The impact of ‘mindfulness’ on employers and employees

Focusing on the here and now has important benefits

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

With all of the talk recently about the importance of “mindfulness,” I believe we are starting to see a backlash against certain issues and trends in business and society such as extreme multitasking, stress, burnout, work-life imbalance and information overload. This has important implications for employees, business and society in general.

While the idea of mindfulness began as a meditative practice in Buddhism, it is now gaining traction as a theory to help people and businesses manage stress and work-life imbalance. I actually touched on this in an earlier blog post.

The concept of mindfulness is to focus on living in the moment and avoiding distractions, particularly when one is involved in important tasks or activities. As well as tuning out potential distractions such as smart phones, e-mails and social media, mindfulness is about focusing on what you’re currently doing and giving it your full attention. In many ways, it’s also about living in the present and focusing on the here and now without thinking too much about the future.

How many times do we end up just going through the motions and not really paying attention to what we’re doing? I don’t know about others, but modern life is so hectic I often have five or six things on my mind at any one time. It’s so easy to lose focus by worrying about what’s coming next or some other important task that needs done.

At times, mindfulness also involves putting extraneous thoughts out of one’s mind and totally focusing on what’s going on around oneself in a kind of meditative state. Psychologist and blogger Peter Honey argues that meditation and occasionally daydreaming can help people become more focused when they need to be.

The impact on business

At first glance, mindfulness might appear to be a trend that would impact business negatively. After all, haven't we all been hearing for years about the need to multitask and do more with less? No doubt employers appreciate it when employees work harder.

One would think employers would want employees to be able to be able to do whatever it takes to get the job done. But, if people are extremely stressed and spread so thin they're ineffective, there isn't much point in making them do more.

I know that in my own job, when I take on too much or have additional responsibilities assigned to me it can sometimes feel like everyone wants a piece of me. In such situations, we can end up feeling like we are working hard to try to satisfy everyone when in reality we’re actually satisfying no one.

And with so much information coming at us at once, no wonder people often feel bombarded by the sheer volume of communications in various channels. For example, in my job I have tons of e-mails to filter through, many of which aren’t even all that relevant to my job.

Because there’s just no way I can possibly read through everything, I have had to come to terms with the fact that some things will just get ignored or deleted and I only have time to skim through certain messages or forward them on to others to deal with. I also have to ignore e-mail at times to get things done.

Mindfulness in people’s personal lives

Mindfulness is also important in people's personal lives, particularly with respect to setting boundaries relating to their work and home lives. Technology is an obvious concern – particularly with respect to after hours e-mails – but mindfulness can also relate to people putting work issues and worries out of their minds during important social engagements and family time.

I believe increased mindfulness during personal time can actually help people relax and unwind, making them more productive when they’re actually at work. Constantly worrying about work or continuously monitoring a smart phone for work e-mails after hours can’t be good for people, and I would have to think it can’t be good for organizations in the long-run either.

If organizations managed to encourage mindfulness among their employees, I also believe it would help them to prioritize and focus on important tasks, while also tuning out irrelevant or unimportant distractions. Peter Honey argues that being in such a state helps employees to become engaged in their work and enter into a state of “flow” whereby people’s emotions are “channelled and totally aligned with the task at hand.”

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