Almost 70% of your workers are dealing with some kind of mental health issue and for many of these, work is a significant source of stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness. There are ways you can help. Mindfulness training is a relatively inexpensive solution that can boost employee mental health. (Learn more in Supporting Employee Mental Health In The Workplace). Major companies including Apple, Google, Aetna, and Chase have supported mindfulness initiatives for years and in fact, Aetna and Chase had so much success with it that they now offer it to their customers.
While mindfulness training can include activities like meditation and yoga, it is basically about teaching people to be present in the moment. In a world full of distractions, it provides your workers with the tools to shut out distractions and focus on the task at hand. (Learn more in The Well-Trained Brain: How To Implement Mindfulness Training In The Office).
In the workplace, you can approach mindfulness in two ways — from an individual perspective or from an organizational perspective. Training can teach and encourage individual workers to practice mindfulness during the workday while organizational mindfulness integrates the practice into the company culture and organization by making it a regular part of meeting or collaboration protocols.
Here are just a few of the ways that mindfulness organizational development and training can benefit your employees' mental health:
Improved Workplace Relationships
There is increasing evidence that mindfulness training can result in better relationships between individuals in the workplace and within teams. Because mindfulness encourages people to be present and to be in the moment, it also promotes active listening and discourages judgemental attitudes towards peers. Mindfulness can also temper workers’ reactions to stressful situations in the workplace or perceived injustices at work. Workers trained in mindfulness tend not to dwell on these situations and have less negative emotional and retaliatory reactions. This makes for teams that function smoothly and collaborations that are more effective. On a personal level, it also makes for less workplace conflict between individuals.
Increased Emotional Intelligence
Mindfulness can also help improve workplace relationships through increased empathy and compassion. In a Harvard Business Review article, James Doty, a neurosurgeon at the Stanford University School of Medicine and a businessman, credits mindfulness with helping him deal with an irate stockholder. “I paused and slowly took a few breaths,” says Doty. “This led me to actually listen and understand not only his situation but what he wanted and expected. By not responding in an emotional manner, it resulted in his not only becoming supportive but also becoming an ally in making the company a success.” Unnecessary conflict can easily escalate and affect the mental well-being of everyone involved. Healthy relationships and conversations built around respect and understanding can help avoid that. Mindfulness can go a long way to helping your employees achieve that.
Resilience to Stress
Stress is directly linked to a host of mental and physical health issues and it is something that employers are increasingly concerned about. In fact, one in four Americans say that work is a source of anxiety for them and the same number say their stress has increased over the last year. Mindfulness can improve an individual's response to stressors and their overall stress tolerance. For example, studies have shown it can reduce stress reactions to both cognitive and social threats and workers who practice mindfulness tend to recover from stress much faster.
Better Focus, Concentration and Productivity
Mindfulness can also help your employees increase their focus, concentration, and productivity. An inability to focus is a mental health issue affecting 17% of Americans. Left untreated, it can disrupt your employees’ productivity and ability to complete work tasks and create additional stress for both the worker and their co-workers. Mindfulness training, with its emphasis on being present in the moment, can increase an employee’s ability to focus and concentrate on specific tasks, reducing both the stress and anxiety that often accompanies a lack of focus. In turn, this can lead to increased productivity, which, in addition to being good for your bottom line, also enhances mental well-being through an increased sense of accomplishment.
Mindfulness-based organization and training can also help your employees deal better with depression and anxiety, both at work and at home. It just makes sense, says Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders in Massachusetts and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. People with anxiety tend to be plagued with distracting thoughts and have an inability to “distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit,” Hoge says. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster!’ Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.'”
Improved Working Memory and Cognitive Flexibility
Mindfulness can also improve both your employees’ working memory and their cognitive agility. Again, this can pay off in improving worker mental health. For example, an improvement in working memory can help workers deal better in stressful workplace situations and increase self-determination and persistence, both of which will help improve their mental skills and their mental health. Mindfulness enhances cognitive flexibility by disrupting automatism or our rote reactions to things. This opens the mind to enhanced creativity when it comes to ideas and solutions. In turn, this can improve employee mental health through both increased job satisfaction and effectiveness. For example, in addition to perceived improvements in new ideas, insights, mental clarity, creativity, ability to focus, quality of relationships at work, and level of engagement in meetings, projects, and teamwork, Intel workers also reported an increase in overall wellbeing and happiness because of a mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness Is Integral In The Workplace
Embedding mindfulness into your organizational development and training can result in a huge payoff for the mental health of all of your employees and foster a more creative, productive and efficient workplace.