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Our new whitepaper, Mindfulness in the workplace, explores why businesses are increasingly adopting the practice.

It has been difficult to avoid mindfulness in recent years. It commonly features in newspaper lifestyle supplements, it has been adopted as a treatment for depression by the NHS, there are MSc courses in mindfulness and it even has political advocates in the form of the Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary group, whose influence on policy has seen it introduced into schools and prisons.

Why has it suddenly gained such attention when it’s been around for decades? The question was answered by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who made its wider acceptance possible by detaching the meditation from its Buddhist origins “It’s the Science” he told Time magazine.

Studies into the impact of mindfulness have been conducted for many years, but there has been an explosion of peer-reviewed research since 2010. The result is an accumulated body of evidence confirming that mindfulness can treat a range of health conditions, build resilience, support more effective performance at work and improve wellbeing overall.

Workplace potential

This has not been lost on businesses which have been quick to recognise its potential in the workplace. In 2016, 22% of businesses in the US were offering mindfulness training to their staff, 2 with that figure expected to double in 2017. Google were early adopters taking to mindfulness as early as 2007. Since then a host of major corporations round the world have followed suit. Apple, IKEA. Transport for London, General Motors, Proctor and Gamble, Ford Motor Company have all made mindfulness available to staff. Banks too have embraced mindfulness, albeit via different routes. HSBC, Barclays, Goldman Sachs, Bank of England, JPMorgan, Lloyds Banking Group, and Royal Bank of Scotland are among those that have, in their different ways, brought mindfulness into the workplace.

Health Insurance specialist Aetna is a business that has adopted mindfulness on a large scale. More than 13,000 of its employees have attended at least one mindfulness class – and it has made a difference. Participants reported a significant reduction in their stress levels and an improvement in their sleep quality. Moreover, the employees evidenced 62 minutes of extra productivity per week. Aetna’s organisational data also showed that, health care costs dropped by $2,000, on average, for participants, compared to colleagues weren’t trained.

Intel also went for scale with 1,500 staff participating in a 19-session mindfulness course. At its conclusion, the employees reported significant decreases in stress levels, they were happier and improvements were reported in their creativity, working relationships and concentration.

Meanwhile at Goldman Sachs, mindfulness was included as a core component in the bank’s resilience training programme and Headspace, the meditation app has been offered as an employee benefit. Sally Boyle, International Head of Human Capital Management at the company, told the FT: “In years to come we’ll be talking about mindfulness as we talk about exercise now”.

Introducing mindfulness

There is no best way to introduce mindfulness at work. Some companies target the leaders within the business, on the basis that the whole organisation will benefit if their senior team adopts mindful behaviours. In other firms it is employed to build employee resilience and may be offered to the whole workforce as part of a wellbeing strategy. Employee-led approaches are less common but have been very successful. Here, the business supports the efforts of a cohort of dedicated mindfulness enthusiasts, keen to communicate its benefits to colleagues. Sometimes this support may amount to little more than offering room space in which employees can practice, and this may be all that’s needed. But some organisations have gone much further and funded a “train the trainer” programme, to allow mindfulness hubs to expand across the organisation.

An easily scalable way to offer mindfulness is by making apps available to employees, free of charge, or at a discounted rate as an employee benefit. This has many advantages, provided an app with proven clinical benefit is chosen, as it allows employees to practice mindfulness at a time and place of their choosing.

Some businesses employ a mix of all these approaches but whichever they decide, mindfulness must sit comfortably with the organisation’s culture and values. If it is offered merely to help employees cope with a toxic organisational environment, it will be regarded cynically and will, in all probability fail to get employee buy-in.

Already mindfulness is part of the wellbeing offering for many businesses. As the evidence of its effectiveness continues to build, still more organisations will be persuaded to make it a key component in their workplace wellbeing strategies.

Download the whitepaper