Art: Facilitating Workplace Mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness has enjoyed a steady rise in popularity in recent years, with courses now being taught in workplaces and schools. Aside from the numerous health benefits a more mindful way of life brings, there is evidence to suggest that it improves productivity and reduces work-based anxiety.

Widely believed to have popularised the practice of mindfulness in the west, John Zabat-Zinn defines it as an “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally”.

Whilst this post focuses on how art facilitates mindfulness in the workplace, it’s also important to note that mindfulness is an art in and of itself. Not simply a case of meditation, mindfulness is an active skill that can be developed, applying to all areas of life.

A study by the University of California found that a typical office employee will be able to concentrate on a task for only 11 minutes before being interrupted, and will then take an average of 25 minutes to return to the original task. These continuous distractions are associated with an overall 20% decrease in performance.

This is something that the encouragement and practice of mindfulness in the workplace can help to combat. Indeed, a study conducted by The University of Miami with The University of Exeter found that there is evidence that mindfulness improves the ability to cope with ‘stressors’ (such as interruptions) and increases resilience, which consequently improves productivity.

It is well established that there is a link between art and mindfulness. Take as an example Manchester Art Gallery that, in recognition of this relationship, runs a monthly ‘art and mindfulness’ event. Attendees are invited to look at a single piece of art for 30 minutes; exploring the piece whilst remaining completely present. Not resisting wandering thoughts, but simply taking note of the times the mind begins to drift and directing attention back to the painting.

This relationship between truly focusing upon a subject and being present is something that viewing art achieves perfectly. It extends an invitation to the viewer to become totally absorbed. Art can be a most wonderful facilitator of the development of mindfulness in an individual, and the enabling of mindful behaviours in working life.

Featured artwork on this page – Top image; artist Damian Poole.