Each year, rankings for the best company to work for, company culture, and job perks have thousands of companies vying for a spot on the list. For many companies, diverse employee benefits are what keep a company on these lists and what keeps employees happy.
Among these benefits, health coverage often goes beyond standard medical insurance. Mindfulness, a centuries old practice, is making waves as companies focus their attention on the overall well-being of their employees. In the age of employee happiness being directly correlated to employee retention, mindfulness in the workplace is key.
These days it’s easy to stay connected to multiple devices, apps, and projects all at once, are you also staying in touch with yourself, intrinsically? While it may seem counterintuitive to take time away from your to-do lists, the practice of resetting can actually reduce the anxieties around life’s constantly moving pieces.
Mindfulness and productivity: It’s not just for yogis.
Companies like Google, Target, and even here at Trello are adding perks like meditation and mindfulness trainings, which, at times, have had months-long waitlists.
Businesses investing in employee mindfulness is a notable shift, as taking a moment to pause has often been considered the bane of productivity. A 2014 study by the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC turns this somewhat archaic notion on its head by outlining benefits of mindfulness in the workplace and suggests the process not only be encouraged, but enforced.
The obstacle of mindfulness, however, is its truly abstract nature and the many distractions and seemingly more important tasks at hand. Mindfulness is most often achieved by regular meditation, which is the practice of sitting quietly and focusing on elements such as breathing, abstract, relaxing concepts, or even nothing in particular.
Additionally, more research is needed on whether mindful practice is the cause of improved productivity, or simply correlated with it. Before talking yourself out of reconnecting with your mind, take five minutes to key into what follows and feel the calmness wash over you as you pull up your to-do list.
Who should practice mindfulness, and why?
Broadly, anyone. In the past, research on mindfulness in the workplace has focused on white collar jobs and the cognitive performance markers associated with these jobs.
Newer studies, however, have focused singularly on chain restaurant workers in the southwest. Managers stated that employees who had high mindfulness scores also showed improved performance, highlighting the need for mindful practice in fast-paced, changing workplaces.
Before embarking on any sort of self-improvement, the outcome is usually more successful when you know why you’re doing it. In a time where lines dividing work and life are blurred, all of your stresses can erupt at any moment, leading to awkward office conversations, or the feeling that you have no time for self-care.
Mindfulness is believed to improve communication and focus, reduce anxiety and stress, and boost cognitive resources in daily activities--read: being a nicer, calmer, more attentive person.
Not only that, mindfulness is even said to reduce mortality!
How Can You Be More Mindful?
The goal of mindfulness is to “recognize and accept” what’s going on in your brain. Getting to that point of acceptance involves three key steps:
- Setting an intention.
- Bringing your focus to what’s going on in front of you.
- Creating a safe and open space in which to reflect.
So, for those of you who are working on a deadline, thinking about what to buy at the grocery store, and wondering if you’ll ever get that past-due review, bringing your attention to the present is a daunting task. But there’s small and simple tools that can help you get there.
Some suggest doing nothing. That is, literally turning away from your phone and computer and staring at a figurative or literal blank space. Not having your work in front of you helps you focus on the present. Have a desktop computer? Go find a quiet spot in the hallway and chill or take a ride in the building’s elevator.
Other studies show that incorporating the senses of sight, smell, touch, and taste can make space for being present. Examples of this are holding onto a comforting object (Linus and his blanket, anyone?), changing your core temperature by running your hands under cool or warm water, or breathing in a smell associated with calmness, such as lavender.
Managers often encourage their teams to keep a small object that they do not associate with work in their pocket. Anytime they reach in, it triggers a sense of connectedness.
"But, I’m too busy to remember to be mindful."
There’s an app for that. Several, in fact.
Headspace - They call themselves "a gym membership for the mind," and the app includes hours of original content. A subscription offers guided and unguided meditation for various lengths of time. Here at Trello, employees are provided subscriptions and so far it has been popular. Check it out
Calm - Calm is similar to Headspace, but is easier to get going. The second you log on you are provided with various types of meditations from which to choose. It's also the only website that effectively executes music in the background - calm birds are chirping on the homepage. Ahh. Explore the app.
Muse - Muse is a fascinating combination of an app plus hardware for your forehead that records a snapshot of brain activity while meditating (it's safe!). After each session, the app on your phone gives you mindfulness feedback. The experience is a little pricey ($249), but has good reviews. Learn more
Is five minutes of meditation really enough?
Now you’re wanting more. Experts suggest to start with five minutes, which is an easier pill to swallow than a full 30 or 60 minutes of meditation. Building on mindfulness, as with any type of physical exercise, is recommended.
After a week of five minutes to yourself, try leaving your office for 15 minutes each day. There have been many studies that walking through a doorway is linked to forgetting, so one could surmise that this passage can clear your mind of the moment’s stresses.
Ironically, being more mindful and remembering to disengage is crucial to staying focused. Now that research is being dedicated to the topic, it is underlining the benefits of mindfulness and productivity for reaching not just personal, but also professional goals.