Research Paper By Judith Lowe
(Life Coach, UNITED KINGDOM)
Understanding the role mindfulness plays within the workplace requires a broader understanding of the importance and centrality of coaching practices. Organisations who have embraced mindfulness have reported increases in staff productivity and well-being. This paper will evaluate case studies – from Google to Transport for London – whilst analysing the latest academic research to understand the relationship between workplace coaching and the role mindfulness plays in enhancing emotional development and well-being.
This paper will seek to explore the role mindfulness can play within the public and private sector and how the conjunction between mindfulness coaching training and practices could improve mindfulness within the workplace environment and improve productivity. To better understand these concepts and approaches, this paper will evaluate two key case studies: Transport for London and Google UK. It will explore a large corpus of academic and professional research and highlight both the theoretical and practical applicability of mindfulness as a commercial and workplace-based tool for team productivity and individual success.
In order to better understand the research question, we will need bench marks, like definitions, that we can use as a basis for our research analysis. This paper will use the definition set out by the Oxford English Dictionary which defines mindfulness as the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique (OUD, 2014).
There is a more prominent definition, one set out by Jon Kabat-Zinn who posits that by paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally one can achieve a state of mindfulness (Kabatt-Zinn, 1994: p4).
In order to understand notions of coaching and coaching practices we will use the definition set forth by the Oxford English Dictionary which states that coaching is to train or instruct… [or] give (someone) extra teaching (OUP, 2014).
However, a Lesley Trenner argues that coaching is still a fairly young profession. Definitions of what constitutes coaching are not universally agreed and there is little validated academic research about the benefits coaching provides (Trenner, 2013: p27).
On the other hand the International Coaching Federation defines Coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The Core Competencies are grouped into four clusters according to those that fit together logically based on common ways of looking at the competencies in each group. The groupings and individual competencies are not weighted—they do not represent any kind of priority in that they are all core or critical for any competent coach to demonstrate (ICF, 2014).
The research question set out in this paper will seek to answer two crucial questions. First, the concept or construct of mindfulness within the public and private sectors, and second, how that concept engages with the process and strictures of practicing mindfulness within a coaching environment.
Part One – Literature Review
Mindfulness and Coaching: A Literature Review
There is a large canon of academic research focusing on mindfulness and coaching within the workplace. Michael Chaskalson argues that research focusing on a mindful workplace has been in vogue for the past quarter century (Chaskalson, 2011). Cavanagh and Spence argue we live in a world deliberately designed to keep us half away; a state where we respond automatically – mindlessly. This is true of Western society and increasingly of modern cities in societies all around the globe. Passive and solitary forms of entertainment and information delivery are ubiquitous in the virtually connected world (Cavanagh & Spence, 2013, p112).
The growth of Western society and the growth in mindfulness research are connected. Jonathan Passmore and Oberdan Marianetti argue the challenge of developing and maintaining focus is one which has been raised in the coaching and counselling literature (Passmore & Marianetti, 2007, p130).
Therefore, with a long history of mindfulness research, a changing societal makeup and a collective loss of individual and group focus, has all resulted in mindfulness becoming a useful tool within society to help increase personal awareness. Kabat-Zinn argues it’s not that mindfulness is the ‘answer’ to all life’s problems. Rather, it is that all life’s problems can be seen more clearly through the lens of a clear mind (Kabat-Zinn, 1990, p25).
However, how can this ‘awareness’ be transplanted into the workplace?
Langer (1997) discovered that mindfulness, as a workplace resource, successfully engaged with positive memory function, personal motivation and multi-individual creativity. Furthermore, Kriger and Hanson (1999) found that emotive awareness and job satisfaction where two key developments which surfaced after work-based mindfulness coaching sessions on a surveyed team of employees from fifteen different samples. The body of research indicates that once the ‘self’ has been found within the workplace, productivity increases at a multi-individual level. Furthermore, research has highlighted that mindfulness can be conditioned through constant practice – either individually or in a group dynamic (Brown & Ryan, 2003).
Mindfulness in the Workplace: A Literature Evaluation
Erik Dane argues mindfulness is beneficial versus costly from a task performance standpoint (2010, p997).
Furthermore, Dane argues that the central nature of mindfulness in terms of task performance monitoring requires defined occupational context and structural awareness (2010, p998). By understanding the organisational needs and desired outcomes, practitioners can develop better stratagems that improve mindfulness in a tailored, more bespoke, fashion (Kriger & Hanson, 1999).
Hunter and McCormick (2008) posit that Langer (1997) and Kabat-Zinn (1994) are two chief acolytes who have created two divergent paths in terms of mindfulness. However, Ellen Langer, Hunter and McCormick argue (2008) has created the more business-friendly construct for mindfulness coaching. Langer (1989) argues the ability to shift context may be just as valuable to a manager or on the assembly line as it is to an artist or physicist. Fatigue, conflict, and burnout can all result from being mired in old categories, trapped by old mindsets. In fact, virtually all the advantages of mindfulness… can be found in the workplace. For employer and employee alike, mindfulness may increase flexibility, productivity, innovation, leadership ability and satisfaction (Langer, 1989, p133).
Coaching and the Workplace: A Literature Overview
The workplace and the notion of coaching are not new phenomena. In fact, Tim Hindle (2008) argues that coaching has been a part of Western employment since the medieval period. The notion of training and improvement is a core concept of mindfulness coaching. Passmore et al argue coaching, or mentoring, is based on two competing constructs in terms of workplace training (2013). These constructs are impact and potential. The role played by potential is echoed by Langer who argues impact is about strangeness and this is one of the biggest reasons employers engage with coaching professionals within the context of work-based coaching or training (Langer, 1989, p178-180). However, Kabat-Zinn argues that potential is the biggest element within the impact-potential debate (2003).
The potential versus impact argument presupposes what Passmore and Marianetta (2007) argue is the notion of employer and employee division. The idea that mindfulness can bring down barriers and create wider avenues of engagement is a central part of the debate. This is part of Langer’s argument (1989, 1997) in which she argues that impact is shorthand for vast organisational change. As such, the role of workplace coaching helps to counter cultural impact and individual impact. These notions are countered by Kabat-Zinn, who argues that control is a core prerequisite of coaching requirements within an organisation (1990, 1994). Similarly, Brown and Ryan (2003) agree that coaching, in a work-place environment, are about shifting individual selfish behaviours and re-construct group thinking in the context of individual empowerment.
Part Two – Case Studies
This section will explore two key case studies involving mindfulness coaching within different sectors and discover how successful these approaches are in understanding mindfulness coaching successes.
Case Study A – Google UK
Google in the United Kingdom is one of the country’s top employers (Telegraph, 2013). The company has a successful and hugely popular brand and as such has become a Mecca for UK tech and engineering graduates wanting to be a part of an organisation where innovation is at the very core of their business. In an interview with Wired Magazine, Google stated that on their global corporate employees take part in an internal course entitled ‘Search Inside Yourself’, which is an apt title for a search business? However, the article highlighted the reason behind the use of mindfulness coaching within the world’s number one search engine provider. Google argue we’re basically the descendants of nervous monkeys…the kind with hair-trigger fight-or-flight responses. In the modern workplace, these hyperactive reflexes are now a detriment; turning minor squabbles into the emotional equivalents of kill or be killed showdowns. In such situations, the amygdala – the region of the brain believed to be responsible for processing fear – can override the rest of the mind’s ability to think logically. We become slaves to our monkey minds (Wired Magazine, 09/08/2013).
The use of mindfulness in Google surrounds what Wired Magazine (2013) argue is the search for “emotional intelligence”. It is easy to think, as the article points out, that this is just some “hippy” nonsense. However, when the coaching connects with increased productivity which in turn increases profitability – even the most ardent detractors start to shift their ideas. One Googler, the name they give Google staffers, was Duane a team leader with a 30-person team who was coping professionally with huge operational changes and privately with his father’s heart condition problems. He told Wired Magazine, my typical coping strategy – the bourbon and cheeseburger method – wasn’t working.
He found that as a coping mechanism, mindfulness coaching allowed him to adopt meditation practices that allowed him to focus, not only on his work-based problems or even his family-based issues but also on his own development and emotional well-being.
Chade-Meng Tan, the creator of ‘Search Inside Yourself’, and author of a similarly named book, argues the process and structure of the course was to offer mindfulness and emotional intelligence development training to individuals who would normally balk at such ‘training’. Tan structured the course in order to combat key Google workplace issues by finding solutions that would see people learn how to calm their mind on demand. Improving concentration and creativity as well (Tan, 2012, p6).
The cushions or yoga mats were not, according to Tan, the backbone of our coaching, It was the availability of support systems – created by Search Inside Yourself – that created and conditioned the right environment to engage in mindfulness coaching practices in the workplace (Tan, 2012, p22-23).
Case Study B – Transport for London
Camilla Baines-Hall, a Transport for London (TfL) HR officer says it’s more than just sitting on a cushion in a conference room and copying the team mate next you whilst thinking, ‘what am I doing here?. Baines-Hall argues
work-place mindfulness meditation can assist TfL team members in coping with stress – stress brought on by managing one of Britain’s largest transport infrastructures (Baines-Hall, Email, 2014).
Management Today, in an article on TFl’s mindfulness coaching approaches, report some 600 employees have received a mindfulness-based programme since 1979, aimed at reducing stress and improving well-being. Working on the Underground or the buses can be extremely stressful: the course is intended to improve staff’s resilience… TfL is proud of the results; among those who did the two-hours-a-week, six-week package, days off for stress, anxiety and depression dropped by 71% over the next three years. Attendees reported remarkable improvements in their relationships, sleep and ability to relax (Management Today, 31/05/2012).
How the case studies relate to mindfulness coaching in the workplace?
The two case studies identified key themes that mindfulness coaching improved – productivity, self-awareness and coping strategies. These three main blocks are the foundations of successful mindfulness coaching in the workplace. The Google example finds the perceptions of mindfulness challenged from negative attitudes into positive self-improvement methods. The Googler, Duane, who uses mindfulness to improve issues and problems on multiple levels, highlight the powerful connection between improving individuals and improving the workplace. The TfL example illustrate how a large organisation, which depend on its staffing numbers, can improve attendance and punctuality whilst improving the individual’s own emotional intelligence and well-being.
How do the case studies bridge coaching and the workplace successfully?
The ‘hippy’ nonsense quote from Wired Magazine is an apt reason for wider perceptions shifting and the success of Google and TfL in bridging perceptions (both internally and externally) around the concept of mindfulness and meditation coaching. However, what is highlighted by the literature review and the case studies is the changing perception of work-life awareness. The understanding that an employer and employee’s well-being is more than just the ‘man-hours’ he or she invests at their desks or workplaces. It is about the whole 24 hour a day, seven days a week experience that conditions emotional well-being and intelligence growth.
How do the case studies and the literature review structure mindfulness in the context of workplace coaching and training?
In terms of the dichotomy between Kabat-Zinn’s control and Langer’s impact theories, the case studies highlighted a balancing act between understanding individual, group or community impact with the presence of individual, group or community control. Mindfulness coaching, therefore, aligns the duopoly of conditionality’s that aspire to create the right context for successful workplace mindfulness coaching or training solutions. The growth of mindfulness training allow both the employer (increased productivity, innovation and growth) whilst similarly allowing employees (increased well-being, emotional investment and self-growth) all the while bridging the gap between multiple relationships based on work-life uncertainties. The success of mindfulness coaching can be clearly seen in the examples stated in this paper, the literature review has highlighted that whilst definitions and debates still rage, the success of mindfulness coaching is clear to see and can help organisations and individuals learn to develop and grow emotionally and become better people, workers, team-mates and human beings.
The Oxford English Dictionary, (2014), Oxford University Press, Oxford, England; available here: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/ (accessed 01/03/2014)
Journals & Books
Brown, K.W., & Ryan, R.M, (2003), ‘The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being’, The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 84 (4), pp822-848
Chaskalson, M., (2011), Mindfulness in Coaching, The Mindful Workplace: Developing Resilient Individuals and Resonant Organisations with MBSR, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, London, England
Dane, E., (2010), ‘Paying attention to Mindfulness and Its Effects on Task Performance in the Workplace’, The Journal of Management, Volume 37 (4), pp997-1018
Hindle, T., (2008), The Guide to Management Ideas and Gurus, The Economist Publishing Group, London
Hunter, J., McCormick, D.W., (2008), Mindfulness in the Workplace: An Exploratory Study, Memorandum of the Annual Meeting of the Academy of Management in Anaheim, California State University, California
Kabat-Zinn, J., (1994), Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life, Hyperion Publishing Inc, New York, New York
Kabat-Zinn, J., (1990), Full Catastrophe Living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation, Piatkus, London
Kabat-Zinn, J., (2003), ‘Mindfulness-Based Interventions in Context: Past, Present & Future’, Clinical Psychology Science and Practice, Volume 10 (2), pp144-156
Kriger M.P., & Hanson, B.J., (1999), ‘A Value-based paradigm for creating truly healthy organizations’, Journal of Organizational Change Management, Volume 12 (4), pp302-317
Langer, E.J., (1997), The Power of Mindful Learning, Routledge, London
Langer E.J., (1989), Mindfulness (A Merloyd Lawrence Book), Preseus Book Group, USA
Passmore, J., Peterson, D., Freire, T., (2013), The Wiley-Blackwell Handbook of the Psychology of Coaching and Mentoring, John Wiley & Sons Ltd, London England, see Cavanagh, M.J., & Spence, G.B., ‘Mindfulness in Coaching: Philosophy, Psychology or just a useful skill?’, Chpt 7
Passmore, J., & Marianetti, O., (2007), ‘The role of mindfulness in coaching’, The Coaching Psychologist, Volume 3 (3), pp130-136
Tan, C.,., (2012), Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace), Harper Collins, New York
Trenner, L., (2013), ‘Business Coaching for Information Professionals: Why it offers such good value for money in today’s economic climate’, Business Information Review, Volume 30 (1), pp27-34
Baines-Hall, C., ‘Re: TFL Mindfulness Query’, Email, Date Sent: 02/03/2014, Date Received: 03/03/2014
The Times, ‘Top 50 Employers 2013 BITC Diversity Survey’, 13th July 2013, Available here: (Accessed 02/03/2014)
Morrish, J., ‘Expand your Mindfulness’, Management Today, Thursday 21st May 2012, Available here: http://www.managementtoday.co.uk/features/1133191/expand-mindfulness/ (Accessed 02/03/2014)
Shachtman, N., ‘Meditation & Mindfulness are the new rage in Silicon Valley and Beyond’, Wired Magazine, 09 August 2013, Issue 23, Available here: http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2013/08/features/success-through-enlightenment (Accessed 03/03/2014)