Stress really is the silent assassin. We all undergo stressful periods in our daily lives and most of us at some point have to deal with it’s effects on us and others. I recently attended an excellent presentation on Mental Health in the Workplace given by Helen Chan of Aware and her first message was that anxiety affects us all and “can cause or exacerbate issues in other areas of our life, be they work, relationships or finances” but crucially we all have a role to play in overcoming this.

And it got me thinking about Mindfulness which seems to be the buzzword of choice right now for anyone interested in general mental health and wellbeing in any walk of life. It’s defined by John Kabatt-Zinn – a godfather of mindfulness as “the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose in the present moment and non judgementally”. It’s practice is said to reduce stress levels and improve performance in individuals through practical exercises such as watching the breath or being aware of sounds.

It’s thought that by learning to calm the mind, your ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand improves and your ability to handle the daily pressures and stresses at work can have a major bearing on your productivity, your health and your happiness. After all, a happy and engaged employee is far more likely to be productive in any work environment and companies are beginning to recognize the benefits of mindfulness and are offering courses as part of a suite of employee benefits. Working environments with consistently high stress levels are counterproductive and are no longer tolerated by health conscious employees, eager to achieve an optimal work/life balance. From the employers perspective, having happy and engaged employees can also lead to significant financial benefits, notably a reduction of stress induced absenteeism and under-performance and aleading edge over their competition.

Mindfulness is not just a buzzword, it’s a discipline that requires constant practice and justifies it’s hype based on some of the major brands and companies willing to embrace it’s concept. In future those companies who show as much attention to the health and welfare of their employees as to their bottom line will be the most desirable employers of choice. By making mindfulness part of the fabric of the day to day workings of any company, our attitudes and behaviours are bound to change for the better, resulting in improved mental health and happier, more productive workplaces.

It’s upon these cornerstones that the companies of the future can expect to compete for talent. Going forward employers need to recognize that they’re not just hiring a skillset but a unique individual with their own unique stresses and pressure points and can offer mindfulness at work as an outlet valve to support these staff. By taking a more pragmatic and streamlined approach, companies will begin to see the benefits of offering mindfulness and other mental health programmes to both new and existing employees. Mindfulness may in fact become an integral part of an employees learning and development, in the same way that they might learn about a new IT system or about the culture and values of their employers. For some companies, appointing mindfulness practitioners will be as acceptable as the need to have a clear and definable HR policy.

Ultimately by removing any associated stigma towards mental health in the workplace, we can also progress as a society and empower our future generations to speak openly about their own mental wellbeing. It is in this environment that mindfulness and other meditative techniques will thrive and benefit us all, employers, employees, everyone.

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