The mindfulness movement has helped employers realize the importance of incorporating meditation and mindfulness training into the workplace as part of wellness initiatives, says certified coach and facilitator Renée Cormier
Stress along with the poor coping strategies used to deal with it, can cause an array of illnesses that include heart disease, diabetes, cancer, addiction, depression, anxiety and lower immune function.
The latest stats provide proof: Canadian employees cited workplace stress as the primary cause of their mental health problems or illness, with depression and anxiety noted as the top two issues, according to a 2018 survey by Morneau Shepell and the Globe and Mail.
One in four workers has left their job due to work-related stress, according to a 2017 Monster Canada survey.
More than one-third of Canadian employees have also reported that work-related stress caused their mental health problems, according to a recent study by Morneau Shepell and the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Close to three-quarters (70 per cent) of respondents said that their work experience impacted their mental health, while 78 per cent cited mental health as the primary reason for missing work.
In light of these revealing statistics, it makes good sense for any employer to make employee wellness a priority.
The importance of perspective
Many companies offer employee assistance programs (EAPs) and encourage employees to buy gym memberships but, more and more, companies are realizing that mental and physical wellness requires much more than people just having an outlet for stress.
Mental wellness is about learning how to gain and shift perspective. The mindfulness movement has helped employers realize the importance of incorporating meditation and mindfulness training in the workplace.
Meditation and mindfulness provide many physical and mental health benefits, along with enhanced coping skills. Regular meditation allows people to become clear-minded, focused and calm in all situations. Mindfulnes exercises include guided imagery, living in the moment and focused breathing.
And people with good coping skills make good employees. Mentally strong people tend to accomplish more, make fewer errors, get along well with others, are healthier both physically and mentally and ultimately can save employers a lot of money.
The risks of technology in wellness
A growing number of companies are using technology as a component of their mental wellness programs, using mobile apps and wearable technology such as Fitbit and vests that monitor heart rates.
Many companies, however, are hesitant to adopt any technology that can be hacked or used as a window into employees’ private lives. Often, people who use wearable tech are not aware of how much personal data they are potentially exposing to hackers, marketers and even their own employer. The technology can reveal which employees have dangerously high blood pressure, which medications people are taking, who is suffering emotionally and what places employees frequent when they are not at work.
Having possible access to so much of employees’ private information could get an employer into trouble legally, should someone with something to hide be denied a promotion or fired. The employer would have to prove that it didn’t have any access to that information and that it didn’t use that type of information to make decisions.
Alternatives to tech
Employers should consider using a multi-pronged approach to support employees. People learn in a variety of ways, so there is still a lot of value in live training and virtual training around meditation lessons, stress management, personal enlightenment and physical and mental health education.
Employers can also leverage the power of internal communications, social media (such as Facebook groups) and the company intranet to share information that is less personal in nature but still really valuable.
Consider also the value of holding contests for exercise, weight loss or group meditation (between departments, for example) and even combining wellness initiatives with employee engagement initiatives. After all, there is a direct relationship between employee engagement, mental wellness and feeling supported at work.
Measuring your success
Measuring the success of a wellness program requires looking at business results across the board as well as the results of employee surveys. Before implementing the program, be sure to send out anonymous employee wellness surveys and employee engagement surveys to establish a baseline.
To get a complete picture, look at year-over-year results with respect to employee turnover, absenteeism, customer retention, waste rates, new business acquisition, average sales per rep and any other KPI you measure.
After you implement a program, resend the surveys and compare all of the business results every three to six months to see how you are doing.
A comprehensive program that includes training, surveys, analysis, communications and HR efforts may cost a company from $1,000 to $1,500 per employee, but it will easily save the employer three times that amount.
And that is a highly conservative estimate. In the 1980s, there was a well-documented study of the effects of meditation on employees at H.A. Montgomery Company, a chemical plant in Detroit. Employees were encouraged to meditate twice a day for six months, and the results were astounding. They found that absenteeism was reduced by 85 per cent, injuries dropped by 70 per cent and profits actually rose 520 per cent.
More modern examples of the benefits of mindfulness and meditation include Aetna and SAP. Aetna is a U.S. company that promotes and practises mindfulness as part of its workplace culture. It wanted to decrease employee health-care costs and chose mindfulness as a way to achieve that.
The company not only saved $2,000 per employee in health-care costs, but its productivity rose so significantly that each employee gave back a $3,000 increase in productivity. Aetna calculated its efforts cost US$120,000 per year and it received an 11:1 return on that investment. That’s powerful.
SAP has discovered that its mindfulness training has produced an ROI of 200 per cent. The company realized great improvements in employee focus and collaboration, reductions in stress and absenteeism and increased employee engagement.
With all of this information, it’s pretty safe to say that employee wellness programs, particularly those that promote mindfulness and meditation, are highly beneficial to companies.
It is the understanding that results are driven mentally before they are ever achieved physically that makes these programs so effective.
Renée Cormier is a certified coach and facilitator who uses her expertise in employee engagement, corporate communications, success coaching and mental techniques to positively impact employee wellness. Visit www.reneecormier.com for more information.