A growing body of research shows that mindfulness training reduces stress and anxiety, improves attention and memory, and promotes self-regulation and empathy. It now is being integrated into forward-thinking organizations (https://wellness.huhs.harvard.edu/Mindfulness).
Mindfulness training allows all employees to focus sharply on the task at hand, master peak levels of stress, and recharge quickly. On an organizational level, mindfulness reduces sick days, increases trust in leadership, and boosts employee engagement. The Wall Street Journal reports that companies such as Goldman Sachs use mindfulness training because research shows that traders who applied their mindfulness training had greater increases in their portfolios than comparable traders who did not receive the training. Those receiving and practicing mindfulness training showed greater discipline in decision-making, especially during stressful periods. All this from practicing 15 minutes a day!
Companies that implement mindfulness training report the following benefits:
- Stress reduction—being proactive instead of reactive
- Easier absorption of new information
- Increased creativity and vitality of new thoughts
- Greater adaptability and problem-solving skills
- Being open minded—mental agility
- Resilience/self-motivated—disciplined work ethic
- Empathy for others—emotional intelligence
- Focus and clarity of thinking—avoiding distractions
- Productivity—looking at the bigger picture
- Acceptance of the unknown—higher acceptance of change
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
According to Global Dynamics Chief Mindfulness Officer (CMO) Saskia Meckman, “Mindfulness is paying deep attention to the world around you and within you, moment by moment. Mindfulness is being present—in the here and now. By learning to become more present, mindfulness slows down the brain, allows us to observe, without judgement or analytical thought, our thoughts with acceptance. This allows us to notice experiences through our senses—what we feel, taste, smell, hear, touch.” While this practice has been around for thousands of years, organizations are only recently learning to pay attention to its importance.
WHAT IS THE SCIENCE BEHIND MINDFULNESS?
Mindfulness practices, such as breathing exercises and meditation, are associated with decreasing the size of the amygdala, the region of the brain that initiates a response to stress (fight or flight). This reduces the inclination to interpret an uncertain environment as a threat and, thus, react defensively. Research shows that mindfulness also decreases stress and regulates the body’s level of cortisol—the stress hormone.
According to Meckman, “Ideally you want mindfulness to become a habit, a way of life. Meditation can change the structure of the brain. In the last 10 years, researchers have learned that habits make neuro connections in the brain grow stronger. With mindfulness training, we can train our brains, thus creating new connections, simply by concentrating on our breath and stilling our mind. When we watch our thoughts and emotions without reacting to them, we can begin to change our behavior, allowing us to be more creative and increase our self-confidence.”
HOW IS MINDFULNESS TRAINING DELIVERED?
Mindfulness training can take place in multiple ways. In-person training is ideal but not always practical. This training also is offered virtually and can consist of several sessions given over a short period of time. In the virtual mode, there is e-mail support between sessions, and participants are encouraged to practice their mindfulness tools and exercises. Encouraging “micro practices,” such as taking a moment out of a busy workday for a few minutes to focus on one’s breath, allows the learning from the training to be part of the participant’s day. Small groups of people (20 or less) are recommended as the training is handson and everyone should be given a chance to share their experience. According to Meckman, “When done correctly, this experiential training has mental, physical, and emotional components that are intertwined to create a balanced program. It is not a religious experience as the emphasis is on non-doctrine exercises.”
Companies are realizing that in order to continue the learning after a mindfulness training has occurred, they can offer “recharge rooms” within the organization or department. These rooms are designated for employees to take a few minutes of downtime to zone out, relax, stretch, nap, and practice meditating.
WHO WOULD BENEFIT FROM MINDFULNESS TRAINING?
Mindfulness training can benefit anyone in an organization—from CEOs to entry-level employees. Ideally the organization as a whole should make mindfulness training a priority and part of the corporate culture. However, this training should never be mandatory as that can induce more stress rather than alleviate it and defeat the whole purpose entirely. Ideally, everyone in the organization should be encouraged to practice their skills during their workday. This can only happen when management is part of the training itself. Since anyone can benefit from mindfulness training, it is the perfect addition to any corporate wellness program. The goal is for the participants to continue their practice long after the training is done so the tools learned will be integrated into their interactions at work and into daily life.
WHAT COMPONENTS SHOULD BE IN A MINDFULNESS TRAINING PROGRAM?
Mindfulness training should include a wide variety of exercises as ways of paying attention to the present moment. Techniques such as meditation (seated, standing, walking), breath work, and gentle yoga movements will allow participants to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. Mindfulness training aims to teach participants to live in the present moment and achieve a state of focused relaxation. Practicing mindfulness and meditating regularly is not just “one more thing to do.” Ironically, the only thing to “do” in meditation is “nothing.” In today’s demanding world, doing “nothing” is hard to do.
WHAT ARE THE ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENTS FOR A FACILITATOR?
A mindfulness facilitator gives participants tools that facilitate learning and how to be present in this ever-changing world—teaching the skills of paying attention to present moment experiences without judgment. Mindfulness trainers are not therapists, spiritual teachers, psychiatrists, or counselors (though they may have training in these areas). Their job is not to provide medical advice or administer psychotherapy. Teaching mindfulness is a highly specialized skill. Facilitators should have in-depth experience and training in learning about and practicing mindfulness and meditation. Ideally, they should have experience working in large organizational or corporate settings.
Meckman advises, “Avoid finding someone set on one way of teaching mindfulness as there are countless ways to share this knowledge, and gifted facilitators will have many tools to offer.” Additionally, “it is imperative that mindfulness facilitators have a personal daily practice of their own, as both a professional and personal background in the field is key.”
MORE THAN A PASSING FAD
Organizations worldwide are looking for ways to improve their employees’ engagement and performance at work. Approximately 25 percent of all major U.S. corporations have launched stress reduction programs that include mindfulness. These include companies as varied as Aetna, BASF, Genentech, Ford, P&G, Qualcomm, McKinsey, and the Chicago Bulls. Mindfulness training is more than a passing fad, it is a practice that has been around for thousands of years. It now is being recognized for its potential in business by improving decision-making, lowering turnover, increasing productivity, reducing stress, enhancing engagement and creativity, and resulting in a more empathetic and satisfied workforce.
If you have any cases where you have implemented mindfulness training or have struggled with implementing mindfulness training, write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org for use in a future column.
Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at email@example.com. For more information, visit http://www.global-dynamics.com.