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Masters of Mindfulness: Why Leading Employers Are Paying for Workers to Take a Break


Written by Michael Catford

February 16, 2017

Mindfulness at work
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Over the last few years the concept of working smarter rather than harder has gathered some real steam. 16 hour shifts down the coal mine may have been the done thing for 18th century schoolchildren, but with Sweden currently experimenting with a 6 hour workday and the likes of Google offering up ping pong tables and LEGO stations to their employees as watercooler alternatives, the focus on a healthy and efficient workforce – rather than one that is simply hard working – has never been greater.

From Buddhism to the Boardroom

The awareness and acceptance of the science of mindfulness has perhaps contributed to this paradigm shift. A practice that has been used by Buddhists for centuries to gain control of one’s emotions, mindfulness focusses on getting that most important of organs firing on all cylinders. It has been described by one of its pioneers, Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, as “paying attention in the present moment, non-judgementally”. The majority of mindfulness techniques resemble what most people would recognise as meditation, allowing your mind to take a break by focussing on one thing rather than many.

As the practice began to gain steam outside of Buddhism in the 1970s, mindfulness found its way into the laboratory. To the surprise of many the techniques held up to scientific scrutiny, and as the decades rolled on more and more studies confirmed the long-purported benefits.

Initially it was used as a clinical tool; a treatment to combat depression, anxiety, drug addiction, and even Alzheimer’s. But of late mindfulness has made yet another leap, this time from the clinician’s desk to the boardroom. HR departments tasked with upping the efficiency of their personnel have developed mindfulness as less of a remedy and more of a performance enhancer.

A Happy Worker is a Good Worker

As Michelle Filo, People Partner, APAC at AdRoll notes, “It doesn’t matter which industry you’re in or the service/product you provide; the underlying asset to any business is its people”. Modern businesses are recognising that investment in their staff is paramount to their ongoing success. And in mindfulness you’ve no longer got a speculative spend – the research has been done, and the results are impressive. US health care company Aetna found an ROI of $11 to every $1 spent on mindfulness. That’s the sort of return that you’d more often associate with a bet on a rank outsider in a football match.

Filo also notes that AdRoll has “found a strong correlation between [investment in] mindfulness at work and the retention of highly engaged and motivated employees”. So not only does an organisation stand to see a fantastic return on their mindfulness investment, they can also expect to keep these newly-mindful employees around for far longer.

It should be noted that AdRoll advocates mindfulness as a cog in the greater employee wellbeing machine. In their RollWell program AdRoll have instituted a holistic approach to the health and wellbeing of their personnel. They aim to move all of their employees, referred to as ‘Rollers’, at least 200,000 miles (320,000km) per year. The initiative utilises a range of practices and activities over and above mindfulness to give Rollers a mental release from their work, including meditation, swimming classes, yoga, paddleboarding, fitness sessions, team sports and through partnerships with external gyms.

It’s fair to say that the AdRoll approach is an incredibly complete one, but it certainly doesn’t represent the only way of implementing a mindfulness at work program. Smaller businesses needn’t feel awkward or uneasy about starting their mindfulness journey on a far less expansive scale. The degree to which you institute mindfulness shouldn’t be your major concern – the pure act of deciding to head in that direction is what counts.

Filo perhaps puts it best; “The bottom line is that mindfulness is about people. Looking after your people gets the best out of them, and that makes it a win for everyone”.

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Written by Michael Catford

February 16, 2017

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