How mindfulness improves workplace performance
The growth of mindfulness training at the workplace can finally be quantified; a 2016 study conducted by the National Business Group on Health (NBGH) and Fidelity Investments found that 22% of companies have mindfulness training programs already in place, and another 21% plan to add a mindfulness training component in 2017.
Corporations such as Google, General Mills, and Intel steadily incorporate mindfulness into their workplace culture.
Below we’ll discuss why workplaces are choosing to offer mindfulness training, noting the general benefits of mindfulness, and reviewing three of the primary ways in which mindfulness can improve workplace performance.
General Benefits of Mindfulness for the Workplace
As discussed before here on Bidushi, mindfulness meditation is the practice of training the mind to devote sustained, relaxed attention in the present moment. It can also be called “nonjudgmental awareness.”
Researchers have identified the following benefits that can be attained from a practice of mindfulness, which are all grouped under a heading of “cognitive” benefits::
- Increased attentional stability (keeping the mind from wandering)
- Reduced emotional reactivity (responding more coolly to negative experiences)
- Increased attentional control (making individuals less distractible)
- More flexible cognition (generating creative responses to problems)
- Reduced automaticity (less frequently engaging in automatic reactions)
- Improved cognitive capacity (being able to hold more things in mind at once when required)
These are just a few of the cognitive benefits identified by researchers, alongside a similarly expansive list of physiological benefits. Let’s now review the top three benefits specific to workplace performance.
Benefit #1 of Mindfulness at Work: Improved Performance
The first benefit outlined by researchers is a cluster of ways in which mindfulness improves workplace performance. In a review of the literature published in the Journal of Management , it was shown that several different studies have demonstrated a link between trait mindfulness, and a variety of different workplace outcomes.
Trait mindfulness, also referred to as “dispositional” mindfulness, refers to mindfulness as a more long-standing characteristic of an individual’s personality. Specifically, it defines an aptitude or tendency to more frequently enter into mindful states than other people, and to stay in those states for longer periods of time.
People who measure high in trait mindfulness demonstrated higher job performance across several different job types, such as restaurant servers, supervisors, MBA students, middle managers, health care workers, admissions treatment teams, and psychotherapists.
People high in trait mindfulness were also shown to have higher academic performance than people low on trait mindfulness, and directed mindfulness training was also shown to significantly increase performance ratings compared to groups that received no training.
The evidence accumulated by the researchers suggested that mindfulness influences work performance in several distinct ways, including reducing the amount of variability in performance, improving goal-oriented motivation, and buffering performance against disruptions or threatening contexts.
Benefit #2 of Mindfulness at Work: Improved Relationships
The second suite of benefits that the researchers outlined concerning mindfulness in the workplace was the way in which mindfulness can improve relationships.
The researchers made the argument that a very high percentage of our work performance relies on our ability to communicate with others and to maintain positive working relationships, particularly between supervisors/managers and the employees they oversee.
In this context, research into the effects of mindfulness on workplace relationships demonstrated that mindfulness practice clearly improves the quality of communication between individuals and the overall quality of relationships.
There are a host of different mechanisms by which this improvement in workplace relationship could come about.
It’s possible that a more mindful individual would be more attentive to others, would communicate more effectively, would find himself or herself in conflict with others less often, or would express more selfless emotions like compassion and empathy.
It’s also possible that all or a combination of these factors could work in concert to improve relationships.
Benefit #3 of Mindfulness at Work: Improved Well-Being
A final overall category of benefits outlined by the researchers as another way in which mindfulness improves workplace performance is the improvement of employee well-being.
By “well-being,” what the researchers mean is all of the various psychological, physical, and behavioral aspects of an employee’s work experience, including mood, comfort level, enjoyment, level of burnout, level of stress, and overall job satisfaction, among others.
In short, the researchers found a strong connection between the practice of mindfulness and the levels of well-being reported by practitioners.
Across different studies, the researchers reported that people who employ a mindfulness practice generally limit levels of burnout, perceived stress, work-family conflict, and negative moods. They also improve sleep and job satisfaction, across a wide variety of professions.
Recent research supports the idea that mindfulness practice can lead to demonstrable improvements in the workplace by improving performance, improving relationships, and improving well-being.
Even something as simple practicing mindfulness for 20 minutes a day over 4 days, can a generate a more mindful state in individuals. A quick break for meditation during the work day can help to ground and centre us during that day. And as the days of practice stack up, so too do the benefits.
 Kachan, D., Olano, H., Tannenbaum, S. L., Annane, D. W., Mehta, A., & Arheart, K. L., … & Lee, D. J. (2017) Prevalence of mindfulness practices in the US workforce: National health interview survey. Preventing Chronic Disease, 14(1), 1-12. DOI: 10.5888/pcd14.160034
 Good, D. J., Lyddy, C. J., Glomb, T. M., Bono, J. E., Brown, K. W., Duffy, M. K., … & Lazar, S. W. (2016). Contemplating mindfulness at work: An integrative review. Journal of Management, 42(1), 114-142. DOI: 10.1177/0149206315617003
 Zeidan et al. Mindfulness meditation improves cognition: Evidence of brief mental training. Consciousness and Cognition, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2010.03.01