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Why Workplace Mindfulness Training Doesn’t Lower Stress Levels



Why Workplace Mindfulness Training Doesn't Lower Stress Levels

There is a lot of emphasis on mindfulness when it comes to enhancing our mental health. Being totally present in the moment and establishing a connection with your immediate surroundings has become the go-to technique for improving wellness and lowering stress, even at work.

A study conducted in 2022 among 30,000 individuals from 16 nations in Europe, Asia, and the Americas found that the cost of poor mental health at work was estimated to be £28 billion. Employers are aware of the negative effects that poor psychological health can have, such as an increase in sick days and subpar work.

Numerous companies have implemented wellness programs in an attempt to address the issue. These programs include providing therapists, standing workstations, fitness sessions, and mindfulness training. By 2026, the corporate “wellness” solutions market is expected to have grown to a value of $94.6 billion, following a recent explosion in growth.

Studies, however, indicate that the mental health of employees may not necessarily benefit as much from workplace mindfulness programs as we may believe. Furthermore, it’s concerning that some companies utilize them as a box to be checked off while neglecting the root of their employees’ low wellbeing.

Dr. William Fleming, a Unilever research fellow at the wellness Research Centre at the University of Oxford, recently examined survey data from over 46,000 individuals to determine the efficacy of mindfulness and workplace wellness programs.

He discovered that there was no distinction in the self-reported mental health of program participants and those who were not. Overall, neither the sense of belonging nor the level of pressure experienced by the workers was enhanced by the plans.

This could be the case because these wellness programs are essentially just “mcMindfulness,” a word used to describe how corporate resources like meditation are turned into mindfulness exercises.

“There seems to be a rising trend in workplace wellbeing programmes that focus on mindfulness,” says therapist and Counselling Directory member Carley Symes. “I wonder if the focus is on the idea of a relatively ‘quick fix’ whereby employees can somewhat sort themselves out, neglecting the actual responsibility of the workplace and focusing on self improvement in the employees’ hands instead.

“I can completely see why employers are looking for cost effective ways to support their employees to look after their mental health whilst also balancing their budgets,” says Symes. “When an e-learning package markets its mindfulness scheme directly to the company, claiming it can fix your legal obligation for pastoral care whilst cutting costs in the sickness budget, it’s easy to see why most companies say ‘yes please’.”

Stress Can’t Be Solved By Mindfulness

Mindfulness is a coping technique; it is not meant to treat mental health issues like stress, anxiety, or depression. The body’s fight-or-flight reaction can be subdued by practicing mindfulness, such as through breathing techniques, which aids in the promotion of relaxation. In fact, research indicates that practicing mindfulness at work can reduce stress and increase engagement.

Still, there are big, persistent issues at work that mindfulness cannot solve, such overworked employees, bad management, and a hostile work environment.

“The real question is why is it necessary for your employees to have to develop these coping skills just to get by at work?” asks Symes. “Coping skills do just that – they help people cope. They do not address or resolve the issue, and so when they are used in isolation they will never be more than an ineffective unsticking plaster on a gaping wound.”

Symes emphasizes how it removes accountability by putting all the onus on employees and permits employers to overlook any problems.

“Heavy workloads, poor management and overly pressured environments are not about employee resilience but about exploitation, bullying and manipulation,” she says. “And to place the blame for struggling with this on the person being forced to experience this is unacceptable victim blaming.”

Pay Attention To The Workers

What then can companies do to enhance the mental health of their workforce? Listening to others is one of the most crucial methods to help them. According to Symes, “being heard is one of the major factors in actually developing healthy mental wellbeing, and this is missed by these schemes.”

Employers must ascertain the root cause of employees’ difficulties in order to offer appropriate support. There might be a way to find a solution, whether it’s a term of sick leave, less duties, or flexible working hours. Workers ought to feel free to voice concerns, even if they are difficult to resolve.

“Fostering a good company culture is hard and absolutely worth it if you want to support the wellbeing of the people you work with,” says Symes. “Open conversations, actively listening and actually implementing changes based on feedback are likely to go a long way in building trust and reducing stress in the workplace.”

Investing in a good counseling service to assist staff members with their lives both within and outside of the workplace is another doable strategy to promote employee mental health.“But, above all, listen and have empathy,” says Symes. “Take responsibility for the impact of your actions and your companies actions, and you’ll find improvements will follow.”


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