Why the workplace is an ideal context to practice mindfulness

Mindfulness ideas
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From Google to Ebay, from KPMG to BT, a growing number of companies have invested in mindfulness training programmes, recognising the potential of mindfulness as a life skill to improve focus and clarity, listening and decision-making skills and perhaps most importantly, overall well-being.  And you’ve guessed it, a more resilient, less stressed and anxious workplace is a more productive one.

So how can organisations embed a successful mindfulness programme in their workplace?

To answer this, we need to go back to the origins of Mindfulness.

The practice of mindfulness is based on community

Mindfulness is an ancient practice. It was one of the Buddha’s core teachings: mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of thoughts and mindfulness of reality, i.e. seeing things how they really are in the present moment.

'A resilient workforce is necessary to build a resilient business.' -Catherine Kilfedder, BT’s wellbeing adviser

Another core teaching of the Buddha was that we need a community of fellow practitioners to support and inspire our practice, that we can’t do it alone.

Indeed, in the words of renowned research professor, Brene Brown, “we are hard-wired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives”.

It’s a crucial aspect of being human, and training within a community is the very thing that will help people to stick with a mindful practice and to recognise that a mindfulness practice, as with any other skill, requires commitment and dedication.

Mindfulness is not a quick fix, it’s a practice

And yet, in our fast paced lives we want quick fixes to problems. We find it difficult to acknowledge and to be with difficulties because we can’t tolerate unpleasant and uncomfortable feelings and so we want to get rid of them and fix them as quickly as possible and move on.

Whether it’s learning mindfulness, an instrument, or a sport, you need motivation, dedication and a sense of purpose.

It requires daily commitment, faith and stamina and most importantly a community of fellow practitioners. The pay-off is huge and can be life-changing. It’s my own experience (read my personal story, HR Zone 28 June).

The workplace, the ideal context for mindfulness practice

The workplace is a community of people working together. As such, it’s an ideal place to practice mindfulness, to support, encourage, inspire and remind each other of daily practice.

But in the words of Christine Feldman, Co-Founder Gaia House , “there is an immediacy to mindfulness and there is the long view.  Eight week courses are offered to people who often come to startling understanding and changes in a short period of time. Yet it is a beginning.”

The challenge for practitioners and organisations is to encourage people to build upon and embed their learning.

Indeed, it is the leaders of the workplace community that determine the workplace culture and ‘managers who model and promote mindful practices with their teams create an environment of engagement’, Kimberly Schaufenbuel, University of North Carolina

The challenge for practitioners and organisations is to encourage people to build upon and embed their learning.

So, a mindfulness practice needs a culture; it needs conditions that allows time for practice, it needs leaders and managers who know the value of mindfulness practice from their own experience; leaders and managers that lead by example and who give permission to practice and create a dedicated space where staff can sit and practice together.

How to teach mindfulness and lead by example? Here are some tips:

  • Leaders and mangers commit to a mindfulness course in the workplace and be seen to be practicing mindfulness daily in small, manageable and regular ways
  • Leaders and managers offer mindfulness courses for the workplace, giving staff permission to take part in a course during their working hours – ideally you want everybody to take part in it but don’t force it – staff have to find their own way into it
  • Ensure that learning from the initial mindfulness courses is embedded long-term by offering a weekly communal practice, i.e. mindfulness classes that over time will sustain themselves and can run without a trainer
  • Offer quiet space within the workplace where people can practice in their lunch break or throughout the day. If you don’t have space available, turn meeting rooms into quiet spaces whenever possible, or find out about quiet spaces around your office. Many churches now offer quiet space for people of all faith to sit as well as Quaker and Buddhist Centres. Or, in the summer, nearby parks and green spaces can offer conducive space for some quiet time.
  • Leaders and mangers should practice mindfulness regularly and in a way that feels manageable so that staff see you walk the talk e.g. using the dedicated mindfulness space, listening to others, bringing a kindly attitude to self and others, taking regular lunch breaks, leaving work on time.
  • Leaders and managers should start each meeting with a mindful moment, i.e. asking people to settle down, to take a moment in silence to become aware of their surroundings, of their body sitting on the chair, of how they feel in this moment and of the thoughts running through their mind; to invite staff to bring awareness to how they want to be in the meeting. It need only take 5 minutes but taking this time can radically change the course and outcome of the meeting.
  • Make mindfulness practice part of your learning and development curriculum – show that the organisation values mindfulness as a self-development tool.

What first steps should an organisation interested in mindfulness take?

Get in touch with an experienced, accredited mindfulness trainer.

Many offer taster sessions or introductory courses before coming to a 6-8 week course. They can also offer guidance and help to your organisation to set up conducive conditions in your workplace for staff to develop a sustainable practice.

About Karen Liebenguth

Karen Liebenguth

Karen Liebenguth is an experienced coach, an accredited mindfulness teacher, a certified MBTI facilitator and Focusing practitioner. She works with private and corporate individuals and groups to foster personal growth and sustainable change.

She set up Green Space Coaching & Mindfulness in 2008 (www.greenspacecoaching.com) to offer coaching while walking in London’s parks and green space tapping into the benefits nature has on our psychological, emotional and physical well-being. She believes that it is in nature where reflection, insight and change can happen most naturally.

Karen trained in mindfulness with Breathworks-Mindfulness, one of the leading mindfulness organisations in the UK. Karen offers 1:1 mindfulness training, introductory workshops and tailored mindfulness programs for the workplace. She offers guidance and knowledge to help organisations create a culture of wellbeing. Karen follows the Good Practice Guidelines set out by the UK Network for Mindfulness-Based Teacher Training Organisations

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