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Have you ever found yourself in a situation at work that shook your very core?  Perhaps the behavior of a person or team struck you as so dysfunctional and inappropriate you walked away bewildered?  Have you retreated to your office (or your car) to hide out, catch your breath, and recover from an encounter in order to move on and make it through the rest of the day?  Maybe you, yourself, have on occasion been caught up in office politics, spoken without thinking, or engaged in an unproductive confrontation?

Even the strongest teams and most seasoned professionals disagree or overreact at times.  Tensions rise and toxic situations can easily occur and escalate in today’s hyper-competitive environment.  These experiences cause conflict and stress. According to the Myers-Briggs Company, 85% of employees deal with conflict at work on some level. US employees spend 2.1 hours per week involved with conflict, which equates to $349 billion in paid hours or 385 million working days.  Statistics from the American Institute of Stress show that 80% of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half say they need help learning how to manage stress.  The cost of stress to US businesses is 300 billion per year. This results in a staggering impact on employee satisfaction, turnover, productivity, and the bottom line.

Leaders are faced with serving as role models, mastering the art of conflict resolution, and fostering a healthy, thriving culture.  Cohesive teams help make organizations succeed. As individuals, we are responsible for our own well-being and self-care. The practice of mindfulness at work can play a key role in helping employees relax, enhance focus and awareness, improve productivity, and reduce stress levels. Though mindfulness is an activity practiced individually, it has been shown to affect interpersonal relationships, behavior, and team effectiveness.

What is Mindfulness?

Rooted in Buddhist thought and theory, mindfulness means being fully present, aware of where we are, what we are doing, and how we feel in the moment, taking time to pause and attend to our breathing. Seated or walking meditation are particularly effective techniques. More and more organizations are providing space for mindfulness meditation practice at work. Walking meditation involves walking quietly, using the natural movement of the body to cultivate mindfulness and wakeful presence. Even 5-10 minutes outside without your phone, experiencing nature, letting go of thoughts that arise, can help you calm and collect yourself.

The Impact at the Office

A study conducted by researchers at Case Western Reserve University, published in the Journal of Management examines the growing body of work suggesting mindfulness is linked to better workplace functioning. The data demonstrate that injecting a corporate culture of mindfulness not only improves focus, but the ability to manage stress and how employees work together.

Mindfulness has been shown to improve emotional intelligence (EQ).  The five traits of EQ, according to Daniel Goleman, author of Altered Traits, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills, are strengthened through quieting the mind; which provides space for increasing our awareness of our own thoughts and feelings as well as the ability to attune to the feelings of others. The more awareness we bring to our interactions at work, the more we communicate more appropriately and effectively.

For the New York Times, David Gelles interviewed CEOs from large companies about their mindful meditation practices. Marc Benioff, CEO and co-founder of Salesforce stated, “This company is not somehow separate from everything else.  Are we not all connected? Are we not all one?”  In order to nurture “oneness,” Salesforce offers daily meditation, Zen deep dive sessions, and keynotes led by Buddhist monks and nuns through its Dreamforce program.  There are mindfulness zones located throughout the San Francisco headquarters. Like Salesforce, the General Mills campus provides meditation rooms and mindfulness programs for employees.  As a result, participating team members report improved ability to make better decisions.

The Bottom Line

During job interviews, candidates are starting to ask about programs and accommodations for practicing mindfulness meditation and yoga on the job. In determining whether the culture is a fit, job seekers are interested in how the employer invests in and supports employee well-being and to what extent senior leaders and managers practice and believe in the benefits. CEOs should take note. Mindfulness promotes well-being and increases job satisfaction.  Happier, healthier, satisfied employees are more productive. Employee well-being and corporate success are intertwined, not mutually exclusive.

Stress Response

In any workplace setting, it is easy to get caught up in fast paced, competitive situations driven by deadlines or productivity expectations. I have certainly allowed myself to fall victim to chaos and other toxic influences throughout my career and personal life and as a result, have forgotten to engage in self-care and neglected to support others in doing so. I have felt pressure to always be “on”, never decline a meeting invite, and have used up precious energy worrying about how I came across in meetings, or what my boss or colleagues thought of me. I am grateful for the many lessons corporate life has taught me, for example, the awareness that during times of heightened stress and anxiety, my body begins to exhibit physical symptoms (aches and pains, compromised immunity, and inability to focus.) It is not surprising most visits to primary care physicians are for stress related problems. Often the simple cure is remembering to breathe, stopping to take a few deep breaths, making sure to exhale completely, clearing the mind, letting thoughts go.

Just Breathe

Mindfulness helps you to be more present, deeply listen, and shift within so you can influence the humanizing of the workplace and lead with creativity and higher consciousness. This is at the heart of our approach at InSight Coaching and Consulting as we partner with leaders and organizations to evolve, change our mindset, and broaden our platform for making a difference.  Zen meditation spaces designed based on Buddhist principles are excellent additions to the workplace architecture, but not necessary. You can practice mindfulness meditation wherever you are – at your desk, in the middle of a meeting, a noisy airport, a crowded elevator. When was the last time you stopped to do nothing else but just breathe for a moment at work? Start by saying to yourself “All I have to do right now is breathe” and don’t even try to change your breath, just be aware of it for a couple of minutes.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it…including you.  -Anne Lamott

Authored by Lou Ann Wilroy