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Practicing Mindfulness at Work: When It Helps and Doesn’t Help

Reasons why employers' encouragement of mindfulness may or may not be effective.

Key points

  • Mindfulness has become a buzzword in the corporate world, promising improved employee well-being.
  • It is crucial to understand the conditions when mindfulness thrives and where its impact may fall short.
  • While mindfulness is beneficial personally, it cannot compensate for other unresolved workplace issues.
  • Employers should regularly assess the impact of mindfulness initiatives on employee well-being.
Katarina May / Shutterstock
Mindfulness in the workplace has pros and cons.
Source: Katarina May / Shutterstock

Mindfulness has become a buzzword in the corporate world, promising enhanced focus, reduced stress, and improved employee well-being. However, a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article titled Research: When Mindfulness Does—and Doesn't—Help at Work provides guidance on the relationship between mindfulness and workplace outcomes (Cameron & Hafenback, 2024). As employers increasingly embrace mindfulness practices, it is important to understand the conditions under which mindfulness thrives and where its impact may fall short.

The Promise of Mindfulness

Mindfulness, rooted in ancient contemplative traditions, has gained traction in modern workplaces as a potential solution to the challenges of a fast-paced and demanding professional environment. The HBR article notes that mindfulness offers several benefits, such as heightened attention, improved decision-making, and greater emotional regulation. These positive outcomes can create a work environment that improves employee well-being.

When Mindfulness Works

It is important to review how and when mindfulness improves well-being.

Reducing Stress

Mindfulness has proven to be effective in reducing stress levels. The practice encourages people to focus on the present moment, providing a sense of calm and potentially reducing chronic stress. Mindfulness has been found to reduce cortisol, the body’s primary stress hormone (Zhu et al., 2022). By incorporating mindfulness into daily routines, employees may build resilience and better cope with workplace pressures.

Enhancing Focus and Productivity

The practice of mindfulness has been linked to improved concentration and heightened focus. This mental clarity translates into increased productivity as employees can more effectively tackle tasks and achieve a “flow” state or effortless concentration. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can serve as powerful tools to sharpen cognitive abilities.

Encouraging Positive Interactions

Mindfulness contributes to better interpersonal relationships in the workplace. Promoting awareness and empathy makes employees practicing mindfulness more likely to understand and respond thoughtfully to their colleagues' perspectives. This improved interpersonal understanding can foster a positive and collaborative workplace culture.

Where Mindfulness Falls Short in the Workplace

There are specific areas where employers, even with the best of intentions, promote mindfulness in a way that is not helpful to employees.

Overemphasis on Employee Responsibility

The HBR article highlights a potential pitfall: when organizations place the entire responsibility of well-being on individual employees. Mindfulness, while beneficial on a personal level, cannot make up for other unresolved issues in the workplace. Companies need to address problems so that mindfulness complements, rather than substitutes for, broader changes that promote a healthier work environment.

Ignoring Organizational Culture

Mindfulness may be less effective in workplaces that prioritize competition over collaboration. Suppose mindfulness practices are introduced without addressing underlying company issues. In that case, employees may find it challenging to embrace and fully benefit from these initiatives and may also find it disingenuous of their employers.

Mindfulness Is Not a Panacea

While mindfulness can improve well-being, it is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Expecting mindfulness to solve complex workplace challenges single-handedly is unrealistic. Combining mindfulness with other well-being initiatives is more likely to yield sustainable results.

Striking a Balance

To maximize the benefits of mindfulness at work, employers must balance promoting individual well-being and allowing for employee choice. Here are some strategies:

Provide Training and Resources

Offer voluntary mindfulness training programs and resources to employees, ensuring accessibility for all. Promoting mindfulness could involve workshops, guided meditation sessions, or even dedicated quiet spaces within the workplace. Mindfulness can be incorporated into professional development training (Johnson et al., 2020). By providing the necessary tools and support, employees may be more likely to incorporate mindfulness into their daily routines.

Giving Employees Freedom to Choose

Making mindfulness “mandatory” defeats its purpose. Mindfulness should be practiced only by people who choose to do it of their own free will. If an employee doesn’t want to participate in a mindfulness practice, let them. Forced wellness is not wellness.

Examining Reasons for Promoting Mindfulness

An employer should introduce mindfulness practices solely to enrich employees' well-being. An employer shouldn’t promote mindfulness to have more productive employees who, in turn, make more money for the company. Treating employees with dignity and respect, including paying them what they deserve, will go further for their well-being than any mindfulness practice. It is disingenuous for an employer to promote employee well-being through mindfulness practice when they are not meeting employees’ basic needs.

Evaluating Mindfulness in the Workplace

Employers should regularly assess the impact of mindfulness initiatives on employee well-being and company culture. Focus on appropriate goals such as improved well-being, increased self-esteem, and lower perceived stress levels. Employers should request employee feedback to understand their experiences and make adjustments as needed. Flexibility is essential for ensuring that mindfulness initiatives meet employees’ needs.

Mindfulness can improve workplace well-being and performance, but its effectiveness depends upon intent, employee feedback, and adjusting mindfulness initiatives accordingly. The primary goal of promoting mindfulness in the workplace is to improve employer and employee wellbeing. A mindful workplace requires acknowledging the interconnectedness of individual well-being and company culture.

Copyright 2024 Sarkis Media LLC


Chen, H., Liu, C., Zhou, F., Cao, X. Y., Wu, K., Chen, Y. L., ... & Chiou, W. K. (2022). Focused-attention meditation improves flow, communication skills, and safety attitudes of surgeons. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 19(9), 5292.

Cameron, L.D., & Hafenbrack, A. (2022, December 12). Research: When mindfulness does — and doesn’t — help at work. Harvard Business Review.…

Johnson, K. R., Park, S., & Chaudhuri, S. (2020). Mindfulness training in the workplace: Exploring its scope and outcomes. European Journal of Training and Development, 44(4/5), 341–354.

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