A 2017 American Psychological Association study on stress found that Americans are more stressed out now than they have been in the last decade. We are in desperate need of training and resources, in addition to permission from ourselves and our bosses to take a break. In fact, a 2017 Attitudes in the Workplace Study found that 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job, nearly half said they need help learning how to manage stress and 42
percent say their coworkers need help, too.
So how can we help ourselves and our employees take a mental break?
Research has shown that mindfulness can not only reduce stress, but also build up our tolerance for stress in the future. But what is "mindfulness"? Defined by a 2004 Clinical Psychology study as "paying attention to one's present experience in a non-judgmental, non-evaluative way, mindfulness is shown to be achieved through a variety of practices, such as relaxation, meditation and yoga.
Here are four reasons mindfulness should be part of your organization's wellness program.
1) Improve Employee Engagement
As employers, we spend a great deal of time, money and effort on employee engagement and retention programs for our employees. But rarely do employers invest in mindfulness training and support for their employees. A 2015 study conducted by the University of Tulsa and Rice University found a positive correlation between employee engagement and mindfulness for a group of 102 restaurant servers. The study also found these same servers were less likely to leave their jobs when they practiced mindfulness.
2) Lower Employee Stress
Health insurance company Aetna offered mindfulness and yoga training to their employees, and found that it lowered employee stress and improved productivity by 69 minutes per week. Other studies show not just reductions in stress, but also better sleep patterns, reduction in use of healthcare, as well as more stress tolerance and openness to different ideas, types of people and change.
3) Implement a Budget-Friendly Program
Mindfulness is also relatively affordable to implement, as there are a multiple ways to introduce mindful practices. You could host a "lunch and learn" for employees with an expert speaker, a 30-minute mindfulness training, or ongoing meditation or yoga classes. In addition, you could try providing employees with a free or discounted subscription to an app like Headspace. Once you determine your budget, explore which mindfulness programs make sense for your needs.
4) Save on Healthcare Costs
Regardless of budget, a mindfulness program will return your investment in decreased healthcare costs and improved productivity. A 2015 relaxation study from Harvard Medical School found that participants used 43 percent fewer medical services after joining the program, saving on average $2,360 per person in emergency room visits alone—translating from $640 to $25,500 in healthcare savings a year.
Companies interested in a mindfulness program should look at a combination of soft benefits, like mental health and employee stress, as well as the hard benefits like healthcare costs, decreases in employee turnover or increases in employee productivity.
Personally, I now commit to meditating at least 30 minutes a day. I spend 15 minutes at the start of my day focused on breathing relaxation, and 15 minutes at the end of the day decompressing. The change in my stress levels and overall mental health has been dramatic. I believe we all deserve permission and time to take a break.