Posted On June 16, 2015 By Stephen De Kalb

The answer was both.

Recognise the issue

To begin with, Mindfulness is a subject that’s growing in importance inside organisations everywhere because, put simply, it’s a solution to a problem that exists inside organisations everywhere—workplace stress.

While some workplace stress is normal, the workplace can be one of the most stressful places in the lives of employees at every level of the organisation. Pressures are never-ending, change is constant, and differences—even non-conflictual ones—among co-workers, managers, customers and suppliers require lots of neural energy to manage.

The statistics prove this beyond doubt. One in seven Australians admits to experiencing “severe to extremely severe” depressive symptoms, with “job-related issues” cited as their primary source.[1]

Stress related to work responsibilities and workloads, deadlines, organisational restructures, interpersonal conflicts and performance issues cost the Australian economy AU$14.8 billion a year—with two-thirds of this going straight to the bottom line of businesses in the form of stress-related absenteeism and presenteeism, when employees come to work despite illness, injury or anxiety, often resulting in reduced productivity.[2]

In the United Kingdom stress affects one in five of the working population “from the newest recruit in the post room to the board of directors” and is the single biggest cause of sickness with more than 105 million days lost each year and a cost to business of £1.24 billion (AU$2.33 billion) annually.[3] And in America, a 2013 survey by Everest College, an organisation of not-for-profit colleges in America and Canada, and leading analyst firm Harris Research showed 83 per cent of Americans are stressed about their jobs, a jump of 10 per cent from the previous year.

Workplace stress isn’t only a Western phenomenon. Its incidence is rising significantly in Hong Kong and China, where a recent Regus survey found work was the biggest trigger of stress in the daily lives of more than 16,000 surveyed professionals. The same survey found 75 per cent of workers in China and 55 per cent in Hong Kong admit their stress levels had risen over the previous year, and Asian respondents see their job as a greater source of stress than do their peers in Europe or America.

So, around the world workers are being driven to despair as more pressure is placed on improving productivity, jobs become insecure and employees find themselves working longer hours, often without breaks.

Added to this, the anxiety often continues at home as more employees take their work worries home, where they remain tethered to the office by today’s 24×7 communications. Recent research from Gallup showed that 42 per cent of American workers surveyed check their phones while on holiday—in essence, never “switching off” from the demands of their workplace.

Deloitte’s 2014 Global Human Capital Trends survey of 2,500 business and HR leaders in 94 countries showed that the “overwhelmed employee phenomenon” is a global business concern. According to Deloitte, today’s worker actually initiates interruptions themselves 41 per cent of the time because of their need to check in, be “in the loop” and constantly “on.”

Workplace-related stress manifests itself in a wide array of commercial outcomes. Absenteeism and presenteeism as mentioned, but it also has a major role in low levels of employee engagement and job satisfaction, poor retention rates, high recruitment costs, sub-optimal performance across individuals and teams, and a range of often-severe social and behavioural problems.

Or, in finance-speak, lost customers, decreased market competitiveness and declining profitability.

The benefits of Mindfulness

Enter Mindfulness—an integrative, mind/body approach to paying attention to thoughts, feelings and body sensations.

“Mindfulness offers the best results in dealing with workplace stress,” says Martine Barclay, “because it helps people in all parts of the organisation increase their awareness, manage difficult experiences, and create space for themselves to make wise choices and decisions.”

Martine should know. A specialist in career, leadership and talent development, coaching and mentoring, facilitation, mental wellness and engagement, she’s what I’d call “well-credentialed.” Prior to setting up her own Sydney-based consultancy in 2014, Interconnected Development, she managed talent development initiatives for global legal services companies King & Wood Mallesons and Norton Rose, served as KPMG’s L&D manager and Director of Leadership & Learning at Goldman Sachs JBWere, and also worked with SingTel Optus and Credit Suisse.

Her qualifications are equally impressive: accredited in the use of the latest leadership development tools, certified by the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, a Bachelors of Social Science in Industrial Psychology, and an accredited life and organisational coach.

Martine’s Mindfulness “journey” started when she observed a quality in high performers which can be attributed to a regular Mindfulness practice. This led her to explore the use of Mindfulness in therapeutic settings, Buddhist teachings and secular methodologies.

“Results of employee Mindfulness programs at leading organisations like Google, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Apple, Yahoo and PwC are profound. PwC recently reported that every dollar invested in cultivating a healthy workplace generates around $US2.30 in benefits to employees and enterprise alike,” Martine says.

Profound is correct, with the list of organisational benefits including greater teamwork, more effective communication and increased job satisfaction levels. Stronger leadership skills. Increased creativity and improved innovation. Recent research from INSEAD Business School, for instance, found that doing just 15 minutes of mindfulness-based activities like concentrating on breathing can lead to more rational thinking in decision-making.

“Importantly, INSEAD’s research indicated an increased resistance to what is called ‘sunk cost bias’, or attempts either consciously or subconsciously to recoup irrecoverable costs from earlier business activities. That’s because Mindfulness draws focus away from past and future events and focuses people on the present,” says Martine.

“And organisations that have implemented employee Mindfulness programs say they note an increased resilience in their workforce during periods of change, and greater acceptance of change,” adds Martine, who says that participants on these internal programs report benefits such as an enhanced sense of wellbeing, improved ability to manage conflict, clearer thinking, a stronger ability to respond rather than react (by breaking habitual patterns of behaviour) and a greater awareness of personal stress—and how to prevent it.

Applying Mindfulness to the workplace

“While Mindfulness may feel like the flavour of the month right now, I believe it’s here to stay,” Martine says.

“In this new era of ever-increasing activity and hyper-connectivity we all need a way to survive and thrive. Mindfulness provides that path. After all, there are good reasons why this practice has survived through the ages, and why Mindfulness is now becoming so popular within organisations.”

She takes a very pragmatic view of introducing Mindfulness into a corporate environment.

“Mindlessness can become part of the cultural make-up of an organisation, but as with any new initiative it’s important to consider the anticipated business outcomes and look for the opportunities to integrate it with activities that are already established, be it yoga sessions or whatever.

“The thing to remember is to use settings and language that your organisation can relate to. Instead of using the term mindfulness, it may be better termed relaxation or reflective practice,” Martine explains.

“In the leadership development context this could take the form of including a piece on Mindfulness as seen through the lens of emotional intelligence or resilience.”

According to the Institute for Mindful Leadership, 93 per cent of leaders surveyed said Mindfulness training helped them create space for innovation, 89 per cent reported the training enhanced their ability to listen to themselves and others, and 70 per cent said it helped them think strategically.

Beyond working with leaders, Martine says Mindfulness training in the broader health and wellbeing context brings benefits across the board by improving employee wellbeing. “In one of the largest corporate studies and where information is publicly available was done at Transport for London, the local government body responsible for most aspects of the transport system in Greater London, and it has experienced enormous benefits from introducing Mindfulness training to its employees. For example, among the 600 staff who attended the training, their number of days off for stress, anxiety and depression fell by 71 per cent over the following three years. Absences for all conditions dropped by half. That alone represents massive savings to the organisation,” says Martine.

Transport for London also experienced qualitative improvements. “Eighty per cent of participants reported improvements in their relationships, improvements in their ability to relax by 79 per cent of participants, 64 per cent said they experienced improvements in sleep patterns, and 53 per cent said they were happier at work.”

Once integrated into an existing employee wellness program, and using language that best resonates with employees, Mindfulness can be easily implemented as a standalone program for those who are interested. “Traditionally it’s introduced over an eight-week period with weekly meetings and daily homework activities for participants,” explains Martine.

“Other ways of introducing a Mindfulness program include offering training as a daily 10-minute practice, which can produce positive and demonstrable benefits. So will, say, a four-day immersion program,” she says.

In Martine’s experience, the ideal place within an organisation to introduce a Mindfulness program is in graduate programs. “That’s where Mindfulness can provide employees with a lifelong strategy for managing stress and sustaining high performance throughout their careers.”

In the absence of a formal Mindfulness program, here are four takeaways anyone in the office can use to get into a “mindful” state:

  • Be in the moment. That simply means stepping back from those moments you find yourself going through the motions at work and focusing on the task at hand
  • Find time to transition. Take a brisk walk after a stressful meeting or before jumping into an important project
  • Look on the bright side. Focus on the things you like about your job and its positive aspects
  • Break up your day. Intersperse activities throughout the day that you enjoy doing.

“Being Mindful and focusing your energy and creativity at work is much more than sitting in a room and breathing deeply, but that doesn’t mean it is difficult,” Martine says. “It’s about applying a certain degree of awareness and deliberate focus to what you’re doing, not just mindlessly finishing your tasks and ticking items off your to-do list.

“Stop and consider the present moment—not what just happened or what might happen in the future—and re-focus on why you’re doing the work you’re doing right now,” Martine says.

“Becoming Mindful will help you focus your energy purposefully and lead to more productive, creative days, higher quality in your output, stronger collaboration and relationships, and an improved sense of mental wellbeing. All of these results are powerful enablers in one’s personal life, within team dynamics and right across a corporate environment.”

Postscript: Building on the success of TP3’s recent Mindfulness for Business Results seminars, we have introduced a Mindfulness at Work assessment, an obligation-free, custom designed evaluation to help identify how Mindfulness training can help your employees build concentration, boost productivity, reduce stress and support better mental well-being and work/life balance—and in ways that best suit your organisation’s specific needs. To find out more, please contact us today on phone 1300 658 388 or email info@TP3.com.au.

[1] Australian Psychological Society, 2013

[2] Safe Work Australia

[3] UK Health & Safety Executive

Other Resources

White Paper: Workplace Well-being

Webinar Recording: Workplace Well-being