Making Mindfulness Work for Your Employees
Mindfulness can be a helpful tool to combat employee stress, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to rage. Multiple studies have shown that mindfulness practice can lead to a reduction in stress. The physical signs of stress—such as blood cortisol level spikes and high blood pressure readings—as well as self-reporting of perceived stress, can be reduced by mindfulness practices such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, yoga, and other mindfulness techniques.
Beyond improving the physical manifestations of stress (including headaches, stomachaches, insomnia, etc.), a growing body of research is finding that mindfulness has a positive impact on the way employees feel about their jobs (more satisfied), overall outlook (more positive and hopeful), and their relationships (more pleasant). Other work-related benefits of mindfulness practice include improved memory skills, rational thinking, focus, empathy, and increased emotional stability.
How does mindfulness have such a big impact on stress? The latest research shows that mindfulness actually changes the physical structure of the brain. MRI scans show that multiple areas of the brain can be impacted by mindfulness. The Amygdala, for example—the control center for the body’s fight or flight response—is less active in those that practice mindfulness. Physical changes also can be seen in the density of the Hippocampus. The Hippocampus is linked to emotional regulation and memory, and is strengthened by mindfulness exercises.
Of course, these benefits are only available to those that actually practice mindfulness. Simply suggesting a meditation app or creating a relaxation room does not necessarily lead to employee participation and practice.
A Two-Pronged Approach
Introducing mindfulness into your corporate or firm culture is wonderful, but requires some thoughtful planning and a two-pronged approach:
The educational component answers the “Why?” questions employees have:
- Why should I practice mindfulness?
- How does mindfulness impact the brain?
- How will mindfulness help me personally—in my job, in my life?
- What are the different exercises I might try?
Mindfulness training belongs within the Professional Development or Training department, as mindfulness is a skill.
The next challenge is creating opportunities for employees to practice mindfulness. How do organizations successfully create the space, time, and support for employees to practice? This is where meditation rooms, mindfulness sessions, or access to meditation apps become critical to encouraging practice.
The most longstanding and successful mindfulness programs feature both the education and the opportunity components.
Google’s “Search Inside Yourself” Program
Google is well known for integrating mindfulness into its corporate culture, and its program is a great example of this two-pronged approach. One of Google’s original software engineers launched Google’s version of mindfulness education with the well-known “Search Inside Yourself” program. Originally started in 2007, this program has trained generations of Google employees on the why and how of mindfulness. The company has continued to offer opportunities for practicing mindfulness by prioritizing mindfulness and wellness programs, providing meditation space, and offering ongoing mindfulness classes. Fundamentally, Google has integrated mindfulness into its corporate culture.
Beyond the corporate world, the Mindful Schools program uses a similarly integrative approach to bring mindfulness into schools and classrooms. The nonprofit program trains teachers to integrate mindfulness into every day, in every class. The teachers go through the training first, so they then can bring mindfulness into their classrooms. They are given instruction on mindfulness techniques, as well as short and frequent opportunities to practice. Next, the teachers are tasked with bringing these programs to their classrooms to help reduce students’ stress and improve their concentration and productivity. In a large-scale study of the impact of mindfulness on children and teachers, the Mindful Schools program was shown to have a statistically significant positive impact on attention and participation.
Set your company up for stress-reduction success by incorporating meaningful and evidence-based mindfulness training into your professional development and training curriculum and then providing employees with simple and accessible opportunities for practice.
Tara Antonipillai, founder of Tara Antonipillai Wellness, traded in her stressful job as a tax attorney in Washington, D.C., to start a wellness company. Now she helps professionals reduce their stress and increase overall well-being through mindfulness and other positive interventions. She works primarily with law firms, corporations, and nonprofit organizations, as part of their wellness initiatives and professional development programs. She donates her time to the Lawyer Assistance Committee on the DC Bar and is a frequent speaker on attorney well-being issues.