Mindfulness training in the workplace is a proven wellness incentive that increases employee retention and improves upon skills required to be competitive in today’s commercial environment. More and more companies, including the giants Apple, Google, Nike and Salesforce, are offering mindfulness training to their employees as an investment with a financial benefit in reduced absenteeism and increased productivity.
Workplace wellness programs have been shown to result in 11% higher revenue per employee and 1.8 fewer days absent per employee per year1. For every $1.00 spent on wellness programs, medical costs fall by approximately $3.27 and absenteeism costs fall approximately $2.73.2 Employees who experience high stress cost employers almost 50 per cent more in health expenditures, while stress related absenteeism accounts for $3.5 billion of extra costs to Canadian companies each year.3
This guide reviews everything you need to know to implement mindfulness training in your workplace.
Who is this for?
When mindfulness is built into the fabric of the workplace, everyone benefits. Even families and the community benefit. Here are some specific reasons why you should introduce mindfulness to your office.
For leaders, mindfulness means:
- Improved mental clarity and open-mindedness. This helps you recognize your team members’ strengths and weaknesses so you can distribute projects more effectively, keeping your team motivated and engaged.
- Being tuned in to what your team needs to be successful. It will help you lead with awareness of what’s real for your team now, which may be different than yesterday, and to respond more effectively.
- Having a growth mindset. Recognizing your ability to improve your own skills and talents with focused effort; and, doing the same with your team to be the best in your business.
- Being patient, compassionate and balanced. Being the type of leader people are proud to follow.
For HR departments, mindfulness means:
- Healthier employees who take fewer sick days.
- Happier colleagues who are easier to work with.
- Faster learning and development for everyone, as our brains process information better when they’re calm and focused.
For every single person, mindfulness means:
- Less stress in your life, a boosted immune system, lower blood pressure and better quality sleep.
- Having more tools to manage the stress in your life so it doesn’t get out of hand and make you sick.
- More creativity and patience.
- Wasting less time mindlessly and having more time to do the things you enjoy.
- Being happier and healthier, mentally, physically and emotionally.
What is mindfulness and why is it so beneficial in the workplace?
Mindfulness simply means being present (in this moment that is happening right now) and kind.
Mindfulness is an effective way to improve self-awareness. Learning how to experience your emotions with greater objectivity and compassion helps in maintaining a balanced and healthy mental state.
For example, recognizing when you are overly stressed and taking breaks to restore your mental and physical health so that you can maintain your peak performance without burning out. Or, recognizing when you are frustrated or angry and taking the time to calm down before reacting to a situation. Mindfulness helps you respond wisely and thoughtfully, rather than reacting without considering all potential consequences of your actions.
Mindfulness will NOT take away any of your emotions or turn you into a stone statue though! You will keep feeling all of the same emotions, maybe even more. However with practice, you will gain more control over how you react to your emotions, so they don’t have so much control over your mood and your actions. This leads to much better communication between colleagues and a more enjoyable work environment.
Mindfulness practice builds resilience in teams and in individuals. It helps you to recover from setbacks faster, to recognize the lessons, and to move forward with more wisdom.
Mindfulness trains you not to rush or make panicked decisions, but how to act in a steady, reflective manner. This doesn’t mean moving slower. It means being more deliberate and calmer, even when moving quickly.
Being present doesn’t take any extra work or time. In fact, multitasking (ie. the opposite of being mindful), which we all thought was saving us time, actually causes people to make three times more mistakes, and can lower your IQ by up to 15 points!4 Productivity skyrockets when you can focus your attention on one task at a time, for both teams and individuals.
Research on the effects of implementing mindfulness in the workplace
Using mindfulness to improve and maintain mental and physical health has been on the rise for years, as an increasing number of scientific studies demonstrate its vast benefits. From 2012 to 2017, the use of meditation in adults in the USA increased from 4.1% to 14.2%,5 and the number of papers published about mindfulness in journals increased from 10 in the year 2000 to over 700 in 2019 - a phenomenal increase.6 Here are some of the results of these studies related to mindfulness in the workplace:
- Mindfulness is related to better job performance and contributes to lower employee turnover.7
- Compared to a control group, employees who participated in online weekly one-hour mindfulness meditation exercises for seven weeks reported substantially decreased stress and showed increased mindfulness, resilience, and vigor in the workplace.8
- Personnel from a surgical intensive care unit who participated in 8 weeks of mindfulness interventions (meditation, yoga, and relaxation through listening to music) showed reduced biological stress markers (salivary α-Amylase) and reduced signs of burnout.9
- A correlational study found that individuals with higher levels of mindfulness—defined as a focus on the present with an attitude of acceptance—reported lower scores on measures of burnout.10
- In Thailand, businesses that offer regular mindfulness meditation programs see greater work engagement than businesses that don’t offer such programs.11
- Call center employees who participated in a daily mindfulness meditation program over a five-week period showed significantly reduced stress, anxiety/depression, fatigue, and negative affect. Client satisfaction also increased significantly during this period.12
- University employees who participated in weekly onsite guided meditations and daily recorded meditations showed decreased levels of an inflammatory protein (C-reactive protein), higher levels of which are associated with increased risk for heart disease.13
Simple ways you can immediately incorporate mindfulness into your work environment
- Pre-meeting self-check-ins or short meditations: Take 2-3 minutes at the beginning of any meeting for everyone to notice how they are feeling and then become aware of whatever emotions they are bringing in with them. Not only will this improve everyone’s focus throughout the duration of the meeting, it will also facilitate more calm and clear communication.
- Encourage people to do one thing at a time: As discussed above, focusing on one task at a time greatly improves productivity. Have people put their phones down during meetings and practice “active listening”. Encourage “mindful mealtimes”, where people simply eat their food and notice how it tastes - without watching TV, reading, or e-mailing at the same time.
- Set up reminders to be mindful: Being present isn’t hard - it’s just hard to remember! Stick Post-it notes or stickers around your office with reminders to “Take a breath”. Set alarms on the hour as a reminder to take a few mindful breaths and re-focus if you’ve become distracted. Designate one time every day when everyone in the office relaxes for 1 minute, and add this to everyone’s calendar.
- Weekly guided meditations: Schedule weekly guided meditation sessions, during which participants can practice being present and get better at it. All it takes is reserving a quiet room and setting up a recording of a guided meditation. Check out a collection of guided meditations suitable for the workplace here:
Integrating mindfulness into the fabric of your office culture
If you really want your office to adopt mindfulness as a habit, it requires re-training our brains to be more present. The most effective way to do this is through a regular mindfulness meditation practice.
Our brains change depending on how we use them through a process called neuroplasticity. The neural connections that fire together regularly are the basis of our habits, and the thought patterns that we abandon eventually fade away. This means that we can use our own minds to shape our mental evolution—this is an incredibly powerful tool!
Mindfulness meditation is self-directed neuroplasticity. It is the most effective way of becoming more present in your day-to-day life. It consists of sitting for a set period of time and practicing focusing on something that is happening in the present moment, such as the feeling of your breath or the sounds you can hear around you.
With consistent repetition, your neural networks become more automatic at being present, focused, kind, resilient, non-judgmental, attentive, patient, creative...all of the wonderful benefits mentioned above and more.
Meditating may take some time out of your day, but with the effect of becoming more focused, it will 100% save you time in the long run.
Worried that meditating will cause you to lose your drive for success? Ray Dalio, Arianna Huffington, Marc Benioff and Joe Rogan are just a few of the wildly successful business people who claim that mindfulness meditation has been one of the most important contributors to their success.
How to implement mindfulness meditation at your company
Mindfulness is a skill that can be trained. Here is the most effective way to introduce it into your office culture for real changes to take place:
Step 1: Introduce the basics to your team with a workshop or series of workshops so that everyone is starting with the same understanding and realizes their personal motivations for taking up this practice.
Step 2: Offer regular (i.e. at least once per week) guided mindfulness meditations to your team to build the habit.
Step 3: Provide resources for people as they start practicing and questions arise. A designated “mindfulness officer” or coach can provide a lot of support and motivation for people who are starting this simple, yet not easy, habit.
Step 4: Check-in on the mental wellbeing with your team regularly by consistently offering opportunities for self-awareness and development. As people adopt these practices, more and more leaders will reveal themselves, and everyone will value these opportunities for growth.
Throughout this process, remember: nothing valuable comes easy! This practice requires commitment and dedication; but the pay-offs are endless.
4Janssen, C.P., Gould, S. J. J., Li, S. Y. W., Brumby, D. R., Cox, A. L. (2015). Integrating knowledge of multitasking and interruptions across different perspectives and research methods. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 79 pp. 1-5.
5 Clarke, T. C., Barnes, P. M., Black, L. I., Stussman, B. J., and Nahin, R. L. (2018). Use of Yoga, Meditation, and Chiropractors Among U.S. Adults Aged 18 and Over. NCHS Data Brief, no 325. National Center for Health Statistics.
8 Aikens, K. A., Astin, J., Pelletier, K. R., Levanovich, K., Baase, C. M., Park, Y. Y., & Bodnar, C. M. (2014). Mindfulness goes to work: Impact of an online workplace intervention. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 56(7), 721–731.
9 Duchemin, A.-M., Steinberg, B. A., Marks, D. R., Vanover, K., & Klatt, M. (2015). A small randomized pilot study of a workplace mindfulness-based intervention for surgical intensive care unit personnel: effects on salivary α-amylase levels. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine/American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 57(4), 393.