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Mindfulness in the workplace can boost productivity

Once considered something alternative mindfulness courses are being increasingly used by business to improve morale, productivity and the ability to cope with stress. Businesses as diverse as Transport for London (TfL), Google, Facebook, GlaxoSmithKline, the Home Office, the Cabinet Office, KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers are all turning to mindfulness meditation as a tool for giving them an edge in a competitive market.

The benefits of a regular meditation practice include improvements to physical and mental health and an increased ability to be resilient and manage stress. This has the effect of supporting increased productivity and reduced sickness absence levels in staff. An example of this is Transport for London, which has seen the number of days taken off because of stress, anxiety and depression fall by 71% since introducing employees to mindfulness. Other benefits include heightened emotional intelligence, improved decision-making and strategic-thinking abilities, a heightened ability to focus and enhanced creativity. These are key abilities at all areas of a business as it will support improved levels of resilience, team work, productivity and problem solving whatever a persons level of responsibility.

In an increasingly competitive and demanding work environment the importance of supporting staff well-being is shown by the rise in mental health problems, with stress topping the league of reasons for long-term sickness absence according to research by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (2011). Mindfulness is a way to train the mind in a way that we can recognise that we are not a slave to our thoughts and that we can choose how to respond to internal and external events, two strands highlighted by the Mental Health Foundation as key to mental and emotional well being. The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence’s recommendation of MBCT as the treatment of choice for recurrent depression has also contributed to mindfulness gaining recognition as a significant form of intervention in cases of recurrent and ongoing mental health issues.

Its not just scientific research and meditation teachers noticing the benefits of mindfulness. A study of HR managers by the University of Washington in 2012 concludes that mindfulness helps us experience less stress and an increased focus when multitasking; whilst research by the Institute of Mindful Leadership found that for 93% of leaders surveyed, mindfulness training helped them create space for innovation. Some 89% said it enhanced their ability to listen to themselves and others, and nearly 70% said it helped them think strategically.

In summary, regular meditation:

  • increases activity in a number of brain regions, including those parts involved in learning and memory processes, emotion regulation and perspective taking;
  • improves psychological functions of attention, compassion and empathy;
  • turns off the autonomic nervous system (responsible for the fight or flight response, which when activated too regularly or for prolonged periods leads to chronic stress) and activates the parasympathetic nervous system (also known as the rest and digest mode during which the body repairs and rejuvenates). As a result it decreases the levels of the stress hormone  cortisol. Cortisol is responsible for a wide range of harmful effects on the body: an increased susceptibility to disease and illness, insomnia, increases in weight through fat being stored more easily, a reduced libido through reducing testosterone production in men and causing hormonal imbalances during a wonam’s menstrual cycle, ulcers and IBS. When your body is experiencing the “fight or flight” response, your heart rate increases and blood pressure is consequently higher. The digestive system is shut down and blood is directed to the late muscles in the arms and legs to prepare for running or fighting. If you’re constantly stressed, this chronic cycle will eventually take its toll and can contribute to heart disease;
  • reduces stress and initiates the rest and recuperate mode thereby boosting the functioning of  the immune system;
  • improves medical conditions including type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, asthma, premenstrual syndrome and chronic pain; and
  • improves psychological conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, phobias and eating disorders.
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