Mindfulness is hugely in fashion at the moment. But before you leap to run a mindfulness course at your company ask if mindfulness is really the cure, or just a coping strategy.

Mindfulness: Coping Strategy or Cure

Mindfulness is all the fashion at the moment. If you google mindfulness then you get 44 million hits, 37.5 million more than if you googled it 10 years ago. There are 8,000 books on Amazon and everything from mindful apps to colouring-in books are available. Mindfulness is purported to help you with everything from your well-being, leadership ability, public speaking and binge eating. And so with all this hype many companies are now organising mindfulness courses for their staff.

Is Mindfulness just another Fad?

I’m not saying mindfulness is a bad thing. In our busy, distracted, over-connected world then taking time out to calm your mind, focus and appreciate the now is important. But before your company jumps on the next fad, then ponder (in a mindful way) the following two points.

1. Work Environment vs Mindset: Which Side of Equation to address?

Mindfulness is about learning how to manage your mindset. It helps people deal better with the challenges, emotions and stress of their work and life. But mindfulness has a no impact on changing what is creating stress in the work environment (or personal life). If the workload demands are unreasonable, there is a lack of autonomy and control, job insecurity, and a culture of fear and competition then even a Buddhist monk would not be able to avoid feeling stressed.

As a responsible employer interested in improving well-being at work, then you need to consider both mindset and the work environment. As a budget conscious employer, you want to see an impact for your investment, then improving the work environment could have more impact than a mindfulness course. In the next series of blogs I look at how companies can invest in improving the work environment to improve productivity by looking at job demands, job design, leadership, culture, purpose, autonomy and reward.

2. Where is the evidence?

I have a cynical mindset, even after a mindfulness course. So when I see something that looks and smells like a fad I want to know if there is evidence. Will investing your company’s money to train your employees to be mindful training improve your company’s performance?

There is a reasonable body of evidence that mindfulness improves the outcomes of individual people for their mental and physical health, interpersonal relationships and attention. Somehow we jump to the conclusion that when a group of people feel better then they will also produce better results at work. Though it seems logical there is little research to prove this, mainly because a person’s job performance is also impacted by so many other things related to the job and work environment. For example performance of a very repetitive job, like machine operator, is unlikely to be performed better with mindfulness training. But research in a dynamic service environment (restaurant) found that mindfulness training did improve performance. In a Japanese engineering company the people doing a mindfulness exercise were more concentrated on their work.
The first signs of evidence are coming showing how mindfulness could improve work performance in demanding and dynamic jobs. But before you leap to book the next training course for your employees make sure you look at the side of the equation, the work environment; job demands, job design, leadership style, culture, purpose and reward. You could have more impact by changing what people are DOING at work, not how they are THINKING about their work.