Mindfulness in the Workplace

A stressful work environment can be the source of truly significant personal unhappiness

It has been estimated that many of us spend on average, 50% of our waking day working and that over the course of a lifetime, as much as 21% of our waking hours on the job. So, it comes as no surprise that a stressful work environment can be the source of truly significant personal unhappiness. For those who spend large proportions of our lives working somewhere outside of our own homes, workplace stress can leave us feeling frustrated, dissatisfied, lonely, exhausted and even physically ill. In fact, the American Academy of Family Physicians estimates that two-thirds of visits to the doctor’s office are for stress-related conditions. The American Psychological Association reports that 72% of all Americans report experiencing physical symptoms or stress. But in addition to the personal toll workplace stress can take on individuals, ever-mounting scientific data makes it clear that it also takes a toll on bottom-line business results.

In a summary of studies by Kristen Shader (2016), she noted that stress costs American companies an estimated $200 to $300 billion in lost productivity every year. Further, U.S. employers spend 200% to 300% more for the indirect costs of health care then they do on actual health care payments. In the United Kingdom, businesses fare no better in facing the costs of stress. There, government statistics show that the leading cause of employee absence due to illness was due to “mental ill health,” accounting for more that 70 million missed days of work, more than half of the total number of days missed for health reasons. And along with these directly health-related costs are also costs more difficult to fully estimate associated with challenges in attracting and retaining employees who are more and more purposeful in finding emotionally healthy environments in which to work.

Mindfulness training can have a positive impact in human and financial stress

The reality of the impact of stress in the workplace is one that more and more businesses as addressing head-on. Research on the impact of Mindfulness is having a growing impact on how organizations respond to the challenge of workplace stress. Study after study, across a wide variety of industries and company sizes has identified some key ways that mindfulness can positively impact business results. In fact, mega-companies like AOL, Aetna, Apple, Google, HBO, Nike and Procter and Gamble have all instituted Mindfulness Training programs for their employees with both very positive human and financial results. Employees in one study done at Aetna (2015) reported a 28% reduction in stress, 20% improvement in sleep quality ad 19% reduction in pain after just a 12-week free program in yoga and meditation. Additionally, the company experienced an approximate $3,000/year savings per employee in gains in productivity, reduced absences, reduced turnover and lowered health care expenses.

The impact of mindfulness in the workplace

The Mindfulness Initiative Group, a group of researchers in the United Kingdom, recently released a report summarizing the research results to date on the impact of mindfulness in the workplace. By their account, some of the specific benefits Mindfulness has on Business Profitability include:

  1. Greater Resilience to Stress: Employees who engage in mindfulness have been found to fare better in the midst of stress. Among other things, they were more able to recognize signs of stress within themselves and respond in positive ways.
  2. Better Working Relationships: More than forty studies linked Mindfulness with more positive relationships at work which was further significantly related to both more compassionate and satisfying personal relationships among work colleagues.
  3. More Productive Teams: A study by Google found that the key drivers of Team performance are “trust” and “psychological safety.” Consequently, cultivating Mindfulness was found to be associated with higher productivity through greater demonstrated listening, turn-taking and other positive relationship skills.
  4. Enhanced Performance: In 38 studies exploring the impact of Mindfulness on workplace productivity, data consistently showed that where there was mindfulness, there was also better task performance, job performance and fewer safety issues.
  5. Creativity and Innovation: Mindfulness has been found to be associated with greater workplace creativity and innovation as it supports improved focus, more flexible thinking habits and superior idea generation.

The relationship between Mindfulness (Being “Right Here, Right Now”) and more positive, healthy and effective work environments is building ever-growing support. Nonetheless, the number of businesses instituting training opportunities for employees has not yet caught up to the statistics. As evidence continues to build, this is likely to shift for purely economic reasons.

In the meantime, fortunately, the benefits of developing the habits that keep us in the present moment can make a difference, not only to each of us as individuals but also, in the workplaces in which we spend so much of our waking hours. The efforts we make to be “Right Here, Right Now” clearly have implications not only in our personal lives but also, in our ability to have our work lives be satisfying, productive and healthy.

~ Dr. Mary Jen Meerdink Ph.D