A Culture of Mindfulness in the Workplace
Who has time for mindfulness when deadlines are looming and our managers are breathing down our necks? Mindfulness might be good for monks living in the forest or folks who have retired from corporate life but unrealistic for busy, working individuals. Learning to pause, focusing on your thoughts and getting in touch with your emotions seems to be something you do at your local yoga studio and not relevant during the middle of the day, in a highly competitive job. But, this is exactly when meditation and mindfulness are most useful.
A recent video by Scientific American suggests "meditation can decrease stress, lower blood pressure, and lift one’s mood." The article also informs us that meditation can "increase the volume and density of the Hippocampus, a portion of the brain that is crucial for memory." Generally, as we age, our focus and attention decrease, however "meditation counteracts this decay." The piece further suggests that meditating for as little as 12-20 minutes a day can "sharpen the mind."
Looking at the research, we can see that a bridge has been forming between what used to be a purely spiritual practice and the secular workplace. Of course, many might still feel wary about practicing meditation at work for fear of being ridiculed or judged. It is normal for people to fear and be cautious of things they don’t understand. It might take several years before meditation becomes widely accepted. It also took years for yoga to be accepted as a reputable health practice.
As with any other practice, for meditation to lower stress and anxiety and improve focus, memory, and productivity, it needs to be practiced on a consistent basis. If you only go to the gym once a month, you will experience minimal benefit. The same is true for meditation. The more we practice, the stronger our mind will become, thus improving our ability to bring it back to the present moment. The less distracted we are, the more we’ll get done. Relaxing the mind through breathing and focusing exercises, during the workday, will improve our clarity and even rejuvenate our energy.
According to the American Institute of Stress, workplace stress is costing companies $300 billion, per year, from absenteeism, turnover, health, legal and insurance costs, and worker compensation awards. Meditation can help corporations reduce some of these costs.
The culture of mindfulness isn’t limited to meditation and becoming aware of our thoughts and emotions. It involves our ability to tame our ego and manage our emotions for the greater good of the team and organization. As we learn to become more aware of our thoughts and feelings, we begin to understand the motives behind our speech and actions. This increased awareness can be incredibly helpful in dealing with conflicts or during a stressful meeting when our perspective is being challenged or even disregarded. How would we respond in such a situation? Would we have the patience to hear the reason our ideas were rejected? Would we lose our cool and lash out defending our point of view without gaining our composure because our ego was hurt. Or, do we shut down not being able to hear what anyone else has to say and check out for the remainder of the meeting. Meditation and mindfulness can strengthen our mind and allow us to prevent our ego from taking control and making us act in ways that could damage our reputation and career. It is vital for us to remain in touch with our emotions and feelings and understand how they are influencing our actions. We need to learn how to turn off the switch when we start to lose our cool because once the flood gates of anger open, it’ll be too late.
Mindfulness in the workplace creates an environment where ego battles aren’t driving the company down. It’s a system where individuals are willing to put aside their own self-interest for the sake of the greater good; and where individuals are willing to appreciate the contributions of their co-workers instead of feeling threatened by them. It fosters an environment where cliques and office politics are strongly discouraged and where open and honest communication is encouraged so no one feels as if they’re being kept in the dark. It’s an environment where constructive feedback is balanced with a healthy dose of appreciation.
From the people I have met while leading my corporate meditation and mindfulness workshops, the most common response I hear is how relaxed and refreshed they feel after our sessions. Some have said they feel relieved of tension in their arms, necks, and shoulders. Those who have continued their practice at home expressed that their sleep has improved and many have begun to encourage family members to join them in their meditations.
It definitely takes discipline to start sitting and doing nothing. Breathing, focusing, and expressing kindness to others, especially those who haven’t been kind, is not easy at first. Once we begin and experience the benefits, it’ll be equally difficult for us to stop.
By Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, as published in The Huffington Post on 28th September 2015.