Mindfulness for employers – is it win-win?

Business in the Community, an employers’ organisation, advises that mindfulness or rest “could boost productivity by improving performance and customer service”.

What is mindfulness?

Interest in it has grown in recent years but the term has its origin in 1979 and the principles on which it is founded, Buddhist meditation, go back to a pre-Christian era. Significantly though, mindfulness has no religious associations.

Anyone can practice mindfulness and essentially it is about allowing oneself to be in the moment by focusing quietly on breathing or other experiences, such as feelings, sounds or nature, that are current in that moment.

What are the benefits of mindfulness for employers?

Individuals benefit from the practice and are able to bring this benefit into the workplace. There is evidence that mindfulness reduces blood pressure, improves employees sleep patterns and enables individuals to respond consciously, rather than automatically, to obstacles or challenges.

Mindfulness can also be used for stress reduction, thereby reducing absence and increasing employee effectiveness.

What might employers do?

Mindfulness is an individual activity which, while it can be practiced in groups, is not an interactive process. It cannot be encouraged directly because it is a decision for the individual. Promoting mindfulness at work could even be counter-productive.

Nonetheless, Business in the Community and Public Health England suggest workplaces should have “quiet spaces for rest and relaxation where employees can switch off from work for a period”. At one time I was lucky enough to work in a rural location and take an hour for lunch. It meant I was able to walk in the countryside, sometimes with a colleague, and re-charge the batteries for the afternoon.

Give employees “space”. Some organisations, such as Anglian Water even offer chairs where employees can take a nap. Research last year by Sainsbury’s showed that getting enough good sleep is the factor, among those that people can control, that has the strongest association with happiness. In turn happiness has a strong association with productivity.

If stress is an issue for you, seek out one of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction courses. Employers can benefit individually as much as can employees.

Malcolm Martin FCIPD

Author Human Resource Practice.

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