The Antidote to Always-On Work Culture

March 24, 2016 Sarah Payne

As life and work gets busier and more distracting, companies like Google, Target, and General Mills are all investing in mindfulness to improve productivity and corporate culture. Even Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll encouraged players to meditate daily before their Super Bowl win.

Could mindfulness help your work culture? What are some simple tips for bringing mindfulness into daily life? Where has it worked? There are a few questions we asked WorkHuman 2016 speaker Rasmus Hougaard— writer and founder of Potential Project. With a background in HR and organizational development, Rasmus shares the business benefits of mindfulness, especially during times of uncertainty and change at work.

Read the full Q&A with Rasmus below.


Can you share with us a bit about your background and your work with Potential Project?

My background is in Organizational Development and Adult Learning with additional degrees in Philosophy and Human Resources. My career started at the Sony Corporation where I was People Manager as well as a researcher in organizational development.

Potential Project was officially launched in 2009, after years of working with leading scientists, corporate executives and mind training experts to develop a solid program tailored to a modern office environment with mindfulness at its core. Our mission is to help individuals and organizations become more mindful and effective in everything they do. Through our work, I and my colleagues in Potential Project have helped tens of thousands of individuals and organizations enhance performance and job satisfaction around the globe.

Why is mindfulness the answer to today’s always-on work environment?

Today’s ‘always on’ work environment is taking a heavy toll on us individually and organizationally. People are under constant pressure, overloaded with nonstop streams of information, and under siege with endless distractions. All of this has a major impact on our productivity as well as our well-being. Mindfulness is the means to balance the demands of these everyday stresses and allows us the space to get a second ahead of our reactions and responses in order to achieve better outcomes.

What’s the opposite of mindfulness?

Some would say the opposite of mindfulness is mindlessness, where we go about our days on auto-pilot, letting our minds wander here and there and allowing ourselves to be constantly distracted by our thoughts and our environment. There is nothing inherently wrong with this, except that multiple studies show that having a wandering mind can lead to a decrease in efficiency, motivation and even happiness, as well as an increase in stress and many other unwelcome conditions not conducive to productivity, collaboration, goal attainment or well-being.

How do you convince the skeptics?

It isn’t beneficial to try and sell anyone on the idea of mindfulness. What we do is engage people in conversations about what their work lives are like—what are their priorities and organizational objectives? Would training the mind to become more focused, calm and clear help in daily life and within the organization? We seek to find out what’s important for the individual, team and company, and explore whether the tools and techniques of mindfulness can help obtain the organization’s overall objectives.

Importantly for organizational settings, we are always tying mindfulness to business outcomes and sharing the research and data that confirms its efficacy. Our programs are supported by science, backed by mindfulness experts and independently validated by business leaders from all over the world.

Can you share a story of how mindfulness helped change a corporate culture?

To understand about how mindfulness works in corporate cultures, it’s important to understand how mindfulness works both individually and collaboratively. Individual mindfulness is about learning to choose where you place your focus, ensuring you focus on the things that matter most for your productivity and goals, moment by moment. In an organizational context, we often focus mindfulness around teams and how teams work together. This collaborative focus can be especially important in times of change, when people need to be flexible and agile in order to be resourceful, responsive and, dare I say, compassionate.

One of our clients, a large consumer goods company, came to us as they were experiencing several major organizational changes including cutbacks and restructuring which resulted in high-stress and low morale, as well as concerns about sustainability and productivity among its employees. The senior leadership team chose to roll out a four-month initiative to all staff on a voluntary basis in the hopes of addressing some of the concerns. Groups participated in weekly 1-hour sessions as well as between-session daily mindfulness training that was internally driven with support and help from our consultants. The results demonstrated there was significant improvement in four variables of participants’ attention skills with the biggest improvement in their ability to stay focused. There was also marked improvement in job satisfaction as well as loyalty towards the company. Perhaps most importantly, there was a significant decrease in emotional exhaustion, a core component of stress and burnout.

What’s one simple mindfulness technique we can start using today?

Most people are so busy they don’t even take time in their day for a break. Even while eating lunch people often double-task in order to catch up on work and other projects that they have fallen behind on. A day without breaks is for the mind like running a marathon without water is for the body: unnecessarily exhausting. Taking mindful performance breaks is a time-efficient and nourishing way of maintaining focus and clarity all day long.

A mindful performance break is basically a very brief mindfulness training session. By brief, I mean about 45 seconds. You can take mindful performance breaks once an hour, every hour during work, before shifting gears between projects, or any other time in your day.

To practice a mindful performance break, decide to let go of your activities for a minute. Close your eyes or keep them slightly open, whichever you prefer. Direct your full attention to your breath and for three breath cycles, do the following:

  • Breathe in while noticing your breath; breathe out while relaxing your shoulders, neck, arms
  • Breathe in while focusing fully on your inhale; breathe out while focusing on your exhale
  • Breathe in while enhancing the clarity of your attention; breathe out while maintaining that clarity

Performance breaks are about giving your mind a reprieve from thinking. Everyone should consider ways that to introduce more performance breaks into the workday.

How do you see mindfulness and meditation building more appreciation and gratitude in the workplace?

Acceptance and gratitude are important because these are factors that establish trust and connection, which allows people to become more collaborative and corporative. One of the things that people begin to recognize when they become more mindful is that we are all alike in that everybody wants to be happy and no one wants to suffer. By building our awareness and attention, we start to notice places where we can offer appreciation to those we live and work with, and we are more inclined to be kind and show gratitude. Even in difficult transitions, during change processes, and offering negative feedback, we can show appreciation and gratitude.

 What does a more human work culture mean to you?

A more human work culture should promote human flourishing in order to influence organizational flourishing and ultimately inspire societal flourishing. Our programs are designed to integrate a series of mental strategies such as joy, balance, kindness and acceptance, as core aspects of towards these goals. As an example, when we are in better balance, we increase our brain’s serotonin levels, which in turn decreases our impulsive reactivity; likewise, when we increase our joy at work, we are more likely to experience lower stress levels and have better team cohesion, problem solving and goal attainment. Ultimately, when we are more mindful, we are more likely to become more kind, more compassionate, and more patient with those whom we live and work with.


Want to learn more about mindfulness? Check out the webinar we hosted with well-being expert and WorkHuman speaker Pandit Dasa. Better yet, register for WorkHuman and use code WH16BLOG300 for a $300 discount.

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