Using mindfulness for increasing productivity

10.04.16

Mindfulness for increasing productivity

About a third of working Australians identify work as a source of stress, which is hardly surprising in today’s hyper-connected, ever-changing, globally competitive economy. With reports suggesting a trend of declining wellbeing in the workplace, a few minutes ‘time out’ to calm down and refocus during the work day may help to reverse this trend and bring benefits for your business too.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a form of mind–body training that uses meditation, breathing and yoga techniques to help focus thoughts and feelings as they occur. This can help people manage their negative thoughts and experiences in a more constructive way, instead of being overwhelmed or crippled by them.

Benefits of mindfulness

While mindfulness may seem a bit spiritual and alternative to some people, there is growing research that firmly grounds it in modern, evidence-based medicine. When practised regularly, mindfulness appears to cause positive changes in the brain that can help:

  • Reduce stress
  • Increase resilience and peace of mind

Improve

  • Concentration, memory and processing speed
  • Decision-making abilities
  • Creativity
  • Emotional reactions and the ability to empathise and show compassion
  • Relationships with others

And when mindfulness is combined with cognitive behavioural therapy, limited evidence suggests that it has benefits for people with managing diagnosed chronic mental health conditions.
It can be as simple as focus on slow breathing for an entire minute and nothing else.

Start a mindful movement in your workplace

Regular mindfulness practice may help reduce work-related stress, and improve job performance, productivity and work satisfaction. Mindfulness meditation is one way to encourage these health and wellbeing benefits in your workplace. It’s a simple, inexpensive activity that can be done without special equipment, and almost anywhere and anytime.

If this is something you want to introduce to your life or to your employees, consider the following:

  • Make use of the freely available resources listed below
  • Ensure employees have access to a quiet area, such as a wellness room or their own office, where they can be undisturbed for an appropriate period of time to sit comfortably and focusing on their breathing
  • Consider offering guided meditation sessions (e.g. during lunch time) with a qualified practitioner.

Helpful resources

  • Headspace app – meditation and mindfulness made simple, including a free, introductory ‘Take 10’ program. The government funded mental health organisation aimed at young people also runs sessions and courses on learning to be mindful at their local offices.
    headspace.com
  • Mindfulness at Monash – general helpful information about how to practice mindfulness
    monash.edu/counselling/mindfulness.html
  • Smiling Mind app – modern meditation for young people
    smilingmind.com.au
  • Mind the Bump – meditation to support mental and emotional wellbeing in preparation for having a baby and becoming a new parent
    mindthebump.org.au

Corporate workplaces aren’t known to be inherently compassionate places.

The cut and thrust of commercial realities can make for a competitive environment where any weakness shown by a colleague may be more likely to be exploited or ignored. Additionally, employees are traditionally expected to leave their personal problems at home. Yet, how can anyone be expected to concentrate 100% on the task at hand while suppressing personal stress?

As research is starting to suggest, if a focus on compassion was encouraged in the workplace and individuals were able to get back to work more quickly from life’s many setbacks, then we may start to see improved health, wellbeing and relationships. It is no wonder that compassionate leadership and culture is starting to be of high interest to employers for both the human and commercial benefits this can bring.

So how can we achieve a more compassionate workplace? Well, the answer, it seems starts with ourselves.

Step 1: Practice self-compassion.

The tougher we are on ourselves, the tougher we are likely to be on others. While some of us might find being kind to ourselves a bit foreign, practice will hopefully make perfect. Dr Emiliana Simon-Thomas of the Greater Good Science Center at University of California, Berkeley defines self-compassion as the practice of quietening your inner-critic, replacing it with a voice of support, understanding, and care. There are three components to this:

  1. Treating yourself with care and understanding rather than harsh judgement
  2. Seeing your own experience as part of human experience on a larger scale (and therefore not isolating)
  3. Mindfully assessing difficult emotions instead of over-identifying with them right away.

Welcoming compassion from others is important too.

The many benefits of practicing self-compassion have been reported to include a reduction in anxiety, depression, stress, perfectionism, body shame, fear of failure and cortisol levels. There can be a noted increase in life satisfaction, happiness, self-confidence, optimism, curiosity, creativity, gratitude, and resilience. Studies also suggest self-compassion can result in greater empathy and forgiveness of others, altruism, and improved relationship functioning. On top of all that, it may even help promote healthy habits such as reduced smoking, exercising, seeking medical treatment when needed, and weight management.

Step 2: Enable and encourage compassion between colleagues.

This could require a little bit of training, but at the very least start with a conversation about what values and behaviours are expected of them, how they relate to compassion, and how they might be more compassionate on a daily basis. One of the key planks of workplace compassion is active listening. This means resisting the urge to cut someone off mid-sentence, hearing them out, then responding once they’ve fully got their point across. It also means staying present while you’re listening (put the phone away) and responding in a way that shows you were paying attention.

Compassion isn’t about solving everyone else’s problems, but showing them that they have a support network around them. If it can be as beneficial as the research suggests, fostering compassion could open the way to an unprecedented era of workplace satisfaction.

Sources:

Black Dog Institute. Mindfulness in everyday life [Online; accessed Jun 2015] Available from: www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Black DS O’Reilly GA Olmstead R et al. Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances. A randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2015; 175(4): 494-501.

Congleton C, Hölzel BK, Lazar SW. Mindfulness can literally change your brain [Online] 2015 [Accessed June 2015] Available from: www.hbr.org

Goyal M Singh S Sibinga EMS et al. Meditation programs for psychological stress and well-being. A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Intern Med 2014; 174(3):357–368.

Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. Toolkit – Tool 8: relaxation and mindfulness benefits [Online; last updated Nov 2013; accessed June 2015] Available from: www.jeanhailes.org.au

Lovelock H Mathews R Murphy K. Evidence-based psychological interventions in the treatment of mental disorders: a literature review, third edition [Online] 2010 [Accessed June 2015] Available from: www.psychology.org.au

Mindfulness at Monash. What is mindfulness? [Online] 2012 [Accessed June 2015] Available from: monash.edu/counselling/mindfulness.html