How mindfulness can develop better leaders and happier employees

Over the last 30 years, mindfulness has become more and more popular due to its ability of bringing a certain quality of attention to moment-by-moment experience

How mindfulness can develop better leaders and happier employees

Over the last 30 years, mindfulness has become more and more popular due to its ability of bringing a certain quality of attention to moment-by-moment experience which may be able to reduce cognitive vulnerability to stress and emotional distress (Kabat-Zinn, 1990). 

Mindfulness can have different interpretations especially between Eastern and Western derived approaches but many companies view this an investment in reducing the costs of health care and absenteeism associated with stress-related conditions, as well as improving employee retention, satisfaction, and overall engagement (Langer and Ngnoumen, 2017).

Mindfulness effectively means becoming aware of yourself, your body, your physical reactions to stressors and allows the disengagement from the everyday and paying attention to the present moment, on purpose, without judgement. As a practice, it incorporates elements of meditation, but is increasingly being synthesised for use in workplace training so stressed-out employees can use it at key moments. 

In the west we have transformed from a dominant manufacturing economy where the body was the primary means of production towards a more knowledge-based economy where the brain is far more utilised. Research has shown that through ‘executive mindfulness’ training, individuals learn to proactively manage their state of mind, with the specific business benefits and return on investment to their companies including:

  • Reduced costs of staff absenteeism and turnover 
  • Increased concentration 
  • memory and learning skills 
  • Increased productivity 
  • Greater resilience in recovering from negative mental states
  • Enhanced job satisfaction 
  • Enhanced employer/employee and 
  • client relationships

Harvard Business Review Researchhas also highlighted how ‘Mindful Leaders’ develop better companies with happier employees as the practice helps them manage their own stress, which  in turn reduces employee stress, creates a better workplace, and can therefore improve profit. Another study conducted by Aetna that tested the effectiveness of a mindfulness training program, reported a 28% reduction in participants stress levels.

Mindfulness’s impact on workplaces and how managers can utilise the practice more

If a manager is unable to focus, it can manifest into a serious problem as every negative emotion influences decision making, not just their own. Mindfulness in the workplace therefore enables  managers to let go of thoughts about the past and future and focus on the present. 

Employees at Google and other large corporations have taken advantage of mindfulness programmes that have enabled them to calm themselves when they want which has helped them be more productive at work as well as provide them with the ability to cope with the unknown. Mindful employees are often able to perceive their own growth particularly when it comes to their relationships with their colleagues.

Goldman Sachs, who have been recognised by Fortune Magazine as one of the Best Places to Work, use mental health and mindfulness hashtags to emphasise the benefits of mindfulness in their company culture and have promoted mindfulness among their engineers in order to access new levels of creativity and thoughtfulness.

UK universities are now offering masters courses in mindfulness and it is being piloted in schools, government, the prison system and for unemployed people. The Armed forces uses it for its troops to help with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and the prison service have utilised research in justifying why they believe it can help reduce violence. Schools are also using the practice to  curb the growing problem of anxiety among pupils.

Using mindfulness in the right way

The modern practice of mindfulness has been criticised for abandoning the spiritual premise, as it has its roots in Buddhism, with secular mindfulness stripping out much of the spiritual and focused too much on the scientific. 

A study at the  University of Waterloo in Canada found that mindfulness included two main dimensions, (1) awareness and (2) acceptance, however the study found that most people only understand the awareness part that tuning into emotions and sensations, and living in the moment can relieve stress. The second element, acceptance, can be confused with passivity and avoidance but should be associated with being non-judgment, open, or curios and therefore encourage action. Most organisations and people seem to understand the general concept of mindfulness, they do not apply it fully as it should be a practice that involves engagement (rather than avoidance) with challenges or problems.

Although mindfulness has been accused of losing its spiritual heritage it still has its relevance in the modern workplace. The world of work is changing and Artificial intelligence (AI) is becoming an integral part of our daily lives and while it has brought many benefits, it has also raised concerns about its potential impact on society. Therefore, mindfulness is increasingly being recognised as a critical tool for addressing these issues and ensuring that AI aligns with human values and priorities so that it can improve ethics and reduced bias byincorporating characteristics such as empathy, emotional awareness, and kindness into AI applications ensuring that they contain these important human traits.

The main business case for meditation is that if you are fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions and you will work better with other people. Mindfulness is all about being fully present and allowing staff to be fully in the moment which will reap rewards on a personal and professional level. 

If implemented properly mindfulness can enhance problem-solving skills, improve workplace morale, increase productivity, foster better teamwork and improve communication within organisations. Practices such as open-awareness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and body-scanning meditation can be useful tools for individuals and building systems such as AI applications.

By incorporating mindfulness practices into their work, individuals and organisations can promote positive outcomes for themselves and society as a whole.

Dr Jonathan Lord
Dr Jonathan Lord

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