Mental health: Mindfulness in the workplace
Colin Duff, Head of Business and Research at Breathworks (United Kingdom) talks about how mindfulness can help workplaces manage stress, increase employee attention, reduce absenteeism and create greater leadership.
What is mindfulness?
According to The Mental Health Foundation, mindfulness is an integrative, mind-body based approach that helps people to manage their thoughts and feelings.
Mindfulness skills are developed through systematic mindful attention training exercises, which can be based around awareness of body, breathing, movement, or everyday activities such as walking, eating or driving.
Colin explains that it’s actually very simple. “It’s about bringing whole hearted attention to everyday activities. It’s the difference between giving our complete attention to something rather than functioning on auto pilot. Mindfulness brings us into the present.” he says “And, of course, this has many health and safety implications. Someone on autopilot is far less likely to notice a hazard than someone giving their complete attention to something.”
How can mindfulness benefit the workplace?
Colin describes an exponential increase of studies into mindfulness, with academic journal studies on mindfulness now exceeding 500 per year. An All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) published a report in 2015 called Mindful Nation UK, in which it called for mindfulness programs for staff in the public sector to combat stress and improve organizational effectiveness, as well as wider promotion through the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS).
Professor Richard Davidson of University of Wisconsin summarizes benefits of mindfulness as improvements in:
Attention – How focused or scattered is your attention?
Resilience – How rapidly or slowly do you recover from adversity?
Outlook – How long does creative perspective and positive emotion persist?
Wellbeing – including a more collaborative and other-oriented attitude.
Today many organizations are finding that mindfulness skills play an important role in:
- Improved health and wellbeing
- Reduced sickness, absenteeism and employee turnover
- Greater leadership and team effectiveness
- Employee resilience
- Higher levels of motivation and engagement
- Increased attention and concentration
- Better decision making capabilities
- Higher levels of creativity and innovation
- Increased job satisfaction
- Relationship and team building.
Talking of how mindfulness can benefit the workplace, Colin says: “With our working lives now making complex demands upon our attention and all too often causing high levels of stress, there is a great need for mental wellbeing skills and training throughout the workforce. Mindfulness programs are proving a low-risk, high-impact method to support productive focus, improved wellbeing and reduced stress.”
Breathworks recently provided mindfulness courses for 100 members of the home treatment team within Surrey and Borders NHS Trust in Guildford. Reductions in stress and improvements in wellbeing were found to be sustained at a 6 month follow-up.
Participants comments included:
- “Feeling less overwhelmed which freed up energy to focus on tasks that need completing”;
- “Feeling less anxious when dealing with stressful situations”; and
- “Able to recognize automatic responses to negative thoughts and halt them”.
A recent Breathworks mindfulness pilot program for 48 staff working within the Department of Health found significant improvements in stress and wellbeing.
One person reported being able to avoid taking time off with stress as a result of using the mindfulness exercises. The course also made him more aware of stress and how to reduce the pressures on the team he managed.
Another reported being “able to support others more effectively because I don’t get drawn into the detail of the stress… I would say I am even more focused now….I’m more productive in the times that I have.”
Bringing mindfulness into the workplace
The benefits of mindfulness in managing pain, stress and illness – enhancing concentration, happiness and supporting greater productivity – have been researched for more than three decades in a wide range of studies. Mindfulness is proved to be effective in occupational health and safety management.
When we bring mindfulness into our work, lives and relationships, we are learning to acknowledge what is going on for us in each moment – noticing the activity of our mind, body and emotions and developing the emotional resilience and awareness to respond to potential stress triggers in ways that are non-reactive and more skillful.
When an employee feels that their organization truly cares it has a profound impact upon their emotional engagement, motivation, collaboration and productivity. When an employee feels valued, acknowledged, respected, appreciated and supported to effectively manage the stress of the workplace, then the entire organiaation will benefit.
Colin Duff is Business and Research Manager for Breathworks (UK), working with clients to provide in-house mindfulness solutions for staff wellbeing, and with university and healthcare partners to further mindfulness research.
Breathworks specialises in applying mindfulness methods to pain, illness and stress. Breathworks have developed courses and resources that can be accessed in a number of ways. So wherever you are, whatever your health and mobility, you can find a way to learn mindfulness for relieving the suffering that comes from living with pain, illness or stressful circumstances.
Source: Safety &Health Practitioner (UK) www.shponline.co.uk