Workplace stress has been cited in studies as a significant source of stress for American adults. It’s been escalating with each new decade and costing the U.S. industry an estimated $300 billion a year in sick days, turnover, lost productivity, and insurance, legal, and medical costs.
Despite organizations’ high cost of the effects of stress, most businesses usually help employees after they report suffering burnout instead of preventing it at its earliest stages.
One reason is that managers tend to believe there is little they can do about it until after it becomes a problem. Another contributing factor is that managers are trained to focus on performance rather than the people they manage and are not trained to spot the signs of workplace stress. By not being aware of the issue, managers fail to recognize that when their employees’ well-being is significantly increased through stress reduction, it can have an immediate effect on employee engagement, productivity, and improved performance.
One simple way that innovative organizations today are initiating prevention and enhancing the well-being of their employees is by promoting mindfulness in the workplace. Mindfulness can be described as becoming aware of the present moment, especially of one’s negative thought patterns. As disturbing thoughts pop up in one’s moment-to-moment awareness, mindfulness allows a person to remain detached from the emotions of those thoughts, just observing instead of reacting or judging, then returning one’s attention to the present moment. Over time, we train our brains to not be so reactive to our stressful external circumstances and internal dialogue.
Scientific research on the neuroscience of attention continues to stack up in favor of mindfulness practice.
Many of the brain function and health benefits cited by current research include:
- Improved resilience to stressful situations
- Increased emotional intelligence
- Improved focus
- Enhanced immune system
- Increased self-awareness
- Enhanced memory
- Increased empathy
- Decreased anxiety and depression
- Lower blood pressure
- More joy
Based on clinical findings on the positive effects of mindfulness, some multinational corporations have already established their own groundbreaking corporate mindfulness programs, including Google, Apple, Ford, General Mills, and Target.
Some, such as Aetna, have actually tracked the effects of their mindfulness program and found that, for more than 13,000 employees, they saved about $2,000 per employee on healthcare costs and gained $3,000 in productivity per employee.
Businesses are also focusing on developing mindful leaders since they tend to have more motivational impact on their employees. It’s believed that leaders who practice mindfulness more effectively manage the change that is inherent in the corporate world and are better able to inspire their employees and colleagues to achieve their organization’s vision.
Kari Knutson, a DTG trainer who presents Everyday Mindfulness (virtual or in-person) to all kinds of groups, even local government agencies, says this about mindfulness in the workplace: “Many people think that engaging in mindful activities involves a yoga mat, hours in silence, or the ability to meditate. There are many practical ways to practice mindfulness to mitigate stress. Being mindful isn’t as mystical as it is practical, especially in the workplace.”