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In today’s working environment, many of us spend more time at work than we do at home. Often thrown together with a group of people that we’ve never met before, we’re expected to work, collaborate and be productive in an environment that’s largely alien to the way we have historically built communities. It’s therefore no surprise that things don’t always go smoothly, and research suggests that the hours we spend at work are the least happy of our lives.

At the worst end of the spectrum are the horrors of workplace bullying, overbearing managers and internal conflict, and at the rosier end of the corporate rainbow is indifference, a lack of caring and reduced productivity. In an increasingly knowledge based economy, the success of a business is inherently linked with the mental dexterity, motivation and collaboration within its workforce. Poor working relationships and any subsequent stress can erode these very attributes, spelling disaster for the future performance of a business.

In an attempt to address these issues, new perspectives on employee wellbeing have been emerging over recent years, with mindfulness programs the seemingly “go to” solution for many organizations.

In simple terms, mindfulness is Buddhist tradition that focuses on moment-to-moment awareness. The practice of being mindful is to be aware of yourself and your surroundings, observing your thoughts without judgment or criticism. By acknowledging that these thoughts are transient in nature, you can start to appreciate that you are not your thoughts, and you have a choice about whether to act on them or not.

Backed by an increasing wealth of scientific evidence, business owners have been implementing a variety of mindfulness wellbeing initiatives throughout the corporate landscape; but do they actually work, and does it make a tangible difference to the bottom line?

In order to answer the question, it’s important to consider that the cost of stress on a business is twofold. First, there’s the direct cost that stress has on associated medical conditions, and according to the World Health Organization, stress is estimated to cost American businesses $300 billion a year.

Secondly, there’s the cost associated with a lack of creativity, reduced performance and productivity. While the latter is often much more difficult to quantify, there are organizations who have measured the impact of mindfulness, and the various effect that it’s had on their organization.

Aetna

Aetna is an American managed health care company that sells a variety of health insurance plans to its 46 million customers. Before he became CEO, Mark Bertolini almost died on a family skiing holiday, and during his recovery he used a combination of yoga and meditation to help manage the pain. The results were so profound that he fundamentally changed the way he viewed his recovery, and it inspired him to make a variety of health and wellbeing initiatives available for Aetna’s 50,000 employees, including free yoga and meditation classes.

With two mindfulness programs launched in 2010, Aetna collaborated with Duke University, eMindful, and the American Viniyoga Institute in order to study and understand the impact the wellbeing initiatives had on the organisation.

According to the research, participants showed significant improvement in perceived stress levels and various heart rate measurements, demonstrating that their bodies were better able to manage the various stresses that naturally occur during the working day.

The research also showed that highly stressed employees incurred an additional $2,000 per year in health care costs. With health care costs that total more than $90 million a year, the mindfulness initiative not only reduced the cost by 7 percent (a saving of $6.3 million per annum), but productivity gains amounted to $3,000 per employee.

General Mills

Janice Marturano was appointed by General Mills in 1996 as part of the organizations’ legal department, heading up policy work around trade regulation. After becoming embroiled in a £10.5 billion acquisition that lasted 18 months, combined with the sad loss of both parents during this period, the pressure and strain became too much, and Janice was left emotionally and physical drained.

After being offered an opportunity to attend a meditation retreat – led by Jon-Kabat-Zinn – the 6-day experience was the start of a daily meditation practice that she has continued ever since. With improvements in focus, emotional resilience and her overall quality of life, Janice decided to bring her lessons in mindfulness to General Mills in an ongoing pursuit to remake an entire corporate culture.

Now, more than 500 General Mills employees have taken part in the organizations’ mindfulness wellbeing program, and every building in the campus contains a meditation room, complete with yoga mats for employees to grab a few minutes of relaxation throughout the day.

Since the introduction of the program, the company’s reputation improved – with Leadership Excellence Magazine ranking it the best for developing leaders in 2012 – and after taking one of their seven-week courses, 80% of senior executives reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions, and 89% saying they became better listeners.

Overall, the wellbeing program has helped employees to become more empathetic with each other, promoting a happy, healthy and engaging environment that’s viewed as a great place to work, 

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF)

Mindfulness has been a core theme for legal firm HSF for more than 10 years. Murray Paterson is the head of learning and development, and initially designed the mindfulness program to help support employees who frequently work in a highly pressured and stressful environment.

With many employees working long hours, and with an emphasis on detailed, accurate work, mindfulness was seen as a valuable technique that would help focus employees attention and improve the quality of work produced.

To date approximately 200 employees have gone through the 6-week mindfulness program that includes weekly mindfulness sessions for anyone who wants to drop in, a weekly hour and a half session learning how to work more effectively in the office, and a daily 10 minutes guided practice via a pre-recorded message.

Available to everyone, from senior executives to new, junior employees, some of the results from their internal research include:

  • 12% increase in employee focus
  • 10% increase in employee performance
  • 10% increase in employee efficiency
  • 17% increase in employee work/life balance
  • 11% increase in employee communication skills

According to Murray Paterson, there’s a strong correlation between their mindfulness practice and reduced feelings of stress, and employees are working in a way where they feel calm and focussed on the task at hand.

The variety of Mindfulness initiatives, from both large and small organizations, is reshaping significant corners of the corporate world. While many businesses will still value profits above all else, mindfulness initiatives are proving that supporting the wellbeing of staff and increasing quarterly profits aren’t mutually exclusive.

Does your business need a wellness program at work to ensure happy, healthy and productive employees? Pilgrimage Yoga Online specializes in workplace wellness and mindfulness, and has the skills necessary to coach beginners on the skills and practices necessary to stay balanced at work. Contact us today at [email protected] to learn more about our workplace wellness specialities.

BIO: This post was written by The Minded Institute, a world leader in the development and implementation of yoga therapy and mindfulness programs for those with mental health and chronic physical health problems.