Hello and welcome to the Mindfulness and Social Science blog! This article focuses on mindfulness at the workplace – something all of us are surely excited for. In particular, we examine key moments at work – dealing with office politics, meetings, receiving and giving feedback, independent work, balancing work and life, and end of work – and how mindfulness can help us better love what we do (while doing what we love, hopefully).
YIKES! YOU AGAIN? Dealing with people at work
Our instinctive response to receiving feedback is to go into a ‘flight or fight mode’, whereby receivers view feedback as a threat (Borysenko, 2019 ; Buckingham & Goodall, 2019). This is something we can identify with during our own personal internship experience, where frequent feedback was given by our bosses and it was easy to have feelings of negativity when receiving feedback. What about dealing with office politics (gossips and unhappiness amongst co-workers)?
The “Work in Asia” survey found that forty percent of Singaporean employees polled identified the key stressor at work as office politics (cited in Siow, 2016). Being thrown into the complications of office politics could have detrimental effects on our work performance and psychological states.
As such, a useful mindfulness practice that we can adopt in receiving feedback is the S.T.O.P practice (Figure 1). Research tells us that being mindful with regards to receiving feedback and office politics involves not judging our innate talent or intelligence – rather, it is being intentionally open to new possibilities and adopting a ‘growth mindset’ (Alidina, 2018). Academic literature also suggests that mindfulness may allow individuals to interpret unfavorable workplace events (e.g. office politics, layoffs, etc) more positively by adopting a “decentered perspective” (Bishop et al., 2004, as cited in Good et al., 2015, p.17-18); the ability to observe thoughts and feelings separately from oneself and the reality (Good et al., 2015).
Based on SuAnn and Michelle’s experiences practicing S.T.O.P, it has helped them to be less reactive, more objective and observant to their feelings and thoughts, regarding them not as reality but as temporary states, when faced with difficult situations.
YIKES! Another Meeting???
At work you may be whisked from one meeting to another, but find yourself always being distracted or not focused during a meeting. This could make a meeting feel like a waste of time because of how unproductive it was, or it may make you more reactive to an opinion from other colleagues. Hence this suggestion is to individually practice mindfulness in a meeting setting at work.
Good et al. (2015) discuss that for better communication, which includes listening, awareness and less judgement, self-regulation can be practiced. If we manage our disruptive emotions during a meeting, this will improve the outcome and productivity of a meeting instead of us just spacing out or being distracted easily by something irrelevant. Long and Christian (2015) say that ‘self-regulation of undesirable responses … reduce[s] rumination, negative emotion and retaliation.’
A practice of self-regulation to achieve the above can be mindful breathing, which Urara personally found to be useful in a meeting setting. During meetings either when there was a point that she did not agree with or if she started to feel overwhelmed, she practised mindful breathing. It helped her to refocus and to calmly take in what her colleagues were saying and when she stopped being so defensive, she was able to better listen to different ideas that were given which provided her with wider perspectives.
YIKES! DROWNING IN WORK!
Post-meetings, individual work is often assigned (i.e. arrows are fired). Indeed, most of our working hours would likely center around desk-based work, just like Daniel Kahneman, Max Weber and Kenneth Waltz! However, this can be physically and emotionally draining.
One appropriate mindfulness practice is the body scan, a static exercise that can be done any time – at your desk – during individual work. Its effectiveness at work is perhaps best evidenced by a respondent in Hugh-Jones et al (2018, p. 478, emphasis added): “I’m much much quicker in detecting that specific [stress] mindset and that physical [reaction] then stopping it by means of paying attention to the body”.
Personally testing the body scan while doing desk-based work, Xiaolong finds that it works akin to ‘restarting’ his mental state as lethargy and rumination are set aside, allowing him to concentrate better with a fresher perspective to re-read and re-write his work. This is particularly important as rewriting is key to writing well — succinctly, persuasively and logically (Roche, 2010). By consciously and systematically directing attention towards various sensations in the body (from feet to head), calmness is generated as the mind’s unhealthy focus on stressors is set aside.
YIKES! I’m too sad...
This is definitely relatable to many of us – when something negative happens in our personal life, it may be difficult to focus on work because our emotions are too overpowering.
However, employees can use mindfulness practices to construct temporary boundaries between domains of their personal life and work, in efforts to improve their work-life balance (Michel, Bosch & Rexroth, 2014). Practising self-regulation of attention through mindful breathing aims to return attention towards the present moment when one’s mind starts to wander. It also helps to reduce rumination and creates an avenue for psychological detachment from our personal emotions (Michel, Bosch & Rexroth, 2014).
Furthermore, through self-compassion meditation, we would have the opportunity to take a break to focus on the present and practise personal acceptance of things that are unchangeable (Alidina, 2018). Both of these practices were what Pei Ying picked up while dealing with work and personal issues, and they helped her immensely in understanding herself and regulating her own emotions. Eventually, learning to reconcile the two domains would help us come to terms with our current situation and become more forgiving towards ourselves.
YESSA! Time to go home!
Finally! Our shift has ended! We would either be satisfied or unsatisfied with our work performance. In the case of the latter, it usually causes us to see ourselves as unworthy, as we blame ourselves for bad incidents that occurred during our shift – causing us to feel terribly demoralized. Such negativity would affect our mood and outlook for the day (or even the week).
After each day at work, we practised self-compassion meditation. According to Neff and Pommier (2013, p. 170), self-compassion is associated with low personal distress. Drawing from Audi’s experience, an argument with a client had negatively affected his feelings and thoughts. Self-compassion meditation helped him confront – rather than suppress – those thoughts. Hülsheger et al. (2013, p. 313) argue that mindfulness can separate the ego from an event. This separation between the event and being helped liberate him from negative and inhibitive thinking. It is through meditation that he gained perspective that what had occurred between the customer and him, only existed within a specific context of the workplace. Therefore, it is by no means a true reflection of his self-worth. Self-compassion meditation is a useful practice for those who handle difficult clients daily.
Despite analysing only work in an office setting, we hope that this article is able to help you better manage – and thus enjoy – the different challenges at internships and work. Granted, our experiences are ours alone and there is no guarantee that you will experience the same positive effects we enjoyed. Nevertheless, as a fellow social science student, you must know that the best way for you to determine the effectiveness of these practices’ is to test them against empirical evidence – and what can be better than your very own experience?
By Urara Ide, Muhammad Audi Munawwar Bin Mazian, Lim Bee Siew, Li Xiaolong, Lai Su Ann, Ho Pei Ying
Alidina, S., 2018. 10 Ways to Be More Mindful at Work. Mindful. Retrieved from https://www.mindful.org/10-ways-mindful-work/
Buckingham, M. & Goodall, A. 2019. Developing employees: The Feedback Fallacy. Harvard Business Review (March - April 2019 Issue). Retrieved from: https://hbr.org/2019/03/the-feedback-fallacy
Borysenko, K. 2019. Why Giving Feedback At Work Doesn't Improve Performance, And What You Can Do About It. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/karlynborysenko/2019/03/19/why-giving-feedback-at-work-doesnt-improve-performance-and-what-you-can-do-about-it/#4adc2e3029ba
Good, D. J., Lyddy, C. J., Glomb, T. M., Bono, J. E., Brown, K. W., Duffy, M. K., ... & Lazar, S. W. (2016). Contemplating mindfulness at work: An integrative review. Journal of management, 42(1), 114-142. https://doi.org/10.1177/0149206315617003
Hugh-Jones, S., Rose, S., Koutsopoulou, G. Z., & Simms-Ellis, R. (2018). How Is Stress Reduced by a Workplace Mindfulness Intervention? A Qualitative Study Conceptualising Experiences of Change. Mindfulness, 9(2), 474–487. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0790-2
Hülsheger, U. R., Alberts, H. J. E. M., Feinholdt, A., & Lang, J. W. B. (2013). Benefits of mindfulness at work: The role of mindfulness in emotion regulation, emotional exhaustion, and job satisfaction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 98(2), 310–325. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0031313
Long, E. C., & Christian, M. S. (2015). Mindfulness buffers retaliatory responses to injustice: A regulatory approach. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(5), 1409.
Michel, A., Bosch, C., & Rexroth, M. (2014). Mindfulness as a cognitive – emotional segmentation strategy: An intervention promoting work – life balance. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 87(4), 733-754.
Neff, Kristin, & Pommier, E. (2013). The Relationship between Self-compassion and Other-focused Concern among College Undergraduates, Community Adults, and Practicing Meditators. Self & Identity, 12(2), 160–176. https://doi.org/10.1080/15298868.2011.649546
Roche, Mark W. 2010. “Cultivating Intellectual and Practical Virtues.” Pp. 51−99 in Why Choose the Liberal Arts? Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.
Singh, N. N., Singh, S. D., Sabaawi, M., Myers, R. E., & Wahler, R. G. (2006). Enhancing treatment team process through mindfulness-based mentoring in an inpatient psychiatric hospital. Behavior Modification, 30(4), 423–441.
Siow, L.S. (2016). S'pore workplace stress on the rise: survey. The Business Times. Retrieved from https://www.businesstimes.com.sg/government-economy/spore-workplace-stress-on-the-rise-survey