Mindfulness in the workplace: just a fad or here to stay?

Angelique du ToitDr Angélique du Toit is senior lecturer in the Department of Management at Sheffield Business School. She is course leader for the Part-Time MSc in Coaching and Mentoring.

A new date has been confirmed for Friday 4 April 2014, Sheffield Business School is hosting a half-day training event for coaches and mentors on The Role of Mindfulness and Coaching. In this blog, Dr Du Toit explores the topic of mindfulness and its relevance and usefulness in the workplace today.

According to The Telegraph, mindfulness training has “been embraced by organisations as diverse as Google, Transport for London, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Home Office” as “an antidote to the relentless pressure and information overload common in many workplaces.”

Mindfulness is a hot topic in the business environment today, and has gained popularity in recent years as a way for business and leadership coaches to help people learn new skills and approach a better life/work balance. But what is it? Is it useful? And will it have longevity or be consigned to the ‘fad’ scrapheap?

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness can mean different things to different people. Put simply, mindfulness is meditation that has been given a “sexy” title. It involves focusing on the present, such as your breathing, your heartbeat or other sensations in your body, and helps you to shut out distractions and be grounded in whatever activity you’re doing. You can do it in a few seconds, and it has real practical value for everyday life.

Coaches and mentors use mindfulness techniques to help their clients concentrate and gain increased awareness of themselves to focus on achieving their goals.

Why should business leaders practice mindfulness and encourage it at work?

The significant health benefits associated with mindfulness practice include improvements in a range of conditions such as anxiety, depression, stress disorders, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and even Alzheimer’s and dementia.

smiley, happy, happier, smileHealthy employees are both happier and more productive. But in addition to the many general health benefits, mindfulness also facilitates high performance. If you’re fully present in activity, you’ll be more focused and deliver better outcomes at work. And giving your employees the edge through mindfulness training is also a way of positioning yourself as an innovative employer. As mental health and leadership writer for Forbes, Todd Essig, points out, “instruction in mindfulness, in being able to reflect rather react, is a genius perk to provide.”

When it was launched last year, Google’s new “Search Inside Yourself” course quickly became the most popular among the hundreds of free courses the company offers its employees. Developed by Google engineer Chade-Meng Tan with the help of nine mindfulness experts, the class has three steps: attention training, self-knowledge and self-mastery, and the creation of useful mental habits.

“I’m definitely much more resilient as a leader,” said executive development director and trained psychologist, Richard Fernandez, after taking the course.

So is mindfulness just a fad?

One of my concerns is that the recent explosion in the popularity of mindfulness at work may just be a fad. However, we need to remember that mindfulness is essentially just a new term for the practice of meditation, which has been around for thousands of years.

The term ‘meditation’ is less palatable to modern business leaders, as it seen by some as rather ‘new age’ and suggestive of a process that is reclusive and associated with religious enlightenment.

In fact, meditation can be done anywhere in just a few minutes. It is practical rather than just spiritual. It involves creating a space between you and the many distractions of modern life, so you can take time to focus on the here and now. The heightened sense of awareness you gain as a result makes you much more able to deal with day-to-day issues that arise in the business or workplace environment. This will always be relevant.

What work is Sheffield Business School doing in this area?

Lynda Hinxman, assistant dean of employer engagement at the school, explained in a recent blog why it is important that middle managers have the skills to develop future leaders.

I’ve just designed a distance learning programme focused around learning and development for leaders and line managers who want to develop coaching skills. Intelligence quotient (EQ) is part of the distance learning module. EQ has an excellent diagnostic and is a great starting point for coaching. Regular blog readers will know that the school has recently brought EQ specialist Dr Martin Newman on board. More on Dr Martin Newman’s work with the school here.

We also go into organisations to carry out research and evaluate existing training programmes that organisations run internally. We recently did some extensive research for an NHS trust on its coaching programme, for the benefit of patients.

www.james-shilton.co.ukInterested in finding out more?

Those in a coaching and mentoring role might like to attend the first of our quarterly CPD training events next year on 14 January. More information and booking details for The Role of Mindfulness and Coaching. The next CPD event after that (date TBC) will be led by David Megginson, co-author of the recently published Beyond Goals: Effective Strategies for Coaching and Mentoring (compiled with David Clutterbuck and Dr Susan David).

Four times per year, we host a coaching and mentoring research day. The event, aimed at anyone interested in these topics, is run on an open space approach: the agenda is set by the delegates at the start of the day, and we match experts in that area with each group, to explore topics in more detail. We held one on 13 December – do look out for follow up blogs.

Other courses include both full time and part time MSc in Coaching and Mentoring, post-graduate diploma, and many shorter courses and CPD modules. A new distance learning option will soon be available too. The next intake day is on Monday 20 January 2014.

If you want to find out more about mindfulness, I would recommend Mindfulness: finding peace in a frantic world by Mark Williams and Danny Penman (a practical book that is both easy to read and offers scientific support for the health benefits of mindfulness) and Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn (one of the founders of the modern mindfulness approach, Jon runs a well known clinic in the states. This book examines the long term and significant impact of mindfulness on health and wellbeing.)

Do you believe mindfulness has a role in coaching and mentoring, and in the workplace?

Have you employed some of the techniques of mindfulness? Did you or your employees see any benefits?

Do please share your comments below

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6 thoughts on “Mindfulness in the workplace: just a fad or here to stay?

  1. Peter Sargent

    I use Iyengar yoga to calm my mind, take myself mentally away from my work and to give me time to focus on the here and now. I have found that it has not only improved my mental wellbeing but I feel physically fitter and more at peace with myself.

  2. Miro Cansky

    Thank you for a great article Angélique.

    I agree with you that the word ‘meditation’ brings up a lot of doubts or even resistance in many professionals. I believe that it is our task, as coaches and trainers, to show to leaders and their teams that mindfulness is a very practical tool for training attention and developing resilience.

    Have you found that people often say ‘I don’t have time for mindfulness’? I hope you don’t mind me sharing with your readers a practice I developed for busy people when they get stressed at work. Please let me know what you think:


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  4. David Ridge

    Modern life is cluttered with what Eckhart Tolle calls “form consciousness” which is objects, objectives, symbols, status, structures and strategies leading to a life of incessant incompleteness. The antidote is “space consciousness” that puts all this vanity and vexation into a calming context which in my opinion is quite easily achievable through mindfulness.
    I am a retired registered nurse who is a practitioner in the FELDENKRAIS METHOD and I am looking to pilot a 4-hour workshop soon in Sheffield “Calming The Nervous System” based on an Australian MP3 programme devised by two colleagues (entitled ‘Move Over Anxiety’). Please contact me if you want further information or might consider me offering it as a free and practical mindfulness workshop to your students and staff (perhaps my co-presenter and I could attend your workshop gratis as a return gesture?).

    1. Angelique du Toit

      Hi David
      Thank you very much for your comments and sharing your own experience of mindfulness and the reduction of stress. Send information on your programme once you have it available as it is always interesting to learn how a subject is developed and interpreted.
      Good luck with your workshop.

  5. Pingback: Effective leadership in SMEs – the HR in SMEs Conference | Sheffield Hallam University

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