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Mindfulness: the Business Benefits

Bob Little 

August 26, 2016

Thirty years or so ago, mindfulness was a discipline practiced by those who were “religious.” Yet, by the beginning of the 21st century, this particularly Buddhist practice – developed through meditation – had become both established and valued in the workplace.

Mindfulness involves consciously focusing on our current experiences internally and externally. It encompasses developing a “whole being” consciousness, rather than letting us merely “live in our heads” and allowing much of what’s happening in the world around us to pass by unnoticed.

Typical mindfulness meditation consists of focusing your full attention on your breath. It enables you to observe your thoughts and, gradually, to stop struggling with them.

This helps you to realize that thoughts come and go of their own accord – and that you aren’t your thoughts. You come to understand that thoughts and feelings – including negative ones – are transient, and ultimately you choose whether to act on them.

Mindfulness is about observation without criticism. It teaches you to treat unhappiness and stress as if they were black clouds in the sky, and to observe them with friendly curiosity as they drift past. In essence, mindfulness aims to help you to catch negative thought patterns before they tip you into a downward spiral and, so, it begins the process of putting you back in control of your life.

David Sheffield, Professor of Psychology at the University of Derby, in the U.K., says, “Mindfulness refers to paying attention to what’s happening in the present in the mind, body and external environment, with kindness and curiosity. In doing so, we may cultivate compassion in the workplace so that everyone benefits.”

“Curiosity” has a valuable place in today’s workplace but “kindness,” in a work setting, has a strange ring to it. There seem to be few workplaces – especially in today’s highly competitive, fast-paced business world – that could be described as “kind” and “compassionate.”

Is the concept of mindfulness an example of a naïve and ultimately flawed striving to create a workplace Shangri-La? Or is it an invaluable counter to today’s increasingly competitive pressures, which reasserts the importance of the humanity that we all share?

According to Margaret A. Chapman-Clarke, an occupational psychologist specializing in coaching, emotional intelligence, resilience, and mindfulness in the workplace, how organizations are written about – especially with regards to HR-related activities – separate author and reader. In her view, words take on a level of meaning and truth because they appear to be written by an “expert,” which divides the “personal” and the “professional.”

Chapman-Clarke tries to heal this split – as she puts it, attempting to “put back the ‘human’ into HR” – in her editing of the recently published book, Mindfulness in the Workplace. She says, “For me, the mindfulness phenomenon reflects a wider zeitgeist, a spirit of the times. It is, perhaps, indicative of a yearning for a different way of being and doing, of living and working.”

The book contains stories from 14 contributors outlining their journeys into mindfulness. It aims to be a guide to how mindfulness can be used in change management and organizational development (OD) strategy.

Chapman-Clarke and her contributors contend that mindfulness-based interventions in organizations can build individual and organizational resilience, engage employees, and address workplace stress – which is why, they say, an increasing number of organizations are investing in mindfulness. Moreover, they add that HR and OD professionals are best placed to understand the complexity of implementing change in organizational systems.

The book draws on research evidence from neuro and behavioral science, and it suggests a mindfulness framework, shows how to identify key stakeholders and work with them, and how to adapt the language of mindfulness to an organizational context. It also explains how to establish metrics, and measure the return on investment.

Moreover, case studies from organizations such as Capital One Finance and the U.K.’s NHS Mental Health Trust illustrate why organizations choose to implement mindfulness, how they do so, the challenges they face, the lessons they’ve learned, and the results.

According to Chapman-Clarke, “At its core, mindfulness, as a mind-body intervention, challenges the long-held idea of the mind-body split known as the Cartesian Dualism – an idea that originated from the French philosopher René Descartes.”

Descartes (1596 – 1650) was a mathematician and scientist, as well as a philosopher. He has been dubbed the “father of modern Western philosophy.” Yet the idea of dualism predates him.

The concept was deeply rooted in ancient Greek thought but, before that, other ancient writings taught that human beings comprise both body and spirit. Some 2,000 years after Plato and Aristotle reasoned that the human mind or soul couldn’t be identified with the physical body, Descartes reinforced this concept and called it dualism.

The word “Cartesius” is the Latin form of the name Descartes – so, Cartesian Dualism refers to Descartes’ particular concept of dualism. He believed that the immaterial mind and the material body are different substances and that they interact with one another.

This idea – of a conjoined “body and soul” – implies the existence of the supernatural and this is something that, in particular, secular humanists and materialists find difficult to accept. Consequently, mindfulness – with its origins in Buddhist thought and practice but translated into a 21st century workplace context – appears to offer a compromise that can appeal to everyone, to offer a spiritual perspective on working life, and to help to generate much-needed kindness and compassion in the workplace.

Chapman-Clarke adds that Mindfulness in the Workplace integrates the cognitive and the experiential “ways of knowing and being.” She says, “It moves us from thinking, as Descartes asserted in his well-known phrase, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ to the current zeitgeist where, ‘I think, I feel, I do, and I am.'”

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One comment on “Mindfulness: the Business Benefits”:

  1. Franklin wrote:

    Excellent article