We all know how busy life is. Just think for a moment about how rapidly things are changing and the increased pressures this puts us under.
Back in 1994, shop opening hours were relaxed and Sunday opening became the norm. Suddenly, there was no day that ‘forced’ us to chill out and do a jigsaw puzzle. 12 years ago, Facebook launched, which sapped any spare minutes we had left – God forbid you miss an update from a school friend from 25 years ago!
Twitter launched in 2006 and Instagram in 2010, and with the now-ubiquitous smartphone, today we carry these technologies everywhere. Certainly they save us time in some ways, but there is no doubt that we’re inundated with pings and updates that occupy our brain capacity and eat up any spare time.
Technology has revolutionised our work lives as much as our personal time. In the last few years, the number of new businesses in the UK has leapt to record levels, as more people take advantage of the opportunities technology presents. As competition becomes more intense, however, so does extra pressure for business owners.
We have more going on in our heads than ever before and less downtime to just stop and relax. People who are ‘always on’: checking smartphones and social media, have been shown to be more prone to stress, sleeping problems, and even depressive symptoms. Those who avoid social media are 50 per cent more likely than social media users to describe their lives as non-stressful.
Mindfulness, a Buddhist-derived meditation technique, is becoming increasingly popular in the workplace, encouraging you to stop and clear your mind of unnecessary diversions, reducing stress, helping with work-life balance and boosting efficiency.
Mindfulness techniques are designed to enable individuals to deal with pressure more effectively. A growing body of research has found measurable benefits, such as boosting self-awareness, helping to self-regulate emotion, and improving attention. Business owners are finding that implementing mindfulness in their teams can lead to reduced staff turnover, less absenteeism, and better communication - ultimately, improving company productivity.
For Mark Kempster, founder of business travel provider CTT Group, mindfulness and promoting team wellbeing is a major focus. Their offices include gyms and relaxation areas, and they offer personal trainers and free health check-ups. “It leaves staff feeling motivated and valued,” says Mark. “A healthy workforce is a happy workforce!”
Celia Francis is CEO of Rated People, the tradesman comparison website. The company has hired half its leadership team in the last six months. While individual managers understand how to lead their individual functional groups effectively, “to get maximum impact as a team we need to work as one mind,” Celia says. To that end, she’s brought in a mindfulness expert to enhance communication in the leadership team.
Celia believes the process has been beneficial across the board. “The impact has been positive both on the team as a group as well as individually. Having a third party facilitate the conversation with mindfulness has helped us go faster through the storming phase of team formation.”
Implementing mindfulness practices in a business isn’t always easy though. There may well be resistance, so it’s essential to have champions in team pushing it forward. If you aren’t encouraging people to regularly use these practices, it will never become part of your culture. So, for example, insist that everyone take a 60-minute lunch break away from their desk (mandatory for two weeks), or ask your team to turn off email notifications. You need to find the habits that give your teams room for mindfulness.
Naturally, one size doesn’t fit all. Not everyone will respond to sitting in a room meditating, so you need to really understand what will help each individual remove their ‘brain chatter.’ But even if you don’t get 100 per cent take up amongst your team (which is highly likely) if even half the team adopt mindfulness practices it can have a ripple effect.
Jo Geraghty of Culture Consultancy helps businesses develop mindfulness in their employees. She says that implementing mindfulness successfully isn’t just about training individuals. It’s also about restructuring company policies and processes to enable people to work in the right way. “The responsibility needs to be shared between employer and employee,” Jo explains. “It’s no good giving employees better coping strategies without looking at the way you pay, reward and manage them.”
And as Tim Oldman, CEO of Leesman, notes, mindfulness can’t be treated as a cure-all. Leesman have spoken to more than 135,000 employees globally to measure employee satisfaction levels. Only 54 per cent think their workplace enables them to work productively.
"Whilst we applaud any employer investing in efforts to improve the health and fitness of their employees,” Tim argues, “these efforts should not be some sort of diversionary tactic to detract from the core issue – that for many employees, the infrastructure of their workplace does not allow them to perform at their peak.”
To incorporate mindfulness effectively then, the key is to treat it as one component of your team’s wellbeing, which also includes good management, company culture, work/life balance and investment in the essentials that enable your employees to do their jobs well.