Mindfulness at work: is it the path to success?
Connected, digital, fast
Numerous new e-mails are waiting in the mailbox for an answer after the lunch break, when suddenly the boss calls with an urgent work order. The coffee cup tips over in the hassle, spreading hot liquid all over the desk. Sounds like a familiar scenario? The demands on concentration and attention in everyday life and work are increasing. Therefore, Audi’s mindfulness services are specifically designed to combat stress.
In an interview, Audi organizational consultant Martin Steca and Rosa Martin-Agar, Audi consultant for process design and founder of an internal Audi community, explain why the new megatrend is finding more and more supporters at Audi – and why incense sticks aren’t necessary.
Let’s be frank: Is mindfulness yet another fashion trend or is it the new lucky formula?
Martin Steca: It’s neither the one thing, nor the other. The practice of mindfulness has a centuries-old tradition. Mindfulness means being conscious in the here and now. And this without even evaluating and without wanting to change the present. This has nothing to do with esotericism. Take this interview, for example. I have appointments before and after. The question is: Am I here with my thoughts now or am I already thinking about the next event? This determines the moment’s quality.
Rosa Martin-Agar: That means observing one’s thoughts without judging them. Just paying attention to what we are thinking. Often, we lose ourselves in an unorganized hectic pace and waste resources and energy, not realizing what it’s all really about.
Where does stress come from?
Steca: I believe that digitization is partly responsible for this: We constantly receive new messages on our smartphones, lose ourselves in emails, and are permanently interrupted and distracted.
“Mindfulness is a key factor for our future working world”
Is mindfulness at work mainly a way of reducing the stress caused by the digital overload and constant accessibility?
Steca: Mindfulness is a countertrend to acceleration and a well-founded method. Many people immediately think of incense sticks when they hear the word – but when you’re mindful, you don’t need them at all. As a trained business economist, I am convinced that mindfulness is a key factor for our future working world. And it’s one way to cope better with stress.
How does mindfulness reduce stress?
Steca: I came to learn that I’m the one responsible for most of the stress in my life. Stress caused by my work environment accounts for maybe 20 percent. I “produce” the other 80 percent myself through my thoughts, evaluations and fears. The practice of mindfulness aims to reduce thisproportion of stress. My life will be more relaxed without having to find a new field of work right away.
Martin-Agar: Stress is caused by fear of overwork and increasing workload. Stress is neutral first and foremost. It only becomes dangerous if we run out of compensation. It’s like accelerator and brake – both are important.
Is the desire for more mindfulness at work often triggered by a personal crisis?
Steca: In my experience, everyone is motivated to create change. This doesn’t have to be caused by a crisis. Sometimes people also find that they aren’t satisfied and that their lives are rather grey and dull. As a result, they want to feel more alive again. In my eyes, people who crave more mindfulness are usually very self-reflective and want to broaden their horizons.
I read that mindfulness even affects our health...
Steca: There are numerous studies on this: Researchers have found out that 80 percent of our daily thoughts are negative. Mostly, we think of the past or the future. And we have almost all of these recurring thoughts on the next day again. That means, we tend to color the here and now with negative thoughts from the past. Many future decisions are based precisely on this.
Martin-Agar: In concrete terms, this means that if I think I’m not able to do something, the risk of failure is actually higher. Conversely, however, it also means that if I believe in myself, I am more likely to be successful. In mindfulness seminars, people learn how to break through such negative spirals of thought.
To train for a marathon, I have to have a clear goal in mind: to run 42 kilometres. And to achieve this, I have to train hard. What’s my goal in mindfulness?
Steca: … to be in the here and now as much as possible. It’s an established fact that our brain needs 25 percent of our total energy. The moment I try to do several tasks at once, I lose energy. Therefore, multitasking is a huge energy guzzler. The moment I focus, I save energy, being able to use it more efficiently for new tasks.
And how can mindfulness help with that?
Steca: The bad news is that it sounds easier than it is. The good news, however, is that we all carry this ability within us. We just need to rediscover it. Because when we were kids, we were always in the now. Only when our minds evolve, do we begin to think and worry about the past and the future. Mindfulness can be trained systematically.
Martin-Agar: It’s all about keeping up. That was also our impulse to create a community. It offers employees a platform for information, exchange and networking. In Ingolstadt, for example, Martin has launched the concept of “mindfulness during the lunch break” that takes place at different locations on different days of the week.
“If you train the muscle mindfulness, you will see how your life quality increases.”
What exactly is mindfulness about?
Steca: Mindfulness is an inner attitude. But there are different ways to train it like a muscle: Breathing exercises, yoga or meditation and the so-called body scan, a method of body perception, to name a few. Basically, everything can be a meditation, including a lunch or even this interview.
Being mindful – how do I even start that?
Steca: By taking a conscious breath and trying to think of nothing but the moment. This should only take a few seconds. Or even walking meditation. This means walking and being fully aware of it. Instead of running heedlessly and stressed into a meeting, I’m taking my steps consciously. I also feel the sun on my face, for instance.
Martin-Agar: In the beginning, it’s difficult to get away from the thoughts and to calm down. But the more often you do it, the faster you are “in” it and the more you will succeed. At some point, it’s like jogging. The more you run, the fitter you’ll be and the more fun you’ll have in continuing. If you train the muscle mindfulness, you will see how your life quality increases.
What could mindfulness in the workplace mean for Audi in the long term?
Steca: I’m convinced that it makes an important contribution to our future viability. Audi has already recognized the topic for itself. For example, the Audi Academy is currently offering the pilot project “Mindfulness and Resilience in Everyday Work” for managers and employees. The important thing is not to get three percent more out of it, but to strengthen people. The most essential point: To focus on the important things with a clear mind. But mindfulness has many other positive effects. It activates our creativity, strengthens our emotional intelligence and our ability to cooperate and improves our intuition.
How to achieve mindfulness in the workplace?
Take your time everyday
With short walks, looking around in nature or a calm breakfast, the ideal start into the day is provided.
To be in the here and now
Every little opportunity should be used to intensively perceive simple things such as your own breath, thoughts or nature.
Have short breaks
Use them for breathing and not for dealing with other things that divert your attention.
Portraits: How employees integrate mindfulness into their daily work routine
Bruno Borschosch, Group Manager Operational Pre-Series Logistics
At 4:30 the alarm clock rings. Bruno Borschosch sneaks into his living room and opens the window. Fresh air pours into his lungs. Five minutes later, he takes a seat on the floor and starts meditating. With his eyes closed and long breaths, he enjoys the silence. “Two years ago, I would have laughed at that,” he says.
Today his morning routine is key to more satisfaction. “I used to feel stressed at work,” says Borschosch. He wondered how successful people manage to get everything done and be happy at the same time. His research led him to mindfulness. His tip: “I have a list of things that make me feel positive when I’m in a bad mood.” This can be music, a walk or even good conversation. Borschosch is convinced: “We’re usually too headstrong and feel too little. When we think less, we give more space to courage, empathy and creativity. And that’s what we need to drive Audi forward.”
Bernd Wozniak, Technical Manager Assembly
Often in everyday work, one appointment follows the other. There’s no time to take a deep breath in between or to reflect on meetings. For Bernd Wozniak, this was one reason to take part in the pilot seminar “Mindfulness and resilience for managers”. “I am looking for a solution on how we can cope better with stress in our daily work,” says Wozniak. “I’m just at the beginning, testing various exercises.” The seminar consists of several building blocks, including a day of deceleration, meditation exercises or breathing techniques. “Mindfulness is a process that simply takes time. It’s not as easy as learning vocabulary or math formulas.” His goal: More composure, more focus, more reflection – and this of course for his entire team.
Karin Schwarz, Head of Optimization Processes and Qualification
Tuesday, 8:30 a.m. Email time for Karin Schwarz. She reads and writes with her highest level of concentration – for exactly half an hour. “How often do you decide to work more focused, to listen more calmly, and to not jump from one topic to another,” says Schwarz with a smile. “The challenge is to put that into practice in everyday life.” Three fixed mail blockers daily are a first impulse from the first mindfulness seminar at Audi. “As a leader, I give 100 percent for my team. As a mother of two, I give 100 percent for my family. I can only do this if I do both very consciously, have a clear view of the important things and if I’m attentive to others”. Schwarz closes her mailbox and walks – quite consciously and without haste – to her next appointment.