Editor's Note: We recently updated this post with new insights.
It's no secret that employee stress is skyrocketing across the board. Since the pandemic, workers have been feeling the pressure of economic uncertainty, rapid technological changes, job insecurity, and more—on top of managing the daily stress of tight deadlines and performance goals.
According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2023 report, 44% of employees reported feeling stressed on any given day of the work week, setting the record for the second year in a row.
But how can organizations help to turn the tide of workplace stress?
It all starts with a tool anyone can harness—one with the power to help employees manage stress, increase productivity, and improve their overall sense of wellbeing, while lowering healthcare expenses and reducing absenteeism. Even better, it hardly costs a thing.
We're talking about 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 skills to employees can help them feel more in control of their thoughts and behaviors in times of intense stress—plus, it can help them become more aware of how their thoughts affect their reactions.
How Mindfulness Improves Employee Wellness in the Workplace
Just like a wellbeing program in general, a personalized mindfulness program can also carry a host of benefits for both employees and organizations looking to conquer stress and thrive at work.
Benefits for Employees
It can be hard for employees to switch into work mode when personal issues are at the forefront—and it can be just as challenging to leave work issues behind when they finish for the day.
For employees who aren’t accustomed 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.
Alternatively, when employees clock out for the day, they can still use these same mindfulness exercises to leave workplace stress behind and achieve a better work-life balance.
The versatility of mindfulness is a huge plus—it’s an anytime-anywhere tool that can be used to cope with both personal and professional challenges, letting employees process and handle their emotions in a healthy way. When practiced regularly, employees find their stress lowered and their overall sense of wellbeing heightened.
Apart from being an effective short-term solution for immediate stressors, workplace mindfulness can also improve long-term health by reducing chronically elevated stress. As a bonus, it’s also been proven to improve sleep quality, increase concentration and creativity, and simply enhance overall health.
Benefits for Organizations
Stress can have dramatic effects on an organization. According to the American Psychological Association, financial pressures are the leading source of stress for working adults—a problem that 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. Until recently, however, stress and burnout have rarely been addressed in the workplace, despite approximately 80 percent of workers reporting feeling stressed on the job.
Luckily, these numbers are starting to change—but only for organizations that are prioritizing mindfulness at work. In a review of 28 different empirical studies, researchers found that using mindfulness training in the workplace leads to direct improvements in wellbeing, mental health, and even performance.
In other words, mindfulness and meditation are proven gateways to help employees “get in the zone,” resulting in increased creativity, focus, and engagement. And with regular mindfulness exercises, employees not only become better at getting their jobs done, but they also enjoy their work more in the process.
Organizations are also reaping 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.
4 Tips for Integrating Mindfulness at Work
Here are a few ways organizations can promote mindfulness as a component of their employee wellness program:
- Offer Guided Mindfulness Meditation Classes
- Incorporate Mindfulness into Daily Work Activities
- Host Educational Lunch and Learns
- Encourage All Levels of the Organization to Participate
While employees may think mindfulness is just closing their eyes and taking a deep breath, true mindfulness may require guided meditation instructions to teach them about breathing exercises, as well as how to relax and acknowledge the world around them without judgment.
Bring in a professional yoga or meditation teacher to help employees learn the techniques for being in the present moment and improving their mental health. These classes can easily be held virtually from the comfort of everyone’s home.
Encourage employees to practice mindfulness throughout the day, whether it’s in between meetings or even as part of team meetings.
“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," explains Schrock. "Figure out ways to incorporate it into daily team check-ins or meetings and find time to practice daily gratitude.”
A popular mindfulness exercise adopted by thriving organizations is called the 4-7-8 breath. No special tools are required for this practice—all employees have to do is inhale for four seconds, hold their breath in for seven seconds, then exhale for eight 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,” says Schrock. “Before you know it, you're feeling more relaxed.”
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 wellbeing—why not share those findings with employees? Also, consider inviting those who are already practicing mindfulness to talk about the benefits they’ve experienced from engaging in mindful behaviors.
When employees know their supervisors—or even members of the C-suite—are taking time out of their busy days to practice mindfulness, they are more likely to follow suit. Plus, when mindful leadership invests in their employees, it increases the likelihood that those workers will feel valued.
And when those employees become healthier as a result of that investment, they’ll become more committed to the organization and find more meaning in the work they do.
Teaching employees mindfulness doesn’t just help them reduce stress. It also helps them break free from old ways of thinking, make better decisions, reduce emotional burdens, 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.
If you’re looking to build a happier, healthier team, now is a great time to start mindfulness training to improve mental health in your workplace.