The Mindful Workplace: Sustainable Value

This post was originally published on March 3, 2014 for the APA Center for Organizational Excellence blog, Good Company.

PsychologiMORE Logost Teresa Amabile, author, with Steven Kramer, of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement., and Creativity at Work, and the keynote speaker for this year’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace Awards, identifies the inner work life of employees as a key factor in organizational success.

She writes, “Individual performance is closely tied to inner work life.”

This is a problem for many organizations. There are systems, processes, incentives and consequences put into place to ensure that observable behavior is appropriate in the workplace, but it is more difficult to assess and far more difficult to control the inner work life of an employee. If the state of the inner work life of employees significantly influences their performance, it becomes important to pay attention to this dimension of the workplace experience. But how does an organization do this in an effective way?

Directing observable behavior can be very effective in standardizing processes and promoting productivity. Ideally, it is shaped by careful attention to the systems that contribute to organizational goals. When inner attitudes of employees align with these organizational efforts, there are dramatic improvements in performance that are mutually beneficial for the worker and for the company. One way to foster this alignment is by creating a mindful workplace.

The practice of mindfulness develops a particular way of paying attention. It fosters awareness of the present moment, improves focus and does this in a non-judgmental way. This type of awareness, in a mindful workplace, increases the connection with inner work life.

A mindful employee becomes more aware of his or her inner life as it fluctuates moment by moment. It interacts with ever-changing circumstances. This heightened awareness allows the worker to make the small adjustments that facilitate emotional stability, accurate perceptions and consistent motivation over the long-term. It is an important ability in a complex marketplace in which organizations constantly need to find ways to adapt to new demands and to grow and develop in order to stay viable for its customers.

This mindful workplace, however, requires an adjustment in the way an organization looks at itself. The inner work life of the employee is not as directly influenced by incentives and consequences as observable behavior. It cannot be dictated by a supervisor. However, when the organizational goals align with the inner experience of the worker, he or she will engage in a deeper and more consistent effort and will do his or her best work.

Mindful leadership styles must shift from establishing control to establishing a partnership with the employee (see the APA Monitor article, “Venus Rising“). That is one reason why most companies that are trying to develop a mindful workplace start by engaging the executive team first. When leaders are mindful, they are more able to attend to the inner work life of the employees and link that to the work of the organization in an effective way.

This mindful leadership is a more interactive relationship. Leaders must take time to understand the experience of employees and to more fully explain how the work they are doing has meaning for the benefit of the larger whole. Mindful employees must become more willing to give input to shape and direct the effectiveness of the work that is being done.

We have seen these kinds of shifts in the relationship between the organization and the workforce in the companies that have been recognized as psychologically healthy workplaces. We have seen the development of positive relationships between leaders and the workforce in these organizations. We have consistently seen workers actively contributing to make the company more effective and more successful.

Creating a mindful workplace may be a step toward creating a more psychologically healthy workplace, with the benefits recognized in those companies that have won local and national awards, yielding benefits for employee and organization alike.

In my next article, I will be looking at some of the specific effects of being mindful that promote a better organization

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