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Why You Should Let Employees Choose What Mindfulness Means to Them

When employees face stress, burnout, depression, and anxiety, practicing mindfulness can be a powerful tool to help them navigate their emotions. At the same time, though, not all employees warm up to “mindfulness” as a concept, let alone a practice. They may be skeptical of the benefits, or hesitant to give it a try.

That doesn’t mean you should abandon it altogether.

By incorporating various types of mindfulness activities and challenges into your wellness program, you can meet your employees where they are—and help everybody benefit from mindfulness, in whatever form it takes.

What Are the Benefits of Mindfulness?

Mindfulness has a great number of benefits to employees in your organization.

Improved Confidence and Resiliency

The lines of work and home are blurred in the post-pandemic era. It’s easy for employees to carry the burdens of both without any built-in breaks between the two.

A mindfulness practice helps employees focus on the present, which leads to clarity and thoughtful decision-making. Instead of being reactive in the face of trouble or adversity, employees who practice mindfulness are more resilient and confident in their choices.

Mindfulness has also been proven to improve self-esteem. In a study conducted by clinical psychologist, Christopher Pepping clearly demonstrated that mindfulness and self-esteem are related, and a mindfulness practice has a direct, positive impact on self-esteem.

Lower Stress and Anxiety

Employees who practice mindfulness tend to feel less stress, which isn’t surprising. Within the last 20 years, a range of mindfulness-based therapies (MBT) have become popular and effective interventions for reducing anxiety, depression and stress.

Mindfulness is a practice that can be accessed at any time, in any situation. That’s especially important in the workplaces. Taking a few moments before or during a contentious discussion with co-workers—similar to the classic “count to 10”—can calm the mind and body, opening their receptivity to respectful conversation and shared understanding.

An employee who’s about to make a big presentation to a client, for instance, may feel so anxious they can’t focus. Mindful practices, such as conscious breathing and imagining a positive outcome, can calm their nerves and give them the confidence to succeed.

Higher Productivity and Job Satisfaction

We know that being present and not distracted by intrusive thoughts makes employees more productive at work. There’s plenty of science to explain why.

Researchers have been able to link mindfulness and greater focus, less proactive interference, and more creativity. Knowing these impacts, employers can implement mindfulness-based therapies to help employees more easily adopt and perfect new skills.

The result? A well-trained team that does excellent work, giving your business an internal candidate pool other businesses would envy.

Personalizing Mindfulness Through Your Wellness Program

Every employee deserves to benefit from mindfulness. However, how they view the idea of mindfulness may differ greatly.

For many, the word itself elicits images of meditation, yoga, and other similar practices. Some employees respond well to those activities and challenges, so it makes sense to continue offering them within your wellness program.

But, what about employees who aren’t comfortable with those types of activities? How can you help them benefit from mindfulness?

This is where it helps to think beyond traditional practices. Your wellness program offers a path to helping them access it in their own way. The key is for each employee to find an activity that is engaging enough to pull them into the present moment … and keep them there.

Mindfulness Through Activity

People often say they do their best thinking when they are doing something active. It very likely is the result of a phenomenon where activity serves as a form of mindfulness to bring about creativity.

Behavioral and learning scientist, Marily Oppezzo shared research that measured how many creative ideas participants could think of while walking, compared to sitting, in a 2017 TEDxStanford session. The results were pretty astounding. The study participants who simply moved by walking on a treadmill were able to come up with twice the number of ideas as the group that had been sitting.

When applied to a working environment as a mindful practice, employees who are encouraged to take a walk when trying to solve a problem or generate new ideas are more likely to think outside the box and develop a longer list of possibilities.

Mindfulness Through Creativity

Other employees may choose to access mindfulness through creative expression, such as painting, music, or writing.

Psychologists have long encouraged their patients to express feelings through art. Over time, this gave rise to a mindfulness-based art therapy (MBAT), a treatment that combines the benefits of mindfulness training within an art therapy framework.

Creating Mindful Spaces

Mindfulness can also be a function of where employees work, especially in spaces that inspire relaxation, meditation, deep thinking, and even dreaming.

While that might sound silly, having big dreams is important. To quote Kalpana Chawla, the first Indian woman to explore space: “The path from dreams to success does exist. May you have the vision to find it, the courage to get on to it, and the perseverance to follow it.” If employees can access a space that helps them tune out the world and devote their mind to the present moment, it creates a setting ripe for those “A-ha!” moments that push businesses past the bumpiest of roadblocks.

Creating a Culture of Mindfulness

A company rooted in supporting mindfulness allows employees to explore what mindfulness means to them and allocates time for that practice. Our minds are pulled in a million different directions all day, so having the time to stop, breathe, and be present and intentional can have a significant impact.

Here are some ways to create a workplace culture of mindfulness:

  • Encourage technology-free breaks. That means no laptops or phones. A walk outside gives employees a change of scenery to break up the day. Or, a 15-minute catnap in a quiet room can refresh the brain for the afternoon’s work.
  • Suggest “gap time” between meetings and Zoom calls. There are no awards given for consecutive back-to-back meeting marathons. The time gap creates a space for more focus, more productivity and greater well-being.
  • Practice intention-setting in meetings. It might seem awkward at first, but clear intentions can help your team accomplish their goals. At the beginning of meetings, take a few minutes for everyone to focus on the intention of the meeting or the successful outcome of the project. Ask attendees to imagine what it will be like when you’ve achieved success and to hold that vision for a moment. The thoughtful focus that results may surprise you—and transform rambling meetings into strategic rocket fuel.
  • Encourage remote employees to designate space in their home office for mindfulness. You may even create an incentive or reward, like a gift card for your at-home workspace.
  • Ensure employees make time for a walk, run or some other activity. As we highlighted earlier, walking and creativity go hand-in-hand, so almost any activity can get the creative juices flowing. Don’t forget to emphasize with company management that these activities actually contribute to productivity and problem solving, and they should be considered part of their workday.

How to Make Your Culture of Mindfulness a Success

To make sure your nascent culture of mindfulness doesn’t run into a brick wall (or die on the vine), make sure you have the right infrastructure in place.

Engage Senior Leadership

Mindfulness isn’t limited to non-management employees. In fact, more responsibility and accountability can translate to more stress and anxiety.

So, it’s in your senior management’s best interests to support mindfulness programs and a culture of mindfulness. Charge your Wellness Champion Network with engagement at every level and make sure they lead by example in letting their teams know how to practice mindfulness.

Leverage Your Wellness Platform

Consider publishing mindfulness exercises and suggestions for thinking and dreaming spaces on your wellness platform. Include at least one annual or quarterly mindfulness challenge and make sure it gives employees the freedom to choose how that mindfulness manifests.

Make Participation Voluntary

Creating a mindfulness program and a culture of mindfulness is weakened if we add the stress of it being mandatory. Adding stress to stress relief is counterintuitive.

Regardless of the programs and activities you offer, your employees have to volunteer. It’s your job to make the program attractive enough and convey the benefits. That means clear communication delivered through multiple channels.

Regardless of how your employees practice mindfulness, this is an opportunity to set the stage for a happy, healthy and motivated employee population.

If you’re interested in discussing how to implement wellness programs in your company, contact one of our experienced Wellness Consultants. At WellRight, we’re here to help.


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