Workplace stress is a health epidemic that causes American businesses more than $300 billion in losses a year.
One popular antidote — both in the workplace and at home — is a mindfulness practice that can dissolve stress and anxiety while also boosting creativity and employee engagement.
It’s so popular, you might say we’re in the midst of a mindfulness revolution. And why not? Mindfulness is scientifically proven, relatively easy to do, and free. Even your boss can get behind that (usually).
Intrigued? We’ve collected some of our favorite articles on mindfulness in the workplace: from how mindfulness can contribute to better work performance, all the way to a cautionary note that warns of how mindfulness at work can actually work against employees.
You’ll also find tips and advice on how to get started with your own practice. Take a deep breath, exhale…and read on.
Mindfulness means making better decisions
Want to make better decisions under stress? Begin a mindfulness practice. Paul Jun at Help Scout plumbs the recent research to find out how this works in his article “How Practicing Mindfulness Can Lead to Better Decision-Making.”
Turns out that even a single session of mindful meditation can correct for common biases we face during decision-making. These include the “sunk-cost bias,” which is our tendency to stick with decisions we’ve invested time or money in, even when those decisions start proving to be poor ones.
So if you want to improve your decision-making, does this mean you need to sit quietly and meditate? Interestingly, no. Jun rounds out his article with a reminder that it’s possible to practice mindfulness in ways that work for you. That puts mindfulness within the reach of all us.
Just another productivity tool?
A mindfulness practice is often started when someone wants to feel less stressed. But is it starting to get a reputation as something like a second morning espresso — an shortcut to productivity? Harvard Business Review editor Charlotte Lieberman wonders, “Is Something Lost When We Use Mindfulness as a Productivity Tool?“
No doubt mindfulness is catching on in corporate America. Mindfulness programs at major companies — Google has a mindfulness class that runs four times a year — indicate that businesses appreciate the productivity benefits that a mindful workforce can bring. The football team the Seattle Seahawks refer to their mindfulness program as their “secret weapon.”
That’s fine, says Lieberman, as long as companies — and sports teams — don’t look solely at their bottom lines to realize their ROI. Not only are such bottom-line benefits elusive to nail down, says Lieberman, results are “future-oriented” thinking, which is not at all what a mindfulness practice is meant to cultivate.
The true return on investment, she cautions, will be in the form of happier, more relaxed employees — and not, for instance, a Super Bowl trophy.
Whether you have a pragmatic objective or a more idealist goal in mind, this article is good food for thought.
Avoiding mindless mindfulness
As mindfulness becomes more and more popular, there is a danger that the powerful practice can become watered down into pat phrases and slogans that sound good — but do nothing. Bestselling author and CEO Dov Seidman is advocating for mindfulness to stay meaningful in his aptly titled article “Meditation Can Improve Your Life and Work, But You Have to Do It Like You Mean It,” for Quartz.
As practiced in the workplace, mindfulness isn’t about simply taking a break to relax, says Seidman. It’s a deliberate reflection and evaluation of the task at hand.
This intentional pause is needed more than ever, he says, since an employee’s job is “no longer to do the next thing right, but to do the next right thing.” And mindful contemplation of goals and strategies helps to improve problem-solving and performance, Seidman finds.
This kind of reflection, especially by business leaders, Seidman argues, leads to building greatness into employees and organizations. The article cites research and experiments to back up its findings — it’s a helpful start if you’re looking to begin a practice in your own workplace.
Mindfulness practice: A DIY guide
So if you’re going to start your own mindfulness practice at work, what should that practice consist of? And how, exactly, can you get started?
“How to Beat Workplace Stress With Mindfulness Meditation,” by bestselling author Charles Francis, walks you through the basics, including how to bring your burgeoning practice into the workplace.
For starters, just pause for a minute and take 3-5 mindful breaths, then carry on with what you were doing. Even this simple practice can reap benefits that may have you looking for ways to deepen your practice.
And don’t worry, it’s not all sitting and breathing. Francis has advice for walking, listening and speaking that bring greater awareness and intention to nearly every part of your work day.
This is definitely an article to clip. If you are at all curious about actually beginning a mindfulness habit, there’s inspiration here.
Corporate mindfulness as the opiate of the masses
Now that you’re all relaxed, Ronald Purser and Edwin Ng want to get you worried again — or, more specifically, they want to warn you that your office mindfulness program might be merely an excuse to get you to work harder.
Purser, a management professor, and Ng, a cultural theorist, team up to write a Salon article that serves to stand all this relaxation on its head. “Corporate Mindfulness Is BS,” they assert — and companies use these programs to work you harder and pay you less.
Stress-related absences cost companies billions, the duo argues, but corporate mindfulness programs put the responsibility for improvement in the hands of the wrong party.
Rather than fixing dysfunctional systems that actually cause stress and employee disengagement, say Purser and Ng, these wellness programs “shift the burden and locus of psychological stress and structural insecurities onto the individual employee [and] frame stress as a personal problem.”
Citing numerous examples, they warn of the potential of mindfulness programs to allow businesses to ignore the systemic contributions to employee stress and anxiety.
So while they’re not arguing that stress can’t be self-created — or improved with mindfulness — they strongly object to such programs letting destructive work cultures off the hook.
You’ll want to pause for a deep breath or two — it’s a compelling argument. It’s also well-researched and thoughtfully argued.
The key may be to engage in mindfulness practices at work, and to bring that same awareness and clarity of vision to your work culture and practices as well.