Corporations of all sizes are now turning to meditation for employees. For many years, mindfulness and meditation were dismissed as eastern religious traditions or something a bit flaky. But slowing down and focusing is increasingly seen as vital to the well-being of people from all sectors of society. Some 25% of US companies have launched stress-reduction initiatives; many of them employing mindfulness courses and programs for their employees. But is mindfulness really beneficial?
Many people are stressed with work and family commitments, let alone worrying about living costs, safety, and job security. According to the Harvard Gazette, 16.2 million Americans reported experiencing major depression in 2014. According to the American Psychological Association, New Yorkers are more likely to report higher levels of stress than elsewhere in America. A lot of New Yorkers are finding it challenging to find time for themselves, nearly two-thirds (64%) of New Yorkers say that personal health concern is a cause of stress. (1) Can mindfulness help lower this statistic?
Mindfulness programs save money for corporations
Fortunately, many corporations realize that their employees will perform better if they are less stressed and more focused. Offering meditation for employees has proven to be almost as lucrative as closing the next big deal. A US health care company conducted a study together with Duke University into the role of their mindfulness program and found that in financial gains alone, it amounted to a productivity gain of $3000 per employee. Alongside this, stressed employees can incur health costs double that of their healthy co-workers. The national average cost for stress-related illnesses amongst employees is estimated at $200 to $300 billion a year in lost productivity. (2) Apart from improving their mood and lowering their stress, meditation can enhance their ability to carry out their job.
How an HR manager utilized mindfulness in her company
Julie Fisher had been running the HR department for a large cooperation in lower Manhattan for over ten years. Until a few years ago, her biggest challenge remained unsolved: what to do about the growing number of burnouts and stress-related absenteeism in the company? As Head of HR, it was her job to find a solution, and the problem was causing increasing stress to herself. It wasn’t just the numbers. The statistics were people who she chatted with over lunch. People who sat across her desk talking about life issues that were important to them. People she had laughed and commiserated with; who had commented on her new haircut, or whose newly arrived baby she had toasted.
Julie had tried all sorts of ideas to solve the problem, from encouraging restful vacations to organizing team-building exercises. Then she read about a study conducted in Detroit that found that meditation decreased employee absenteeism by 85%, boosted productivity by 12%, and reduced work-related injuries by 70%. (3)
It sounded too good to be true. But it was worth trying. Julie proposed to top management that they implement mindfulness programs for the employees. To her amazement, the results were immediately measurable. She was especially pleased that she had been one of the first guinea pigs; the difference the program brought in her own life was clearly measurable. It felt like she had more spare time and was less tired. Most telling was when her eight-year-old daughter asked why she wasn’t rushing around so much. “It’s the best thing I’ve done for the company and myself,” she said.
What is mindfulness for employees?
A simple way to see the effectiveness of mindfulness is to monitor yourself during an average day. Watch how often your mind wanders from the task at hand, or when someone is speaking to you. Are you entirely focused on the task at hand? Or is your mind wandering and thinking about something you want to do later that evening or on the weekend? Can you focus your mind on what a client or manager is speaking with you about or does your mind wander off and you start to daydream?
The number of mistakes made in the workplace simply by employees not paying full attention to the instructions being given by their superior is enormous. Rushing from one task to the next is not always the most efficient way to get the job done. Often taking a moment to focus on the task before jumping in can save hours of unnecessary work.
Is mindfulness effective?
If a corporation spends money on a mindfulness program, they want to know that they are investing money in something worthwhile. So how effective are mindfulness classes for employees?
The US Department of Defense takes mindfulness seriously. Apart from offering mindfulness courses in US Military training, they fund research being done at the University of Miami into types of mind training that might strengthen the brain’s attention networks. Dr. Amishi Jha is the director of Contemplative Neuroscience for the Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative, and associate professor of psychology at the University of Miami. In Dr. Jha’s lab, they use a variety of brain-imaging techniques to test how attention works.
Her research has led Dr. Jha to understand what an incredibly powerful system attention is. It’s needed for almost everything we do; listening, reading, problem-solving. It’s also vital in regulating our emotions. It can also bias our perceptions within a few hundred milliseconds, which means that our brain processes information faster than we can say ‘mindfulness.’ Where our attention goes, therefore, is very important, it makes up our life. (4)
Mindfulness helps us focus our attention where we want it to focus.
Our brains are naturally curious. They love new information; they have a thirst for knowledge. The University of California conducted a study that showed that dopamine pathways in the brain respond when we are curious. Dopamine makes us feel good. This natural curiosity is used by everyone from advertisers to politicians.
At Brown University Dr. Jud Brewer has tested mindfulness programs for habit change. His research demonstrated unequivocally how mindfulness influences attention, behavior, and emotions. Dr. Jud has spent over 20 years at Yale, MIT, and Brown University researching ways our brains form negative behavior patterns and the techniques that are needed to change those patterns.
One study his lab conducted recently was with physicians, 60% of whom reported moderate to severe anxiety, and 52% reported feeling burnt out a few times a week. Within a month of using mindfulness, this had reduced by 50% and by 47% within three months. (5)
In many ways the unfocused brain can be likened to a kitten, running after anything that moves. The focus on a toy can be lost in seconds as a leaf catches its attention. With so much to occupy our brains, it’s no wonder that we lose attention and tire ourselves. Our attention during a normal workday is constantly pulled around by various tasks including reading emails, writing a letter, checking a source, fighting with a software program, taking a quick peek at our social media pages, answering a quick call, checking the news. The list goes on and on, and it’s relentless. It lowers our effectiveness enormously.
A clear need for mindfulness
There has been a significant psychological impact due to lockdown and social distancing since the Covid-19 pandemic started. This can be seen in the dramatic increase in elevated rates of stress, anxiety, and depression. Research carried out by the KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation) has shown that the stress brought on by COVID-19 has affected many people’s mental health. 53% of American adults report that their mental health has been negatively impacted by stress and worry brought on by the pandemic. This statistic has risen considerably since March when it was 32%. Many reported that they were also having difficulty sleeping and eating. This increase in stress and depression is a worldwide phenomenon.
Corporations have found that when employees, that had been participating in mindfulness programs, were forced to work from home, and they stopped participating in these programs, the benefits that employees experienced were negated. And many of these employees started to encounter new issues while working from their homes. (6) The need for mindfulness classes and programs is proving more important than ever. COVID-19 is showing that virtual mindfulness classes and programs are becoming vital in keeping employees stress free and healthy.
Mindfulness classes via Zoom
Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Meditation House shifted its method of delivering mindfulness classes to employees from in-house classes to virtual classes via Zoom. Leading meditation online has proven to be a positive thing for various reasons including the fact that Meditation House can now lead much larger classes that they were able to do in person. Online classes also offer greater flexibility in terms of the days and times when classes are offered.
Meditation House offers 15, 30, and 60-minute virtual corporate mindfulness classes via Zoom. We also offer virtual corporate mindfulness programs. Our classes start as low as $150 and are perfect for any employees that have never meditated before. If you have questions and want to discuss where to start, please contact us via email or call (888) 377-7761.