Mindfulness in the Workplace

17 April 2019

A new email notification from a client, a coworker stopping by to "ask a quick question," a call from your boss, a text from your significant other about "needing to talk;" these events can all make you lose your focus at work, and evoke a series of thoughts and emotions, making it difficult to get back on track.

Mindfulness in the workplace can help you regain your focus, relieve stress and relax your body and mind. Is there a place where this is more important than your job, where you spend many of your waking hours?

Mindfulness training and yoga classes have been implemented in many companies who have reported significant increases in their productivity as a result. The health insurance company Aetna has experienced not only an increase in productivity of about $3,000 per employee, but their employees also reported a decrease in stress levels, improved sleep and even relief from pain.

What Is Mindfulness?

There isn't one governing body over mindfulness or a definitive definition of what it means to be mindful, but there appear to be a few principles that guide the practice.

  1. Awareness of yourself in the present moment, connection with your physical body sensations, especially in relation to your breath as it enters and fills your lungs, and as it leaves your body.
  2. Acceptance of your situation without judgment or explanation.
  3. Note your feelings, allow yourself to experience them, let them pass.
  4. Focus on the here and now, without expectation for the future, or feelings about how to change it.

Mindfulness can be used while you are actively living your life. For a more concentrated exercise in mindfulness, a few minutes of concentrated mindfulness meditation can help you strengthen the mental muscles to focus and relax your mind.

Practicing at Work

As you approach your day, you can make conscious choices to focus on one task before turning on to the next. Even before you arrive at work, you can be mindful of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. One writer for Forbes explained that for her mindfulness course at Stanford University, she was asked to practice "mindfulness showering." This meant focusing on the physical sensations of warmth, cleansing smells of soap, and the present moment, rather than anticipating the day with dread, or anxiety.

The New York Times has published a mindfulness at work guide that includes some of the following tips:

Carve out moments for yourself in the day that protects your focus. Check your email first thing in the morning, at lunch and before the last hour of the day, rather than allowing yourself to become distracted by the pop-ups that trickle in constantly throughout the day, distracting you from your tasks, and ultimately making you less productive.

When you eat lunch, pay attention to the food itself, your enjoyment of it, and the time that you have to take a short break from work in your day. You may find that you have less need for snacking later on as you focus on the feelings of being full and nourishing your body.

Find ways to be comfortable with your bodily sensations as you work. As you pay attention to how your body is feeling in a present moment, you may notice there is some discomfort in your positioning. A more ergonomic work environment, a sit to stand desk, or a properly supportive chair can help you relieve pain, and focus on your tasks.

When you're talking with someone, listen to what they are saying and take a moment to reflect before you speak. This is good advice for everyone, but specifically, listen without judgment, and without formulating a reply, stop, and then respond.

Once you return home from work, it's a good idea to try and set boundaries, and leave as much work at work as possible so you can focus on your important personal relationships, physical health and leisure time.

Benefits of Mindfulness

According to the American Psychological Association, there is evidence that mindfulness improves the following areas:

  • Stress reduction
  • Improved focus
  • Reduced rumination (decrease in thinking about the same things over and over)
  • Improved working memory
  • Less emotional reactivity
  • Improved cognitive flexibility
  • Higher relationship satisfaction

Your personal benefits from mindfulness in the workplace may vary depending on your situation, and how frequently you practice. You may see some benefit immediately or there may be a length of time from when you ask the question "what is mindfulness" and when you actually feel more relaxed and focused. However, it is a no-cost opportunity to reconnect with your surroundings and your inner self that has the potential for many benefits.