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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 23 April, 2014

Column: How practising mindfulness can help your work life

Some of the world’s most successful companies are investing in mindfulness training for their employees to help them deal better with stress and workplace challenges, writes Joanne O’Malley

Image: BestPhotoStudio via Shutterstock

‘MINDFULNESS’ MEANS BEING present in the moment, aware of what is going on inside and around us instead of engrossed in the merry-go-round of our thoughts and emotions. Meditation quiets the mind and fosters new ways of relating to whatever external stressors emerge in the workday.

Everyone knows that training makes our body stronger, fitter and more flexible. Now, neuroscience research shows that mindfulness training cultivates the innate capacities of the mind to be present; to step out of automatic pilot and to create space so we can be clearer, calmer, more focused, more creative, even more compassionate.

Continuous partial attention

It’s not how long we sit at a desk but the attention we give to the task in hand that determines the value we bring. Many people today are in a state of ‘continuous partial attention’ which impacts their performance, relationships and well-being negatively. Mindfulness practise alters how we relate on a moment to moment basis with experience – in ways that enable an elevated capacity to focus/remember/learn, regulate and manage emotions and relate with colleagues. This makes a huge difference in how we function in our work lives.

As a result, some of the world’s most successful companies including Google, McKinsey, KPMG, Barclays, Apple, Yahoo, Nike, Ford, Sun Life Financial and Starbucks are investing in mindfulness training for their employees. Some of these have even integrated mindfulness into their corporate culture:

Janice Marturano – General Mills - (company behind Cheerios cereal and Häagen-Dazs ice cream)

Janice refers to herself as a reformed ‘21st century juggler’ and is of the biggest names in this area. She brought meditation training to over 500 employees at packaged food giant General Mills, as well as Intel, Target, Mayo Clinic and United Way. In the wake of these successes, she founded the Institute for Mindful Leadership where she has developed and teaches courses to executives and leaders around the world.  The Financial Times (Aug 2012) cited research results of its effectiveness:

  • 80 per cent reported a positive change in their ability to make decisions with more clarity
  • 89 per cent reported enhanced listening capabilities (to themselves and others)
  • 83 per cent ‘take time each day to optimise my personal productivity
  • 82 per cent ‘make time to eliminate tasks/meetings with limited productivity value

Chade-Meng Tan (Jolly Good Fellow) – Google

Google offers mindfulness and emotional intelligence training to its workers with the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) programme pioneered by Chade-Meng Tan who also authored Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). The training has three parts: attention training, self-knowledge and building useful mental habits and has been delivered to more than 1,000 employees. Chade-Meng Tan says “Mindfulness is an idea whose time has come. For a long time practitioners knew, but the science wasn’t there. Now the science has caught up.”

Tara Healy and Tami Ireland – Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare

This financially stable Massachusetts-based insurance provider had been in receivership for five years when they quietly piloted a mindfulness course that was an immediate success. The pilot blossomed into Mind the Moment, which has now been delivered to 30 per cent of Harvard’s 1,200 employees and client organisations. On evaluation, participants reported being more focused, less stressed and overwhelmed as well as more productive and energetic. Relationships with colleagues and bosses are better.

Mark Bertolini –  Aetna Insurance – 3rd largest health insurer in US with 30,000 employees

Mindfulness helped Bertolini recover from a serious accident and he became an advocate: “Every morning I get up and I do my meditation before work, that’s my wellness programme. It helps me be more centred, more present.” he stated.  He recently said on CNBC that the most stressed-out employees’ health care costs are $2,000 higher than average employees and ‘mindfulness’ benefits yield an 11-to-1 return on investment. His mission is to promote yoga and mind-body therapies.

Jeff Weiner – LinkedIn

The list goes on and on… An annual conference called Wisdom draws together thousands of technologists from Silicon Valley like Twitter,  Facebook and LinkedIn who trade mindfulness tips. Jeff Weiner, CEO of the social-networking site LinkedIn says “compassion” and “listening” are now fundamental principles of his leadership.

The benefits of practising mindfulness

Thirty years of research and clinical trials has conclusively proven the value of mindfulness in reducing stress and increasing well-being. A National Institutes of Health study showed that the health benefits could even be seen as a matter of life and death, with a 23 per cent decrease in mortality, a 30 per cent decrease in death due to cardiovascular problems, and a big decrease in cancer mortality as well. Now, a growing body of empirical research is showing equally striking benefits in terms of focus, clarity, creativity and energy, making the corporate world sit up and take mindfulness seriously. Research evidence shows improvements in:

  • Cognitive function and flexibility (concentration, memory and learning)
  • Emotional reactivity and ability to be self aware and self manage
  • Productivity
  • Employer/employee and client relationships
  • Job satisfaction
  • Costs of staff absenteeism and turnover

Mindfulness is one of the best ways of cultivating a way of being in our ‘right minds’ and ‘right hearts’. It encourages people to see the bigger picture, be more focused, open, accepting, attuned, collaborative, generous and discerning; it cultivates innate intelligence and moves teams towards co-operation and win-win outcomes. There is an equally clear bottom line but the rules/structures/processes are very different. They are more flexible and responsive and the whole organisation is more dynamic and a better place for ‘human beings’ to work.

Top tips on practising mindfulness at work

Practising mindfulness sounds simple but, of course, it’s not because it goes against the grain of how we have been socialised to think and function. Instead of striving to get things done, always rushing to spot and fix problems, mindfulness is about just being present, open and accepting of ‘what is’ just as it is and if action is required seeing that and making a conscious intentional choice.

It is experiential, rather than theoretical so the effort comes in the development of a practice. This begins with self-discovery and becoming more compassionate to oneself, then ultimately toward others. With practice, people notice they spend less time worrying about the past and concerned about what will happen in the future; they gain perspective, listen better and are more discerning.

Top ten tips on practising mindfulness at work

These tips will help you remember to be present, so you don’t miss the moment:

  1. Set your alarm a little earlier and allow yourself 5 to 30 minutes after you wake to be quiet and meditate, listen to the sounds of nature, or take a slow quiet walk outside.
  2. Throughout the day, notice your posture. Shoulders raised? Jaw clenched? Any tightness, or tension being held? Even slight physical adjustments – becoming more upright, open, soft – can have a powerful effect on opening attention up or closing it down.
  3. Notice when you are rushing. Move a little slower and pay more attention to your movements and how your body feels, consciously letting go regularly.
  4. Notice your breathing often. Where do you feel it? Connect with the sensations of breathing directly and rest your attention there to anchor your mind and bring you into the present.
  5. Really listen to others; to the sound and tone of their voice(s), see their body language; notice your own response, can you remain open and non-judgemental?
  6. Whenever you walk, notice the sensation of walking, one foot on the floor, followed by the other.
  7. Pause whenever you can and connect with your senses; feeling your clothes on your skin, the air against your face and hands; hearing what sounds are around/silence; seeing what before you, the colours/textures without adding any interpretation/thinking to it…
  8. When you are eating, eat a little slower and tune into really tasting, seeing, smelling, appreciating your food more fully.
  9. Before you go into a meeting, take a call, give yourself the space to ask yourself what your intention is so that you are able to behave consciously and not waste opportunities.
  10. When you arrive home, take a few minutes to be quiet and still and orient yourself towards being there. Maybe change your clothes, say ‘hi’ and connect with the people.

Most people need guidance and support to develop a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness at Work offer a range of public courses,  1-to-1 coaching and also customises programmes specifically for organisations. Founded by Joanne O’Malley in response to people’s need for an antidote to stress and a way of living fuller, more alive, wholehearted and balanced lives,  Joanne’s experience is that mindfulness nurtures a way of being that builds people’s inner resources, mind and heart fitness so they can function more effectively and live more fully. How is your state of mind? Why not Test Yourself and find out? Contact: e: info@mindfulnessatwork.ie p: 087 961 5901   w: www.mindfulnessatwork.ie

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