Do you know how and when to switch off?

August 8, 2016

By Danielle Loblack.

Stress, fatigue and anxiety are all words with which we are becoming far too well-acquainted in the workplace. In the current economic climate, more is required from employees, with increasing workloads leading to longer hours; while requirements for business control and regulation still need to be satisfied, often with fewer staff.
Quantity is starting to take precedence over quality, with many workers rushing between tasks to fit in as much as possible. The belief that this is an efficient way of working has become the norm.

In this electronic age where we are spending 10 hours a day at a computer screen, looking at mobile phones on the commute home, and spending the evening watching TV and online shopping, it is difficult to switch off. There are multiple drains on our concentration – most of them electronic, which when combined, cause a strain on the senses. As this happens, the brain begins to fight back, leading to exhaustion.

A growing number of businesses are beginning to recognise the benefits of so-called mindfulness, what it can offer their employees and what benefits it can bring them as employers. But firstly, what is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is a simple form of meditation that allows you to build awareness of yourself and the world around you, focusing on the present moment. Meditation allows you to observe thoughts entering your mind and then to slowly let go of these negative thoughts. In essence, mindfulness is a way of putting yourself in control of your emotions and life.

Mindfulness however, is the subject of much scepticism, mainly due to common myths. Meditation has been touted as a religion, an act that requires you to sit cross-legged on the floor, as time consuming or simply something that is too complicated. These arguments do not hold much value as mindfulness can be practiced anywhere: walking to work, on your daily commute or simply whilst waiting around. Mindfulness does not require a significant amount of time, however persistence and patience are essential qualities required to reap all the benefits.

Mindfulness is a powerful tool that allows you to train the mind, and to pay close attention to your body and the world around you. It reminds you that you have the power to control your thoughts and choose how you respond to them. It can be a coping mechanism for the daily complexities of life, or difficult topics where openly discussing them is not always an option. Mindfulness also provides an improvement to physical and mental health with an increased ability to be resilient and manage stress. For employers this equates to an increased quality of work, and amongst other things, a reduction in stress-related sick leave.

Transport for London (TFL) introduced a stress management course in 2013, following a conclusive review that revealed mental health issues were one of the top two health problems affecting their employees. Since the introductions of this course, the company has seen a 71 per cent drop in absenteeism caused by stress, anxiety and depression. More than three-quarters of participants claim to have experienced an improvement in their diet and drinking habits, while more than half had experienced improved sleeping patterns.

Although there are many potential benefits to mindfulness in the workplace, it also comes with some potential risks. Individuals may misuse the benefits provided, such as avoiding essential tasks or making poor decisions to avoid stress, resulting in less productivity. There is also the risk that employees feel pressured into participating, which is the opposite of what mindfulness courses should provide. It should always be self-chosen and personal.

Moreover, there are also potential risks for the employers, with the possibility that it could be interpreted as conveying the message: ‘it’s ok to be overworking our employees because we are offering courses to counteract the long hours and the additional stress’. In actual fact, employers should be ensuring mindfulness courses are not provided as a means of getting even more out of their employees, rather they should be used as part of an overall way of improving quality-of-life in the workplace.

Introducing mindfulness into the workplace could not come at a better time. As the pressure increases at work, many employees are struggling to secure an appropriate balance between their work and personal lives.

In a time where such open-mindedness is welcomed, companies should be taking advantage of such workplace benefits to boost morale, decrease stress and increase overall productivity; surely a win-win for both employer.

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