Flourishing in the workplace

Mindfulness is increasingly being linked to well-being and human flourishing, as well as physical and psychological health, at home and at work. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) most of the world’s population spend approximately one third of their adult lives at work.As this is such a large proportion of our lives, isn’t it important then to be happy at work?It has been very encouraging in recent years to witness mindfulness being steadily introduced into the culture of our workplaces. Influential policy documents and processes such as the 2015 report by the UK mindfulness all-party parliamentary group made recommendations for the roll-out of mindfulness in four key areas, one of which was the workplace. In Ireland, changes are also occurring in the area of health and well-being at work, with innovative, authentic managers and ethical organisations like the sanctuary taking the lead.

Work burn out is one of the most recurrent health issues in Europe and the US, while in the UK, mental ill health is the leading cause of sickness from work (Mindful Nation UK, 2015).  The Irish picture is no different with work related stress doubling between the years 2010 and 2015.  Workplaces can sometimes be stressful, toxic places and full of distractions making it a challenge to maintain a mindful disposition. 

Employers have a responsibility for the health and safety of their staff. Stress seems to have become a regular feature of working life. The cost of workplace stress to employees and employers can be huge.  It would make sense therefore on many levels, for employers to take meaningful measures to enhance employee well-being. Mindfulness can really work when embedded into the culture of organisations that take the well-being of their employees seriously.

Evidence suggests that when an organisation commits to training its employees in mindfulness the results are beneficial for the individual and the organisation as a whole. So not alone does the individual become more resilient and able to perform more sustainably, but the organisation as a whole does so too. In my own professional practice, I am delighted to be working directly with some large employers in weaving a culture of mindfulness into the fabric of their organisations. It is an area that I am greatly interested in. Through training staff members across different teams and working with organisational leaders, I am seeing entire institutions gradually begin to change from the inside out. 

Research studies have shown that employees pay attention to ethical leadership and respond positively to fairness and integrity. My own practice evidence supports the current research, in that employees respond to authentic gestures by leaders. Introducing mindfulness to the workplace promotes an environment where people feel valued, a workplace where staff are encouraged to be friendly and kind and where creativity and innovation have space to thrive. Self-awareness increases, relationships improve, communication skills grow as well as an ability to manage stress. Productivity is enhanced by a growth in problem solving, decision-making and relational skills.

A 2016 research study focused on the emotional culture of an organisation and how employees can tend to model the emotions they perceive in leaders. Their study found that positive, kind attitudes from leaders or managers can spread like emotional contagion, to the workforce. Unfortunately, the opposite can also be the case in terms of negative emotions (Barsade & O’Neill). What kind of person are you at work? Are you mindful or mindless in how you interact with others? Mindlessness, for many of us, can be our default setting or autopilot mode and can result in conditions such as boredom or apathy, approaching each day at work as if it were just like the one before. Given the fact that we spend so much of our lives in the workplace, whether as employers or employees, the important point is that we all play our part in making our workplaces more compassionate and health promoting. 

Drop in mindfulness classes run weekly in Skibbereen and workshops run regularly throughout West Cork. For more information on future workshops, courses or introductory talks/programmes for staff teams call Susan on 087 2700572 or email: susanoreganmindfulness@gmail.com.

Susan O Regan

Susan O'Regan teaches mindfulness and self-compassion courses and workshops in West Cork.

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