Even though many companies have temporarily closed their office doors and are operating with a remote workforce, work stress hasn’t disappeared. Indeed, it may have gotten worse. Back-to-back Zoom meetings, homeschooling, an overflowing email inbox, and working late nights once the kids go to bed can add up to frazzled employees trying to balance the demands of work and home.
Luckily, employers have access to a tool that has the power to help employees manage stress, increase productivity, and improve their overall sense of well-being, while lowering healthcare expenses and reducing absenteeism. Even better, it hardly costs a thing.
Magic? Nope. It’s mindfulness.
What Is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment and self-aware, calmly acknowledging one’s own thoughts and feelings without interpreting or judging them. Teaching mindfulness to employees can help them feel more in control of their thoughts and behaviors and more aware of how their thoughts are affecting their reactions.
We spoke with Saundra Schrock, Founder and CEO of Levelhead, who explained, “The reason why mindfulness has been linked to stress reduction for decades is simple: When our attention is focused in the present moment, we’re less stressed. It’s only when you do what I call “time travel” to the past, or start to worry about the future, that we start having anxiety and stress. Mindfulness allows us to recognize when we’re stuck in the past or the future and get back to the present moment.”
Check out our interview with Saundra in the video below for her quick tips on incorporating mindfulness in the workplace.
If you’re looking to build a happier, healthier team, now is a great time to tap into the increasing popularity of mindfulness to improve mental health in the workplace. Here’s why—and how—to get started.
How Mindfulness Improves Well-being in the Workplace
Just like wellness programs in general, mindfulness carries benefits both to the employees and their employer.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Employees
It can be hard for employees to switch into work mode when personal issues are front and center, and it can be just as challenging to leave work issues behind when they finish for the day. For employees unaccustomed to working remotely, this compartmentalization is particularly difficult. So, when stress is at a maximum and time seems to be at a minimum, practicing mindfulness techniques can help employees shut off the outside noise and focus on the present tasks at hand.
When practiced regularly, employees find their stress levels decrease and their overall sense of well-being improves. The versatility of mindfulness is also a huge plus: It’s a use-anywhere tool that can be used to cope with both personal and professional challenges, letting the employee process and handle their emotions in a healthy way.
Besides being a short-term solution for immediate stressors, mindfulness can improve long-term health by reducing the harm caused by chronic elevated stress. Mindfulness reduces not just these health concerns, but it also improves sleep, increases concentration and creativity, and simply improves overall health.
Benefits of Mindfulness for Employers
Stress can have dramatic effects on an organization. According to the American Institute of Stress, occupational pressures and fears are the leading source of stress for American adults which has steadily increased over the past few decades. High levels of stress can have a domino effect within an organization and cause increased healthcare costs, absenteeism and turnover.
Luckily, these numbers are changing for organizations that encourage mindfulness at work. In one study conducted at The Dow Chemical Company, employees who participated in an online mindfulness intervention reported feeling less stressed, more resilient, and more energetic after completing the course.
These positive effects extend beyond simple stress relief for employees. Mindfulness can literally help employees “get in the zone,” resulting in increased creativity, focus, and engagement. And when mindfulness is practiced regularly, employees not only become better at getting their jobs done, but they also enjoy their work more in the process.
Employers are also realizing significant savings resulting from employees’ improved health risk assessments. After Aetna partnered with the American Viniyoga Institute and eMindful to implement a mindfulness initiative, employees who participated in at least one mindfulness class reported not only a reduction in their stress levels, but also gaining an average of 62 minutes per week of productivity each which Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year. Aetna is seeing a decrease in healthcare costs as well.
4 Tips for Integrating Mindfulness at Work
Here are a few ways you can promote mindfulness as a component of your employee wellness program to support your employees through these challenging times.
Offer Guided Mindfulness Meditation Classes
While employees may think mindfulness is just closing their eyes and taking a few deep breaths, true mindfulness requires guided instruction on breathing, relaxing, and how to acknowledge the world around you without judgment. Bring in a professional yoga or a meditation teacher to help employees learn the techniques for being present in the moment and improving their mental health in the workplace. These classes can easily be held virtually from the comfort of everyone’s home.
Incorporate Mindfulness in Daily Work Activities
Encourage employees to practice mindfulness throughout the day, whether it’s in between meetings, or even as part of team meetings. Saundra Shrock agrees, “A mindfulness program doesn't necessarily need to be its own program. When it's incorporated into your everyday routine activities, we get the best results. Figure out ways to incorporate it into daily team check-ins or meetings and find time to practice daily gratitude.”
One of Saundra's favorite mindfulness exercises is called the 4-7-8 breath. No special tools required—just inhale for 4 seconds, hold your breath in for 7 seconds, then exhale for 8 seconds. “You can do this simple breathing pattern at your own speed, and it's amazing how quickly just a few rounds of it can help reduce your heart rate, and before you know it, you're feeling more relaxed.”
Host Educational Sessions
Not all employees know exactly what mindfulness is or why they should engage in it. There’s plenty of research available to show how mindfulness can improve overall health and well-being—why not share those findings with employees? Also consider inviting those who are already practicing mindfulness to talk about the benefits they’ve realized from engaging in mindful behaviors.
Encourage All Levels of the Organization to Participate
When employees know their supervisors—or even the CEO—are taking time out of their busy days to practice mindfulness, employees are more likely to follow suit. Plus, employers that invest in their employees increase the likelihood that those employees will feel valued. And when those employees become healthier as a result of that investment, they’ll become more committed to your organization and a more valued employee.
Need some inspiration for encouraging your employees? Check out our wellness challenges like The Meditation Master Challenge, which invites participants to meditate for 5 minutes per day for 30 days.
Teaching employees mindfulness doesn’t just help them reduce stress. It also helps them break free from old ways of thinking and behaving, make better decisions, reduce emotional reactivity, and simply feel and perform better. As part of a holistic approach to wellness, mindfulness can help each of your employees create a better outcome for themselves and their company.