Think of mindfulness as a way to enhance certain kinds of mental fitness


One last push before the end of the year, projects to finish, books to balance, decisions to finalise. It’s no wonder many workers and managers are counting the days until the Christmas break and a chance to catch their breath and gather their thoughts.

While a few days off might help to dial down the stress levels, companies are increasingly looking at longer term strategies to help their staff to manage stress and improve wellbeing.

In a recent piece published by the Harvard Business Review, Daniel Goleman, an author and the co-director of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations at Rutgers University, pointed to the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace, citing improved focus, a better memory and a calmer team.

Goleman said that, with the right approach, mindfulness can “better enhance both leader performance and employee wellbeing”. “Think of mindfulness as a way to enhance certain kinds of mental fitness, just as regular workouts at the gym build physical fitness,” he wrote.

According to Joanne O’Malley, a mindfulness facilitator who runs her own company Mindfulness at Work, research shows that mindfulness training allows us “to be present, to step out of automatic pilot and to create space so we can be clearer, calmer, more focused, more creative, even more compassionate”.

O’Malley delivers mindfulness and emotional intelligence training for companies who want to boost employee wellbeing and performance.

Mindfulness offers benefits for both employees and organisations. For employees, mindfulness can reduce stress, sharpen focus, help with communication, boost creativity and “improve wellbeing, vitality, optimism, enthusiasm and job fulfilment”, O’Malley explains.

“These skills are useful to every individual but essential to managers who are responsible for ‘setting the tone’ and creating a positive, energetic culture where people engage, collaborate and do their best work,” she says.

And for companies, introducing a more mindful culture can reduce absenteeism, improve employee performance and boost employee engagement.

For those who want to be more mindful in work, O’Malley advises starting your day well. “Research shows that successful people engage in a morning ritual, quiet time alone just to be and envisage the day going well,” she says.

Also, try to act rather than react at work.

“Use the first hour to plan, prioritise, and schedule,” O’Malley suggests. Her other tips include culling your ‘to do’ list, breathing when stress levels creep up and maintaining boundaries around “your time, energy and relationships”.

“Learn to say no nicely,” she says. Also, reduce interruptions to your work day as best you can, by turning off notifications where possible to avoid distraction.

The run-in to Christmas is particularly hectic in the retail sector. But some companies are looking at innovative ways to help staff manage stress now — and all year round.

Rossa Butler, marketing and operations director at Shop Direct Ireland, the company behind the Littlewoods Ireland brand, believes it is crucial for leaders to have “an open, safe dialogue about stress and mental health” with their teams.

He has tried a variety of apps, including Headspace, to manage his own stress and he realised his team might also benefit. “These tools can offer a ten minute quick fix if I need it at home or in the office,” he says. “I mentioned it to my team and encouraged them to find something that worked for them. Mental health is incredibly important and we’ve frequent discussions within the team about managing stress.”

While Butler’s team is finding its own tools to manage stress, the wider Shop Direct Ireland company is also taking steps to help its employees stay calm. There’s a so-called Doodle Box, a room with a whiteboard for doodling on, soft furnishings and candles where staff can go to take a few minutes “to reset and to get some head space”, Butler explains. The company also runs frequent talks and workshops on wellbeing, mindfulness and exercise.

The impact of such initiatives is difficult to measure, but Butler says it is not a case of doing it to see productivity jump by a certain percentage. Rather, he says, it’s simply the right thing to do, to help staff look after themselves.

And it does pay off. “My team is calmer and better prepared in their approach to this busy time of year,” he says.