Mindfulness at Work


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Technology kept many employees connected and productive during the pandemic but for some it came with a mental health cost. Around a third of UK employees feel that workplace technology increases job stress (Willis Towers Watson 2018) and, during the pandemic, 'technostress' significantly contributed to COVID-19 anxiety of workers (Savolainen et al. 2021). Digital working is here to stay, whatever hybrid model organisations choose to move forward with, so the time is ripe to look at approaches to protect worker well-being across the physical and digital worlds of work. Can mindfulness be part of the solution? Here I explore practices that can improve focus, productivity, and wellness in the workplace today.

The digital workplace comes with distinct advantages for workers. Unprecedented levels of flexibility and autonomy for knowledge workers. Empowering connectedness for workers at the frontline of organisations. Two-way dialogue between leaders and workers that helps to make the organisation more inclusive and less hierarchical. And quite a few more!

Yet our digital modes of working also come with some unintended negative consequences such as technostress (the negative psychological link between people and new technologies), information overload, and computer anxiety, as well as excessive and compulsive use of technology. Zoom fatigue, hyperconnected working and overwhelm due to the information deluge have been common experiences for many employees during the pandemic. A burgeoning stream of research highlights the impacts to worker well-being and health via stress, strain and burnout (e.g. Cascio and Montealegre 2016).

As well as individual level negative effects, outcomes that organisation’s measure keenly such as employee satisfaction, commitment and productivity have all been found to suffer.

To address these issues organisation’s need to focus on several levels including how technology is designed and deployed, the culture and norms around its use, as well as making sure that workers have the right skills to use it.

At the individual level, supporting individuals to develop healthy digital working practices can help to buffer any negative effects of technology. Interestingly, a niche area of research that spans psychology and information systems is uncovering the potential of mindfulness to help reduce these effects. Breathworks Co-founder Vidyamala Burch has defined mindfulness as 'an inherent human capacity akin to language acquisition; a capacity that enables people to focus on what they experience in the moment, inside themselves as well as in their environment, with an attitude of openness, curiosity and care'.

Researchers such as Katharina Pflügner and Christian Maier at the University of Bamberg have found that in the workplace higher levels of mindfulness:

  • can help reduce the sense of uncertainty and complexity often associated with technology
  • can buffer the effects of overload from digital devices and the flow of information they enable
  • can lessen perceptions of technology as threatening and stressful
  • is associated with lower mobile phone use for some individuals 

So how can mindfulness be incorporated into the workplace? Here are five practices you can introduce today:

    1. Schedule regular mindful breaks: stepping away from your computer and desk for regular breaks is a smart way of pacing yourself and can improve levels of focus and productivity in the day. Schedule these breaks into your diary and prioritise them as if they were meetings.

    2. Breathing Space: this 3-minute meditation makes a great screen break which helps to refresh the mind between tasks and/or meetings.

    3. Notice what went well: focusing on what's gone right, rather than dwelling on what's gone wrong, will make you happier and more effective. Take a moment to notice the little wins, the things you've done well, and pleasant experiences throughout your day. You could even write them down to read back at the end of the day.

    4. Be intentional in what you pay attention to: being at the mercy of distractions is stressful. Make a note of your priorities, and know where you want your attention to be. When you get distracted by unimportant things, this mindful intention will help you bring your attention back and give you a feeling of control at work.

    5. Take a single mindful breath: practicing mindfulness doesn't mean you need to stop everything else you're doing; you can feel the benefits after even a single breath. While you're reading this, get grounded in the body, and really get interested in the sensations of the breath coming in, relax, and do the same thing as you breathe out. Notice the difference?

While much remains to be uncovered about the exact role that mindful awareness may play in our digital habits and behaviours, early studies point to a life supportive effect. While organisations need to consider a range of levers to protect worker well-being in the digital age, raising workers’ mindfulness can play an important contributing role in promoting a healthier relationship to the digital world of work.

As workers navigate new hybrid modes of working, with the digital workplace playing a central role across both co-located and remote work options, levels of technostress and anxiety are likely to remain elevated. Incorporating mindfulness into the toolkit of resources available to individuals can be a valuable way to buffer these effects.

Breathworks’ workplace mindfulness training helps promote better mental health at work and develop skills that could help workers navigate this digital world of work with a greater sense of calm and balance.

Elizabeth Marsh is a digital work consultant and Breathworks mindfulness teacher and is currently conducting part-time doctoral research at the University of Nottingham focusing on technostress and mindfulness.




Selected references

  • Pflügner, K., & Maier, C. (2019). Mitigating Technostress: An Empirical Study of Mindfulness and Techno-Stressors.
  • Volkmer, S. A., & Lermer, E. (2019). Unhappy and addicted to your phone?–Higher mobile phone use is associated with lower well-being. Computers in Human Behavior, 93, 210-218.
  • Pflügner, K., Maier, C., & Weitzel, T. (2021). The direct and indirect influence of mindfulness on techno-stressors and job burnout: a quantitative study of white-collar workers. Computers in Human Behavior, 115, 106566.