Being in the Moment on the Job

Is the current mindfulness focus a fad or an innovative training and personal development exercise?

Many health and wellness programs today are incorporating what is called mindfulness exercises into their offerings. Considering the fact that mindfulness training is taught and practiced at companies such as Google, Salesforce, Aetna, Goldman Sachs Group, Blackrock, and Bank of America, you realize this must be pretty big stuff.

I recently used a wellness app that made sure I daily ate the right foods, drank the right amount of water, and exercised, plus cued me to take two or three moments a day to do deep breathing and reflect on some meditative messages.

Nearly 25 percent of employers in 2016 offered mindfulness training, and this number could double in 2017. These training sessions typically are priced between $500 and $10,000 for large group sessions.

An estimated $1 billion to $4 billion was spent in 2016 on mindfulness and meditation training, and there are thousands of mindfulness apps available, along with multiple wearable gadgets helping people find peace of mind and a more balanced life.

Is this mindfulness focus a fad or an innovative training and personal development exercise? Should companies be spending time, money, and effort on using this technique in the workplace?

WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

Searching via Google for the term, “mindfulness,” elicited more than 50 million hits when I last looked. Mindfulness is the therapeutic technique of creating a conscious awareness of the present moment. Applying this technique is supposed to help you acknowledge and accept your own thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment in a non-judgmental way.

The intent from practicing mindfulness is by focusing on the present moment, you stop living in the past with possible regrets, or thinking about the future and becoming stressed. Too much thinking about the past and future impedes productivity, problem solving, and creativity.

Jon Kabat-Zinn developed his Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979. Kabat-Zinn’s work has inspired thousands of studies documenting the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness in general and of MBSR in particular. The MBSR model has been adapted for a variety of environments such as schools, prisons, hospitals, veteran centers, and elsewhere.

But does mindfulness really work?

WHAT STUDIES SHOW

New York Times writer Ruth Whipman wrote a challenging point-of-view article called “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment” to address her concerns about the mindfulness movement. Her perspective is that the energy spent on thinking nice thoughts to be in the moment obscures the reality of dealing with real-world problems and not being prepared for future events.

She found reports from the United States Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, which conducted a meta-analysis of more than 18,000 separate studies on meditation and mindfulness techniques, and the results were underwhelming at best.

However, studies listed on the National Institute of Health Website, from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, show varying degrees of positive benefit when mindfulness was used with various health disorders such as cancer treatment, hypertension, menopausal symptoms, and general anxiety disorders. For example, mindfulness meditation training was shown to help cancer patients improve their quality of life by relieving anxiety, stress, fatigue, and general mood and sleep disorders.

Recent research from Northwestern University showed how people breathe affects how the brain deals with emotions, smell, and memory. These effects depended on whether people inhaled or exhaled and whether they breathed through the nose or mouth.

And the American Psychological Association summarized research findings to show mindfulness reduced stress, boosted working memory, improved cognitive flexibility, improved intuition and self-insight, as well as regulated fear.

There seems to be more and more scientific evidence coming forward demonstrating that there is a definite positive outcome from mindfulness and meditation.

INDIRECT BENEFIT TO EMPLOYERS

OK, so let’s consider how employers can benefit from investing in mindfulness and meditation exercises or training for their employees.

By giving their employees an opportunity to recharge at work, employers are demonstrating concern for their employees’ well-being. Workload, people issues, and balancing work and personal lives are always the major causes for workplace stress. In setting up mindfulness and meditation exercises, employers help employees lessen their stress and thereby reduce absenteeism and lost productivity.

When you learn to be in the moment, you’re better able to be aware of the people around you and appreciate all they do. You can see the opportunities available to you to explore and develop versus seeing typical roadblocks. This generates positive energy and motivation during a workday.

Mindfulness gives real power to employees to become more engaged and receive the permission they need to take those small moments out of a demanding day to become more focused.

The key is remembering that mindfulness and meditation are only one part of a fully holistic approach to employee well-being. To offer mindfulness training in isolation of other health and wellness benefits and offerings would be inappropriate. Most therapists, coaches, and practitioners would advise employers that mindfulness is a practice that improves with time and is a very individual experience. This means the learning curve and level of benefit will vary from person to person. But it definitely takes several weeks before any significant impact can be reported.

Each of us has probably taken five minutes out of a workday at some point in our lives, closed our eyes just to pause and think, or tried to escape the challenges of the day.

Mindfulness consolidates the wisdom of the ancients with the insights of modern science to provide individuals with a secular method to gain real peace of mind.

Ultimately, the real benefits in the workplace still need to be carefully researched and correlated with business and people strategy outcomes. 

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and Chief Learning Officer of Rideau Recognition Solutions. His consulting and learning skills focus on helping companies “give real recognition the right way wherever they are.” For recognition insights, go to http://AuthenticRecognition.com. You can request more information by contacting him at RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit www.Rideau.com.

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