By Martin Zetter, Founder and CEO, Mindful WorkLife
Stress is well-documented as one of the world’s major health concerns. We know that it causes a catalogue of negative physical and mental effects, as well as making us more likely to engage in further damaging behaviours, such as drinking or smoking excessively, or being irritable with the people we care about.
But just as stress is not a one-size-fits-all condition, nor is there a one-size-fits-all approach to managing it in the workplace. Whilst work-related stress is undoubtedly a major component of the overall picture, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has a specialist focus on occupational stress – many other aspects of our lives, from social media and online interactions to finances and personal relationships – which also contributes.
According to the survey we commissioned, conducted by Gorkana, over half (54%) of UK workers experience stress during work at least once a day but over a quarter (27%) claim their boss never or rarely takes action to support them. At the same time, over a quarter (28%) of workers say the stress they experience in their personal life affects their working life.
The study shows that businesses are not taking control of stress in the workplace. It’s essential organisations, and even more crucial for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), move from raising awareness about stress in the workplace to taking tangible action. SMEs are businesses that need to have a tight control over worker wellbeing to ensure they are able to drive productivity and prevent employee absenteeism due to stress related illnesses.
For SME directors to manage stress effectively in the workplace they need to ensure their employees and they themselves are integrating stress management techniques into both working and home life. Scientific studies conducted by the Oxford Mindfulness Centre have proven meditation and mindfulness improve concentration, attention, memory, creativity, reduce social anxieties, and even to boost the immune system.
Managers and employees need to identify and take control of stress not just at work, but in all aspects of their lives, and this means recognising their own nuanced positions. What causes and exacerbates stress and how can they best tackle it?
Similarly, this means that organisations which are serious about reducing stress, and improving health and wellbeing for staff, need to move on from simply raising awareness, and take tangible actions which centre individuals. Meditation isn’t something to be tacked on to a working life – it’s something which needs to be actively integrated into working and home life, as part of a shift to a more mindful and holistic approach to occupational wellbeing.
Part of the problem is the fact that helpful practices for reducing stress and improving mental health – such as meditation and mindfulness – are often viewed as just another time-consuming task to add to the to-do list. Think of meditation in terms of ‘net present value’ however – that is, in terms of an investment today which will generate major gains in the future – and it becomes a more obvious priority.
Research from the University of Oxford, amongst others, has shown how good practice today in terms of mindfulness can drastically increase mental resilience and even reduce chances of depression later in life. Similarly, research at the University of Oslo concluded that meditation promotes physical and psychological benefits for active working professionals with less pain and sleep problems. Meditators were more confident showing less worry and nervousness in their personal style. Doctors are increasingly prescribing mindfulness and meditation as a solution for stress, and it’s easy to see why.
Meditation can be practiced anywhere – you don’t need to take an hour out of your day to sit in a darkened room. Similarly, practices like eating well and exercising regularly, whilst they do admittedly require a bit of thought and attention, can still be integrated into daily life as part of a much wider, more holistic approach to mindfulness and mental wellbeing.
Ultimately, meditation and mindfulness are cost-effective ways of managing stress and improving health and wellbeing. They have a positive impact immediately and over the long-term. For SMEs to continue to grow they must now embrace a more integrated approach to managing stress, both at home and at work, if they want a workforce which is fighting fit for the future.