Why are leading organizations — from tech giants like Google to traditional institutions like the United States Marine Corps — incorporating mindfulness into their workforce health strategies? Because it’s a simple, effective tool for managing stress, enhancing engagement, and promoting a culture of wellness at work.
Mindfulness is simple. At its core, it’s a concentrated effort to be fully present in the moment in a nonjudgmental way, without dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It can train the brain to be more focused, efficient, and better at managing stress — which is especially valuable in the workplace, where mental strain can skyrocket.
Research also suggests that practicing mindfulness brings physiological benefits, including better sleep and an improved ability to cope with pain. A 2018 study at Harvard even found that the simple act of clearing the mind for 15 minutes a day helps reduce blood pressure.1
It’s no surprise that stress is the number one workforce health concern for U.S. employers.2 Health care costs are nearly 50% higher for chronically stressed employees — and highly stressed workers miss more than twice as many days as their less stressed peers.3,4
Mindfulness is by no means a silver bullet — but it is a simple and effective stress management tool that can be practiced anytime, anywhere. And in addition to helping employees manage stress in the moment, it can help them become more resilient to negative effects of stress in the future.
Good things happen when mindfulness becomes embedded in workforce culture:
Enhanced productivity and focus — Mindfulness is the perfect counterbalance to information overload, constant distractions, and competing demands in the workplace. And working mindfully is essentially the opposite of multitasking — which reduces productivity by as much as 40%.5
Openness to innovation — Mindfulness enhances creativity. It can encourage employees to explore new ideas, and help them find clever solutions to problems. Mindful employees are also more resilient to setbacks and criticism.
Healthier work relationships — One hallmark of a mindful employee is their ability to regulate emotions and display empathy for others — creating a more positive work environment for everyone.
Mindfulness can help employees be fully present and truly focused at work. This is the very essence of employee engagement. Highly engaged workers are happier, healthier, and more loyal than their unengaged counterparts — and when employee engagement increases, so do company profits.
Mindfulness is easy to teach and simple to practice. As Kathy Gerwig, vice president of employee safety, health, and wellness at Kaiser Permanente explains, “Employers of any size can create a plan based on an assessment of employee needs, and then structure their programs to fit available resources.” Here are some practical ways to bring mindfulness into the workplace:
Research about the true benefits of organization-wide mindfulness is still in its infancy. But for many business leaders, it’s already proven to be a simple, affordable, and effective workplace wellness initiative. It’s certainly worth exploring — as one more way you can foster a resilient, mentally healthy workforce.
Amy Arnold is East Coast Director for Workforce Health at Kaiser Permanente. She holds a Master’s in Health Promotion Management, is a certified health education specialist and health coach, as well as a registered yoga teacher with the Yoga Alliance. Before Kaiser Permanente, Amy owned a boutique health and wellness company in Virginia specializing in creating overall well-being and resilience. She also worked at AOL developing and launching online products and large-scale programs. Amy has been involved with mindfulness and meditation for over 12 years and they are an essential part of Amy’s everyday life.
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Richard Knox, “Harvard Study: Clearing Your Mind Affects Your Genes and Can Lower Your Blood Pressure,” NPR News’ WBUR
CommonHealth, April 6, 2018.
“Seventy-five Percent of U.S. Employers Say Stress is Their Number One Workplace Health Concern,” Willis Towers Watson press release, June 29, 2016.
“Stress at Work,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cdc.gov, accessed May 29, 2019.
David McNeice, “Is Workplace Stress Affecting Your Company’s Bottom Line?” willistowerswatson.com, July 26, 2016.
Tim Newman, “Multitasking Brain Mechanisms Examined,” MedicalNewsToday.org, June 23, 2017.
David Gelles, “The Mind Business,” Financial Times, August 24, 2012.
Services covered under your health plan are provided and/or arranged by Kaiser Permanente health plans: Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc., in Northern and Southern California and Hawaii • Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Colorado • Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Georgia, Inc., Nine Piedmont Center, 3495 Piedmont Road NE, Atlanta, GA 30305, 404-364-7000 • Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States, Inc., in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., 2101 E. Jefferson St., Rockville, MD 20852 • Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Northwest, 500 NE Multnomah St., Suite 100, Portland, OR 97232 • Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington or Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington Options, Inc., 320 Westlake Ave. N, Suite 100, Seattle, WA 98109 • Self-insured plans are administered by Kaiser Permanente Insurance Company, One Kaiser Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612
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