Mindfulness has been claimed to reduce absence rates, aid better decision making, increase awareness and compassion, improve our ability to learn new tasks and strengthen job performance. Can this ancient Buddhist practice really bring all these benefits to a workforce?
Well, although some believe that the roots of mindfulness would clash with materialism, various academics believe that ethical behaviour emerges from the practice of mindfulness, displayed by reduced anger and dismissiveness, discomfort around gossip and an increased desire to carry out generous acts. It has been found the increase it can bring to one’s levels of care and concern, for both oneself and others, increases leaders’ abilities to change things for the better. In other words, the practice of mindfulness can change the practitioner. To explain how this happens we have to turn to the subject of neuroplasticity. By focussing on and practicing a new skill, the brain creates new neural connections and it is this “re-wiring” of the brain which is one of the root causes of behavioural change. A recent study looked into the pre and post changes to the brain’s grey matter concentration of a group participating in an 8 week mindfulness programme. The results suggested that there was an increase in the grey matter concentration in regions of the brain involved in, amongst others, learning and memory processes and emotion regulation.
Although studies on mindfulness have so far been almost exclusively conducted in clinical rather than corporate settings, organisations who have offered training have noticed benefits. A large UK employer who offered a pilot online course found benefits to stress and depression in those who took part. The fact that only a quarter of the volunteers finished the course strengthens the value of the results reported and illustrates that it is a skill which requires participants to persevere with before the full benefits can be achieved.
One study suggested that mindfulness practice could improve workers’ ability to concentrate more deeply and switch between tasks more flexibly. The science behind this appears to be that the more we allow our minds to wander, the less healthy and happy we become. Those practicing mindfulness learn to focus on the present in an intentional and non-judgemental way, allowing them to be more in control of how, and if, they react. One can see that this would be a valuable skill for anyone working in a public-facing role and/or who engages in difficult conversations during their working day.
Studies have also looked at how mindfulness can enhance leaders’ abilities and performance. In the current era, the ability of leaders to be adaptive is imperative and new tools are required to aid their effectiveness in facing their daily challenges. Mindfulness has been shown to be a useful tool to have in the management toolbox. By learning not to run on automatic pilot, leaders develop the ability to look at new options more freely and by becoming more present, less emotionally reactive and more deliberate and purposeful in their thoughts and actions both their personal well-being and effectiveness can be increased.
And so, it appears mindfulness could offer benefits to both those who lead and those who carry out their directions. Time will tell whether mindfulness practice becomes as much a part of the workplace as flexitime is today. The future certainly looks encouraging as the concept of mindfulness becomes better known and more widely practiced. In America CBS News reported earlier this year, “America’s businesses are becoming more interested in mindfulness as a tool to help stressed-out employees. Some companies are offering free training programs in mindfulness, including a number of prominent Fortune 500 companies: Raytheon, Procter & Gamble, Monsanto, General Mills, Comcast and Google.”
This is one of a series of articles on aspects of resilience. You can access them all from this post Resilience Skills: An A-Z of definitions of the terms used.
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