Workplace mindfulness: How it can improve employee wellbeing

Why is mindfulness in the workplace important today?

Mindfulness is hugely beneficial for both employees and employers, and can help build a happier, healthier and more productive workforce. Mindfulness involves taking time to be fully aware and in the present moment, giving your full attention to it and being free, or at least attempting to be, of distractions. Studies have shown that those who practice mindfulness have a different brain chemistry that can affect both physical health and mental health, and a work based mindfulness approach can improve psychological wellbeing. Whether it’s simply taking a deep breath, being aware of physical sensations in the body, meditating on a sound or image to be fully present or doing some yoga, mindfulness can be a daily practice that reaps rewards. 

In today’s fast-paced and always connected work environment, employees often face high levels of stress, anxiety, and burnout, Wysa’s All Worked Up report showed. Mindfulness helps individuals cope with these challenges by promoting resilience, mental clarity, and emotional stability, ultimately leading to better decision-making and improved performance.

Mindfulness and resilience

And because work can be so intense at times, it’s important that individuals are able to tackle challenges in a positive way. People with healthy levels of resilience are able to address issues and problems in a practical and positive way. A handy way to remember what affects resilience is to think of the five Cs –  Centering (Coping); Confidence (Control); Community (Care); Commitment (Calling) and Compassion (Character). People who practice mindfulness are able to center themselves more easily, and thus cope with challenges and stresses that arrive, as they feel grounded. 

Benefits of mindfulness in the workplace

Improves focus and work performance

When employees are practicing mindfulness at work they are able to focus more clearly on the task in hand. This ensures greater clarity over what can be done, and can improve energy. Rather than multi-tasking, which can leave people scattered and never really getting anything done, a mindful approach to work involves focusing on one thing at a time, and achieving the best you can with the resources available. Workers who segment their time and prioritize one task at a time can be much more efficient, effective and productive. One time management technique that has a lot in common with mindfulness is the Pomodoro technique – short focused bursts of activity with no distractions, followed by short reenergizing breaks, ultimately helping to improve productivity.

Increases employee productivity and motivation

And because employees are focused, they are more likely to get things done. Ticking things off the to do list triggers the dopamine reward chemical in our brains, and thus improves wellbeing and motivation to do it again.

People who practice mindfulness have been shown to be generally calmer and more relaxed, which helps ease any worries that may be impacting their work output – and research suggests that they therefore see an increase in productivity. It can also help foster a sense of self awareness around what works well for that individual to perform at their best, so can help with managing workloads.

Reduced anxiety and stress levels

All Worked Up showed an astonishing level of anxiety and depression in the workplace – 40% of people surveyed screened positive, alongside significant stress. A fifth of people say they are most stressed the night before their working week starts, and only a quarter say they don’t get stressed at all about work. The Wysa Employee Mental Health Report in which data from over 150,000 conversations that 11,300 employees across 60 countries had with Wysa was examined, showed worrying trends. Over a third of employees globally reported feeling ‘not okay’ at the start of the workday– and this number kept going up throughout the workday, reaching its peak at 40% towards the end of the workday. Overall 75% of employees reported low to moderate energy on average throughout the day. It’s clear people are stressed and it’s affecting them at work as well as perosnally.

Mindfulness and meditation are great strategies for reducing anxiety and stress, and have been shown  to demonstrate efficacy in reducing anxiety and depression symptom severity. Wysa offers a number of mindfulness based interventions to help with anxiety, depression and other mental health challenges. One of the best meditations for mental wellbeing is to try to distance oneself from negative thoughts, recognising that a thought is indeed just a thought, rather than part of a person, or a reality. This can help remove the negative emotions that come with it.

Reduces risk of burnout

One of the biggest risks of stress is burnout – essentially when it all gets too much and employees can no longer work and live their lives. In a 2018 study, the UK-based Mental Health Foundation found that “74% of people have felt so stressed they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope” – burnout. The physical, mental and emotional effects of burnout include lack of sleep, irritability, changes in your weight, anxiety, lack of engagement, pressure on relationships, inability to focus and more. By taking a more mindful approach employees can find a sense of calm and focus that does not leave them feeling distressed and at risk of burning out.

In some working cultures long hours and stressful work environments are the norm. Creating a more mindful approach is part of entire systems change in culture around workplace stress, as well as something an individual can do when things get too much

Fosters a happy and healthy work environment

A mindful workplace promotes a positive and supportive atmosphere, benefiting all employees. Given that we spend the vast majority of our waking hours at work, it should be a place we enjoy being, at least to some extent. The sense of calm that can come from regular meditation or a mindful attitude can infuse our entire working day and influence our relationships. In places where people feel more balanced in both their personal and professional lives they will be much more engaged and happy at work and see an improvement in job satisfaction. When emotional states run high it can make people behave in irrational or less positive way which can have a significant impact on workplace dynamics. 

Improves workplace relationships

There have been a number of studies on the link between meditation practice and romantic relationships, but the premise still stands for workplace relationships. By being mindful when someone is talking and listening in the present moment employees will be able to listen more attentively and really engage, which will improve relationships. Mindful employees are able to participate in meetings and team tasks more fully, further fostering team alignment.

Boosts creativity at work

Mindfulness can help with innovative thinking and creativity. Mindfulness interventions can encourage people to step out of their usual rigid ways of thinking and see new patterns or ideas emerging. It can help formulate ways to approach repetitive tasks in a new way.

8 ways to implement mindfulness in the workplace

1. Mindful meetings

A mindful approach to meetings can be a powerful tool for improving communication, fostering creativity, and building stronger relationships within a team or organization. We don’t often think of practicing mindfulness in meetings but taking a mindful approach means that participants can more fully engage in the discussion and bring their best selves to the table. This can lead to more productive and meaningful conversations in the short term, as well as increased collaboration and understanding among team members. Taking a few moments at the beginning of the meeting to focus on breathing and set intentions can help participants get into a more mindful state – it can be as simple as asking people to consider what they want to get out of the meeting. Incorporating moments of silence or reflection throughout the meeting can also be helpful for allowing participants to digest information and respond thoughtfully.

2. Leadership training

Leaders can encourage mindfulness at work only if they know enough about it. Educate your leadership team on the benefits of workplace mindfulness so they can take a mindful leadership approach. This should be part of regular mental health training for all senior leaders and managers. Encourage managers to discuss mindfulness during performance reviews, emphasizing its role in personal development and stress management.

Added to this, a good leader should not only be business savvy, but also display emotional intelligence to help enhance employee performance, and mindful leader training can help with this.

3. Wellness programs

Recognize that employees have different needs and preferences, and provide various mindfulness practices to accommodate individual preferences, such as guided imagery, body scans, or progressive muscle relaxation. Wysa’s employee offering allows for an anonymous aggregated view of what people are using and what they are finding helpful, so HR teams can identify the most positive mindfulness activities for their organization.

4. Webinars and workshops

One of the key ways to increase take up of a mindfulness initiative or mindfulness programs is through education. People will be more likely to try mindfulness meditation if they know the benefits. Wysa offers webinars and workshops that are tailored to the mental health needs of an organization, and can include the health benefits of meditation and techniques and tools for incorporating it into the working day.

5. Share mindfulness tips for employees

Make mindfulness books, apps, and podcasts readily available for employees to access and learn from in their own time. Wysa for employers includes meditation and mindfulness alongside CBT techniques and other structured activities that help people manage their own emotions and reduce stress. These include breathing exercises, acknowledging physical sensation, and focused time. 

One way to encourage employees to build a regular mindfulness practice is to organize company-wide mindfulness challenges, such as a 30-day meditation challenge. It takes an average of 30 days to build a regular habit, and it can be a fun way of trying to incorporate mindfulness everyday.

6. Online group meditations sessions

It’s important to not neglect remote employees. According to McKinsey 58% of American employees do some homeworking, and employers are recognising the benefits on mental health and job performance. However it can mean that remote workers feel left out of some of the ways that the workplace is introducing mindfulness practices. One way to include them is through online group meditation sessions. With Wysa employees can log in remotely and undertake a more structured formal meditation practice in a group setting, but all anonymously. 

7. Mindful breaks

Break the culture of always working which can lead to burnout by integrating mindfulness throughout the working day. Short mindful breaks periodically during the day can help employees to recharge and refocus. This can include deep breathing exercises, stretching, or a short walk. This might also include a digital detox. We’re so connected to our phones but sometimes a walking meeting or using a pen and paper goes a long way towards helping employees to take breaks from their devices, helping to reduce screen time and foster mindfulness.

By encouraging lunch breaks employers will help with reducing stress and improving focus. One way to make them even more mindful is to suggest that rather than working and eating at the same time, employees try to eat in a mindful way, focusing on the tastes, smells and sensations in their food.

8. Create quiet spaces

Designate a quiet room or area in the office where employees can go to relax, chill out, practice mindfulness, meditate, or simply have a moment of peace. Some employers develop specific meditation rooms, whereas others simply have a comfortable space. Knowing there is a place to go to take a few moments when work stress is too much can also reassure people that they can take time out if needed.

Mindfulness and meditation has so many benefits for employee well-being in the workplace, and is something all employers should consider as part of their employee assistance program, and is offered by Wysa.

Photo by Gustavo Fring

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