Mindfulness at work: fad or future wellbeing?

Emily McMahon · 31 Jan

What do Oprah Winfrey, Google and Goldman Sachs have in common? They all believe mindfulness can help reduce stress and improve performance. And they’re not alone. More and more leading Australian companies are implementing mindfulness as part of their company culture. But what exactly is it? Why should the business world care? And is it a fad or is mindfulness the future of employee wellbeing?

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness involves focusing one’s attention on what’s happening in the present moment in one’s mind, body and external environment.

While it originated in Buddhism, four decades of modern psychological theory have transformed mindfulness into a primarily secular practice. Indeed mindfulness at work is sometimes rebranded as “high performance classes” or “productivity sessions” to remove any whiff of its religious roots – and perhaps also from its less business-focussed celebrity advocates, such as Russell Brand.

Mindfulness at work

Mindfulness at work comes in many forms. Google created a “Search Inside Yourself” meditation course; Nike offers “mindful runs” via an app; and Goldman Sachs has integrated mindfulness into its wider resilience program.

Factors such as size, location and budget all influence how a company can promote mindfulness. However typical offerings include mediation and yoga classes, apps for employees such as Headspace, and quiet rooms where people can have a still moment away from the hectic rush of the modern workplace.

How does it help businesses?

Over the last decade a host of scientific studies has concluded that mindfulness can help to treat health conditions such as depression and anxiety. This in itself makes the practice appealing to companies struggling with increasingly high levels of stress-related absenteeism.

And while studies into the effects of mindfulness in the workplace are thin on the ground, early evidence indicates it:

  • Enables individuals to recognise and respond more effectively to signs of stress
  • Increases individuals’ self-awareness and improves relationships and collaboration between colleagues
  • Enhances resilience
  • Boosts creativity and helps individuals to overcome obstacles more effectively

In other words, mindfulness can both improve the health of individuals and enhance their performance at work.

Is mindfulness just a fad?

Mindfulness is not a quick fix. There’s a real risk that businesses will jump into the initiative with the best intentions only to drop their support once the initial wave of enthusiasm passes.

However, the growing evidence suggests that investing in mindfulness at work can make a lasting impact on both employee wellbeing and organisational productivity. And as long as forward-looking businesses continue to experience the positive results, mindfulness is here to stay.