Mindfulness at Work

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Mindfulness, the practice of focusing one’s attention on their emotions, thoughts and sensation, has been increasingly used in corporations and even in the United States Army, leading some to speak of a “Mindfulness Revolution”. Jochen Reb, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources at the Singapore Management University and a leading scholar on mindfulness, gave a lecture at the HEAD Foundation on 16 March.

Mindfulness is really about working on one’s quality of attention, Prof. Reb said, and it is about paying attention in a particular way. Research has suggested that 47% of the time in the average’s person daily life, their mind is wandering. People tended to report being less happy when their mind is in such a wandering state. Much of this is due to the information overload for a generation of users of mobile devices.

Scientific research on mindfulness, underpinned by medical, clinical, psychology and neuroscience research, has been growing exponentially in the past 15 or so years. The origins of the modern practice of mindfulness, most can agree, are derived from religious and spiritual traditions. But Prof. Reb was careful to explain how it differs from meditational practices – mindfulness is focused on the pragmatic, scientific benefits of the practice, in particular on stress reduction, he stressed. This makes it more accessible to people who may not wish to embrace the religious and spiritual elements of meditational practices.

Some studies put the estimated annual cost of stress in the economy of the US at US$300 billion. Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is offered by many hospitals there, although it has not really caught on in the public health sector in Singapore yet.

“These courses are really about exercising the brain,” Prof. Reb said. When it comes to an area of management school training such as negotiation performance, where subtle signals are important among negotiators, the benefits of mindfulness courses can be very tangible in the business world.