Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the moment one is in. Practitioners are encouraged to concentrate on how the body is reacting and feeling, the sounds and sensations around them. It is a way to focus the mind and body on the now, rather than the past or the future. Training the mind to be truly present.
Professor Mark Williams, former director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre says,
“An important part of mindfulness is reconnecting with our bodies and the sensations they experience. This means waking up to the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the present moment. That might be something as simple as the feel of a banister as we walk upstairs,” “it’s about allowing ourselves to see the present moment clearly. When we do that, it can positively change the way we see ourselves and our lives.”
One of the beautiful things about mindfulness is that it can be done every minute of the day. It doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment or space. With a little bit of guidance and practice we can practice mindful eating, mindful walking and even mindful working. An increasing wealth of studies are demonstrating the health and wellbeing benefits of mindfulness. It’s well reported to be helpful in reducing stress and anxiety and improving attention and health. In fact, the number of studies on the subject has now exceeded 500 a year.
In response to this growing body of evidence in favour of mindfulness, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) now recommends its practice as a way for repeated depression sufferers to control their condition. In 2015, an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) published Mindful Nation UK, in which they called on the public sector to provide mindfulness programmes to combat stress, improve productivity and organisational effectiveness.
“One study found that practicing mindfulness can reduce stress, worry and emotional reactivity while improving working memory, cognitive flexibility, self-awareness, ethical behaviour, relationship satisfaction and wellbeing.”
The potential work-related benefits are clear. Several papers have been written on the value of mindfulness in the workplace. They argue that mindfulness can improve decision-making, ability to work in high-pressure environments and positively influence work-life balance. Even at it’s most basic level mindfulness encourages individuals to become more attuned to their feelings, bodies and wellbeing. This enables them more accurately to predict emotional or physical changes and better manage potential flash-points, emotional and physical.
The personal and organisational value of mindfulness is relatively clear. But there is also a lot of benefit to be gained from formal and structured business-wide support for the process. When employees feel cared for and valued by their employers they, in turn, are more loyal, emotionally engaged and that improves motivation, collaboration and ultimately, productivity.
So how can organisations go about implementing a work-place mindfulness plan? In a piece for Personnel Today, Juliet Adams, director of A Head for Work and author of “Mindfulness at work for dummies” and “Making the business case for mindfulness”. Mindfulnet website. Suggests the following:
Set goals – What are you hoping to achieve through mindfulness? Is it part of a general health and wellbeing process?
Research – As we have already referenced, there are numerous case studies supporting mindfulness in the workplace. Arm yourself with facts and information.
Ask the experts – There are many mindfulness practitioners who can offer you support, seek out those specialised in workplace mindfulness. Although there are no specific guidelines for mindfulness trainers in the workplace, there are good practice guidelines. The latest edition covers eight-week courses with 30-40 minutes of daily home practice.
Measure – It is possible to measure the effectiveness of mindfulness on individuals using evaluation assessments such as the Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire (FFMQ), the Perceived Stress Scale (PSS) or the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale (DASS 21). On an organisational level one can look at productivity, absenteeism and staff attitudes to evaluate the benefits of a given mindfulness strategy.
Maintain – Mindfulness is not a silver bullet. It will not fix everything and it does not happen over night. It is a long-term strategy for long-term change. Some mindfulness programmes can result in individuals choosing to leave the organisation or, more positively, in the business making changes to reduce negative pressures.
After any initial courses in mindfulness, organisations can keep the process going by providing time and space for mindfulness practice, refresher courses and access to trainers on a one-to-one basis.
The business case for mindfulness is compelling and the implementation costs are relatively low, however, it requires genuine buy-in and a long-term, organisation-wide commitment to be truly successful.
Additionally, the feedback from employees needs to be taken into consideration, whether that is in relation to the programme itself, or to workplace changes that need to be considered. As with any health and wellbeing initiative, mindfulness is a two-way communication process.
If approached positively mindfulness can result in happier, more productive employees, fewer sick-days and a more successful business.
In an effort to improve equality between women and men in the workplace the government is requiring all organisations with 250 or more ‘relevant’ employees to publish annual details of their gender pay gap.
The snapshot report will examine the mean and median gender pay gap in annual salary and bonuses and which gender receives those bonuses.
Pay inequality appears to be a relatively simple area to resolve on the surface, but the evidence says otherwise. The World Economic forum believes that it could take 170 years to eradicate disparity of pay and employment opportunities for women and men unless drastic action is taken.
Here in the UK the gap has actually widened in the past 4 years, regressing to levels experienced during the height of the financial crisis in 2008. In the past 11 years the gap has closed by only four percentage points. By requesting the publication of this information the government hopes to bring this topic into the light and open it to scrutiny and resolution.
Yet it would be wrong to argue that pay is the only gendered workplace issue. Health and Safety is another area where there is a clear and growing gap between women and men.
The argument for gender targeted health and safety advice is growing in evidence-based support. ‘Women’s work’ is traditionally under assessed and often assumed to be safer than ‘men’s work’. Not only does this mean that risks are not necessarily properly managed, it means that in too many cases, there’s no understanding or recognition of their existence.
Even seemingly benign workplace aspects such as clothing (high heels for example), environmental stresses (sitting for long periods) and work-life balance problems (child or elder care responsibilities) can disproportionally affect women.
The STUC sites workplace risks such as lifting and twisting, exposure to chemicals, stress, long working hours etc, which can all affect women more seriously than men because of physical differences and external pressures.
The STUC have provided guidance information covering areas such as:
pregnant workers and new mothers
stress & mental health
the menopause and
The, often, ‘domestic’ nature of women’s jobs, for example cleaning or caring, warn the STUC, can be repetitive and result in ‘doubling up’ of exposure to chemicals, heavy lifting or certain physical actions.
Generalised discrimination against women can heighten the risk of safety hazards, night shifts can be more threatening, lack of understanding around menopause can create undue pressure and domestic violence can create added mental and physical strains.
Another area where the requirements of women can often be overlooked is musculoskeletal risk. The focus is generally on heavy lifting, dangerous and physical jobs usually carried out by men. Women, however, can be required to carry out repetitive tasks with fewer breaks, although on the surface these activities appear safer they can in fact lead to serious issues such as carpal tunnel syndrome and chronic motor disorders if not properly managed.
When women are working in traditionally male workplaces another set of factors need to be considered. For example the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health ( HYPERLINK “https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/99-140” NIOSH) in the US looked at Providing Safety and Health Protection for a Diverse Construction Workforce.
They found that women faced specific practical issues such as inadequatate health and safety training, incorrectly sized protective clothing, inappropriate tool design and insufficient toilet facilities. Additionally, there were the more obvious issues such as hostile workplace cultures, sexual harassment and a lack of respected reporting systems for these issues, without fear for job security.
Organisations also need to be mindful of the pressures placed on women outside of the workplace. Working women are still generally the primary carer for children or elderly relatives, the latter being a growing concern.
According to Business in the Community (BITC) 38% of employed women have dependent children (aged 18 and under) and 43.6% of mothers (with dependent children) in employment, work full-time, while 1 in 5 women aged 45-59 is a carer.
This has significant implications for shift work, long hours and general health and wellbeing, as for many of these women, the end of the working day is the beginning of the caring role.
Whenever gender-based policies are enacted there are often concerns around creating a new set of inequalities. It is essential to consider that many of our health and safety regulations have been developed over decades when men were the primary workforce, or they have come out of industries that focus on physical requirements for safe working.
As our working environments, duties, gender and age balances change, it is important that our occupational health provisions keep pace…
A major study carried out by leading economists at the University of Warwick found that employee wellbeing can increase productivity by 12 percent. Conversely the researchers found that unhappy employees were up to 10 percent less effective.
To put it simply, happy, healthy employees are good for business.
It is unsurprising then, that employee health and wellbeing has moved into the top five of boardroom issues. Currently 81 percent of FTSE 100 companies are now undertaking an annual wellbeing programme.
Professor Oswald who led the Warwick research said: “Companies like Google have invested more in employee support and employee satisfaction has risen as a result. For Google, it rose by 37%, they know what they are talking about. Under scientifically controlled conditions, making workers happier really pays off.”
The business case for taking an active interest in employee wellbeing is clear and increasingly backed up by scientific studies.
BITC-commissioned research by IPSOS Mori discovered that companies taking proactive steps to promote wellbeing amongst their employees can improve their financial success by 10 percent.
“The driving force seems to be that happier workers use the time they have more effectively, increasing the pace at which they can work without sacrificing quality.” said Dr Sgroi another author of the Warwick research.
What is a modern, joined-up approach to employee health and wellbeing in the workplace?
Carry out a health and wellbeing assessment of *your* business – Your company and your staff are unique. Find out your key issues. The demographics of your employees, nature of the work, layout of the workspace and business hours will all impact on the health and wellbeing needs of your employees in a way that is specific to your organisation.
Bring in the experts – This might be a new area to you, but there are plenty of people (including us) who have been doing this for many years. Don’t be afraid to call on professional organisations and bodies such as occupational health, counsellors, physiotherapists, etc. for help and support. It can make all the difference.
Consider the facts – The Lancet warned just last year that by 2025 one-third of British adults would be obese. Your company can work now to prevent this crisis from ever occurring by taking steps to ensure that whatever your working environment you help your employees to maintain a healthy weight and activity levels. We also have an ageing workforce which means there will be a huge increase in people living and working with chronic conditions, by 2030 the number of people living with cancer is expected to hit 1.7 million. Putting in place proper practices now, will help your organisation down the line.
Talk about it – In 2013/14 11.3 million working days were lost due to mental illness issues such as depression, anxiety or stress. Mental health is a significant contributor to absenteeism that is, unfortunately, stigmatized and seen as an almost insurmountable challenge for employers, because every case is unique. Working with mental health experts, however. can result in excellent employee assistance programs. With occupational health support and resilience training employees can effectively manage their mental health alongside their job.
Use the right tools for the job – Carrying out regular and adequate assessments of the working environment is essential in the prevention of musculoskeletal and back care issues. Be sure that your employees have correct and working equipment and tools for the job. Provide them with appropriate posture or lifting advice and consider offering onsite physiotherapy. In this area, prevention really is better than cure.
Get active – Government advice is for us all to walk at least 10,000 steps a day. and sitting for more than 30 minutes at a time has been likened to smoking in its negative impact on our health. In primarily sedentary working environments it can be difficult to get active, but not impossible. Employers can encourage or subsidise gym memberships, allow longer lunch breaks for people to take an exercise class or provide access to an onsite shower to encourage mid-day runs. You could also sign up to the lunchtime mile campaign or promote standing meetings, among many other initiatives.
If this seems daunting, don’t despair, there’s plenty of support out there. Soma Health have covered several of these topics in more detail here on our site. There are professional bodies and organisations available to offer further expert support, don’t be afraid to seek advice.
The evidence is clear. Dr Proto, the third contributor to the Warwick research said “We have shown that happier subjects are more productive, the same pattern appears in four different experiments. This research will provide some guidance for management in all kinds of organizations, they should strive to make their workplaces emotionally healthy for their workforce.”
There is no doubt about it, caring for employee health and wellbeing makes good business sense.
Cancer is one of the most significant illnesses of our time. Around 980 cases of cancer are diagnosed every day in the UK, that’s one person every 2 minutes.
Whilst half of all cancer cases are diagnosed in people over the age of 70, Macmillan estimates that 100,000 people of working age are diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK. There are currently more than 750,000 working age people living with cancer.
As a result most employers are going to have to manage someone affected by cancer during their working lifetime. Recent research, however, has revealed that most companies do not have any formal policies in place for communicating or managing employees living with or recovering from cancer.
A survey of 500 HR professionals carried out by cancer screening company Check4Cancer, found that 71% of companies did not have formal policies in place for dealing with employees suffering from cancer. Furthermore, 48% acknowledged that line managers were unprepared when it came to managing staff with cancer.
Perhaps more concerning, given the importance of catching cancer in the early stages, 71% said that they had no information available on cancer awareness or early detection through screening.
The problem is just as bad for employees dealing with a family member suffering from cancer.
AXA PPP found that despite over 500,000 people working in the UK whilst at the same time caring for someone with cancer, there are often little or no formal procedures in place for managers who wish to support employees through these difficult times.
According to Check4Cancer HR professionals believe that the implications of cancer in the workplace are far reaching and will have a ‘significant impact on business performance’. However, 40% said they didn’t feel that senior executives were aware of these potential risks and costs.
Professor Gordon Wishart, Chief Medical Officer of Check4Cancer said: “Employers appear to be relying on their managers’ ability to think on their feet, and to treat cancer diagnoses as just another people management issue. Diagnosis of cancer is clearly a very serious health issue – but also one that has long-term implications for the individual and their team members, colleagues and friends in the workplace.
“The improving survival rates – 50% of patients now survive 10 years after a cancer diagnosis – mean that cancer is more like a chronic illness, requiring long-term attention and treatment, alongside appropriate support from employers as part of their duty of care, and for cancer as a recognised disability. An ageing workforce means cases of cancer will become more prevalent and have longer-term impact on organisations.”
So, what can organisations do to make sure that they are adequately prepared to deal with employees suffering from cancer or looking after others who are?
Review and revise company policies and procedures to include carers
Build awareness of cancer – the impact of living with the disease and caring for those who have it
Consider introducing flexible working arrangements for carers or those living with cancer
Clearly communicate available workplace support – for example confidential counselling, cancer nurse helplines and private healthcare cover
Ensure that workloads are fairly managed across affected teams.
Macmillan offer a draft policy document on how to approach cancer in an employee or an employee’s relative from diagnosis through treatment and recovery.
By taking time to examine policy’s for managing cancer in the workplace organisations can also consider how to help prevent it.
There are countless ways businesses can actively support their employee’s health. We’ve written about many of them on our website. For example, organisations can arrange screening for some of the more common cancers, provide leaflets informing about the causes of some cancers, raise awareness of how to spot early signs.
By taking a proactive approach to employee health and wellbeing and engaging with the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of this disease, businesses can minimise the impact of cancer in the workplace