Practising mindfulness in the workplace to improve productivity

Mindfulness at work. It might sound like the latest in a long line of management fads, but the evidence shows that practising mindfulness in the workplace is actually a solid and science-backed strategy that can help businesses (and the people they employ) to thrive.

Healthy workers make a healthy business

There’s a strong business case for practising mindfulness at work. We spend most of our waking lives doing our day jobs, but the time we spend at work can sometimes feel stressful, demanding, distracting and difficult. When the pressure piles up, the amount of mental energy spent on work-related issues can spill over into our home lives and even be bad for our health; according to government statistics, mental health issues such as stress, depression and anxiety are the leading cause of workplace absence, accounting for 17% of all sick days in 2015. In order to avoid burnout (which is no good for the individual or the company), workers need to reduce their stress levels, and employers should do all they can to ensure the wellbeing of their workforce; healthy, happy and well-balanced individuals will bring more to the business.

According to a paper published by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group, a culture of mindfulness in the workplace could certainly be a step in the right direction to improve employee wellbeing. The potential benefits of practising mindfulness at work exercises could include improved resilience, fewer absences due to sickness, the cultivation of positive workplace relationships and better collaboration between colleagues. And while it can’t solve every problem, mindfulness is a technique that’s even recommended by the NHS to improve mental wellbeing.

What do we mean by mindfulness?

It’s a buzzword that’s been in the public consciousness for a few years now, but mindfulness may still conjure up different meanings to different people. That’s important, because how businesses approach mindfulness at work, and the culture surrounding the concept, will have an impact on its effectiveness.


A simple definition of mindfulness might be “presence and awareness in the moment.” It’s about noticing the details of the here and now, rather than letting the mind wander away to concerns about the future (or memories of the past). Having this connection to the present moment helps us to stand back and observe our thought processes, notice signs of stress and anxiety, and approach our work in a more productive way.


The popularity of mindfulness in the media may have diluted its message, however. With all kinds of products and training courses on offer, it can be tempting to ‘buy into’ the commercial side of the mindfulness craze and expect instant results simply by handing over your cash for a smartphone app or meditation aid. But with its origins in ancient Buddhist teachings, true mindfulness requires investment of a different sort, involving time, commitment and dedication.

Training and practice

Mindfulness in the workplace can be encouraged in all sorts of ways, but potentially the best way to change the culture and embrace a mindful approach is to invest in mindfulness training. In order to effect change throughout the organisation, staff at all levels, from entry-level juniors to senior managers, should have access to the training.


“Mindfulness is a fantastic way for workplaces to embed a new culture with staff - a culture that enables lower stress, where people respond rather than react on impulse and where building skills in self-awareness and self-control through meditation is just part of day-to-day growth as employees,” says Ruth Farenga, Founder and Mindfulness Teacher at Mindful Pathway. They are a company whose courses offer a practical introduction to practising Mindfulness at work.


And because being mindful is something that requires regular practice, employers need to do more than simply paying lip service to mindfulness training. In order for the training to pay off, it’s important to commit to a way of life in the workplace that facilitates mindfulness exercises on a day-to-day basis, offering staff regular space in their schedules to practise.


“Mindfulness training is not a quick-fix but a practice that can be built over time,” observes Ruth Farenga.

Benefits for business: how to convince the sceptics

The benefits of mindfulness in the workplace are not always universally acknowledged, and there may be resistance within the organisation to devoting resources to a practice seen as religious, airy-fairy or simply a waste of time. If you wish to convert resistant stakeholders to the mindfulness cause, it’s important to be armed with facts and figures that show how the practice could bring a big boost to the business.


“Through training and allowing staff to develop a regular practice, big shifts can occur which can allow people to be more focused, creative and ultimately, more productive. We see, in the companies that we serve, that the skills that are developed have a dramatic effect on employees' overall wellbeing and wider lives,” says Ruth.


And this is an observation that can be backed up with some impressive business outcomes:


·     Workers who practise mindfulness are less susceptible to distraction, so they’re better equipped to apply themselves to the task at hand, even when multitasking

·     Decision making is more rational and detached (and therefore more effective) when decision makers have practised mindfulness, studies suggest

·     Creativity and flexibility can be improved by adopting a mindful approach to working practices. Instead of blindly following existing ideas and procedures, individuals practising mindfulness at work exercises are more likely to come up with innovative, problem-solving ideas.


Making the case for mindfulness at work is worth the effort; for more statistical ammunition, read the Mindfulness Initiative’s paper on building a case for mindfulness in the workplace.


It’s important to acknowledge and accommodate mental health issues in the workplace. Check out the mental health videos offered by BBC Active that can be used in mental health training.


For more business improvement ideas, watch Back to the Floor – Business Training for Top Bosses.