There is an enormous payoff when employees bring their whole selves to work. A culture where employees are fully engaged drives productivity and performance. But what happens when stress, anxiety and lack of focus interfere with work?
According to research by Dr. Ruth Wolever, Ph.D., Director of Research at Duke University School of Medicine, stress negatively affects the human body by suppressing the immune system and contributing to chronic disease. Not only is elevated stress a common and expensive part of corporate life, highly stressed employees are subject to greater health risks, which contribute to productivity loss and considerably higher medical costs than those with lower stress levels. To make matters worse, highly stressed people tend to make unhealthy diet choices dramatically increasing their risk of obesity and chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and musculoskeletal pain.
Employers are looking for new and innovative approaches to keep their employees healthy, productive and present—mindfulness-based programs offer one such solution. Research indicates that mind-body approaches to health improvement are an effective and targeted solution for employers who want to lower the costs associated with stress and help their employees achieve better overall health.
According to the 2015 Workplace Trends Report, researchers Dr. Alan Marlatt and Dr. Jean Kristeller define mindfulness as “simply bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.” Mindfulness promotes mental and physical well-being by reducing stress levels, improving alertness and enhancing brain activity. What’s more, mindfulness can bolster the immune system and improve glycemic control in diabetes.
Two pilot programs, Mindfulness at Work and eMindful, highlighted in the 2015 Workplace Trends Report, showed very promising results. Both programs were found to be highly effective: the first in reducing stress and the second in reversing metabolic syndrome. Both programs also improve satisfaction and health for employees, while simultaneously improving productivity and the bottom line for employers.
Mindfulness at Work is a 12-week program that invites employees to meet once a week for 55 minutes and for an optional retreat. Participants reported:
- 36% reduction in stress
- 29% drop in sleep disturbances
- 34% decline in pain
Tests also confirmed improved heart rhythm. In addition, the trial group that met online experienced the same benefits as those who participated in on-site classes.
eMindful delivers live, online mindfulness-based programs that target the roots of chronic conditions. The programs are delivered through virtual classrooms that enable employees around the world to participate in real-time webinars, offering innovative ways to target root cause of chronic conditions.
The results of these studies indicate that mindfulness programs can decrease stress and pain, and improve sleep, productivity and physical fitness. They also offer evidence that mind-body approaches to health improvement are an effective and targeted solution for employers who want to lower the costs associated with stress and help their employees achieve better overall health—all great news for employees and employers.
Mindfulness programs are providing companies with innovative approaches to improving their bottom line while simultaneously developing a workforce with the skills to manage stress and emotions, foster social connections and make lifestyle changes.
Deborah Hecker is Vice President, Sustainability and Corporate Social Responsibility, Sodexo.