Mindfulness should not be used to avoid addressing workplace stressors

You may or may not be aware that October 2015 was a milestone for mindfulness within the UK, as we saw the launch to parliament of the Mindful Nation UK report, which is the culmination of the Mindful Initiative which drew together dozens of mindfulness practitioners, journalists, academics, politicians and scientists who gave thousands of hours of free time to investigate the benefits of mindfulness on the health of nation.

The project looked at four key areas, Education, Healthcare, Criminal Justice and the workplace. One interesting fact which the report highlighted is that whilst there has been no significant increase in mental illness within the general population over the last twenty years, within the workplace the over the last six years there has been a 24% increase in the number of days lost to stress related illness and the number of days lost to serious mental ill health has doubled.

The report identified the key factors driving the increase of mental ill health in the workplace;

  • Intensification of work duties with multiple demands upon employees attention
  • Increased multitasking at work
  • Technology driven changes leading to increased uncertainty and instability which is creating anxiety around job roles and employees status

Mental ill health is of great significance to the long term prosperity of the UK, and when implementing initiatives to develop a Mindful Nation, the importance of SME’s to the economy must not be overlooked, as they tend to have little or no access to mental wellbeing programmes.

The World Health Organisation has warned that mental ill-health will be the “biggest burden of disease in developed countries by 2030”.  It is therefore imperative that we begin to develop sustainable brain friendly working practices which support our mental health and wellbeing.

Research has shown that by taking short periods of time out to practice mindfulness, individuals can benefit by having enhanced cognitive skills such as decision making, objectivity, working memory functionality and improved reaction times.

Whilst there is a vast amount of evidenced research into the practice of mindfulness in a generalised context, there is still more to be done in the context of the workplace. However the Mindful Nation report does highlight some specific workplace based findings which include:

  • Leaders who practice mindfulness were reported to have employees who showed fewer signs of emotional exhaustion, were able to maintain a better worklife balance, had increased empathy and concern for their co-workers, were able to speak out honestly and overall achieved higher performance.
  • Increased resilience with employees reporting being able to sleep better, feeling less anxious when working under pressure and having improved memory
  • Increased focus, attention and reflection during the decision making process, which led to an increase in consciousness of the assumptions and judgements, influencing the judgements being made.
  • Preliminary research also found that organisations which integrated mindfulness into the workplace culture could be labelled as being of “High Reliability” due to paying an increased attention to the day to day operations, thus enabling mistakes and trends to be identified earlier, discussed and then flexible decision making structures put in place to provide solutions.

In relation to the workplace the recommendations in the report suggested that:

  • The Department for Business Innovation & Skills should demonstrate leadership by working with employers to promote the best use of mindfulness and develop an understanding of good practice and that….
  • Government departments should encourage the development of mindfulness programmes for staff in the public sector, to help combat stress and improve organisation effectiveness.

There is a word of caution however, mindfulness should not be viewed as the antidote for working in a toxic environment. It should not be used to avoid addressing workplace stressors such as poor management practices, excessive workloads, long working hours, lack of employee involvement and low levels of control and autonomy employees have over their work.

As Jess Morden MP said in her opening speech at the parliamentary launch of the Mindful Nation UK report, this is the beginning of a process and not the end. We have lots of work to do.

If you would like to find out more about mindfulness and developing mindful working practices, email michelle.mcarthur@jigsawatwork.com or telephone 01924 864444 now.

Michelle McArthur-Morgan -Senior Learning Consultant & Mindfulness Practitioner

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