What is mindfulness? Is there a place for it in the workplace? How can it benefit employees and organisations? Is it just a fluffy alternative approach or can it produce real, tangible results?
A landmark report has been published all about the subject of mindfulness in the UK.
The section on mindfulness in the workplace will be of particular interest to organisations looking to improve the wellbeing and engagement of employees whilst in need of genuine, tangible examples.
The report is the result of eight hearings in parliament and over a year of solid research by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG). It marks a real turning point for the global view of mindfulness in modern lives.
The report, Mindful Nation UK, makes recommendations about teaching mindfulness in the workplace, education, healthcare and the criminal justice system. The intention is that it will widen interest in mindfulness, deepen understanding of its relevance and potential, and stimulate developments for better access.
What is Mindfulness?
According to the report, ‘mindfulness means paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness. It is typically cultivated by a range of simple meditation practices, which aim to bring a greater awareness of thinking, feeling and behaviour patterns, and to develop the capacity to manage these with greater skill and compassion. This is found to lead to an expansion of choice and capacity in how to meet and respond to life’s challenges, and therefore live with greater wellbeing, mental clarity and care for yourself and others.’
Mindfulness allows people to develop healthier, more compassionate responses to their own experience, as well as to events in their lives and the people around them.
The report includes:
- An overview of mindfulness, where it comes from and how it works
- Comments from Parliamentarians who attended mindfulness classes in Westminster
- Key recommendations for the health, education, workplace and criminal justice sectors
- Case studies from organisations successfully implementing mindfulness initiatives including Google, Tata Steel, Transport for London and a number of NHS Trusts
- The challenges of mindfulness implementation in the workplace
The impact of mindfulness
Mindfulness has a role to play in tackling our mental health crisis in which roughly one in three families include someone who is mentally ill. Up to 10% of the UK adult population will experience symptoms of depression in any given week.
Mindfulness is one of the most promising prevention strategies and is regarded as popular and non-stigmatising, unlike some other mental health interventions.
On a number of issues ranging from improving mental health and boosting productivity and creativity in the economy through to helping people with long-term conditions such as diabetes and obesity, mindfulness appears to have an impact.
The role of mindfulness in the workplace
Mindfulness in the workplace is the sector where there has been the most intense interest, widespread experimentation and enthusiastic media coverage.
What is driving the interest in and innovation of mindfulness in the workplace is the need to tackle issues around the rising cost of workplace absence because of stress and depression, and the need to boost productivity in a workplace which is being radically changed by new information technologies.
The evidence for mindfulness practices in the workplace
Since 2009 the number of sick days lost to stress, depression and anxiety has increased by 24% and the number lost to serious mental illness has doubled. The leading cause of sickness absence in the UK is mental ill health, accounting for 70 million sick days, more than half of the 130 million total every year.
Studies have shown that those using mindfulness report lower levels of stress during multi-tasking tests and are able to concentrate longer without their attention being diverted.
Even brief periods of mindfulness practice can lead to objectively measured higher cognitive skills such as improved reaction times, comprehension scores, working memory functioning and decision-making.
Other research suggests that employees of leaders in a range of other settings who practice mindfulness have less emotional exhaustion, better work-life balance and better job performance ratings. They are also more likely to show concern towards co-workers and express opinions honestly.
Recommendations from the report
The report makes a number of recommendations. On the subject of mindfulness in the workplace these cover:
1. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) should demonstrate leadership in working with employers to promote the use of mindfulness and develop an understanding of good practice.
2. We welcome the government’s What Works Centre for Wellbeing, and urge it to commission, as a priority, pilot research studies on the role of mindfulness in the workplace, and to work with employers and university research centres to collaborate on high-quality studies to close the research gap.
3. Government departments should encourage the development of mindfulness programmes for staff in the public sector – in particular in health, education and criminal justice – to combat stress and improve organisational effectiveness. One initiative could be seed-funding for a pilot project in policing where we have encountered considerable interest.
4. The National Institute of Health Research should invite bids to research the use of mindfulness as an occupational health intervention and its effectiveness in addressing occupational mental health issues such as stress, work-related rumination, fatigue and disrupted sleep.
The report is the first of its kind and is being described as hugely significant and influential. It’s well structured and easy to follow and can be downloaded here.
We welcome the research and look forward to following progress in the coming months.