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You Can’t Pour from an Empty Cup: The Power of Mindfulness in the Public Sector

By Anika Klix, HR Project Manager, Human Services Department, City of Seattle

In the fast-paced world of city governance, employees’ well-being is sometimes the last thing considered next to the demands of public service. Yet, as the adage goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Recognizing the critical importance of self-care, employees increasingly turn to mindfulness practices to nurture their well-being, thereby fortifying their ability to support the diverse needs of their communities.

The American Psychological Association defines mindfulness as an “awareness of one’s internal states and surroundings.” At its core, mindfulness is about cultivating a deep awareness of the present moment without judgment. For public employees juggling myriad responsibilities, mindfulness-based programs offer a refuge of calm amidst the chaos, providing tools to manage stress, enhance focus, increase emotional intelligence, and recharge mental and emotional reserves.

By prioritizing self-care through mindfulness, employees are better equipped to serve the community as their best selves. When nurturing their well-being, they become more resilient in the face of challenges, more empathetic in interactions, and more effective as public servants.

Consider, for instance, a social worker practicing mindfulness before starting a home visit with a vulnerable family. By centering themselves in the present moment, they approach the encounter with greater compassion, clarity, and sensitivity—qualities that can make all the difference in supporting those in need.

Furthermore, mindfulness empowers employees to establish healthy boundaries and maintain balance. In a profession where the line between work and personal life can easily blur, disconnecting and recharging is essential for long-term sustainability. By participating in mindfulness-based programs at work, employees build resilience and fortitude needed to navigate the demands of their roles while preserving their well-being.

The benefits of mindfulness extend beyond individual self-care. As public employees prioritize well-being, they become catalysts for positive change within their communities. By modeling self-care practices and embodying a culture of wellness, they can inspire others to prioritize their mental and emotional health.

Moreover, when grounded in mindfulness, employees can better respond to the diverse needs of communities with empathy, compassion, and clarity. Whether working in public safety, healthcare, education, human services, or social services, mindfulness empowers them to engage authentically with the individuals and families they serve, fostering trust, connection, and positive outcomes.

Practicing mindfulness isn’t just about self-care—it’s about collective care. By nurturing well-being, employees model healthy behavior that extends beyond the workplace. They become better public servants and agents of change, helping to build healthier, more resilient communities from the inside out.

So, let us honor the vital role of self-care in public service, recognizing that by nurturing our well-being, we empower ourselves to better serve our communities’ diverse needs. Through mindfulness, we cultivate the inner resources needed to navigate challenges with grace, compassion, and resilience—and in doing so, we contribute to a brighter, kinder, and more compassionate future for all.

Anika Klix, M.A. ORGL & HRM (she/her), is an HR Project Manager in the Human Services Department (HSD). Anika launched the Mindful@Work Program at the City of Seattle, which includes weekly drop-in mindful meditation and movement sessions and a seminar series on the foundations of mindfulness and its benefits for focus, resilience, creativity, and communication in the workplace. She is certified in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Workplace Mindfulness Facilitation (CWMF) through Mindful Leader and is working toward becoming a certified meditation teacher.