The Role of Mindfulness in a Wellness Program

The Role of Mindfulness in a Wellness Program

It’s a classic scene in just about any office: Meeting requests, incessant emails, rush projects, and late-night work dinners add up to frazzled employees downing a potent mix of coffee, candy bars, and antacids. And that’s if they haven’t called in sick … again.

Luckily, employers have access to a tool that has the power to help employees manage stress and improve productivity, while lowering healthcare expenses and reducing costly sick days. Even better, it hardly costs a thing.

Magic? Nope. It’s 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.

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 the Workplace

Just like wellness programs in general, mindfulness carries benefits both to the employees and their employer.

How Employees Benefit from Mindfulness

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 leave for the day. 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.

How Employers Benefit from Mindfulness

Stress can have dramatic effects on an organization. Not only have 29 percent of employees yelled at co-workers because of workplace stress, but two percent have actually hit a coworker. And these numbers are in addition to the massive healthcare, turnover, and absenteeism costs caused by high levels of stress.

Until recently, however, stress and burnout have rarely been addressed in the workplace, despite approximately 80 percent of workers reporting being stressed on the job.

Luckily, these numbers are changing at organizations that encourage mindfulness. UnitedHealthcare recently reported that nearly 90 percent of employees experienced positive effects on their health and well-being after learning meditation or mindfulness skills.

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 insurance discounts resulting from employees’ improved health risk assessments. Aetna reports that through mindfulness programs, it has saved nearly $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs and has gained approximately $3,000 in productivity for each employee.

Tips for Integrating Mindfulness into Corporate Wellness Programs

Here are a few ways you can promote mindfulness as a component of your employee wellness program.

Offer At-Work 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 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.

Incorporate Mindfulness in Daily Work Activities

Encourage employees to practice mindfulness whether they’re in a meeting or in their cubicle. Start or end team meetings with activities that everyone can engage in, like simple breathing techniques, guided imagery, or beginner yoga positions.

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 wellness—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.

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, and 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 to serve.

Stress, Mindfulness and Your Bottom Line