Looking to Buddhism to slash burnout rates at work

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Want to make your workforce more productive? Then think about mindfulness training. Studies show it may increase productivity, and decrease stress in the workplace.

More than just the buzzword of 2014, mindfulness involves actively practicing self-awareness and taking time to be present in the moment. Various researchers have observed its effects on workers’ mental health and decision-making processes, and none has found a downside to the practice.

Particularly for high-stress occupations like healthcare, mandating 15-minute mindfulness breaks may prove useful. Researchers from both the University of Madison Wisconsin and UC Berkeley found there were positive effects on the way staff handled stressful situations, and in some cases reduced levels of burnouts and depression over the long term, after staff members were taught and encouraged to practice mindfulness.

It can also help people make wiser financial decisions, a Wharton School study found. Mindfulness can help people let go when they make a bad decision, cutting their losses rather than throwing more money at a bad investment.

“Most people have trouble admitting they were wrong when their initial decisions lead to undesirable outcomes,” explains researcher Andrew Hafenbrack. “They don’t want to feel wasteful or that their initial investment was a loss. Ironically, this kind of thinking often causes people to waste or lose more resources in an attempt to regain their initial investment or try to ‘break even.’”

“We found that a brief period of mindfulness meditation can encourage people to make more rational decisions by considering the information available in the present moment,” Hafenbrack adds. This happens because while most people spend much of their time obsessing over past mistakes and future possibilities, mindfulness focuses on the present alone.

A simple way to incorporate mindfulness in the workplace is to start a weekly lunchtime group, like HR did at the University of Washington. Staff there established what they call a ‘Mindfulness Sangha’, derived from a Pali word meaning community. Anybody is allowed to join, and the object of the group is not only for support, but also to keep people accountable so they don’t forget to meditate during the week.

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