If we mention ‘mindfulness’ what springs to mind? Common reactions range from sceptical suspicion or unawareness, all the way through to passionate beliefs that it can positively transform lives.
With mindfulness practices being openly adopted by many large organisations (including Google, Apple and PricewaterhouseCoopers) it got us thinking - could it also bring benefits to a small, dynamic and fast growing company such as ecosurety?
The importance of wellbeing
Naturally we are always seeking to improve the wellbeing of our staff, and mindfulness appeals as a tool to support improvements to physical and mental health and to help our employees navigate those inevitably stressful periods that the modern office can bring.
With external statistics showing that 70 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to mental ill health (reported by chief medical officer professor Dame Sally Davies), we are reminded of the detriment companies can face where mental wellbeing is not given attention in the workplace.
Engaging the experts
To dip our toe in the water we invited Terry Pilchick and Marianne Brady from Mindfulness-West to run a taster session with our employees, so we could explore for ourselves what it is all about.
This was very well received and over the coming months we are offering training to all employees who are interested in delving further into mindfulness practice, with the intention of assessing whether this can bring benefits for our team – watch this space to find out!
But what is mindfulness really all about? And why should an employer consider bringing it into the workplace? Here we present a conversation with Terry and Marianne where we explore these issues - and even how you can try mindfulness for yourself right now.
Mindfulness can be described as being completely awake, fully and deliberately alive, moment by moment to what is happening within us and around us. Mindfulness helps us to stop living on ''automatic-pilot', freeing us from mental and emotional ruts, undermining our compulsive habits. It helps us to stay calm and make sane and creative choices. To be mindful is turn up and live our lives, moment by precious moment.
Mindfulness practice is about learning to stay in touch with our experience, whatever it actually is in the present moment - warts and all - without embellishment or judgement, so that we can meet what life throws at us without stress and drama. It's not necessarily about being happy all the time; life just isn't like that. It's about being realistic, making sane choices and handling life more calmly, without fuss. 'give up the struggle with what is'.
To take an everyday example from the dimension of stress, next time you find yourself in a frenzy because you can't find your car keys, try stepping back for a moment to see how much extra stress you're adding to the situation, how busy your mind is with thoughts like: 'Oh, not again!' 'How could I be so stupid?' 'Why do I keep doing things like this?'.
On and on it spins, not helping at all - until we find the keys and get back on with our day - but now feeling exasperated and wrung out. It can come as a liberating surprise to discover how much of the adrenaline-fuelled stress we so often feel is something we've added to the situation ourselves - without even meaning to, and without helping the situation a bit.
To open a gap between the flow of experience and the way our mind reacts to it takes practice. But it can be done. Mindfulness is not magic, relaxation, self-hypnosis or religion, but it can have a dramatic effect; it is a skill that can be learned and developed by anyone whatever their religious or cultural background.
Research suggests that Mindfulness:
• reduces employee absenteeism and turnover
• improves cognitive functions, such as concentration, memory, and learning ability
• increases productivity
• enhances employer/employee and client relationships
• improves job satisfaction
• enhances creative thinking and collaboration
An early sally into the Mindfulness world was made by Transport for London, who offered some Mindfulness based training for well-being across the workforce. Many hundreds of people have now taken advantage of this.
The results have been extremely positive: "Among employees who have attended the course, the number of days off for stress, anxiety and depression fell by 71% over the following three years, while absences for all conditions dropped by 50%. There are also qualitative improvements, with 80% of participants reporting improvements in their relationships, 79% improvements in their ability to relax, 64% improvements in sleep patterns and 53% improvements in happiness at work.
Ideally yes!! It would certainly be desirable and valuable to all concerned in so many ways, both at work and at home!
After an introductory course, in which practices are introduced and some of the theory imparted, ideally someone will do some deliberate Mindfulness practice every day. However, research suggests that even three sessions of 'formal practice' a week for about 15 minutes can make a decisive difference - especially when backed up with 'informal practices' like mindful meals, mindful showering, and so on.
If an organisation can arrange and host a course for employees, so much the better. There are many ways in which a course can be delivered and a Mindfulness training organisation like ours can work with a company to devise a course that suits time constraints, etc.
While even a one-off workshop can have a benign effect, I'd say the minimum approach to a workable and effective introductory course - which could really get someone on their way into a more mindful life - would be four weekly sessions of about an hour, with about 12 - 20 minutes of home practice (on as many days as possible throughout).
If someone is following an introductory course and doing some 'home practice' on most days while they learn the ropes, then we would expect to see definite 'results ' after just a few weeks - eg., handling stress better, spending more time in better moods, taking more interest in life and in colleagues, noticing signs of stress or low mood before they get a grip, having original 'out of the box' ideas, and so on.
Again, ideally yes, though there is some good recent research to show that even if only a team leader practices Mindfulness then everyone seems to benefit and collaborate more harmoniously and creatively. Research suggests that leaders who practise Mindfulness:
- Are good for the company because they are more focused, and teach emotional intelligence, which helps people better understand their colleagues’ motivations.
- Take the time to consider all of the attributes of the different options, making more informed, current decisions.
- Move beyond their familiar ways of thinking and seeing the world and become open to new ways of listening, leading, responding, and innovating.
- Recognize the value of pausing and regulating themselves so they can make the best decisions. A Mindful pause can interrupt the often unhelpful default mechanism of merely doing more, more, and instead replenishes and brings insight.
So many stories - but, as I write, a quick one springs to mind. The MD of a medium sized company on a recent course reported that after just two weeks of Mindfulness practice he surprised himself - and everyone else on his team - by starting the weekly meeting by asking what was going well - rather than by asking - as was his usual custom - where were the problems.
He hadn't planned to make this shift; it just felt right. The result was one of the best meetings they'd ever had and the beginning of a new era for the team and the company.
Well, there are ’informal’ practices, such as: Next time you eat a meal just decide to eat one or two mouthfuls with absolutely complete attention, bringing your mind back to the sensations, flavours, etc whenever it wanders. Or, next time the phone rings, take just one full breath before answering it. Or, from time to time, pause for just one minute to allow yourself to experience the sensations in your body as you breathe.
Little practices like these bring you back to the present, clear the slate and allow an inrush of fresh energy and open mental space - out of habit, routine, out of unconscious mental programming. Alternatively you might like to go to our area on Soundcloud and try one of the practices you'll find there. I'd recommend the 'three-step breathing space', the short 'bodyscan' and the 'mindfulness of breath and body'.
Well, there's our website: www.mindfulness-west.com. But, really, there is so much out there - just Google around! There are some good talks online and some good books too. Someone who is worth Googling and reading is Professor Mark Williams. His book Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World is excellent as are several introductory talks by him that can be found online - here's a good one to get started with.
Sam is HR manager for Ecosurety, putting her years of HR experience to great use! She graduated from Cardiff University in 2008 with a degree in business management with a particular focus in human resources.
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