- Executive mindfulness is on the rise across industries; some organizations are even adding meditation rooms to their offices and campuses.
- Mindfulness can decrease stress, mitigate burnout, improve collaborations, drive creativity, and foster stronger workplace cultures.
- Investing in mindfulness training has been shown to save organizations money and, ultimately, improve the bottom line.
People’s priorities are changing. During the pandemic, nearly everyone has witnessed something that would have felt unimaginable just 24 months ago. In the face of these new experiences and challenges, priorities are shifting, and so is corporate culture. One of the most profound shifts has been the need to be more present and, as a result, more mindful.
Executive mindfulness existed long before the pandemic. While different traditions and researchers offer somewhat distinct definitions of mindfulness, most practitioners and researchers agree that it is a form of mental discipline associated with increased self-awareness, self-regulation, and the ability to relate to others without focusing simply on self-focused needs.
The research about mindfulness’s impact on workplace collaborations is also compelling, with evidence suggesting it decreases employee stress while also helping build better companies and a stronger bottom line. This likely explains why so many companies were beginning to invest in executive mindfulness even before the pandemic, and in some cases, even building yoga and meditation rooms into their campuses (see, for example, Google’s hypnotic workplace meditation rooms).
Still, since the start of the pandemic, three important things have changed: mental health is finally on the corporate agenda; the perceived stigma attached to pursuing mindedness has decreased; and the types of companies where mindfulness is now considered a valid and even necessary investment has expanded. On this account, the headlines tell the story.
In March 2020, the Harvard Business Review published an article with a telling headline—“Why Leaders Need Meditation Now More than Ever.” Later the same year, the Wall Street Journal published a roundtable with CIOs under the headline of “Less Meeting, More Meditation.” Consulting firms have also been dedicating increased time to measuring the impact of wellness programs and mindfulness. One 2021 study by McKinsey estimated that the wellness industry is now worth a staggering $1.5 trillion.
Mindfulness’s Impact on the Workplace
Mindfulness is based on a powerful premise—namely, that solutions are just as likely to be found inside (i.e., through awareness of self) as they are to be found outside in the world. As a result, the list of potential impacts of bringing mindfulness into the workplace is long. In this post, I introduce just seven of the more well-known benefits.
- Promoting self-awareness and self-regulation: A key benefit of mindfulness is its direct impact on self-awareness and emotional regulation. The impact isn’t simply something that happens on a surface level. There is growing evidence that mindfulness also has a neurobiological effect.
- Improving collaborations: Not surprisingly, mindfulness, largely because it enhances self-awareness and emotional regulation, has been shown to improve team collaborations. In a 2019 article in the Harvard Business Review, researchers Lingtao Yu and Mary Zellmer-Bruhn observed that this reflects the fact that mindfulness training helps individuals “stay on task, approach problems with an open mind, and avoid taking disagreements personally.”
- Decreasing stress and mitigating burnout: Another benefit of mindfulness is its powerful impact on stress reduction. Research consistently shows that when practiced regularly, it can significantly decrease stress. There is also evidence that mindfulness can help mitigate burnout.
- Driving innovation and creativity: One of the more surprising impacts of mindfulness training is its impact on innovation and creativity. Consider, for example, this 2017 study carried out by a team of researchers based in the Netherlands. In a controlled setting, the researchers put participants into three groups: one group participated in a 10-minute mindfulness meditation before completing a brainstorming task; one group was instructed to spend 10 minutes letting their minds wander before the task; and one group started to brainstorm immediately. In the end, all three groups came up with a similar number of ideas, but the meditation group’s ideas were marked by a notable difference—they were far more diverse.
- Increasing productivity: Employees who are less stressed, more agile and creative, and better able to work together are also more productive. It follows that this is also good for the bottom line. One 2014 study found that introducing mindfulness may save organizations up to $22,000 per employee annually.
- Building more equitable workplaces: Another benefit of mindfulness and one of concern to many organizations at the moment is its potential to help build more equitable workplaces. Organizations spend an estimated $8 billion each year on anti-bias training. Unfortunately, evidence suggests that much of this training fails to support sustainable change. While far from conclusive, a growing body of research suggests that mindfulness, which increases self-awareness, can also be used in tandem with anti-bias training to help build more equitable organizations.
- Fostering the capacity to take perspective: Finally, and perhaps more importantly, mindfulness helps us take perspective. While perspective-taking is about toggling between different positions, sometimes, the best way to take perspective is to simply stop and immerse yourself in the stillness that mindfulness practices promote.
Across organizations, mindfulness training is no longer viewed as a fringe activity. Leaders and human resource professionals alike are recognizing its powerful and long-lasting impact on individuals and teams. They are also recognizing that mindfulness may be one of the best investments they can make to support their teams at this challenging moment in workplace history.
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