Mindfulness is being completely in the present moment. This mental state is achieved by staying fully conscious and aware of your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations and calmly acknowledging, accepting, and managing them. Staying mindful is a vital life skill for any individual but it becomes even more important when other people are involved such as in a workplace, be it an office on-site, home office or in a factory. Being mindful in the workplace means staying focused and fully engaged in the job at hand and managing inevitable distractions.
Traditionally, employee wellness programs focused on disease/care management programs (e.g., managing chronic health conditions, like diabetes), lifestyle- management services (e.g., weight management programs, gym membership discounts), health-risk management services (e.g., on-site flu shots), physical activity programs, and work environment enhancements (e.g., bike racks, walking paths).
Mindfulness has now become a necessary part of wellness programs in the workplace to ensure that employees have a sound mental and emotional state when dealing and working with others be they customers, bosses or colleagues. Mindful workers can thoughtfully respond, rather than react to thoughts, conflicts, stresses and challenging emotions. Increased emotional intelligence leads to better conflict resolution. A heightened sense of self-awareness can help to improve empathy, compassion, listening, coordination and communication skills, better work relationships and thereby efficiency in team projects.
The speed of business in today’s offices with rapid-fire emails, short response times, multitasking, texting, and social media distractions creates a significant level of stress. According to the American Institute of Stress, 80% of workers feel stressed on the job. Nearly half of the workers say they need help in learning how to manage stress, while 42% of people say their colleagues need such help. Unmanaged stress leads to an increase in stress-related illnesses and poor mental health which has physical, psychological and behavioural repercussions. While all stress can’t be eliminated from the workplace, employers can help reduce stress levels and improve employee health through mindfulness.
In today’s fast-paced modern work and living, mindfulness training helps employees to slow down, notice more and also accept things they cannot change in a stressful and difficult situation while proactively looking for solutions. Better coping mechanisms help to manage stress and prevent serious health and performance issues, including frequent headaches, irritability, insomnia, difficulty making decisions, and trouble remembering.
Mindfulness programs in the workplace can take the shape of meditation and yoga sessions, mental health screening and interventions, mental/psychotherapy, counselling services, reflection workshops, relaxation techniques, stress management and mindful leadership coaching. Even in today’s times of work from home and social distancing due to Covid, these sessions can be delivered via online classes and live webinars . Benefits of mindfulness programs include reduced blood pressure, less stress, anxiety and depression, improved sleep and immunity. These programs also improve cognitive skills key to high work performance such as clear thinking, lengthened attention spans, and skills to focus, compartmentalise and prioritise. They also improve memory and creativity. For example, meditation helps one to feel balanced, centred and grounded so that one can better achieve both personal and professional goals.
Training workers how to mitigate their stress, whether workplace or personal (as one affects the other) and create a healthy work-life balance is vital for preventing emotional exhaustion and employee burnout. Happy, healthy and relaxed workers will take lesser sick days, have a greater capacity to deal with the challenges of organisational life, and also have better morale. They also have higher levels of job enjoyment and satisfaction. This will help organisations maintain a productive workforce, save money and improve the bottom line in the long term.
Some key points to keep in mind while designing and incorporating a successful mindfulness program in workplace wellness are:
1. Keep it secular and inclusive.
Mindfulness practices are sometimes seen through a spiritual lens. While some will understand and appreciate this aspect, others may not. Hence it is important to keep the focus on the positive, practical health and universal aspects of yoga and meditation.
2. Give it time.
It is important to remember that mindfulness may take a short time to learn or teach, but a long time to master. Hence the need to schedule recurring mindfulness training sessions.
Remember, mindfulness training works and makes for a smart investment in the health and productivity of employees and staff. As Richard Davidson, the Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry and the University of Wisconsin-Madison says: “The key to a healthy life is having a healthy mind.”