How Does Mindfulness Help Us to Work Ethically in Business?

Studies have found that practising mindfulness improves the ability to determine if something is right or wrong, which is known as moral reasoning. This is strongly linked to ethical behaviour.

Not only this, but it increases compassion and reduces the likelihood that we will act solely for the benefit of ourselves.

Mindful managers and decision makers make choices that are inspired by compassion and what they know is the right thing to do, rather than simply just to comply with the law and make a profit.

Can mindfulness promote ethical behaviour in business?

Self-serving thoughts and beliefs and biases often cause unethical behaviour, whether we are conscious of them or not. These can stem from simply not paying attention to how our minds work. We are conditioned to act in a certain way, and this impacts on the decisions we make.

Mindfulness can train us to pay attention to our minds and how we react to situations. It can help us to respond to situations compassionately rather than avoiding them or dealing with them in selfish ways.

How can mindfulness help us be ethically-minded?

It calms the mind and focuses our attention

Many people spend their time focusing on the past and the future, but training the mind to be present and aware increases the ability to be ethical. To make an ethical decision, or even see that there are ethical issues in the first place, your mind has to be present and not racing at 100mph. People who are in a hurry are less likely to be compassionate or helpful towards others.

It improves awareness of how we respond to situations

Whether we realise it or not, we often allow our unconscious minds to choose what feels most comfortable or familiar to us when we make decisions. When we do this, we are more inclined to miss new information or act on impulse, and this can lead to us making self-serving decisions. Mindfulness can make us aware of when we are acting in a certain way out of habit, and allows us the clarity to pause and consider whether we could act more ethically.

Mindfulness helps us deal with difficult emotions

Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of our emotions and accept them, rather than suppressing them, or reacting in an unhelpful way. It helps us to respond with compassion, to develop the ability to consider different solutions to problems, and to question the assumptions and beliefs we are bringing to a situation.

Does mindfulness necessarily lead to ethical behaviours?

Many businesses offer mindfulness training to employees, yet they don’t behave ethically. Why might this be the case?

The reason people practise mindfulness determines what they get from it

So if you are looking to reduce stress, that is what you will get out of it. If you are less stressed, you might make better decisions, but it is still possible to practise mindfulness and engage in behaviour that is less than moral.

People can find it hard to integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives

When you’re practising mindfulness, you might feel like you’re able to be present, aware, and calm, but it’s not easy to translate this into sound business decisions, especially when you’re under stress and likely to fall back into your default behaviour patterns.

Making ethical decisions: A quick guide

Here’s what to do when you’re faced with a challenging situation:

  • Breathe: Don’t let panic set in. Stop for a minute, take a few deep breaths
  • Observe your thoughts: Notice what you’re thinking and the emotions you’re feeling, but don’t try to suppress them or take control of you
  • Question your beliefs and assumptions: Is the way you’re reacting to a situation down to bias or your emotions about it? Is there another perspective or point of view that you’re not seeing?
  • What is your ideal outcome?: What would you like to get from the situation?
  • What is the best choice you can make?: Not just for you, but for everyone involved

Maureen O’Callaghan is a Member of the Chartered Management Institute, and has an MSc in Mindfulness-Based Approaches. She works with organisations, teams, and individuals to create less stressful working environments, improve team working, enhance performance and productivity and develop leadership and management skills.