Have you personally participated or been exposed to the following behavior from employees, colleagues or leadership figures:

  • Sudden snap towards someone when anger overflows?
  • Hours of idleness where one simply can’t get your mind into gear?
  • A lack of drive, focus, or clarity on what should be done?
  • Cases of burnout, or physical/mental disability to carry out work?

No doubt that if you have been working in the corporate for any amount of time you have experienced some (or most likely all) of these symptoms, brought on mainly by stress. It could also be a sign that your workplace can benefit by implementing some Mindfulness and meditation policies.

Usually, both concepts are associated with Buddhism, an ancient religion from the East. Recently, the benefits of some of these practices have gained massive popularity in Western culture. Buddhism, Yoga, and to a lesser extent Taoism has not only been scientifically proven to offer many life-changing improvements to their practitioners but has done so especially in the work environment.

One industry that has become a beacon of how to implement these arts in the work environment successively is the IT industry, especially Silicon Valley, of which Google deserves a special mention.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, what exactly is mindfulness and meditation?

What is mindfulness?

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.”

There are thousands of years of philosophy and developments as well as countless books written on this topic. Although it seems simple at first, its roots, reason for being and effects on one’s life run very deep.

You can think of mindfulness in the following way: Imagine yourself as in the 3rd person, observing the way you act and feel in a specific situation. Now since you are this 3rd person and not yourself you can look at yourself, your emotions, the other parties involved, and your reaction from an unbiased perspective.

Many people think at first that this means you should become some distant, robot-like person that ignores all emotion. This isn’t the case as we are emotional beings and Emotional Intelligence (EI) forms a big part of mindfulness. It merely allows you to understand the reason behind the emotions, which emotions you should act on and how big a say they should have on the outcome of the situation.

What is meditation?

In its simplest form, meditation can mean different things to different people. One of the common misconceptions about meditation is that it can only be achieved through our stereotypical idea of it: Sitting dead still, with legs crossed, eyes closed, completely locked away from the outside world.

Dispelling these myths start with this realization: Meditation is not an act, but a state of awareness without thought. Meditation and mindfulness go hand in hand. Meditation is just one way (generally accepted as the most effective way) of achieving mindfulness.

Although the stereotype is true to an extent, it is mostly because that is the easiest way for a new practitioner to start. If your mind has not yet been trained it’s very hard to cancel out all outside interference to focus on your meditation. With time and practice, it becomes possible to meditate any place, anytime and anywhere.

Meditation is also often seen as an exclusively Buddhist practice. Many people think that it is impossible to separate meditation from practicing the religion as well. This is completely untrue as meditation and its effects on us humans have been scientifically verified and is considered a science. You do not need to be familiar with the teachings or practices of Buddhism to meditate effectively.

Why do we need them in the workplace?

Now that we have explained mindfulness and meditation, let’s look at why we need them in the first place. There is no doubt that the work environment is fast paced, mentally and physically taxing, and leads to a whole list of unfortunate conditions. Chief of which is stress.

Stress

Stress has recently been classified as an epidemic, and it is no secret that it is running rampant through the corporate world, especially in the office space. It has been labeled the number 1 killer by proxy in the US, and the stats worldwide are not much better.

Above and beyond the mental anguish stress can cause, it exasperates physical conditions. Inflammation is especially responsive to stress, which leads to numerous cardiac risks through irregular blood pressure and flow.

In the short-term stress can:

  • Hamper creativity and innovation
  • Affect one’s interpersonal behavior, which leads to strained relationships
  • Make it more difficult to sleep, in severe cases even leading to insomnia
  • Self-doubt, which also dampens innovation and productivity
  • Induce anxiety, which leads to a lack of patience and many mistakes

All of these have a snowball effect that just leads to more stress. If not nipped in the bud it could spiral out of control.

If you don’t believe us just see the frightening statistics from The American Institute of Stress (AIS).

Benefits of mindfulness and meditation

Personal improvement

Decision making, clarity and focus

The main part of functioning in the workplace is making the right decisions in a timely manner. To do this you will need a clear view of the current situation and relevant facts as well as focus on the problem at hand.

Stress can inhibit our decision-making abilities to the point of crippling it. Mindfulness and meditation allow you to push this anxiety out of the way and focus on the present.

Presence

Mindfulness and meditation leaves one to better live “in the moment”. This helps a lot with clarity and focus, but also with keeping short and long-term goals in mind and balancing priorities. It is also easier to avoid daydreaming or worrying about things that do not presently matter.

Memory

Once you have better clarity and focus it is also easier to categorise your mind, which in turn benefits your memory. People report a better long and short-term memory capacity after practicing these techniques. It also helps with a tendency to misplace items or leave them somewhere in a moment of distraction.

Improved relationships

Emotional intelligence

One of the widely hailed benefits of meditation is how it can bring you in tune with your own emotions. Not only this help you prevent your negative emotions from grabbing the reigns, it also helps you foster better empathy with others. Where you might usually be driven to give up by despair you may see the light at the end of the tunnel. Instead of snapping at a colleague in anger, you will be able to give a moderate reply and vent in healthier ways later.

Communication

Clarity of mind makes it easier for you to express your thoughts clearly and accurately. The control over your emotions also helps eliminate misunderstandings or unnecessary confrontation. This leads to better camaraderie and more productive teamwork.

Leadership

The higher up the ladder you go the more responsibility and stress are placed on you. This only compounds the problems we mentioned earlier and the need for the solutions that mindfulness and meditation offer.

Employee satisfaction

Loyalty

There are a few reasons why providing mindfulness and meditation programs lead to higher loyalty among staff:

  • It shows that the company really cares about the mental and physical well-being of employees.
  • Employees start to align the company’s success with their own.
  • The higher sense of “living in the moment” leads to a better understanding and acceptance of priorities and their careers place in their life.

Lower Absenteeism

Mindfulness and meditation have numerous health benefits. Of which, eliminating stress is the main one. Employees who do not suffer from burnout, overwhelming levels of stress and anxiety, and less physical pain simply won’t need to take as many rest days or sick leave.

Sense of purpose

Another side effect is that you find a sense of purpose within the important aspects of your life. Personal and professional. A sense of purpose at work leads to better productivity and clearer goals. It is a massive benefit for those in leadership positions and has an exponential effect in a team setting.

How to incorporate into office life

Busy as you are every day in the office, finding the time to practice mindfulness and meditation must seem daunting. Benefits of these techniques are that they are easy to do, quick to start and finish, don’t need any equipment or special space, and you can start to reap benefits with just short amounts of time dedicated to it on a regular basis.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a very popular program for those in the corporate world. Look for certified experts/trainers in this field to help you and your business get started.

Let’s look at a few guidelines:

How?

There are many different schools of meditation, and not all types of meditations involve sitting still. Yoga can also be considered a type of meditation. Some schools focus on visualization whereas others focus on breathing or mindfulness.

You should not be surprised that meditation has even made it into the world of apps! The Mindfulness App and Headspace are just two great examples. Don’t forget about having the right support at work either, like height adjustable desk or ergonomic chair like the ones at Jason L.

When and where?

Yes, it is not easy to find the time for a new hobby. Making meditation a habit is essential to reap all the benefits. Just like any kind of training you can gradually increase the amount of time as you get better at it. For a complete beginner even starting off with one minute of meditation and slowly going longer is good enough.

Most people are recommended to meditate 5 to 10 minutes. Once in the morning before leaving home or at the office before starting to work and once in the evening after settling down. For office workers, it’s advised to meditate once in the middle of the day too. If the company provides time and space for meditation that is preferable, else just find a quiet spot during lunch or close your office for a few minutes.

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