This article was last updated June 2022.
It’s not a new idea. In fact, it’s been around for thousands of years. Mindfulness. But today, it’s being integrated into preschools, elementary and secondary schools, colleges, hospitals and health clinics. Major employers are also on board: Apple®, Google®, and General Mills®.
While some business leaders dismiss mindfulness as a touchy-feely trend, others are able to harness its power and give their company a competitive edge.
In a country where 75 percent of employees suffer from workplace stress External Site, mindfulness has the potential to make a huge difference. Stress leads to decreased productivity, poor work quality, irritability, exhaustion, and eventually, burnout. Stressed employees are more likely to not get enough sleep, suffer from anxiety and depression and contribute to absenteeism and presenteeism.
Research shows that mindfulness makes a difference. In one study External Site, employees who participated in a mindfulness program for six weeks reported reduced work-life conflict, increased job satisfaction, and an increased ability to focus their attention. What is mindfulness, anyway?
“Basically, mindfulness is a state of active attention to the moment,” says Amanda Dorr, health and well-being consultant at Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. “A mindful approach at home or work means responding, instead of reacting, to stress. It means giving yourself space to focus on one thing at a time. It’s about awareness, intention, wisdom and self-care.”
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Mindfulness is often confused with meditation Opens in a new window. Even though the two words are used interchangeably, they are different, says Dorr. “Mindfulness is the ability to purposefully bring your attention to what you’re experiencing in the present moment. Meditation is the regular practice of training your brain. It’s a tool for reaching a state of mindfulness."
Why we need mindfulness in the workplace
“Most of us never learn how to effectively deal with the stress," says Dorr. "Some of us have even been conditioned to believe that work-related stress is a constant. Others believe multi-tasking works, or that busy-ness equals productivity.” (It doesn’t, says Dorr.)
“When employees are mindful, they can effectively respond to stress rather than reacting to it," she adds. “When employees can calm themselves at work, it’s good for everyone.”
According to Dorr, “Mindful employees are less stressed, more focused and productive. They can prioritize and complete tasks more effectively. They are better able to negotiate and collaborate with colleagues. They are more effective at solving problems. Plus, leaders who are mindful show a greater ability to satisfy the psychological needs of their employees.”
A small but growing body of work suggests mindfulness at work can:
Improve productivity.The human mind is estimated to wander half of its waking hours. It's particularly difficult for the brain to refocus once it's been interrupted. Individuals who have completed mindfulness training have been shown to have improved focus External Site, and are able to remain vigilant longer on both visual and listening tasks.
Boost employee morale.Morale improves when employees are supportive of one another, accepting of each other's differences, and are dedicated to achieving goals together. Mindfulness improves relationships External Site and promotes empathy and compassion.
Reduce stress.Mindfulness has the ability to reduce undue stress and make people more emotionally resilient External Site. In fact, researchers at the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic found that mindfulness-based techniques, including meditation, can lower stress levels External Site in a demanding work environment and lead to happier, more engaged employees.
Reduce employee turnover.Companies with mindfulness programs have reduced employee turnover External Site. When employees are less stressed, they are simply less likely to leave.
Four simple tricks for creating calm in the workplace
Here are four basic mindfulness techniques your employees can practice to reduce stress levels:.
There are many simple, conscious choices your employees can make to keep from being distracted at work, like:
- Turn off pop-up notifications and push notifications.
- Answer emails only during dedicated periods of time.
- Finish one task before starting the next.
These techniques can help employees who want to calm their thoughts and emotions Opens in a new window:
- Diaphragmatic. Inhale through the nose, letting your belly fill with air. Exhale through the mouth, at least twice as long as it took to inhale. Repeat for five minutes, three or four times a day.
- Pursed lip. Inhale through the nose, exhale at least twice as long through the mouth, with lips pursed.
- Equal breathing. Inhale through the nose for five seconds, then exhale through the nose for five seconds. As you continue this progression, increase the number of seconds according to your comfort level.
Practice the S.T.O.P. exercise to reduce the pressure of stressful moments.
- Stop. Pause for a moment, no matter what you’re doing.
- Take a breath. Focus on your own breathing, which brings you back to the present moment.
- Observe. Acknowledge what is happening, good or bad, physically or emotionally. Check in with yourself. Note it.
- Proceed. Continue with whatever it was you were doing.
Simple workplace meditations.
- Sitting meditation. Sit in a chair comfortably, with back straight, hands folded in lap, and feet flat on the floor. Breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth, focusing on the breath moving in and out of the body. If thoughts or physical sensations interrupt, note the experience. Then, return to focus on your breath. Continue for three to five minutes.
- Walking meditation. Find a quiet place, 10 – 20 feet in length. Walk slowly, focusing on the experience of moving your body, breathing in and out, and the subtle movements that keep your balance. At the end of your path, turn and continue walking the other direction. Maintain awareness of the sensations, and tension or sensations.
Add mindfulness training to your wellness program
Improving your employees' ability to cope with work stress is the goal of nearly all wellness programs. At Wellmark, we’re here to help. We have insights and data on your employees that you may not have in-house. Our team of employer health and well-being consultants can provide expertise in creating engaging solutions that meet the unique needs of your employee population.
Learn more, get connected and receive a complimentary consultation Opens in a new window with one of our employer health and well-being experts. When you complete the form, you'll receive a copy of our Well-being that Works guide. From there, we will be there every step of the way. Our team can be your go-to source for finding the right combination of solutions — because one-size doesn’t fit all.
If you are interested in learning more about how we can support your organization and your employees' health and well-being next year and beyond, contact your authorized Wellmark account representative, or email us at email@example.com Send Email.