Adopting a collective approach to workplace mindfulness will be a key determinant of its success in your organisation.
Recently, I read an article by Sanah Ahsan which struck a chord with me. I felt some of the points made in the article related to the corporate wellness agenda and how mindfulness is delivered in organisations.
A key point of Ahsan’s article is that the mental health crisis conversation focuses on the individual. That focus leads to individual approaches to remedying the situation through employing therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, medicalising it by prescribing anti-depressants or suggesting lifestyle habits such as mindfulness. While there is a place for all these interventions, Ahsan argues that there is a tendency to over-medicalise the mental health crisis by focusing exclusively on the individual rather than on taking a broader look at society.
Research and evidence indicates that mindfulness-based initiatives (MBIs), when delivered in a safe and sustainable way, benefit organisations. However, workplace mindfulness initiatives will only work when an appropriate organisational approach is adopted.
Mindfulness mostly tends to be implemented in organisations in a haphazard way. It is not uncommon for mindfulness to be offered in organisations where communication is poor, workloads are high and employees are disconnected. Such an approach is akin to sticking a plaster over a problem that requires a root and branch review. For example, many organisations offer staff Apps, one-off mindfulness courses and webinars, all of which have a role to play. However, few tend to adopt an integrated organisational approach to mindfulness, and it is only when an organisational approach is adopted that positive outcomes will accrue.
So, what is organisational mindfulness?
You are in a meeting. It is a tense meeting, attended by many very different personalities. There are strong extroverts pushing their agendas, and introverts who have great ideas or may disagree with the direction of the project but choose to say nothing. This costs time, money and deepens employee disengagement. Mindfulness training does when regularly practiced benefits individuals. However, when delivered with a focus on integrating a mindful approach to work practices, it enables task tension1 ie. the ability to voice concerns about an issue while being able to disagree without fear of reprisal, thus preventing such discussions from spilling over into relationship conflicts. Space is given to encourage all to contribute, to communicate even unpleasant gut feelings about a project’s direction.
This is just one example of how organisational mindfulness works. Organisations support individuals with practical workplace mindfulness techniques that foster self and social awareness amongst colleagues, which enable people to respond, particularly during difficult negotiations, in a meaningful way.
Organisational mindfulness ensures systems are in place to adopt a collective approach to mindfulness in the business. This can relate to how meetings are facilitated, how policies are implemented, and how tasks are completed.
Mindfulness is grounded in solid science. Science exalts the virtues of mindfulness, but it also demonstrates that when mindfulness is implemented without first considering all the relevant factors, it can do more harm than good. When an organisation is plagued by toxic, controlling management, is in a constant state of crisis and engages in destructive behaviours, asking employees to participate in a workplace mindfulness programme is pointless. Such an initiative may be seen as merely another attempt to exert control.
There are many factors to consider when implementing workplace mindfulness training, but the following are essential questions to explore before embarking on such training.
How well does mindfulness align with your organisation’s values?
What are your organisation’s values? How well are those values lived and embedded in the organisation’s culture? Do culture reviews take place, and are employees encouraged to share how they live the organisation’s values?
Explore with employees what mindfulness is, especially its key principles, and discover if they fit comfortably with your organisation’s culture. There is much discussion and polarising opinions about mindfulness. Some appreciate the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace, while others think it is purely a relaxation technique. And then there is a cohort that sees it as a religion. Such information gaps need to be addressed before embarking on workplace mindfulness training.
Offer mindfulness to all and ensure that all levels in the organisation are encouraged to participate. Since not everyone will be interested in mindfulness, mindfulness training should never be made obligatory.
What is the purpose of your organisational mindfulness training?
Clear consistent communication about what workplace mindfulness is and the purpose of your organisation’s mindfulness training is essential. Be clear on and emphasise the organisation’s approach and how the organisation supports a mindful culture. After developing a pathway for how mindfulness will be integrated into the business in a sustainable and safe way, encourage staff across the organisation, particularly leadership, to get involved. Promote and encourage discussion about the differences between individual and organisational mindfulness.
Offering mindfulness with no consideration of how to support an organisational approach to mindfulness will not yield the hoped-for results. Consistently growing research demonstrates that mindfulness, when practiced within teams, creates psychologically safe environments where teams excel. This does not mean teams sitting in circles meditating, but rather creating a space to be fully present with the task at hand. It means authentically communicating with colleagues, and people feeling safe in their workplace to be their true selves or to communicate unpopular viewpoints.
Who is the target audience?
So often I deliver training in organisations and there is no diversity in the group in terms of gender, level in the organisation and departments. Mindfulness training should not be mandatory. However, it is the communication campaign which addresses the above points that will determine the success of the recruitment campaign. Ideally encourage a diverse participation across all departments and levels within the organisation.
Ahsan’s article reiterates the need for adopting a collective societal approach to mental wellbeing. This concept extends to the workplace and the need to adopt an organisational approach to mindfulness. Presenting it as exclusively an individual self-help tool absolves organisations’ responsibility around creating a culture where people flourish, and businesses thrive.