Experiencing a stressful day or week at the office is no picnic. If you’re like me, you wish there were better coping mechanisms during those inevitably busy times at work. Ironically, I had been coming across the word “mindful” on many occasions, so I took it as a sign to do some research on the topic to find out if it could possibly be used as a stress-reducing tool. What I found was very conclusive evidence that mindfulness is a powerful technique to use for stress reduction and overall wellness.
In this blog, I’ll share some of my research findings, and most importantly, you’ll learn how to slash
stress through the use of 5 easy and effective mindful tools shared at the end of this blog.
The first thing I found during my research was that work-related stress affects many more workers than I thought. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2016 Work and Well-Being Survey, 1 in 3 working Americans reported that they’re very stressed on the job. Even more unexpected was the fact that stress costs American companies more than $300 billion each year! (source)
Now, let’s look at the other side of the coin and contrast these bleak statistics against companies with effective employee wellness programs. Many companies, including Google, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, and Aetna Inc. are using mindfulness as one of their wellness tools to help create a more positive, calm and focused work environment—which happens to correlate to palpable business benefits. The topic of mindfulness has been researched extensively.
A focused internet search turned up numerous studies showing lower healthcare costs at companies who have implemented effective employee health and wellness programs, bringing about these money-saving results:
“What I’ve witnessed after incorporating a weekly meditation practice at my company is that mindfulness training benefits employees and teams in many ways – in how they feel and in the way they communicate. It’s been a very effective and positive culture enhancement tool for us, and we know this because employees report being happier, healthier, calmer and more productive,” said Kevin Schnieders, EDSI Chief Servant Leader.
How much can mindfulness really reduce stress?
It has a strong impact according to scientific studies conducted by The University of Massachusetts Medical School, one of many U.S. universities who have dedicated centers for mindfulness. Let’s consider the University of Massachusetts Medical School, which houses The Division of Mindfulness, the first of its kind dedicated to academic study. Its findings show that mindfulness not only reduces stress but also builds a person’s inner strength so that future stressors have less negative impact on happiness and physical well-being. This has many direct physical and mental health benefits, such as lowering your blood pressure and strengthening your immune system.
I think you’ll agree that there’s a strong case for incorporating a mindful program – or even a few tools – into your workplace to reduce stress and maximize wellness. To raise your awareness and get your company and employees on the path to a more Zen-like state, keep reading.
Take a look at some of these workplace scenarios you might find yourself in. Also included are different mindful solutions you can use to change your thinking, calm your worry and overcome your stress.
Stressor: You’re in a staff meeting and your manager suggests that you give the team a project report. You have no advance notice or notes. How can you calm your racing heart and reduce anxiety?
Solution: First, try to take a deep breath and smile … yes smile! Smiling takes the edge off and it will be less obvious that you’re nervous. Be honest about the lack of notice (without throwing your manager under the bus) and try to offer a short update. Invite the group to reach out at a later time if they’d like more details.
Stressor: You leave your house 20 minutes early for work to factor in the inclement weather, but there are multiple accidents and you arrive at work 30 minutes late. How can you reduce your frustration and best use the delayed time in the car?
Solution: Try some deep breathing to lower your heart rate and settle your nerves. The Stop, Breathe, Think app is amazing, but please only use if you can do so safely (eyes open, hands on steering wheel) You can also tune in to one of the many podcasts on mindfulness. My favorites are: 10% Happier With Dan Harris, On Being With Krista Tippett, and Untangle, all available on iTunes or Stitcher.
Stressor: You are at work and have a disagreement with your co-worker. You feel overwhelmed with the situation and feel yourself starting to lose your cool.
Solution: If possible, walk away from the office to focus on your breath. Our minds like to take over by entering “fight or flight” mode, however our breath is extremely important to our reaction, and our awareness of our nervous system. Intentional Diaphragmatic Breathing has shown to increase heart rate variability and stimulate our vagus nerve, which can help initiate your relaxation response. This article is helpful to understand how our breathing influences our responses.
Another effective practice is having a fellow team member be your “accountability partner”. The accountability partner should be someone you trust to provide a listening ear and can seek out in times of stress to express feelings without judgment. Sometimes we all just want someone to listen, and hearing ourselves describe the problem verbally can lead to a different perspective or better solution.
Integrating well-being techniques at work is second nature to Laura Zales, Program Manager for a workforce development company. Over the past several years, she has brought to life her vision of creating a calmer environment and a more positive office culture.
Meditation, a pose-a-day yoga and healthy eating challenges, a happiness book club and positive quotes of the week are some of the wellness tools she has offered in her local office, and soon she hopes to begin offering pop-up and scheduled meditation sessions, which can be in-person or phone-guided, across the region. To further spread healthy living benefits beyond her location in Delaware County, PA, Zales is also working on a plan to build a wellness ambassador network across the 700-person company that operates in eight states.
“By offering options and resources that help meet the emotional needs of my team, I’ve seen self-awareness improve, stress levels drop and job satisfaction rise, which has been impactful on our culture as a whole,” said Zales. “Companies with wellness initiatives are more focused on building healthy collaborations and having open communication with colleagues and clients, which is a win for the employee and the company.”
“My team has shared how much they enjoy the yoga challenges, mindful minutes and Tuesday morning quotes of the day that focus on mindfulness and optimism. It’s amazing the difference you can see when you allow a person a few minutes to pause, focus and breathe in order to reset, recharge, and gain a more positive perspective on the things that may be happening in their professional or personal lives.”
For other awesome company culture enhancement ideas, you can also check out this blog.
To create a culture focused on self-awareness, mindfulness and gratitude at your company, Zales recommends starting simple with these 5 mindful steps:
1) Begin with a mindfulness 101 session (make it a fun lunch & learn)
Not everyone knows about the practice of mindfulness, so before you start suggesting this as a way of thinking to your team, be sure to offer an informational session where you define what mindfulness is and the potential benefits it can bring. Have an open dialogue that supports questions and ideas.
2) Encourage active breaks
This could be as simple as going for a walk outside to get fresh air into the lungs and sunshine on your face. Or, it could be a more structured activity like writing in a journal or meditating in a quiet, comfortable space where employees are encouraged to “unplug.”
3) Model mindful behavior
If team members see mindful practices modeled in their leadership, they’ll be more likely to reciprocate and adopt a more mindful approach themselves. As with any leadership philosophy, if examples aren’t flowing from the top down, the rest of the organization will be less likely to model this behavior as well.
4) Incorporate mindfulness into meetings
Explain to your team how to hold “mindful meetings.” By suspending judgment over other team members, practicing open and respectful communication, engaging in active listening where you’re fully present to the people and issue in front of you, and becoming more aware of your own responses, you can gradually reduce workplace conflicts and build stronger, more effective teams.
5) Schedule regular quiet time
If only for 10 minutes a day, set aside time on a regular, consistent basis to give employees permission to take valuable time to focus inward. By encouraging employees become more mindful through techniques like meditation or yoga, a company can help employees expand their self-awareness levels, gain a deeper understanding of their role, appreciate their contribution and understand the impact they have on colleagues.
Whether you decide to create a full-on program or simply apply some of the tools and techniques discussed above, mindfulness has the potential to be of significant value to your company and your employees. It has been proven to greatly reduce or eliminate stress, improve your employees’ health and happiness, and save your company money. When used consistently, employees will be more engaged and energized to do their best work, and at the same time, achieve a healthier lifestyle and a better life-work balance. A winning formula, that’s for sure!