Mindfulness at Work: A Q&A with Michelle Precourt
Updated: Feb 9
This month our Spotlight Interview is with Michelle Precourt, an independent HR consultant who has found her practice rapidly evolving to support mindfulness in the workplace. Given the fast pace of change and the importance of supportive relationships, we spoke with Michelle about how mindfulness can drive engagement and performance.
What drove you to begin offering mindfulness in the workplace as a service? How did your interest get piqued?
Mindfulness, for me, started when I began focusing on my own personal practices. Before Covid-19 hit Canada earlier in the year, there was a lot of uncertainty in the job market and stress in the workplace and my clients were anxious; I found activities such as going for a short walk before an important client call helped me clear my mind and put me in a better place to coach them. The Mindfulness at Work Program stemmed from these experiences, and I’ve found it creates strategic team-building where employees have the ability to talk to each other with greater clarity.
What do you think are some of the misconceptions about mindfulness in the workplace?
Mindfulness is a bit of a trendy term, and one big misconception is that mindfulness is about sitting in silence and meditating; it’s not all about that although when there is an openness to this type of practice in the workplace, the benefits are huge. Mindfulness is more about creating a culture of trust through understanding around values. It starts with self-awareness and this is the foundation for increasing communication in the workplace.
Are there some workplace cultures where you've found greater success with this program than others?
The most important factor to keep in mind is you have to understand the tolerance level of the work environment, and you have to be relatable to that environment. Mindfulness has key takeaways for all workplaces, the main one being to focus on the ‘now’. Being present allows us to focus on the task at hand which contributes to increased productivity and efficiency. If you’re in a meeting and it’s 11:14 am and you have another meeting at 11:15am, it’s about staying focused on the present and using those last 60 seconds to a maximum before moving on or worrying about what is coming next.
What is the biggest benefit or return on investment for employers investing in this type of program?
The biggest return on investment is the overall increase in quality work due to a highly functioning workplace. Employee wellness and business growth go hand in hand. I personally went through a work life cycle of being unfocused, with the feeling of not having enough time to finish off tasks and for a long time I felt like I was always swimming upstream. Eventually, it got to me. Being mindful of my wellness has improved my overall work drastically. There’s a great article here that talks about the ROI employers can expect.
What do you say to skeptics who feel it might be a waste of time or money?
I would say, you have to keep an open mind to the topic of mindfulness. You may not think there is a place for mindfulness in your workplace but have you asked your team? When there is a conflict in the workplace, it is because people are disconnected. This is not a new concept but there are different approaches. We need to think about interpersonal interactions within the workplace and how to become more mindful of our actions. Understanding triggers and talking about them creates a healthier and more engaged environment and one that stimulates workplace growth.
There are also tons of studies that have been done that show how mindfulness improves performance by increasing the gray matter of the brain - it’s like building muscles, there is science behind mindfulness. Research has shown that the parts of the brain that affect learning, memory and emotional regulation were all positively impacted by mindfulness.
What is the biggest benefit for employees?
There are many! One big benefit for employees is having a work environment where they feel heard and are comfortable speaking up about what is important to them, inside and outside of work. This helps increase understanding amongst employees, which creates empathy, and builds trust. There are many benefits, including sound decision making and building resilience.
What are some simple things that employers can do to promote mindfulness in the workplace?
Start by making your workplace more sustainable for employees: how about allowing staff to take a time out. For example, take a mindful pause, something as short as a 60 second time out where the goal is to do nothing for one minute. An alternative is to go out for a walk. Employees working from home have seen a large decrease in daily movement overall as work and personal life are in one place. Another simple step is, shortening meetings by ten minutes. Could you schedule 50 minutes meetings rather than 60-minute meetings? This gives everyone a short break rather than rushing to their next task. These simple actions go a long way in promoting a sustainable work environment where wellbeing is embedded in the culture.
Now that most employees are working from home, how do you think a company can implement mindfulness in the workplace culture?
Taking the time to get to know your employees helps build trust and understanding of their life outside of work. This is a key component to making employees feel heard and feel part of a team. Leaders need to understand boundaries as well. Some employees will speak freely of their lives outside of work where others will not. This is especially true in this pandemic where we have less opportunities to see people and less opportunities to watch body language. There is a new generation of employees who have been recruited and onboarded virtually and may, at least for the foreseeable future never be in the workplace with the entire team. As leaders, we need to work harder to ensure employees are heard and ask them what a mindful workplace culture looks like. Maybe it is a team building exercise where they get to hear from their peers what is truly important at work? Maybe it is meditation at lunch? Maybe it is the flexibility of taking walks or a 60 second time out without a teammate asking why they were offline? Ask your team some questions. This is a great way to start the mindfulness at work conversation.
For more information, or to reach Michelle: