In the workplace, mindfulness is said to make workers more creative and productive and contributes to effective teamwork by boosting compassion. (fizkes/Shutterstock)

Accounting | The Profession

Mindfulness meditation: Can it be an effective tool for your organization?

If a recent study is to be believed, it might not have the effect you’re hoping for

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Mindfulness meditation, which involves focusing on something in the present, such as your breathing or bodily sensations, has been popular for the past few years. It has many proven benefits, from effective stress management and the treatment of depression, to improved cognitive function and memory. 

In the workplace, mindfulness is said to make workers more creative and productive and contributes to effective teamwork by boosting compassion. Convinced by the hundreds of studies supporting these claims, companies like Google, Nike and Apple have implemented a number of programs for their employees, such as providing access to relaxation rooms, allowing staff to take 30 minutes each day to meditate at work, or bringing in meditation instructors. 

However, a study in this month’s Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes offers a different view. In the study, authors Andrew C. Hafenbrack and Kathleen D. Vohs explored the connection between employee motivation and mindfulness, the practice of which encourages accepting things as they are, and not looking to the past or the future. But could this be an obstacle for businesses? 

The authors asked hundreds of participants who had just meditated—after receiving training from a specialist or through various guided exercises—to complete simple tasks that white-collar workers perform, such as writing a memo or typing using a computer. 

The result: the participants who had meditated were less motivated to work. Furthermore, they did not want to put as much effort or time into completing their tasks in comparison to those who had not meditated. 

The quality of the work was just as good, but not better, contrary to what we’ve been hearing for years. The authors wondered, if mindfulness meditation is a kind of mental nap, then who would want to start working after just waking up? 

To personal and professional development coach Robert Gagnon, CPA, CA, the study’s results make sense: “Emerging from mindfulness practice, one may not be well equipped to immediately jump into the fast-paced fray of task-oriented detail work.   

“Not surprisingly, study participants were not as motivated to complete tasks as they were before the practice,” said Gagnon, a writer and teacher who has been practising meditation for 30 years and hosts seminars on it. “[However,] the work of CPAs is not simply task performance; it encompasses broader responsibilities, including the exercise of judgment, decision making, problem solving and the functions of leadership and management. These require a balanced and stress-free disposition to be effective, and mindfulness would be helpful.” 

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MEDITATION EXERCISES

Robert Gagnon, CPA, CA, and professional and personal coach, understands that accountants have stressful jobs with major responsibilities and hectic schedules. As a result, it can become difficult for them to make informed and sound decisions. Mindfulness, through meditation or targeted exercises, can help them “mentally rejuvenate”. It has a calming effect and allows them to recharge as well as refocus on their true identity and self-awareness.   He suggests the two following exercises:

EXERCISE 1. FOR THOSE WHO ALREADY MEDITATE AT WORK:

“Here’s one way you could address the concern of loss of motivation. At the end of a meditation exercise, and here I will address meditation as the ideal for this, come back to where you are, who you are and why you are here. Reaffirm your own moral compass—those characteristics which you want to define how you see yourself and how others see you. Qualities such as integrity, competency, empathy, justice and fairness, trustworthiness—those attributes that define and guide your behaviour and which help ground you and return you to your responsibilities. As a general observation, CPAs are self-motivated and simply need occasional reminders.” 

EXERCISE 2. FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO GIVE IT A TRY:

“CPAs earned their designation largely with their logical and analytical minds, while lurking below the surface and waiting to be discovered are amazing creative talents and abilities. Some of these talents may be just for fun, while others may add dimension to your current responsibilities or take you into a new career direction. Go find yours and see where it takes you.  

One of my favourite mindfulness exercises is upside down drawing, which I learned from Betty Edwards in her book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Take a pencilled sketch of anything, I prefer a head bust, and turn it upside down and draw what you see. (Go online and search for upside down images to find a huge variety.) The exercise is intended to shift you to your quieter, creative right brain and is ideal for those (like me) who never considered themselves an artist. I think you will be amazed at the results of your sketching and the feeling of being in a mindful, right brain state.”