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Is mindfulness good for business?

28 May 2014

Ask yourself this question, when did you last take the time to sit still for one minute and completely quiet your mind?

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As a result of recent technological advances, we live and work in a hyper-connected world with endless distractions.  The solution to staying focused in this challenging modern world? The answer can be found in an ancient form of Buddhist meditation practice known as mindfulness.

According to the Huffington Post, more and more leaders in the corporate world have been taking note of the benefits of mindfulness meditation which include "lower stress levels, improved cognitive functioning, creative thinking and productivity, and even improved physical health".  But what exactly is mindfulness, how does it work and how can it help to boost a company's bottom line?

What is mindfulness?

In its simplest form, mindfulness is the skill of being present and aware, to focus on the here and now rather than on past or future regrets or anxieties. Mindfulness practitioners are encouraged to keep their attention focused on whatever they're doing at the present moment, whether it is working, exercising or even eating. The most basic form of mindfulness is sitting meditation.  This involves sitting in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, and focusing your awareness on your breath and other bodily sensations.  Focusing on each breath in this way allows you to observe thoughts as and when they arise, and to acknowledge that these thoughts come and go and do not define feelings.  The ultimate goal is to retrain the brain to find a quieter, calmer, and undistracted mind. If it all works as intended, mindfulness results in individuals who are less agitated, more focused and easier to work with.

The mindfulness revolution

Although mindfulness may sound very "new age" and Californian, the mindfulness movement is currently sweeping across the corporate world and shows no signs of abating.  Indeed, JWT Worldwide named the mindfulness movement as one of the top 10 trends that will shape the world in 2014.  Searches for the term "mindfulness" have soared on Google over the past year, and its popularity is growing on a daily basis.

One of the chief corporate pioneers of mindfulness in the workplace is Google, which has invested heavily in its Search Inside Yourself mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training programme.  Devised by Google's very own "Enlightenment engineer", Chade-Meng Tan, author of the New York Times bestseller Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), the program focuses on developing the five key domains of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.  It uses mindfulness and meditation techniques to improve focus and awareness of the present.  Since 2007, nearly 1,000 Google engineers and managers have experienced the program with startling results.

Although Google is leading the way in the corporate mindfulness race, other companies are catching up. In the USA, companies such as Intel, the Ford Motor Company, General Mills, Target, Apple, eBay, Nike, Proctor & Gamble, the Huffington Post and AOL offer a vast array of meditation and mindfulness classes for employees. In the UK, mindfulness meditation is currently gripping the city of London.  The CFA Institute for investment professionals is considering launching a meditation programme. KPMG, Goldman Sachs, Unilever and even the Bank of England have presented mindfulness and wellbeing seminars and encourage staff to use meditation apps such as Headspace.

Does mindfulness work?

The physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness and meditative practice are widely known.  A plethora of scientific research suggests that mindfulness can improve a person's emotional stability and sleep quality, increase focus and memory, enhance creativity and even lower stress levels and blood pressure.

Studies conducted by the iOpener Institute in a company with 1,000 employees revealed that increasing happiness in the workplace reduces the cost of employee turnover by 46%, the cost of sick leave by 19%, and increases performance and productivity by 12%.  The tech giant, Intel, has reported similarly positive results after surveying the 1,500 employees who have participated in Intel's new mindfulness program, Awake@Intel.  On average, participants responding to pre and post self-evaluation questionnaires report a two-point decrease (on a 10-point scale) in experiencing stress and feeling overwhelmed, a three-point increase in overall happiness and wellbeing, and a two-point increase in having new ideas and insights, mental clarity, creativity, the ability to focus, the quality of relationships at work and the level of engagement in meetings, projects and collaboration efforts.

Going further, a key strategic benefit of mindfulness for business lies in the ability of more 'mindful employees' to make better decisions and become more effective leaders. As William George, a board member with Goldman Sachs puts it: "The main business case for meditation is that if you're fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions, and you will work better with other people."

It is no wonder then that more and more companies are implementing mindfulness practices in the workplace. Although at first glance, mindfulness and wellbeing may seem "soft" and "new age", the notion that investment in an individual's health and well-being may lead to increased productivity at work and by extension, the bottom line, has not gone unnoticed by the corporate organisations.  As Arianna Huffington explained in a recent blog, there is nothing "touchy-feely about increased profits.  This is a tough economy…stress-reduction and mindfulness don't just make us happier and healthier, they're a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one".

Embracing mindfulness

Whilst there is a clear incentive for innovative businesses to start investing in mindfulness in the workplace, there is no need to wait for mindfulness to come to you. Why not follow these 10 influential business leaders and start your own mindfulness journey today:





Shona O'Connell

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