Friday, 22 July 2011

Mindfulness in the workplace – brilliance or baloney?

I have just joined a Linkedin group called ‘Mindfulness in the Workplace and Mindful Leadership’. The fact that this group exists demonstrated the growing interest in the ‘soft skills’ for business.

For the uninitiated, Mindfulness stems from the Eastern spiritual traditions of Zen Buddhism and can be summarised:

Mindfulness refers to being completely in touch with and aware of the present moment, as well as taking a non-evaluative and non-judgmental approach to your inner experience.

Thich Nhat Hanh a Buddhist Monk states ‘The present moment is the only moment in which we can be alive’

Basically, the aim of this state of being is to concentrate on the now, appreciate it and use the moment to best effect. I have been interested in mindfulness for many years and try, with varying degrees of success, to practice it in my everyday life. But how does this discipline translate to the workplace?

As the fall-out from the News International phone hacking scandal continues to touch more lives, we have seen only too clearly the devastating effect of a ‘toxic’ work environment. Truth or lies, the corporate culture appeared to enable individuals to believe that their extreme behaviour would be tolerated. But can mindfulness training improve the workplace culture and enhance employee’s lives?

The short answer would seem to be ‘yes’ but like all training programmes, this needs to be positioned carefully.

In my communications training and leadership development programmes I include elements of personal responsibility, accountability and sensitivity to others. But this all has a tangible and understandable effect on improving internal and external relationships and ultimately enhancing corporate growth.

Something as ‘touchy feely’ as mindfulness may be a bridge to far for some companies although apparently major organisations such as Apple, Google, Yahoo, Nortel and Commerzbank have integrated mindfulness in their workplaces. Apart from the challenge of persuading budget holders to invest in this type of training, return on investment may also be difficult to assess. At the very least, pre and post session (maybe six months later?) questionnaires are useful.

In the cut and thrust of business in the 80’s, the nearest we got to mindfulness was time management training. I attended an excellent course, which included thoughts on how one could spend leisure time as well as improve workplace efficiency. My boss at the time, (and this is absolutely true) didn’t turn up for the two day course because – you guessed it – he didn’t have time!

And there you have the rub. Mindfulness – considering every moment, achieving peace and serenity, needs to start at the top. Although the health and wellbeing of individuals could be truly enhanced by good mindfulness training, for an organisation to see tangible gains, I believe the leaders must buy-in to the programme.

If it’s good enough for His Holiness the Dalai Lama – it should be good enough for captains of industry….


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