mindfulness needs to be practiced a lot more. When a group of people assemble to discuss, review and take decisions it is essential that people participate with a cool mind. Schedule meetings ensuring you give each of the participants enough time in between to step in and out when they have back-to-back meetings. Setting the intentions right at the beginning of the meeting and taking some time to check-in on the general mood of the people would help have a more mindful and productive meeting.
- Make it a routine: Like any other habit, to be mindful is not an overnight change. It is a conscious effort that needs to be practiced regularly for it to become an integral part of the workplace. Encourage and remind people to make mindfulness a part and parcel of their work routine every day, not just when they please. A short meditation session focusing on mindfulness could be incorporated into daily work routine, to be practiced in a group or individually to begin with.
- Block “Me Time” at work: Mindfulness is about slowing down and taking time to process things. This is more essential at the workplace. It is recommended to regularly take a break from your work routine and give yourself some Me Time. Encourage your staff to unplug for a few minutes each day and step away from their desk. This will help slow down busyness, reduce stress and help avoid those instances of fight or flight we often experience when under pressure. “Me Time” at work helps to be more present and mindful, thereby boosting overall performance.
- Remember to breathe: Balancing both work and personal life is indeed a challenging task for most of us. We sometimes find ourselves so caught up in the myriad of things we do that we forget the most basic function of breathing. No matter what you are doing in your workplace, consciously focus on your breath and focus on your senses. Calm down that racing mind and be more observant of everything around you. This act of mindfulness will help you be more present in conversations, improving your listening and communication skills. By remembering to breathe more regularly we are also practicing to be more mindful and present in the moment
Mindfulness is not an asana or a mere meditation process meant to be practiced by people clad in orange robes. It is a process that helps one to have better control of the wandering mind and bring back attention to the present moment – a practice that is certainly the need of the hour for the corporate world. Mindfulness when practiced at work nurtures a resilient workforce that is more engaged, motivated, and capable of overcoming anxiety and stress. Creating this positive workforce engagement is what companies spend millions on as it has a direct bearing on their overall growth and profitability. Mindfulness helps to create a balanced, purpose-driven work culture where people function with a growth mindset.