While there is much excitement about the qualitative benefits of mindfulness programs in professional spaces, there isn’t as much quantitative data surrounding the benefits of collective mindfulness practices… yet.  Many researchers around the globe are working to examining how to define mindfulness at work and measure how it can impact things like work-life balance, job burnout, resilience, memory, and performance.

While researchers work to develop studies and measure outcomes, and companies from high tech to consumer goods implement employee programs, it’s important to be realistic about what a workplace mindfulness program can and cannot for an organization.

What we do know is there are many studies that show that individual mindfulness programs can help people improve attention skillsreduce stress and emotional reactivity, as well as lower inflammation and blood pressure. So, it seems reasonable to assume the benefits of individual practices will transfer to organizational practices. As studies emerge about the measure benefits, it’s helpful to have realistic expectations about what a mindfulness program will not do for a company.

Fix or change “difficult” people

A core skill of any mindfulness program is that of awareness; the ability to see the world and how you show up in it, with non-judgment, of yourself and others, and the willingness to be with what is, even if that means not judging your micromanaging boss or a coworker who is a total jerk. Mindfulness can help people see their own behavior as well as those of others, it can be tempting to see only the behavior of others and want them to be more mindful.  When it comes to living the principals of mindfulness as well any self-development program, people are at different paces and need different types of motivation and different amounts of practice to begin to see the relational benefits of the tools offered in mindfulness training.  The key with collective mindfulness programs is to provide people tools to take accountability for their behavior and choices and see the impact of this choice on others as a way to begin to make different choices.

Change a culture overnight

A positive aspect of the skill of awareness is that once you see something with new eyes, it becomes hard to un-see it. With collective mindfulness training, a group or a team might see many of their dysfunctions in new ways, and that is a big part of shifting the culture.  However, true transformation only occurs with consistent practice of behavior change to address the arising dysfunctions. Having the ability to “see it” can create false expectations that a culture can change more quickly than what is realistic. Behavior change takes time and creating awareness of and having conversations about behaviors that both sabotage, as well as support cultural transformation, are key to making a mindfulness part of cultural norms.   Culture changes is a slow-going process, that occurs one mindful conversation at a time.

Make people trust each other

Mindfulness can introduce practices of self-reflection and contemplation that allow individuals to explore and deepen internal and external trust with self and others. When people trust themselves, they are better able to trust others. Having one or even a few mindfulness conversations will not instantly build a team or organizational trust, as trust comes from the follow through of the content of the conversations. It’s one thing to see and discuss team dysfunctions and another thing to implement action to course correct. Team trust built through the awareness building and conversation and cemented in consistent actions of leaders and peers to do what they say they are going to do.

As more companies implement and support mindfulness programs at work there will be more information on the measurable impacts, until then it’s about staying consistent with the foundations of the practice.  Read more about what mindfulness is and is it right for me or my company and how to find a mindfulness teacher.

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