Workplace mindfulness is more than simply a ‘nice to have’ – it’s now become an essential element of modern working life. With mental health issues now the leading cause of sick leave in the UK, it’s clear that employee wellbeing is a vital component of any business strategy. So, what exactly is mindfulness and how can you incorporate it into the workplace?
Awareness of our thoughts and surroundings
Life changes like the weather. It is in constant flux. Modern life is reductionist and materialist. Much of our daily stress is made up of repeated occurrences of small events, like running late for an appointment, a misunderstanding at work or the internet going down.
Mindfulness is defined by the NHS as an awareness of the present moment, your thoughts and feelings and the world around you. It involves actively taking a pause to reflect on your physical, mental and emotional state, reconnecting your body with sensations it experiences and the surrounding environment.
Mindfulness practices can include meditation, yoga, Tai-Chi and progressive relaxation.
In its simplest form, mindfulness simply means awareness, but it can be much more complex in its outcomes.
Reduce anxiety and stress, improve focus
Practising mindfulness is said to have many benefits, including attention regulation.
People spend at least half of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, which can not only be detrimental to their attention span, but also to their productivity at work. Mindfulness can encourage employees to pause, regroup and refocus their energies on what’s in front of them, encouraging more positive responses to anxiety.
Mindfulness can also lead to stress reduction, something which is vital in an age where more than half of working days lost each year are stress-related and 80% of employees report feeling stressed at work.
Some of the world’s major organisations – including Google and Adobe – have implemented formal mindfulness programmes in a bid to combat workplace stress, with courses including topics such as ‘managing your energy’ and ‘creating the right working environment’.
People who spend more than 8 hours a day sitting are more than twice as likely to be anxious and four times more likely to be depressed than people who spend time on their feet, even for short periods. We spend the majority of our lives inside buildings, and a large part of the day in an office sitting down, environments influence how we feel and how we behave.
Over the last 30 years, scientists have learned how our sensory processes work and can now accurately predict how we will behave when presented with certain environmental cues. This knowledge can be applied to the design of our surroundings in order to influence attention, behaviour and motivation at work.
Mindfulness expert Mirabai Bush maintains that while mindfulness cannot prevent conflicts from arising, it can help team members to more skilfully address and respond to difficulties. Where people work, their space and environment can play a huge part in reducing stress and maintaining overall wellbeing, by incorporating natural elements into an indoors workspace, stress, blood pressure and heart rates have all been reduced, whilst creativity and productivity see an obvious rise.
Incorporating mindfulness into your workday
The first step to mindfulness involves simply reminding yourself to stop and acknowledge your feelings, sensations and surroundings. This can be achieved through taking short breaks throughout the workday, where you put down your work for a few minutes and simply check in with what you’re feeling and thinking.
Others may choose to meditate or practice yoga, which both can help to develop awareness of your breathing and can be done in small sessions throughout the course of the day.
When you’re at work, try single-tasking instead of multi-tasking, which encourages you to direct all your focus and attention on one activity. Another technique is active listening, which involves repeating back what you think you’re hearing and seeking clarification to ensure you understand correctly. This not only benefits you in terms of mindfulness, but also has a clear impact on your approach to learning and working.
Just like physical exercise, our brains are also affected by a ‘use it or lose it’ approach. This means the more regularly you practice mindfulness, the more used to it your brain will become, giving it increased ability to repair itself and grow new neural connections.
Top tips to consider in the workplace
- Take measures to improve office air quality
- Incorporate plants and other biophilic elements
- Let as much natural light into the space as possible
- Incorporate purpose-built social spaces where people can interact more casually
- Create breakout spaces and rejuvenation areas where staff can communicate, relax and take a break, without the pressures of the professional hierarchy
- Ensure there are enough private zones where people can go to escape noise, distraction and also benefit from confidentiality when necessary
- Carefully consider fabrics, colours and finishes so as not to trigger any mental illnesses