Maximising employee concentration is a key productivity consideration, and mindfulness can help.
It was nearly a century ago that Scottish whisky distiller Thomas Dewar quipped that “Minds are like parachutes: they only function when open.” But, finally, modern-day employers are cottoning on to the fact that employees with cluttered and distracted minds are far less productive than those able to focus primarily on the here and now.
Many workplaces are therefore embracing the concept of ‘mindfulness’ – a psychological process that brings employees’ attention to experiences occurring during the present moment, without allowing them to be distracted by past and future events.
Mindfulness, which is derived from Sati, a significant element of Buddhist traditions, and based on Zen, Vipassanā, and Tibetan meditation techniques, can lead to improvements in employees’ concentration, focus and energy levels and create a happier and healthier working environment. It can also reduce stress levels and help prevent the development of mental health problems.
In addition, the approach is being increasingly lauded for its ability to help with building resilience, strengthening emotional intelligence, promoting creativity and enhancing personal relationships. Some research is even singling it out for the way it can help employees withstand controlling bosses and help build self-confidence in leaders.
Although mindfulness activity in the workplace was originally confined mainly to very large and forward-thinking organisations, the impressive results that have been demonstrated mean that it is now firmly on the radar of many medium-sized and smaller companies.
Chase de Vere is certainly very much on board. We have only just finished conducting a well-received Month of Mindfulness campaign this July for the benefit of our own staff, which involved sending daily mindfulness prompts out to the whole group.
We have also been actively encouraging clients to talk generally about mindfulness in their workplaces with a view to improving mental wellbeing and productivity.
But one important message for employers to take on board is that mindfulness in the workplace should always be a voluntary activity. Any employees who feel it isn’t their bag
should not be put under pressure to participate. Their right to opt out must be fully respected.
Some employees will initially resist the concept as a result of having preconceived ideas about it being something of a hippie-like activity, but they might change their stance once they have seen clear evidence of its benefits. Enterprising employers could look to communicate these benefits via the office intranet, possibly including video testimonials from those who have enjoyed a positive outcome.
Other employees may undergo a change in attitude as a result of receiving word-of-mouth endorsements from colleagues. But, as with most workplace activities, there will inevitably be some individuals who will simply never be fans.
It is also important to note that experts emphasise that mindfulness should be viewed primarily as being about promoting different ways of thinking and acting in the workplace and that, whilst boosting productivity may prove to be a useful buy-product of introducing a programme, it should not be the primary motivation.
Mindfulness should also not replace existing methods of tackling employee stress and anxiety or other barriers to productivity.
Tips recommended by experts to encourage employees to use brief mindfulness exercises in the workplace include getting them to kick-start their day with a 10-minute breathing exercise to help them start off with the right mental attitude, making them more focused and able to concentrate on the immediate task in hand.
Such an exercise may involve employees closing their eyes, sitting upright in a relaxed position and concentrating on their breathing – being conscious of every breath as they inhale and exhale. Should other thoughts creep into their mind, they are encouraged to try to count up to three when breathing out.
Introducing a suitable quiet space is also highly recommended, as is making it compulsory for employees to take regular breaks, including a relaxing lunch-break. Some employers even insist on scheduling five-minute breaks at the end of meetings and other events to help employees refocus and re-set for the next task.