The myriad benefits of mindfulness training in corporate settings are increasingly confirmed by empirical research.
By implementing mindfulness meditation programs in the workplace, business leaders and employees may more effectively manage stress, maintain greater focus, boost overall health, enhance cognitive performance and improve interpersonal relationships. Mindfulness is a relational practice: It’s a way to reframe our relationship to stress, burnout, anxiety, interpersonal conflict and other challenges at work. One common definition of mindfulness describes paying attention in a particular way, with moment-to-moment, nonjudgmental awareness.
There are six foundational tenets of mindfulness: concentration, resilience, equanimity (balance), compassion, communication and meaning. Each of these qualities can be fostered using structured exercises designed for application in the workplace, and each naturally enhances the others. Didactic presentations and meditation exercises in training sessions provide an experiential understanding of mindfulness that can be immediately beneficial. Structuring the training over seven weeks, with an initial two-hour introductory session followed by six weekly one-hour sessions focusing on each pillar, can easily be customized to meet the specific needs of any company or organization.
Here is an example of how to approach the pillar of concentration:
Multitasking has become commonplace, and so has its detrimental impact. Going through our days with only partial attention to what is happening can leave us exhausted and underperforming. Concentration is the stabilization of attention. Whether we are distracted by too many tasks or caught up in worrying about the future, concentration practices allow us to slow down the wild mind and become more integrated and present, thereby empowering us to manage the demands of work more effectively. In this context, concentration entails a quality of focus that is flexible, fluid and adaptable to changing circumstances.
One classic exercise in cultivating concentration is breath awareness meditation. During training seminars, ask participants to pause and practice mindful awareness of body and breath for five to 10 minutes. Tell them to attend to the sensation of inhaling and exhaling, while sensing the physical body in an upright position and at ease. Focusing on the breath, rather than the perpetual thought stream, takes some guidance and practice to master. This is one example of a concentration exercise that can later be integrated in a brief format during the workday before answering a phone call or sending an important email.
Despite our best effort and focused attention, there will be times when things don’t go our way. Another pillar, resilience, is an imperative quality to foster, since unexpected challenges are inevitable. Mental malleability supports resilience, because if we are overly attached to one action plan or one result, chances are we will suffer and take longer to recover. When obstacles or setbacks arise, it’s essential that we bounce back quickly. Resilience is the ability to start fresh without despair. A pillar that is inextricably married to resilience is compassion — and in particular self-compassion, which has been empirically shown to increase our ability to cope effectively with stress.
Resilience and compassion can be enhanced with training. We can help employees cultivate resilience by teaching them to ask themselves, “Can I see this challenge as an opportunity for growth?” Adopting this attitude and unburdening ourselves of negative self-talk improves our relationship to the challenging circumstance.
A powerful exercise in developing resilience and compassion is the body scan meditation. Participants are guided in a standing meditation with their eyes closed. They turn their attention toward present-moment awareness of the weight slowly shifting from one foot to the other. Familiarity with changing internal sensations helps people respond skillfully to mental states like anger and anxiety without reacting impulsively.
Mindfulness practices can make us more focused, healthy, productive and creative. Employees using mindfulness skills are more likely to have positive relationships with co-workers and to respond to stress triggers more adaptively. Well-structured mindfulness training offers businesses and organizations a high return on investment, as participants learn to enhance their self-awareness, self-management skills and collaborative relationships.