A blog post by Nikki Watters. Corporate Mindfulness Trainer & Professional Coach.

When considering mindfulness training for the workplace many of us are aware of its benefits for managing stress. But, did you know that research indicates that mindfulness can deliver a range of other, some quite surprising, benefits for our businesses and workplaces?

Here are just a few.

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Improved Decision Making

There are several studies looking at how being more mindful can improve our decision making skills. One I particularly like relates to “sunk cost bias”.

Sunk cost bias refers to our inclination to continue a particular course of action when we have already made an unrecoverable investment in it. For example, if you waited for a bus for forty-five minutes then the chances are that you will continue waiting because otherwise the time spent would appear to be wasted; you are less likely to assess the situation and recognise that during the last forty-five minutes three buses should have passed, suggesting that there could be a problem on the route and you may be better off walking.

In business we see sunk cost bias at work, where we allow consideration of the investment made or time spent to influence our decision to continue a course of action (indeed, sunk cost bias is also referred to as the Concorde Fallacy in reference to the British and French Governments’ long-term funding of Concorde in the absence of any sound economic case). A strong influencer in relation to such business decisions is often consideration of our personal investment - we may think about the future ramifications of deciding to change or cease a course of action, effectively appearing to have wasted the investment made so far, and we worry about how we will be perceived and what this will do to our reputation. Ironically, this can lead to us wasting even more resources.

In many cases, with the benefit of hindsight, it is likely that we would look back at our decision to continue and dub it “throwing good money after bad” – luckily, it seems that being more mindful could help us to avoid this.

In a study published in Psychological Science in 2014, researchers found that participants who became more mindful through undertaking brief mindfulness training were better able to resist the sunk cost bias. These participants could decrease their focus on considerations of the past and future, helping them to reduce or ignore negative feelings or fears. As a result, they were able to make better assessments about the present situation which led to more rational decisions.

This research suggests that mindfulness can benefit both your business and your leaders. It indicates that mindfulness improves decision making, potentially resulting in better outcomes for your business. It also suggests that, through a reduction in negative feelings and emotions, mindfulness could help your decision makers to feel a whole lot better too.

Increased Customer Satisfaction

Several studies have found that mindfulness has a positive impact on interpersonal relationships in a variety of settings. This includes research showing that call centre teams who become more mindful develop more consistent positive feelings for their clients. As relationships are a two-way street it is interesting to think about how a change in attitude in one participant in a relationship might affect the other. Could being more mindful yourself result in other people in your life having a better experience?

In a 2014 study researchers in Canada looked at the effects of mindfulness training on call centre workers within a financial institution. Following a brief mindfulness based intervention of five weeks the researchers found that stress, anxiety/depression and feelings of low mood all decreased. They also measured the satisfaction levels of the call centre workers’ internal clients and found that this increased. The increase in client satisfaction was small but significant, and the managers of the call centre found it particularly important as client satisfaction had been stagnant for years.

Reduced Unconscious Race and Age Bias

We hold attitudes and beliefs on two levels – explicitly (where we are consciously aware of them) and implicitly (where we are unaware of their existence). Research suggests that we make immediate and unconscious judgements about others based on our implicit attitudes – this is “implicit bias”.

Interestingly, our explicit and implicit attitudes can contradict each other, for example, we could strongly believe in equal pay for all but nevertheless unconsciously think that older people are less skilled so might reasonably be paid a lower rate (nb - the author doesn't believe this - at least I'm not aware of doing so!).

The key thing here is that our implicit attitudes and bias, which may have developed over time and as a result of our experiences, upbringing and culture, are hidden from us. We are not consciously aware of them, they are almost like a hidden programme running in the background without our knowledge. Because of this lack of awareness the implicit bias can be difficult to change or mitigate, although intervention strategies have been developed.

Prejudice researcher Patricia Devine PhD said, at an APA (American Psychological Association) Annual Convention in 2011, that the majority of participants she researched have an implicit bias in relation to people of other races and ethnicities. Studies have indicated that implicit bias could influence decisions such as who to employ, who to vote for, who to provide medical treatment for. Think about what this might mean in a business setting and how far reaching the impact could be on your workplace and colleagues.

In a recent study, Adam Lueke and Brian Gibson of Central Michigan University’s Department of Psychology, looked at the impact of mindfulness on implicit bias.

When we are more mindful we are more focussed on the present circumstances and situation, we are also more aware of our emotions, where our thoughts are drawn to and where our awareness is placed. Does this help us to notice our judgements and biases?

Lueke and Gibson found that participating in mindfulness meditation resulted in lower levels of implicit bias against black and older people (as measured on the age and race IATs – the Implicit Association Tests). It seems that being more mindful weakens our tendency to make automatic associations, reducing our automatic judgements.

Maybe mindfulness training could support workplace diversity initiatives, helping us to overcome attitudes that we are not even aware of in order to make our workplaces fairer for all.

There is still lots of work to do, but we already have a strong and growing body of published research and case studies associating mindfulness with workplace and business benefits. The indications are that it could be very worthwhile for forward thinking organisations to start exploring the introduction of mindfulness.

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