May is Mental Health Awareness month, and the challenges and impacts of COVID-19 have likely caused executive leaders, managers, and employees on the frontline a great deal of stress. Mindfulness is a practice that helps individuals be more focused, present, and calm in difficult situations and when coping with the everyday stress of their jobs. We know there’s a heavy burden placed on internal communications professionals who are tasked with reaching their essential teams, communicating layoffs or furloughs, and trying to keep employees engaged through this crisis.
So, we talked with mindfulness and workplace leadership development expert Chantelle Fitzgerald, the founder of Mindset Strategies, to learn about the importance of practicing mindfulness in the workplace and how this can benefit your organization.
Q: Why is mindfulness so important for employees and leaders to practice in the workplace?
Chantelle: Mindfulness is so important to practice in the workplace because it helps us to be present, centered, focused, and can lead to better productivity, better relationships with colleagues, and an overall happier workplace culture and morale.
Q: How might a leader change their approach during a crisis versus the aftermath of a crisis? And how can mindfulness help them?
Chantelle: The best thing a leader can do during a crisis is to be still, be present, and observe. Watch what is happening around you, learn everything you can about the situation, talk to experts at all layers and levels of the organization to get a better understanding of what is going on. Then decide what is your next best move.
Oftentimes leaders can be very reactive. They see something and immediately react to the situation. Training in meditation will help leaders be much more present, thoughtful, deliberate, and strategic to make wise decisions for their companies. Ultimately, if mindful leaders can pause, observe, learn, reflect, and then move they will be ten times better off and improve their bottom line.
Q: How does mindfulness help employees feel more balanced and handle stress in the workplace better?
Chantelle: Mindfulness can help employees tremendously. If an employee is feeling stressed or overwhelmed, there are a ton of tools to help them. This is exactly what my company does. We provide the tools to help employees be more self-aware, focused, grounded, and centered.
So, generally, when an employee is stressed, that employee keeps spinning in the stress and is so overwhelmed that they do not get as much accomplished. A popular tool that we teach is a three breaths practice. Take one breath and focus on the inhale, take another breath and focus on the exhale, and on the last breath ask yourself, “what is the priority right now?”.
This technique helps employees in several ways:
Q: How can mindfulness improve mental health of individuals either at a workplace or working from home?
Chantelle: Mindfulness can improve mental health of individuals at work because it helps to train our minds to be calm. When we practice meditation daily and over time, we create new neural pathways on the decision making part of our brain.
So, when we are triggered by a colleague that does something that angers or annoys us, our first instinct will be to pause, not react, and think about our next best move. Pausing before we react helps us to not cause additional drama in the workplace, create better relationships, and increased morale and productivity.
Since many of us are working from home creating a daily meditation practice can help us tremendously. We are now forced to homeschool our kids, while working at the same time, maybe dealing with the financial burden of being furloughed or laid off while having to prepare meals for our families and regular household chores. There is a lot going on. It is very stressful and overwhelming. Some people might feel quite scattered and hard to focus.
A good way to deal with this is to just focus on 1 thing at a time. You can time yourself and wash the dishes for 10 min and move on to something else. Or work with your kids school work for a specific time and then go for a walk, or answer emails for 30 min and move on to something else. Doing things in small increments of time helps you to feel accomplished and productive, which helps you to feel good about your day. It is important to reward yourself and take care of yourself, especially during this pandemic.
Right now, understandably, the mental health of your employees and team is likely under additional strain as a result of COVID-19. And this practice of meditation and being mindful of how we are feeling and dealing with that stress is really important whether you’re on the frontline of a hospital or working from home.
Q: What’s the impact on the customer experience when employees and their managers are more mindful?
Chantelle: The impact is HUGE and ENDLESS. When mindfulness is used in the customer experience it can result in repeat business, increased bottom line, better relationships with customers, engagement from customers, and overall satisfaction from both the employee and customer.
How does this happen?
In the trainings that my company conducts for our companies we do an exercise in which employees are paired up and they have to “fully” listen to their partner. As soon as the exercise is over, participants realize that they are not good listeners. This is because typically people think about what we are going to say next, we want to cut the person off, and we don’t really listen to the other person at all. However, when we debrief at the end of the exercise, people realize the importance of listening and how it feels when we are truly listened to. It is a very powerful exercise.
When employees are present with their customers and “fully” listen to them and do all that they can to support their customer, the customer will feel valued, appreciated, respected and heard. When these feelings are present it can lead to much better bottom line outcomes for businesses.
Chantelle Fitzgerald is the founder of Mindset Strategies, LLC and an expert in mindfulness in the workplace and leadership development. Want to get the benefits of feeling calm and at peace during this pandemic? Sign up for her bi-weekly meditation sessions, here.