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What Science Has To Say About Workplace Mindfulness

workplace mindfulness

Workplace mindfulness is about being able to stay focused while being capable of adapting, as well as rewiring the mind to think in a less stressful manner.

Exactly seven years ago today, the cover story of Time was called The Mindful Revolution.” The article outlined the explosion of mindfulness into popular culture, paying particular attention to its adoption by several big-name Fortune 500 entities including Google, General Mills, and others.

Research has caught up with the practitioner community. It’s time to re-evaluate what exactly workplace mindfulness entails, and what it can (and can’t) do for you.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness entails non-judgmental, present-moment attention. But to really understand the influence of mindfulness in the workplace, it’s important to break it down further.

What Science Has To Say About Workplace Mindfulness
  • State-based mindfulness is a state of consciousness. Its opposite, mind-wandering, is our default state of consciousness. Research illustrates that when we’re mindful instead of mind-wandering, we’re happier, regardless of whether the task is easy, hard, fun, or boring.
  • Trait-based mindfulness entails one’s tendency to be mindful across time and different situations. Said another way, individuals consistently higher in state-based mindfulness are by definition higher in trait-based mindfulness. The key difference is that trait-based mindfulness is about superior self-regulation—which helps bring one’s attention back to the present.
  • Mindfulness practices entail purposeful interventions such as mindfulness meditation. Such practices immediately increase state-based mindfulness, but the mindful state typically doesn’t last longer than the length of the intervention itself. Research suggests, however, that regular mindfulness practice over an extended period of time has the capacity to increase trait-based mindfulness. In total, this suggests that one-off mindfulness interventions aren’t all that useful in the workplace. But thanks to neuroplasticity research, we now know that regular, long-term mindfulness practices can change our brain for the better.

Related: 11 Daily Zen Habits That Will Transform Your Life

The Four Dimensions Of Workplace Mindfulness

One of the biggest challenges for workplace researchers has been pinpointing the behavioral manifestations of workplace mindfulness. There finally appears to be some degree of consensus among workplace scholars. The four dimensions are as follows:

  • Describing entails the ability to “tune in” to one’s experience (e.g., thoughts, emotions, etc.), label it accurately, and describe it in words. This is important in the workplace because it ensures that you are being authentic and transparent about your needs or your position on a situation. Further, it ensures that you’re able to explain these items to others in ways that they’ll understand.
  • Non-Reactivity involves accepting your thoughts and emotions—particularly those that are negative or detrimental—and allowing them to come and go without getting caught up in them. As an example, getting angry is part of human nature. But instead of anger being existential (“I am angry”) it is reframed as experiential (“My body is experiencing the physiological signals of anger”).
  • Non-Judging entails experiencing thoughts and feelings without criticizing oneself for having them. Everyone has counterproductive thoughts and feelings. Those capable of non-judging view these thoughts with acceptance and curiosity. Instead of being self-critical, they investigate the source in order to learn more.
  • Awareness entails being attentive to and fully in-tune with one’s current experience. It involves paying attention and staying focused even when distractions are swirling around you. This is what most people think of when they hear about mindfulness. Although central to mindfulness, without the other three dimensions it has limited utility.

Related: Meditation: The Scientific Reasoning and Religious Perspective of Meditation

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Scott Dust

Scott Dust, Ph.D., is the Dr. John F. Mee Endowed Assistant Professor of Management at the Farmer School of Business, Miami University (Oxford, OH) and the Chief Research Officer at Cloverleaf, a technology company whose goal is to create amazing teams. His teaching, writing, and consulting focus on evidence-based perspectives for leading oneself (i.e., self-leadership) and others. His research on leadership, leader-follower relationships, power, and influence has appeared in several journals, including the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Organizational Behavior, Leadership Quarterly, and Human Relations, and he is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Organizational Behavior and Group and Organization Management. Scott is also the creator of an email newsletter titled Resources for Human Capital Enthusiasts, which focuses on providing evidence-based insights and timely perspectives on trends in human capital management.View Author posts