When people think of ways that work to enhance employee productivity, their first thought often goes to sophisticated tools and platforms and approaches, such as automation, software or even artificial intelligence (AI). However, I believe there is a tool with a much lower barrier to entry that may improve employees’ productivity by enhancing their well-being. That tool is mindfulness.
My favorite definition of mindfulness is paying attention on purpose. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment with full awareness. This is the exact opposite of multitasking, which, as business leaders, we often find ourselves doing.
Researchers have been studying the biological impact of mindfulness for several decades. Brown University’s Mindfulness Center is dedicated to rigorous research on the impact of mindfulness on health. Mindfulness has been shown to improve short-term memory, attention and the ability to perform complex cognitive tasks, and could also serve to reduce stress and anxiety, potentially leading to better relationships. Mindfulness could help employees respond to the work environment and world around them more consciously rather than compulsively.
If mindfulness enhances emotional intelligence and empathy, it could lead to more fruitful collaboration. And as solution development moves to human-centered design approaches, such as design thinking, harnessing empathy is more than just a soft skill. It becomes an important technical skill to understanding and designing the appropriate user experience. Other potential benefits of mindfulness include better decision-making and improved leadership.
Mindfulness is an ancient and very simple tool, and corporate mindfulness programs have been around for years. A well-known program is Search Inside Yourself, which originated at Google in 2007, starting with one curious person partnering with various experts and later growing into its own enterprise. Most programs revolve around in-person presence, including dedicated spaces in buildings. At a time in which many people are feeling isolated, working longer hours and trying to cope with distractions, such as children, dogs and other stressors, mindfulness is more important than ever. We have to re-think it to address our virtual colleagues.
Research shows that worker stress costs employers billions of dollars in lost productivity. Associates, their managers and human resource (HR) professionals should consider employing mindfulness to calm the mind, manage stress, increase worker focus and enable people to get more done in less time. Here are a few tips on how you and your organization can do that.
Mindfulness Is Accessible To Everyone
Being mindful is easy and has a low barrier of entry. Anyone can benefit from it regardless of their physical capabilities or job title. The basics are to close your eyes or gaze softly, breathe and sit comfortably. But to get the full benefit, you need to make a habit out of mindfulness. This requires discipline and accountability. Just like an athlete must train their body, you need to train your mind.
At its most simplistic level, mindfulness is mainly about awareness of your breath and accepting your thoughts without judgment. However, just as athletes train and musicians practice, the challenge is creating a regular habit to get results. Find the time and techniques that work best. There is no right or wrong.
My colleague and I formed a lunch-time, in-person mindfulness practice before Covid-19 to keep each other accountable. But after the pandemic hit, we missed having our usual sessions, so we teamed with other interested associates to offer (and advertised by word-of-mouth) two daily 15-minute remote mindfulness sessions. Participating associates at Unisys come together in a virtual space for a short lesson and/or a guided meditation. On Fridays after the meditation session, we provide the opportunity to discuss our mindfulness experience. None of us purport to be experts in this area, but rather, we consider this an ongoing experiment using guided meditations and online courses through some popular apps.
Companies should aim to support such grassroots mindfulness efforts. Many corporate mindfulness programs have started out this way, in an organic fashion. Consider forming or joining a group that will support you and hold you accountable. As you take regular time to focus on mindfulness, the habit will form. If the interest grows, consider bringing in trained people or offer access to formal classes to deepen the knowledge and grow the program.
Give Associates The Space And Time They Need
As a workforce or team leader, learn about the benefits of mindfulness so you can be part of it. Think about incorporating mindfulness into meetings or promoting it in some way. Things that grow organically from people who are genuinely interested in and curious about things tend to be the most effective. Give people the time and space to make that happen. Down the road, mindfulness at work could become part of an integrated practice.
If you are interested in exploring on your own, that will work, too. Set a consistent time of day to focus on mindfulness. Start simply using guided meditations that are available online, and gradually increase the time you dedicate to your mindfulness practice. There are many free resources and inexpensive apps, such as Calm and Insight Timer, on mindfulness. Your company’s health benefits or learning portals also may include mindfulness resources.
Technologists, business leaders and employees at any level within the business can tap into mindfulness to enhance not only their productivity, but their well-being.
This blog was originally published on Forbes.com. Link.