Mindfulness in the workplace research and case studies

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Mindfulness has attracted an explosion of interest with widespread media coverage, bestselling books and a remarkable uptake of online resources. Scientists all over the world have been examining the effectiveness of mindfulness in various contexts, including the workplace, healthcare, prisons and education.

There has been a huge increase in academic research on the subject with more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific journal papers now being published every year. Meanwhile developments in neuroscience, emotional intelligence and psychology are illuminating the mechanisms of mindfulness.

The Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG) was so impressed by the levels of both popular and scientific interest that they launched an inquiry to consider the potential relevance of mindfulness to a range of urgent policy challenges facing government.

Many members of the MAPPG have been further inspired by the potential of mindfulness after personally experiencing the benefits on courses held in Westminster and as a result recently published the Mindful Nation UK report.

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Mindfulness in the Workplace case studies

1. Google is, by all accounts (it was named Fortune’s top great place to work in 2014), a world-class employer. The organisation prides itself on being socially conscious, offering employees (known as Googlers) substantial benefits and perks like on-site cafes, dry cleaners, nap pods, and more than a dozen mindfulness courses. Google’s most popular “Search Inside Yourself” mindfulness course, offered since 2007, has a six-month wait list and thousands of Googler alumni.

Google says this and other mindfulness programs are good for the company because they teach emotional intelligence, which helps people better understand their colleagues’ motivations. It also boosts resilience to stress and improves mental focus (Baer, n.d.). Participants of the “Search Inside Yourself” program agree. They report being calmer, more patient, and better able to listen. They also say the program helped them better handle stress and defuse emotions (Kelly 2012).

2. Healthcare giant Aetna liked the outcome of their study on mindfulness so much they now offer their mindfulness programs to customers, and more than 3,500 employees have participated in the programs.

In 2010, Aetna developed, launched, and studied two mindfulness programs—Viniyoga Stress Reduction and Mindfulness at Work—in collaboration with Duke University, eMindful, and the American Viniyoga Institute.

The goals of the programs were to help reduce stress and to improve how participants react to stress (Gelles, 2012 and Aetna staff, 2012).

3. In a study examining workplace mindfulness and its relations to job performance and turnover intention by Professors Dane and Brummel, research data concluded that:

Workplace mindfulness improves performance and it also increases the degree of attachment to the employer, as measured by decreased intention to seek new employment elsewhere.

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There is enormous variety in the way mindfulness training is delivered in the workplace.

Mindfulness training may be combined with other models such as resilience training, emotional intelligence or leadership development. Digital delivery is expanding as a way of scaling-up and increasing access, and/or supporting teacher-led training with additional resources.

Employers providing digital mindfulness training range from global banks and technology companies, to universities, government departments, health providers and insurance companies

Some organisations, such as Google and Nuffield Health, highlight the benefits of this approach, such as greater flexibility, lower cost, high rates of take-up and better maintenance of a formal mindfulness meditation habit.

A wide range of major UK organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors have introduced mindfulness projects within the past few years including a number of NHS trusts, the Department of Health, civil service departments, BT, Unilever, Barclays, Capital One, Starcom MediaVest Group and Goldman Sachs.

Sally Boyle, HR Director at Goldman Sachs maintains that, “In years to come we’ll be talking about mindfulness as we talk about exercise now”.

A wide range of major UK organisations across the public, private and voluntary sectors have introduced mindfulness projects within the past few years.

Transport for London has offered mindfulness combined with other interventions like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to staff and it has led to 71% reduction in days off for stress, anxiety and depression, while absences for all conditions dropped by 50% according to internal assessments.

Bosch and Beiersdorf, two major German companies, have been developing a programme to embed collaborative mindfulness ways of working such as mindful feedback, emailing and meetings.

They have also participated in a three-way partnership with mindfulness training provider, client company and research institution to incorporate a research dimension. The impact of mindfulness is measured through a range of cognitive tests, heart rate variability measurements, cortisol profile and blood tests. The results are fed back to the company anonymously as well as back to individuals. The research provides evidence of efficacy for the company, motivation for the individuals, and valuable research material for academics.

Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust launched the Staff Mindfulness Project in 2012.

Since then, 12 MBCT eight-week programmes have been delivered a year and 150 staff (clinical and non-clinical) have completed courses, with regular three-hour introductory workshops and Days of Mindfulness in addition. The three-year pilot project, with an annual budget of £30,000, won a national award in 2014. Evaluation shows significant benefits in relation to compassion, psychological distress, anxiety and emotional exhaustion. A follow-up study demonstrated that most eight-week programme graduates continue to use mindfulness practices and describe lasting gains in areas such as wellbeing, stress management and relationships with colleagues, service users and carers.

Programme graduates often report that the experience has been life-changing. Managers report that mindfulness is beginning to change the culture of the organisation. The Trust has recently agreed to fund a small, dedicated clinical team to provide Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy for service users and carers and train more staff to use MBIs in the clinical setting.

The Finance Innovation Lab (an incubator for systems change in finance) has run mindfulness classes for its staff and participants on its programmes, and found considerable benefit at a team level.

“The training gave us a structured pathway of development that we all went through at the same time. It feels like a safe way of amplifying the emotional connection with others. The quality of dialogue after group meditation is amazing,” said Charlotte Millar, co-founder.

In today’s work environment, mindfulness and emotional intelligence are personal and professional strategies to improve performance and productivity.

As Google, Aetna, General Mills, and Target can attest, bringing mindfulness and emotional intelligence to their workplaces has decreased employees’ stress levels, improved their focus and clarity, improved their listening , decision-making and leadership skills, and improved their overall happiness and well-being.

Perhaps most importantly from an HR and talent management professional perspective, mindfulness can reduce employee absenteeism and turnover, improve employee and client relationships, and boost job satisfaction.

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