Mindfulness in the Workplace: The What, Why and How of Building a Mindful Culture

Mindfulness in the Workplace: The What, Why and How of Building a Mindful Culture

Your employees are busy, but nothing is getting done.

Your team is working hard, but projects fall behind.

Everyone’s inboxes are abuzz with activity, but decisions don’t get made.

Individual members of your team are talented and hardworking, but as a whole, the team is not as productive as it could be.

…. Does any of that sound familiar?

We live in a distracted age. Phones buzz, watches tweet, and even the commute to work has dissolved into an endless array of options: radio? Streaming? Podcast? Sirius XM? There is a constant influx of information battling for your employee’s attention, a constant risk of distraction not just pulling them away from the work at hand but draining their mental energy and leaving them unable to perform at the level they’re capable of.

So, as a leader within your organization looking to protect your team’s ability to consistently do good work, what can you do?

The answer many high-performing companies are turning to is mindfulness.

What Is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness in the workplace is not just an excuse to splurge on branded yoga mats for the office (after all, not everyone’s flexible enough for One-Handed Tree Pose!). Rather than a specific physical practice like yoga or meditation, mindfulness is an approach to work and time that respects the mind’s ability (and need) to concentrate on one task at a time and an approach to work that leaves room to reflect on the implications of our actions and decisions.

The technical definition of mindfulness is an awareness of yourself and your surroundings in the present moment. In practice, mindfulness in the workplace is …

  • Thinking through an email before you send it so that you provide all the details the recipient needs the first time
  • Focusing on the customer’s needs and making sure you’ve met those needs before ending an interaction
  • Releasing a product that represents the best of your team’s abilities, not the result of frenzied multitasking
  • Making decisions that reflect your company’s values instead of decisions that solve the short-term problem as quickly as possible
  • Being intentional about how you communicate and how you spend your time

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness in the Workplace?

There’s a reason that industry-leading companies like McKinsey & Company, Procter & Gamble, and Apple implement mindfulness programs for their employees: it’s been proven to deliver significant and long-lasting benefits in three areas that are critical to maintaining high levels of creativity and productivity: focus, attention, and behavior.


The ability to focus is really an ability to avoid distraction. By practicing mindfulness techniques, employees increase gray matter in the brain, thus increasing density in the areas of the brain responsible for learning and memory. As a result, they can maintain higher levels of attentiveness and concentration and spend more time on a given thought, project, or task, than usual.


Mindfulness stabilizes attention in the present and helps employees pay attention to visual and audio information longer. In particular, mindfulness has been shown to improve the “three qualities of attention”: control, stability, and efficiency. As a result, instead of allowing our minds to wander for approximately half of our waking hours, we gain back control over that time, and we can put it to good use.


Mindfulness techniques have been shown to enhance the function of parts of the brain and result in superior performance in self-regulation, learning from past experiences, and decision-making. In one report, 80% of senior executives at General Mills who took a company-sponsored mindfulness course reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions and 89% said they became better listeners.

Mindfulness has also been shown to have a positive impact on resilience, collaboration, and complex leadership ability. Click here to read more.

How to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Your Culture

If you’re reading the Culture Summit blog and getting your plans in place to attend this year’s Culture Summit, we don’t need to tell you that you can’t just throw mindfulness into a mission statement and assume it’s a part of your culture. Like any other culture attribute, mindfulness is something that your organization needs to embrace on a deep level so that your processes and policies grow out of it.

If you want to build a more mindful company culture, plan ways you can exemplify and incorporate mindfulness into leadership decisions, company-wide processes and policies, and reinforcement opportunities. Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • Encourage employees to take mindfulness breaks throughout the day, whether structured (meditation, yoga, etc.) or unstructured (looking out the window, closing your eyes, etc.). Be sure to ask managers and members of the leadership team to model these breaks and share insightful thoughts or surprising benefits with the rest of the team.
  • Invite employees to turn off notifications for email and texts and instead check computers and communication tools at appointed times. (But make sure such a schedule is appropriate for your industry and your team’s job requirements – this would not be appropriate in a newsroom or marketing agency in which quick responses and approvals are critical).
  • Provide as much context as possible for leadership decisions and process and policy changes. “Because we said so,” and “Because it’s always been done this way” are not mindful policies.
  • Explain what impact the leadership team hopes each decision will have on the future to show that decisions are made in a thoughtful and deliberate way.
  • Incorporate brainstorming and thinking time into the creation of policies by setting a time limit for implementation, such as, “New policies will be approved five days after a draft of the policy has been agreed upon.” (The trade-off, of course, is that this will slow down decision-making, so it may conflict with other values such as being agile).
  • Ask managers to provide positive feedback and awards to employees who display qualities of mindfulness in their everyday work, such as setting aside time for brainstorming or provide well thought-out context to decisions.

Do you see a need for mindfulness within your workplace, or have you put in the effort to incorporate mindfulness into your company culture? Tell us in the comments!

Sarah is a HR and HR marketing and technology writer who analyzes and condenses cutting-edge research and data to help leaders and HR professionals develop their instincts and arrive at actionable insights for employee engagement and business performance. She loves to consider the possibilities of humanizing, organizing, and minimalizing all things HR.

Top Three Key Learnings From Conducting 19 Company Culture Tours

Top Three Key Learnings From Conducting 19 Company Culture Tours

As 2016 is coming to an end, I’m looking back at all the changes we have seen in the people and culture space.  Over the course of the year, I visited 19 companies across the US and Europe conducting culture tours learning a lot through the process.

Here are my top three key learnings from conducting 19 company culture tours this year.

1. Invest in Growth More Than Perks

Over the last few years, we have seen the perks war.  Talent has started to see right through this, and the top rated companies to work for on Glassdoor know it too.  You cannot buy great company culture with ping pong and free beer.

While at Hubspot, Caroline Cotto from the Employee Experience team said:

“We think about – if we stripped away all the perks, would our culture stand on its own? Would people still be invested in working here?”  

I believe this change is in part, due to the millennial workforce arriving at their 30’s.  As millennials mature, free lunches and cool parties are less appealing. They are more interested in opportunities to develop professionally and contribute to meaningful work as they build their portfolio.

Learning Tip:
Ask yourself how might we invest in the professional development and growth of our people in big and small ways?

2. Think of Your Company as a Community

Hung and I had the opportunity to attend the CMX West conference for community managers.  We agree with their vision that the future of business is community.  Evidence can be found in the importance of community in several areas:

  • Recruiting programs are investing more in referral programs as a community-oriented way to attract and retain talent.

  • Former employees are now seen as alumni, who can be some of your best brand advocates and potential brand ambassadors.

  • They can also decide to come back and join you again.  This has been coined as a ‘boomerang employee’ (which can translate to faster and less costly hiring/onboarding).

  • Companies like Medium, Zappos, and Buffer have been recognized for flatter hierarchies with a community-based workplace models such holacracy and agile.

Forward-thinking companies see their talent as part of their wider community and this stretches beyond the walls of the workplace.

Learning Tip:
Ask yourself how might we create a community-oriented approach to our company?


3. If You Want to Change Your Culture, Start with Technology

During this year’s summit, we heard from Peter Scocimara at Google for Work where he said:

“If you want to change the culture, one of the first and fastest ways to do this is by changing the technology you are using.”  

I couldn’t agree more.

I believe the movement to flatter hierarchies has been propelled by more open and collaborative tools.  Working with colleagues in the cloud with a collaborative document like Google drive changes how people work together.

If you are feeling stuck with how to innovate your culture, try experimenting with new technology tools. Just remember, that anytime you propose something new. be sure to create a case for it by trying it with yourself first.

In my experience with helping teams adopt new software, the biggest error I see is rolling out a new tool before experimenting with it on a smaller scale first.

Learning Tip:
Ask yourself what technology are we currently using to collaborate?  How might we adopt different tools that support the culture I want to work in?

Thank you to all who welcomed me at Spotify, Skype, Airbnb, Digital Ocean, Next Jump, Facebook, Google, Linkedin, Twitter, Yammer, Asana, Pandora, Hubspot, Typeform, New Relic, Wayfair, Redbooth, and Zinc.

Is there a company I haven’t visited yet that you think I should?  Let me know in the comments.

Vanessa Shaw is founder of Human Side of Tech, through which she advises forward thinking thinking executives and HR leaders to operate their companies with a culture-first approach, so that they can turn challenge into opportunity when facing rapid growth, digital disruption and culture change.