How to practise mindfulness at work

Learning to focus your mind on the here-and-now can help you deal with stress, make better decisions and be more productive.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 300 million people suffer from depression and more than 260 million are living with anxiety disorders, costing the global economy US$ 1 trillion each year in lost productivity.

It’s no surprise that more and more employers are investing in wellbeing programmes and mental health initiatives, including mindfulness training.

Mindful meditation and other related practices are now being offered at some of the world’s biggest companies, such as Google, GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG, to help their staff combat work-related stress and anxiety, increase concentration levels and, therefore, productivity.

‘Studies have shown that mindfulness not only has positive effects on burnout, stress and anxiety, it also improves our powers of empathy, sense of cohesion, self-compassion and overall quality of life,’ says Karen Liebenguth, mindfulness trainer at Green Space Coaching.

But what exactly is mindfulness? And how can you become more mindful at work even if your employer doesn’t offer any formal training on the matter?

‘Mindfulness is a state of awareness and a conscious response to external stress and stimuli,’ says Lucy Faulks, psychologist, wellbeing coach and joint CEO of employee wellbeing consultancy Elevate.

It’s the opposite of being and responding on autopilot, if you like.

Faulks explains: ‘On busy days we tend to subconsciously rush from one task to another, buried by our to-do list. Mindfulness, on the other hand, means being fully present and aware of our experience in any given moment, taking a step back and consciously choosing how we’re going to respond to the situation. We take back control instead of allowing ourselves to be swept along in the river.’

Taking stock

In other words, rather than continue running around like a headless chicken, you pause and take stock of what is happening right now, and how you are feeling about it. Then you make a conscious decision to deal with what's stressing you out.

‘This may be speaking to your line manger about your workload, asking a colleague for help, prioritising your to-do list or taking a five-minute breather to walk around the block,’ says Faulks.

The important thing is that, at any given moment, you treat both yourself and others with compassion. Rather than judging or condemning, you really listen and try to understand your own and other people's experiences.

Liebenguth says: ‘Kindfulness or kindness to oneself and others (and it doesn’t mean being nice and fluffy all the time) makes us more emotionally robust and less self-absorbed, and is an important aspect of mindfulness practice.’

Other than helping you cope with stress, mindfulness can also improve your focus, concentration and productivity.

‘This is because you become really aware of distractions, and when you know that distractions are pulling your attention away, you can choose to continue what you’re doing instead of allowing yourself to get sidetracked mid-task, which of course leads to things taking longer to complete,’ says Faulks.

Liebenguth points out that mindfulness takes practice and is no quick fix. ‘It requires regular commitment but, if you stick with it, it can positively transform how you think, feel and behave in your work and personal life.’