Mindlab: Mindfulness in the Workplace

What do hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, Bill Ford, the Executive Chairman of Ford Motor Company, and Ray Dalio, the billionaire founder of hedge fund firm Bridgewater Associates, have in common? They all take time out of their day to meditate and practice mindfulness. Their business interests may be diverse but they all agree that the practice of mindfulness has helped them to achieve their phenomenal success.

Understanding the concept of mindfulness is clearly the first step in making the business case for its integration into any organisation. Nicky Jenkins of Mindful Guernsey explains it in simple terms: ‘Mindfulness is simply becoming aware of what you are thinking and feeling in the moment, learning to be with whatever is arising, developing the capacity to notice and accept what it is, without judgment, then moving forward with a wise mind, developing the ability to respond rather than react.’

Blue-chip companies are starting to sit up and take notice. AOL Time Warner, Apple, Unilever, Nike, Goldman Sachs and British Telecom are just a few of the large organisations that have introduced mindfulness into the workplace. How mindfulness training can enhance leaders’ and employees’ focus, resilience, compassion and creativity was discussed at the last World Economic Forum in Davos. Harvard Business School is offering mindfulness courses and even the Bank of England has got in on the act with meditation ‘taster’ sessions.

So why is mindfulness causing such a buzz in business? Our work environments are filled with distractions and ever-increasing and diverse workloads, along with social media, make for a state of partial attention. When the pressure is on and our attention is not 100 per cent on the job in hand, even the smartest employee will make poor decisions.

A loss of concentration results in a loss of productivity. One of the main benefits of mindfulness is to bring a wandering mind back to the present and to give the practitioner the mental space to tackle a task with clarity and 100 per cent focus. Another useful way to think of the practice is being able to put a pause between your reaction and your response to a situation, which generally results in better decisions and actions.

As with the introduction of any new programme or system into an organisation it’s important to look at the business case, and in the case of mindfulness at work there is strong evidence to back up the theory. ‘There is a growing body of scientific and empirical research to support the benefits,’ explains Nicky. ‘The practice of mindfulness helps employees to focus and concentrate, it enhances the decision-making process, fosters creativity, builds resilience to stress and helps our approach to complex problems.’

Interestingly, research into neuroplasticity has shown that regular meditation practice increases grey matter density in the areas of the brain associated with learning, memory and emotion regulation. Other studies have looked at mindfulness in relation to stress reduction, job performance, memory capacity and operational effectiveness. Many advocates believe that the practice of mindfulness at work will soon be as commonplace as ergonomic chairs and lunchtime exercise programmes.

Local businesses can tap into the benefits of mindfulness via the workplace programmes available through Mindful Guernsey. Nicky Jenkins is leading the movement on the island and is an experienced and highly qualified mindfulness teacher. She offers bespoke programmes for businesses, which generally follow an eight-week course for employees. Alternatively, shorter introductory workshops or taster sessions can be organised to give employees an insight into what mindfulness can do for their wellbeing.

‘Sustaining the practice of mindfulness is key to its success,’ explains Nicky. ‘So we also offer support packages for employers and employees beyond the initial training. We offer ‘top-up’ sessions, tips and ideas to develop people’s practice and solutions to common challenges that can arise.’

As Russell Simmons comments: ‘You don’t have to believe in meditation for it to work, you just have to take the time to do it.’ A regular practice of only 10 minutes a day can give great benefits…given what those benefits can be to both the business and to ourselves, those 10 minutes seem like an investment worth making.