Training News

Improve Focus, Decrease Stress with Mindfulness

Yesterday’s Advisor reviewed recent research indicating that employers are turning to wellness initiatives that extend beyond physical health into emotional and financial health. Today we take a look at another method of boosting employee focus and productivity: mindfulness.

Mindfulness is often viewed as a “touchy-feely” fad. However, a new, comprehensive analysis of mindfulness research suggests it is a valuable management tool that can lift an entire workplace by improving focus, the ability to manage stress, and how well employees work together.

“Historically, companies have been reticent to offer mindfulness training because it was seen as something fluffy, esoteric, and spiritual,” says Christopher Lyddy, a doctoral candidate in organizational behavior at Case Western Reserve’s Weatherhead School of Management and codirector of the study. “But that’s changing.”

“Mindfulness,” or adopting attention and awareness of the present moment, emerged from Buddhist philosophy and has been cultivated for millennia through meditation practices, says a university press release.

“When you are mindful, you can have a greater consciousness in the present,” Lyddy says. “That’s vital for any executive or manager who, at any given moment, may be barraged with various problems that call for decisions under stress.”

Lyddy coauthored the research with Darren Good, who earned his doctorate at the Weatherhead School of Management and is now an assistant professor at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. They headed a unique interdisciplinary team that included experts in both management and mindfulness, as well as psychologists and neuroscientists.

A small but growing body of work in the management field suggests mindfulness is linked to better workplace functioning. The results of this cutting-edge research shows mindfulness lowers activity in the brain region responsible for attention lapses, reducing them by half.

The researchers considered 4,000 scientific papers on various aspects of mindfulness and distilled the information into an accessible guide documenting the impact that mindfulness has on how people think, feel, act, relate, and perform at work, according to the press release.

A compilation of their findings, Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review, has been published in the Journal of Management. Among the study’s conclusions are:

  • Mindfulness appears to positively impact human functioning overall. Research in such disciplines as psychology, neuroscience, and medicine provides evidence that mindfulness improves attention, cognition, emotions, behavior, and physiology.
  • Specifically, mindfulness has been shown to improve three qualities of attention—stability, control, and efficiency. The human mind is estimated to wander roughly half of our waking hours, but mindfulness can stabilize attention in the present.
  • Although mindfulness is an internalized process, initial evidence suggests that it also affects the individual’s interpersonal behavior and workgroup relationships.
  • Mindfulness may improve relationships by eliciting greater empathy and compassion, suggesting that mindfulness training could enhance workplace processes that rely on effective leadership and teamwork.

 

Remarkably, scientists have found the effects of mindfulness consistently benign, Lyddy explains. “Of the thousands of empirical studies we read, only two reported any downside to mindfulness.”

Lyddy says the research indicates that there are significant and diverse benefits of mindfulness, which coincide with growing interest in practical mindfulness training. For example, the British Parliament has recently launched a mindfulness initiative for diverse sectors that leverages mindfulness training to improve health and productivity. And organizations such as Google, Aetna, the Mayo Clinic, and the U.S. Marine Corps are training employees in mindfulness techniques.

For more information on the study, see the researchers’ blog post on the London School of Economics and Political Science’s “LSE Business Review” here.