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Mindfulness at Work
Published Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A great deal of what we do at work is not working. We have employee engagement problems, performance problems, resource allocation problems, ethical problems, stress-related problems, and as always, communication problems. Many complain of long hours at work with little real added value to show for it. Anxiety, stress and a sense of being overwhelmed punctuate our times.
In response to these challenges, many organizations are introducing new employee engagement programs to make the workplace more relaxed and appealing. Managers are charged with developing visionary slogans to make work meaningful.

Alas, Abraham Maslow’s wisdom regarding the power of intrinsic motivation has clearly been ditched or forgotten.

It’s All in the Mind
Some organizations, however, are taking a different approach. They are addressing workplace challenges by introducing mindfulness and meditation into their cultures. Managers must recognize that self-awareness, self-esteem and self-empowerment are the healthiest and most sustainable ingredients of the self-actualizing employee. And, in these challenging times, successful organizations depend on self-actualizing employees for creativity, performance and engagement.

Mindfulness is about cultivating self-awareness of one’s own mental processes, feelings and emotions while they are occurring. It is about the quality of awareness one brings to each moment, which means trying to suspend conceptualization, objectification and judgment. We experience the moment with our entire being before labeling it. The simplest example is enjoying the smell and beauty of a rose before we name it a rose.

Learning About Yourself
What we learn about ourselves from this open awareness is how quickly we label, objectify, evaluate and judge all phenomena. We also learn our biases and prejudices in real time. We see how once we have defined something, we automatically evaluate it.

Mindful attention allows us to be present in an open, curious, available and accepting manner. With mindfulness, we learn that we are not our thoughts or our feelings. We can observe and witness our thoughts and feelings. We do not have to identify with our anxiety, our fears and our insecurities. We can choose whether to react or not to react. This gives us perspective and inner freedom.

With mindfulness, attention to the present moment makes every moment fulfilling for its own sake. We lose our sense of instrumentality, where we live in perpetual longing for a future outcome.

With mindfulness, we learn that we see the world not as it is, but as we are. We are the constructors of our experience. We have the power to choose our attitude, our responses, our stories we tell ourselves.

Mindfulness Creates Opportunities
When we are mindful, it creates these opportunities for us:

• Greater self-awareness, something that is essential for leadership.

• It challenges our deeply held values, assumptions and biases that seldom get tested until we see them play out in real time.

• A slowing between stimulus and response, giving us time to choose our reactions instead of living in programmed, mechanical mode.

• Greater perspective on events and phenomena we encounter, enabling us to be more open to new and different options.

• Less identification with our fears and anxieties, resulting in less stress and the feeling of being overwhelmed. We become less self centered and fear driven.

• A heightened ability to manage our emotions and inter-relations with others, thus enhancing our emotional intelligence, and our teamwork.

• We behave with less compulsion and reactivity. We are more indifferent to the behaviors and pressures of others and are more intrinsically motivated.

• An increased ability to concentrate and stay focused amid competing distractions. Our performance and productivity improve as does our creativity.

• We gain greater self-acceptance, self-esteem and self-confidence.

Initiating Mindfulness at Work
Initiating mindfulness in an organization begins with learning mindful practices and meditation as part of a culture change initiative. The best results occur when there is commitment from the top.

When organizations introduce mindfulness, employees benefit either in their personal lives or in their ability to cope with work. Many people report increased self-awareness and self-esteem. Most claim they experience a slowing down and a greater sense of calm.

Among those instituting mindfulness projects is Tom Raffio, CEO of Northeast Delta Dental in Concord. Every few weeks employees attend discussions on mindfulness where they also practice meditation. They receive regular articles and a weekly mindfulness blog. They are also invited to write mindful comments as part of their communications. The monthly company newspaper offers comments on mindfulness, and Raffio hosts “Mindful Coffee with the Coach” sessions.

Annabel Beerel, PhD, is president and CEO of the New England Women’s Leadership Institute in Massachusetts and a certified meditation instructor. She can be contacted at

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