Is it really relevant to talk about mindfulness at work? The New York Times and other publications think so. “More than half of American employers offer some form of mindfulness training to their workers, contributing to a global corporate wellness market that’s valued at over $50 billion,” also write Wharton School of Management Prof. Lindsey Cameron and Foster School of Business Prof. Andrew Hafenbrack in the Harvard Business Review.
The term itself necessarily conjures up images of ‘meditation’ and other such practices championed by the likes of Eckhart Tolle. In fact, it is important to make a clear distinction between meditation and mindfulness. But why?
Mindfulness is a phenomenon which originated in the USA, and which seems to have peaked around 2014. It is often associated with three prominent American academics: Ellen Langer, the godmother of mindfulness, Amy Edmondson, the pioneer of psychological safety, and Jon Kabat-Zinn, the king of positive psychology and stress reduction through mindfulness.
What exactly is mindfulness?
Put simply, it is about paying attention to the present moment. So what consequences could mindfulness have on work, on management and, above all, on the day-to-day experience of employees within a business?
Researchers have identified three major contributions:
- The first is the potential to make us much more innovative and creative;
- The second is the potential to create added value, measured in terms of increased productivity and better employee performance;
- The third contribution is that mindfulness can make employees happier, more communicative and more positive in their relations with others.
It is thus easy to understand why businesses might be interested in mindfulness, since it brings with it some very real benefits.
But how do we go about putting these ideas into practice?
- We can begin by accepting the need to stop multi-tasking and start organizing our tasks sequentially. Do one task at a time, with total concentration and focus, absolutely present in that moment. When that task is complete, we can pass on to the next one. That means giving up on our attempts to perform multiple tasks simultaneously, for example answering the telephone, responding to emails, keeping an eye on WhatsApp and writing all at the same time. This is the first piece of practical wisdom.
- The second practical lesson is that mindfulness is not simply about being focused, about existing in the moment. It is also a matter of what Americans like to call awareness, which means being open and receptive to what is going on around us. So mindfulness is also about listening positively, picking up on weak signals and being connected to the outside world, be it physically, digitally or in hybrid mode. We know very well that focus goes hand in hand with openness, and that the human dimension gets neglected when we work entirely from home or exclusively in digital mode.
- The third practical lesson is that mindfulness is about being able to take a step back and adopt a critical perspective on your own work. That means not focusing exclusively on the concentration required in the present moment, or the need to pick up on signals, but also nurturing our capacity to analyse the positive and negative aspects of our work and pick out areas for improvement.
Mindfulness is both a practice and a state of mind which can help each and every one of us to work more effectively and, above all, to reduce stress at work. This could be useful, in the current climate.
This is an adaptation of an article previously published in French by Xerfi Canal.
This post gives the views of its author, not the position of ESCP Business School.
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