Mindfulness is now more than just spiritual practice
When it comes to the topics of meditation and mindfulness exercises, it happens that one assumes that one knows what it is all about. Perhaps one has a rough idea of how such exercises are done. However, if one takes a closer look at the subject, one or the other will be surprised to discover how comprehensively science has dealt with the ancient traditions in recent years – and is increasingly doing so! For mindfulness is not only an enrichment for Buddhist monks; no matter whether or to which religion one belongs, the simple exercises prove to be a benefit for the mind (more about the effects of meditation here). No wonder, then, that the topic is gradually being applied to all kinds of areas. Even as an alternative to conventional forms of psychotherapy, the so-called “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy” has already produced astonishing results in empirical studies. In this article you will gain some interesting insights about Mindfulness at work.
Mindfulness in the workplace
When it comes to companies, Mindfulness kills two birds with one stone: well-being and simultaneously increasing productivity, as a study by Aikens et al. suggests. However, the study situation is currently still undergoing major changes; there are results that indicate great effectiveness, but also those that suggest that the interventions have a special influence on certain areas and do not have a universal effect (Pieter & Wolf, 2013).
It is therefore still necessary to find out which measures have the greatest effect and when, because with today’s conditions and demands at the workplace, the proportion of mental health problems seems to be rising continuously: they are not only reflected in increasing incapacity to work, but since the end of the 1990s mental health problems have been among the main reasons for early retirement (Pieter & Wolf, 2013).
Interventions to reduce stress are therefore becoming increasingly interesting and in demand in relation to the world of work. But how do you teach effective stress management at work?
Although there is not yet a “manual” for the most efficient application of the methods, it is worthwhile to experiment with mindfulness exercises yourself, because a large number of studies already show, even at the neural level, that mindfulness has the potential to increase health and performance of people equally. Mindfulness describes the attitude of “being there”, of perceiving and accepting a situation without rashly evaluating it.
Business benefits of mindfulness-based meditation
Regular practice allows you to look at situations in a new way and solve problems in a creative way, for example by thinking out of the box (Sauer et al., 2011). These are, of course, skills that both employees and managers would like to see, and therefore it seems to be an asset for all participants to try to integrate regular meditation into the daily routine of companies. In other words: the potential for mindfulness as a personnel development measure is there.
Kai Romhardt, for example, looks at how to use mindfulness specifically in meetings and believes that small actions can make the difference between joyful, meaningful, inspiring or the exact opposite: a waste of time and periods of deep frustration. The rationale is simple: if you carry a negative judgment or negative feelings about others, you are not contributing to a constructive and positive atmosphere. If you are not consciously aware that this is the case, you will not try to put such an attitude aside.
Mindfulness is therefore cited as the key to a good, productive and efficient meeting atmosphere, as it describes a state of mind in which one is fully aware of the present moment and thus has a clear picture of what is going on in one’s thoughts and feelings. By being aware of how you judge others, you are able to refrain from making judgments. This creates an atmosphere of trust and non-judgmental listening, and thus also an atmosphere of high productivity.
But what does this bring to the individual?
One may now draw the false conclusion that a mindful state is more likely to do the people around you a favor than to do yourself a favor (among other things, ego-centered tendencies are reduced), but first and foremost you are dealing well with yourself. It goes hand in hand with a mindful attitude that one also starts to be more mindful of other people. Because if you feel negative feelings like anger or envy within yourself and at the same time are able to get rid of them, you are primarily doing yourself a favor and, by the way, you are also doing a favor to the person you have judged negatively. After some time you can observe how existing power structures change through more attentive communication and how interruptions and monologues become less.
Of course it is a process of practice that must be intentional, but it is not difficult. Rombardt suggests, for example, that one should have 30 seconds of silence before a meeting in order to arrive properly and to adjust to the fact that one is now in that meeting and nowhere else in one’s head. In general, one should not be afraid of silence (consider it embarrassing, oppressive or unproductive), but rather use it consciously to let a contribution linger on every now and then and to give oneself the time to place it in one’s mind. Through such exercises one gets a better view for the essential. Another simple measure is the establishment of clear rules of communication. This gives you the certainty that you will speak when you want to and frees you from the urge to follow every impulse to speak. “To perceive an impulse awake and not to act on it automatically is an expression of great freedom,” says Rombardt.
Something can also be said about mindfulness in relation to managers:
Since managers are often exposed to high levels of stress, mindfulness exercises would also be useful in this context. However, since it is more than just a performance-enhancing, stress-reducing program, namely a basic attitude that restructures thinking habits, social effects can also occur in addition to the health and performance-enhancing effects: Sauer et al. (2011) say that mindfulness is a process that helps managers to increasingly lead by their own example through more “inner transparency” than through control or instruction. And not only is one’s own action and thinking more consciously perceived; the needs and opportunities of employees can also be better recognized and “managed”. “Those who are able to activate their mental resources more effortlessly can find more effective or innovative solutions to problems,” says Sauer et al (2011).
According to other studies, the reduction of narcissistic tendencies is a central effect factor of mindfulness meditation (Shapiro et al., 2006). Letting one’s own ego take a step back and having a more objective view of situations naturally leads to less selfish decisions and thus often to more constructive ones. A great benefit for managers.
It is sometimes argued that a more mindful attitude stands in the way of personal detachment (for example, when making hard decisions) through the connection to empathic sensation, but mindfulness causes one to accept the reality of the moment and thus learn to be calm and open to difficult situations. One will still be able to make difficult decisions; one just makes them more value-free, reflected and conscious, which makes it easier to take responsibility for them and to look at one’s actions with confidence.
Coping with stress through mindfulness at work
Mindfulness training also has some advantages for employees: an online intervention with mindfulness exercises for employees was associated with reduced stress, increased resilience and vitality. Although participants slept as much as before, there were also fewer days when they were too “burned out” to work (Aikens et al., 2014). This of course increases productivity, as people are less stressed and more likely to be able to reach their full potential and feel good about themselves. According to the study there is a productivity increase of 20% in this case.
Mindfulness can contribute to a good corporate culture
In general, it is thus clear that mindfulness training is more than a method of stress management for companies, but can be effective in a much broader sense, as the atmosphere, communication and state of each individual changes over time. Of course, the overall well-being of a company is not solely dependent on the application of mindfulness-enhancing measures, but it seems to be a sensible step to enable individuals to deal with stressful working conditions in a self-responsible way while maintaining their mentalhealth. The above-mentioned consequences of the training naturally do not occur overnight, they are part of a comprehensive development process, which requires a certain consistency in practicing and intrinsic motivation of the individual. However, in view of the beneficial consequences and simplicity of mindfulness measures, it should not be difficult to motivate one’s employees to carry them out. Everything in everyday life can easily be transformed into meditation, into “single-tasking”: eating, walking and even sitting can be done mindful and help to slow down everyday life (two examples can be found in our articles on mindful eating and mindful smart phone use).
Knowledge in the nutshell: Findings from this article
- Mindfulness can increase well-being and productivity
- Regular mindfulness exercises enable more creative problem solving through e.g. thinking out of the box
- Mindfulness has positive effects on the atmosphere in a meeting
- Mindful leadership is characterized not only by health and performance-enhancing effects, but also by social effects: more conscious action, consideration and recognition of employee needs, reduction of narcissistic tendencies and making more reflective decisions.
- Mindfulness interventions are associated with reduced stress and increased resilience and vitality.
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