Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the moment one is in. Practitioners are encouraged to concentrate on how the body is reacting and feeling, the sounds and sensations around them. It is a way to focus the mind and body on the now, rather than the past or the future. Training the mind to be truly present.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre says,
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs,” “it’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
One of the beautiful things about mindfulness is that it can be done every minute of the day. It doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment or space. With a little bit of guidance and practice we can practice mindful eating, mindful walking and even mindful working. An increasing wealth of studies are demonstrating the health and wellbeing benefits of mindfulness. It’s well reported to be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety and improving attention and health. In fact, the number of studies on the subject has now exceeded 500 a year.
In response to this growing body of evidence in favour of mindfulness, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) now recommends its practice as a way for repeated depression sufferers to control their condition. In 2015, an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) published Mindful Nation UK, in which they called on the public sector to provide mindfulness programmes to combat stress, improve productivity and organisational effectiveness.
“One study found that practicing mindfulness can reduce stress, worry and emotional reactivity while improving working memory, cognitive flexibility, self-awareness, ethical behaviour, relationship satisfaction and wellbeing.”
The potential work-related benefits are clear. Several papers have been written on the value of mindfulness in the workplace. They argue that mindfulness can improve decision-making, ability to work in high-pressure environments and positively influence work-life balance. Even at it’s most basic level mindfulness encourages individuals to become more attuned to their feelings, bodies and wellbeing. This enables them more accurately to predict emotional or physical changes and better manage potential flash-points, emotional and physical.
The personal and organisational value of mindfulness is relatively clear. But there is also a lot of benefit to be gained from formal and structured business-wide support for the process. When employees feel cared for and valued by their employers they, in turn, are more loyal, emotionally engaged and that improves motivation, collaboration and ultimately, productivity.
So how can organisations go about implementing a work-place mindfulness plan? In a piece for Personnel Today, Juliet Adams, director of A Head for Work and author of “Mindfulness at work for dummies” and “Making the business case for mindfulness”. Mindfulnet website. Suggests the following:
- Set goals – What are you hoping to achieve through mindfulness? Is it part of a general health and wellbeing process?
- Research – As we have already referenced, there are numerous case studies supporting mindfulness in the workplace. Arm yourself with facts and information.
- Ask the experts – There are many mindfulness practitioners who can offer you support, seek out those specialised in workplace mindfulness. Although there are no specific guidelines for mindfulness trainers in the workplace, there are good practice guidelines. The latest edition covers eight-week courses with 30-40 minutes of daily home practice.
- Measure – It is possible to measure the effectiveness of mindfulness on individuals using evaluation assessments such as the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) or the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS 21). On an organisational level one can look at productivity, absenteeism and staff attitudes to evaluate the benefits of a given mindfulness strategy.
- Maintain – Mindfulness is not a silver bullet. It will not fix everything and it does not happen over night. It is a long-term strategy for long-term change. Some mindfulness programmes can result in individuals choosing to leave the organisation or, more positively, in the business making changes to reduce negative pressures.
After any initial courses in mindfulness, organisations can keep the process going by providing time and space for mindfulness practice, refresher courses and access to trainers on a one-to-one basis.
The business case for mindfulness is compelling and the implementation costs are relatively low, however, it requires genuine buy-in and a long-term, organisation-wide commitment to be truly successful.
Additionally, the feedback from employees needs to be taken into consideration, whether that is in relation to the programme itself, or to workplace changes that need to be considered. As with any health and wellbeing initiative, mindfulness is a two-way communication process.