Working through the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and recreation for many employees, with a feeling of being ‘always on.’
Considering the impact of COVID-19 on workplace stress and burnout, and the growth of men’s mental health issues, employers must devise long-term strategies to better support staff. So, could mindfulness be the answer?
DiversityQ meets Louise Harris, the founder of mindfulness coaching organisation Mindful Being, who explains the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace, including its use as a preventative measure for the most life-threatening mental health problems.
What is mindfulness and what does it involve?
A simple definition of mindfulness is training the mind to manage and sustain attention. Regular guided practise of mindfulness is a meditation that uses the breath as a focus for attention. Here, we are learning to cultivate high attention, in a relaxed body and nervous system.
We are training the mind to notice when it’s not present and paying attention to when it becomes distracted by sounds, sensations, and thoughts. We then strengthen the awareness of not being present, unhooking from the distractions, and redirecting the attention back to the sensations of breathing.
For those that have never tried mindfulness before, what are the first steps they should take?
Understanding what happens to the mind when we meditate is critical. When you sit to do this for the first time it can be challenging and if you don’t understand why you’re doing it, it’s likely you will give up. The key is to be coached and guided in the early stages until you understand the why, the how, and the importance of establishing a habit.
What are the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace?
The proven benefits are many, including lower stress, more engagement, more focus, and greater productivity and creative and innovative thinking. Employees that practise mindfulness have fewer absences from work, make fewer multitasking mistakes and are less frenzied.
November is the month to raise awareness about men’s health; for female leaders who are spotting mental health warning signs in male colleagues, how should they approach it?
Having supported hundreds of corporate employees to optimise their wellbeing before and during the global pandemic, I have noticed an incline in the number of males reaching for a structured and simple tool that they incorporate into their working day.
Female leaders who notice their male colleagues who are disengaged, distracted, or even absent might wish to signpost their colleagues to something like a mind gym session. I ran and continue to run these daily drop-in sessions and there has been an increase in the number of males attending.
Typically, men are less likely to open up about their mental health at work. Cultivating a culture that gives everyone permission to speak openly is key and this needs to start with leaders.
Organisations can offer employees the opportunity to attend a wellbeing session that explains how the mind is naturally wired for stress, and that there are practises such as mindfulness meditation, and ways of working, like mindfully managing the day, that can help optimise mental energy and prevent burnout.
From your experience, do men and women approach mindfulness differently?
I have found that both men and women really need to understand the science behind mindfulness before they commit to investing their time in it, but this might be more applicable to men.
Do men tend to experience different workplace mental health factors than women?
Sleep disturbance, fatigue, and burnout affect both men and women. I find men continue to push on before they hear the alarm bell that something is wrong, but this is applicable to many women too.
Have you seen any resistance around men seeking mindfulness hacks compared to women?
I think the dial has shifted significantly and what was once seen as more feminine is shifting. Historically men would use physical activity instead of training the mind, but brain training is definitely more acceptable and commonplace and the number of male advocates continues to grow.
We know that middle-aged men, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, are bigger suicide risks. Can mindfulness be a preventative measure for this serious issue?
The approach for this group and for its sub-sections would be much the same and that is to really get individuals to understand what stress is, how it impacts our brains and our bodies, and why and how mindfulness is a powerful tool to build resilience. If implemented in the right way with coaching and ongoing support in place, I believe this practise can be preventative.