To increase engagement, innovation and productivity, organizations ranging from Ford to Google are teaching employees how to be mindful. That’s a good thing: Barely a third of U.S. employees were engaged in their jobs in 2015, a figure that shows little improvement from the previous year, according to Gallup.
Disengaged employees aren’t hostile or disruptive—they’re just unwilling to do more than the minimum amount of work required to get the job done. Engagement, on the other hand, is strongly tied to both productivity and profitability. “Engaged employees support the innovation, growth and revenue that their companies need,” Gallup reported.
Mindfulness may be the answer to driving that engagement.
The Act Of Noticing
Mindfulness is the process of taking active notice of the world around you, according to Dr. Ellen Langer, a professor of psychology at Harvard University and founder of the Langer Mindfulness Institute.
“When you notice new things, it puts you in the present and makes you sensitive to context and perspective,” said Langer. “The act of noticing is the essence of engagement.”
Teaching mindfulness to employees can help them take a step back, think through a problem and consider all options. And that can improve decision making and positively affect the bottom line. One recent study, for example, showed that when call center employees took part in a mindfulness program, client satisfaction increased. Employees were also less stressed, anxious and fatigued on the job, thereby increasing productivity.
In another example, Aetna offered mindfulness training to teach employees how to slow down and focus. As a result, the company estimates that employees’ stress levels dropped 28 percent, their sleep quality improved 20 percent, and they each gained an hour of productivity per week—worth about $3,000 per employee, The New York Times reported.
Despite what many people think, mindfulness does not require meditation, said Langer, or even a lot of effort. The process of taking notice actually comes naturally when you encounter something new. Someone going on vacation, for instance, would be “expecting to see all sorts of new things, and it would be energizing and exciting. That’s what mindfulness is,” she said.
“People mistakenly think mindfulness is hard,” Langer added. “When I say that it is the essence of engagement, enthusiasm and humor, then it becomes a whole different thing.”
Mindful Vs. Mindless
In contrast, when people assume they already know what is going to be said or done next, they become mindless. They stop paying attention to their surroundings, and it becomes difficult to avert dangers or take advantage of new opportunities—the opposite of what employers want from their workers. “You end up in business using yesterday’s solutions to solve today’s problems,” said Langer.
A mindful person who is open to different ideas and situations is also less judgmental, which enables everybody to be more innovative. “When you’re mindful, you are seen as trustworthy and charismatic because you are there,” she added. “People can feel that.”
Businesses that want to implement mindfulness at work can follow the lead of companies like General Mills, Intel and Target, which offer mindfulness training programs to employees.
But you can also take simpler steps. In a white paper titled “Bringing Mindfulness to the Workplace,” Kimberly Schaufenbuel, program director of UNC Executive Developmentat UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, provides some helpful tips for employees:
- Spend 15 minutes before work simply sitting and being aware.
- Use the STOP sign when stressed: Stop what you’re doing. Take five conscious breaths. Observe what you’re experiencing. Proceed.
- Do one thing at a time.
- Listen during meetings and be fully present when someone is speaking.
- Note accomplishments at the end of each day.
Perhaps the best way to encourage employees to be mindful is to help them see that being mindless is not going to help the organization—or them—get ahead. “You’re always either mindful or mindless,” said Langer. “When you’re mindless, you’re not there, and so there is no advantage to it.”
Now that’s something to be mindful of.
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Lisa Wirthman writes about business, sustainability, public policy and women’s issues. Her work has been published in TheAtlantic.com, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Fast Company, Investor’s Business Daily, the Denver Post and the Denver Business Journal.