I was recently part of a group of leadership and management trainers and one turned to me and said - 'I can't get into all this mindfulness stuff, I just can't see how it is of any use for managers. Managers need tools they can use'.
This led me to think that if you are looking for a quick fix, this may be the case. Indeed, whatever sort of intervention you are looking for, mindfulness may not be for you. In spite of all the recent positive press coverage, mindfulness is not a panacea for all ills, and it won't suit everyone.
In saying this, neither do I think it should be dismissed as a passing whim or the latest fad. It’s important to consider that the practice has been developed from a tradition of Buddhism which is around 2500 years old, so there is no doubt it has stood the test of time.
Back to the current day, there is a growing body of research evidence to suggest that it can bring many benefits, particularly in the fields of health and wellbeing. Surely, these are areas which will be of concern to everyone, including managers.
So, I would like to return to the point raised by my colleague and focus specifically on mindfulness in the workplace.
A Mindful Nation
Mindfulness was one of four key areas addressed in the recently published 'A Mindful Nation' by UK Government All Party Parliamentary Group Report in October 2015.
This report reviews some of the key current evidence from research and draws on the expertise of a wide team of mindfulness practitioners, and ‘in the workplace’ was one of the key areas addressed.
Mindfulness in the Modern Western World
The person attributed with introducing mindfulness to the modern western world is Jon Kabat-Zinn. This dates back to the time when he established a programme in his stress relief clinic in Massachusetts in1979. He has worked tirelessly in the field ever since.
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as 'A way of being in wise and purposeful relationship with one’s experience, both inwardly and outwardly.'
Benefits of Mindfulness
Given the degree of interest in the public domain in recent years, many people will be aware that the practice of mindfulness can bring about considerable benefits to our overall well-being and mental health.
In 2009, NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) recommended it could be offered on a par with medication for the treatment of people who experience recurrent episodes of depression.
Clearly, this will be of interest to employers as the incidence of mental health issues in the workplace continues to rise with an estimated 70 million working days lost to sickness absence due to mental illness in 2014. (Department of Health (2014) Annual report of the Chief Medical Officer.)
In addition, the Mindful Nation report states ' The indirect costs to the UK of mental ill health in unemployment, absenteeism and presenteeism (and the resulting loss of productivity) are estimated at between £70 and £100 billion with employers paying £9 billion of that in sick pay and related costs.'
However, there are a number of other reported potential benefits that arise from the practice of mindfulness that may also be of interest to employers. These include:
- An overall reduction in stress levels
- Increased productivity
- Improved attention
- Better relationships
- More creativity
- The development of emotional intelligence
- Better leadership skills
- Higher levels of cognitive skills including decision making and working memory functioning and increased well-being
While it has been acknowledged that additional research is required, current emerging evidence is promising and a number of high profile organisations have introduced a range of mindfulness based interventions into their workplaces and claim them to be highly effective. These include: Google, the US military and, closer to home, TfL and BT.
In addition to the claims made by the employers, many employees have described their experience as 'life-changing.'
Mindfulness in the workplace is, however, not a quick fix. At an individual level it requires motivation to engage and make a commitment, as well as finding the time for ongoing practice. Organisationally it needs to be part of a holistic approach that takes the well-being of staff seriously.
To Be Continued
In my next blog I will explore finding the right mindfulness based approach for your workplace, and provide some hints and tips for finding the right mindfulness trainer/consultant for your organisation.
The third and final blog in this series will consider how you might introduce and support your chosen mindfulness based intervention to your staff team.
Want to know more about how to make your team more resilient? Have a look at our Resilience Programme now.
Deryl Dix, Facilitator and Consultant
In my blogs I’ll discuss unconscious bias and the importance of inclusivity in workplace training.
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