We study innovations both in theory and in practice. The more we explore, the more we see that the approach “all or nothing” does not work. Achieving the result at any cost does not add value to a product, but rather hinders sustainable development in the future. Now it is important not only to create a good product or service, but also to do it consciously, without burning out in the process. The development of mindfulness skills can help with this.

Ekaterina Pepelyaeva
HR director at Factory5

Blanc

The topic of mindfulness has recently become very popular. However, it is usually considered only on a personal level. We suggest looking at it from a corporate point of view: how can the development of awareness and mindfulness skills among employees help the business?

We talked with Ekaterina Pepelyaeva, HR Director of Factory5, about mindfulness and how it can be useful in the corporate world.

What is “mindfulness”?

First, let’s define how we understand mindfulness. “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally,”- definition given by one of the pioneers of mindfulness research, Jon Kabat-Zinn. In other words, it is a skill of conscious interaction with yourself, understanding your emotions. It is the ability to ask yourself questions, and answer them honestly. Actually, this is a skill that eventually becomes a way of life. Listening to your inner voice and understanding it allows you to consciously choose the focus of your attention, estimate the amount of internal resources, and switch the focus from work to rest.

“For me, mindfulness is mostly about honesty with yourself and responsibility for your own choices. This is not a life without stress or constant happiness, but rather understanding yourself, your emotions and needs, your strengths and weaknesses, and the ability to manage them”.

Today everything is changing and moving quickly, so our attention is scattered in attempts not to miss anything. It is difficult to keep the focus on something specific for a long time. The mindfulness skill helps to track your attention and concentrate it exactly as you want, not as the external environment tells you to. This skill is universal, like the ability to add and subtract numbers. It can be applied to different areas of life, from setting business goals to being mindful of health and building relationships.

The professional burnout. How can mindfulness help?

Ekaterina shared her story about how she faced professional burnout and how the mindfulness skill helped her cope with it.

“I faced burnout after recovering from COVID. I don’t associate burnout directly with the virus, rather it affected my usual amount of strength. I had much less energy and at first I did not realise the scale of the problem. “Long-term” planning for a weekend getaway was no longer enough. I got tired much faster, there was a feeling that I was getting the energy back by a teaspoon. As a result, for every simple task, I had to summon my strength. I remember, I even had a couple of sessions with a therapist, in which I was just sitting there silently. In the process of searching for the ways out, I became familiar with the topic of mindfulness and meditation and began to study how it all works. My main conclusion about burnout is that it is better not to wait until you go down to start going back up. It is much safer to notice less significant deviations from the state of resilience and help yourself immediately“.

First of all, mindfulness helps you individually: it gives you the opportunity to focus your attention, understand your emotions and feelings at a particular time. Ekaterina told us about two changes in her behavior at work when she began to develop mindfulness skills after the burnout.

First,

“I have learned to be attentive to my wellbeing. This is especially important for specialists of any helping profession (including HR). I noticed that I began to track my internal resources more often and replenish them before it was empty. I really like the metaphor from the book “Search inside yourself”, which was written by the former Google employee Chade-Meng Tan. He compares the skill of mindfulness to riding a bicycle: if you deviate a little from the balance, it is easier to return the steering wheel quickly and continue to move in a relaxed manner, yet in control. But, if you deviated a lot or completely lost your balance, it is much more difficult to return to the previous course and continue moving. It works the same for me at work. It’s better to check with yourself more regularly, to provide yourself with the necessary rest, than to drive yourself into stress and fatigue for a long time, and then hope to recover during a couple of weeks of vacation. The bicycle analogy helps to better understand that a calm, relaxed state is about being in a balance, rather than doing nothing”.

Second,

“I noticed how much I do unconsciously. In general, a lot of things are programmed in us: sometimes we react faster than we have time to think. These are such “learned habits” or ” patterns of behavior”, with their help the body optimizes its work and does not waste energy where it can be saved. Often, some reactions based on our past experience fall into such habits. At the same time, they may not be relevant in the context of a specific situation, they are simply remembered and reproduced by the body automatically. Upgraded mindfulness skill helps notice this discrepancy and  change the behaviour. For example, I learned to ask myself the question: ” this reaction of mine – is it exactly what is happening now? I’m just so dissatisfied with some work issue, or maybe it’s fatigue or a feeling of hunger that speaks to me?” Now it helps me a lot in work and personal communications, I have become less likely to react impulsively, I have learned to separate some current work situations from my past experiences”.

How to develop mindfulness?

Developing mindfulness, like any other skill, is not an instant process. It consists of 3 parts: desire, knowledge, skill. Desire comes first. There can be very different desires: to change reactions, behavior in some situations or to improve the quality of life. Then comes knowledge – this is some basic skill and understanding of how it works. And then this skill becomes controllable and can be used in everyday life situations. At this point we are talking about skill as such.

“There are two main tips on how to develop mindfulness:

  1. You can think and be distracted!

Mindfulness starts with training attention and alertness. Thoughts give us that very opportunity to notice the distraction and return attention to where it was. This movement of attention “object-distraction-object” is the training process.

  1. Regularity.

Choose the time that is comfortable for you, let it be three minutes. Even one. You will always have the opportunity to increase the duration, if you want. I really like this life hack – to add practice to some day-to-day action. For example, you can meditate for one minute immediately after brushing your teeth. Sounds realistic!

Integrating acquired skills into life is like driving on the road, where wide highways are our most familiar reactions. There are always small paths near the highway, which we do not even see at first, rushing at high speed in the usual way. After some time, we begin to notice them, but so far we do not have time to change the direction of movement. And only then we manage to slow down, turn in time and take a new path for ourselves. The more often we use it, the more familiar and comfortable it becomes. At the same time, the old highway has not disappeared, but now we have a choice”.

Of course, it is easier to try new things and make mistakes, being in a safe environment, surrounded by people who support you. But such a culture requires all participants to be interested in mindfulness development at least. It does not mean that everyone should have morning meditations or do yoga in the evenings. But in such a culture, everyone agrees to give others the opportunity to talk about their weaknesses in the moment and not get any negative comments in response. This makes it easier for people to focus on their development, rather than trying to avoid mistakes and make everything perfect from the beginning. Despite the fact that it is difficult to organize, it helps a lot to feel safe and develop – both in personal life and in professional activity. Ekaterina shared an example of such an atmosphere that she encountered in the community.

“I will tell you about an online platform for regular attention training practices. The people there are just the same as everywhere else, with their own issues. But they are all united by the desire to develop, learn and practice a more attentive and mindful approach to life. I have an example that shows how a supportive atmosphere and community culture really works. We have a support chat called “Whinery” from the word “whine”. You can always come there when you feel bad or just want to talk to someone. When you don’t need advice, but you need to be listened to and accepted. In this chat, no one will ever say “Well, don’t worry, get together!” . There you can safely place your feelings, and thereby help yourself to go through them”.

What does business have to do with it?

Like burnout is often perceived as a personal problem that everyone must cope with on their own, mindfulness can also be considered as a personal matter. But let’s look at it from the business perspective. Companies want to be sure that their employees feel well and healthy. It is important for a business that specialists are full of energy and are able to set priorities, to focus on the really important things. At the ISPIM Innovation Conference 2021, several speeches and discussions were devoted to this exact topic – how companies can take care of their employees and develop mindfulness at the corporate level.

One of the first companies that started thinking about this was Google. They created a corporate program “Search inside yourself (SIY)”, which has developed into a leadership institute. It aims at developing awareness and mindfulness among employees and improving their quality of life. The initiative started in 2007 when Ched-Meng Tan organized a small course on developing leadership and mindfulness skills for Google engineers. Since then, the SIY program has been promoting emotional intelligence among the company’s employees and thus affecting internal corporate culture.

Ekaterina together with the top management of Factory5 started paying attention to mindfulness in their company.

“When I began to return to work after burnout and I had more energy, I looked at this problem from a different angle. My burnout turned out to be not only my personal difficulty, it also affected other people around me. It affected my entire environment, our department, and the work of the team. It became clear that it was important to work preventively with burnout, and I got curious how the mindfulness skill can be developed at the corporate level.

Mindfulness within the team comes in quite obvious things, such as feedback and the way you give it. This is very important for the work process. The most important thing here is to remember the goal: why you give feedback. To make something better, clearer, to help someone fix mistakes. And when this goal is in your mind, choosing a feedback form is simple. 

So, our first step was to start talking about awareness and mindfulness. To show and explain to others why it is important for us. We started doing this not only with ordinary employees, but also at the top management level. Now we are learning to notice situations when something goes wrong, draw the attention of the team to them at the moment and talk about them. We discuss difficulties together, without getting personal, without judging people around. We discuss not only work issues, but also our behavior in the process. This helps everyone to understand themselves and others better. During such discussions, we agree on some new norms, this is a complicated, but very engaging process”.

Of course, it is difficult to measure the effect of the company’s communication culture on business in general. There are no convenient numerical indicators that can be easily calculated and presented in terms of money. But qualitatively, culture is closely connected with business and affects the company, the people that it attracts, and therefore, its achievements in the future.

In a supportive community, in a safe environment employees are sure that they will not be criticized for mistakes, they are not afraid to try new things and offer new ideas. And this is one of the main innovation drivers. It turns out that for business and for sustainable innovations, it is important that employees feel good at the workplace, that they can open up and show their potential in the company.