Over recent years, wellbeing initiatives have become increasingly common in the workplace. What was once viewed as a potential fad has now entered into the consciousness of the corporate working environment, and companies are implementing a variety of health-orientated initiatives in order to support the mental and physical health of their staff. But are there any tangible benefits on the bottom line, and is there a correlation between health, happiness and an increase in profits?

Two common forms of measurement for assessing the impact of staff performance on the bottom line are the quality of work produced, and productivity. While both undoubtedly play a role in the success of a company, the variables that affect these outcomes are diverse, ranging from an employees relationship they have with their direct line manager, to whether they decided to have a burger for lunch.

However irrespective of these complexities, new perspectives on wellbeing initiatives have been emerging, with Mindfulness the seemingly preferred solution for many organisations. Favoured by the staff of digital behemoths Facebook and Google, all the way to the more agile startup community, innovators are increasingly turning towards the Buddhist tradition of Mindfulness to cope with an ever-changing and often stressful working environment.

What is Mindfulness?

In simplistic terms, the practice of being “Mindful” is to focus ones awareness on the present moment. Observing all the thoughts and sensations that we experience on a regular basis, without judgment or criticism. By appreciating that thoughts come and go, and that there isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to think in a given moment, we have a choice about how we choose to act on these feelings.

One of the primary aims of this approach is the reduction of stress, and while the ethical and moral considerations of looking after employees is easy to understand, the impact this has on profits is often more difficult to quantify. However it’s not impossible, and supported by a wealth of scientific evidence, companies have been conducting their own research in order to understand the impact of wellbeing initiatives.

The cost of stress

Depending on where business is located throughout the world, your geographic location will play a role in how you assess the financial implications of starting a wellbeing initiative. In the U.S., for example, employers provide health coverage to about 170 million Americans, with many paying part, if not all of their workers’ premiums. According to the World Health Organization, stress is estimated to cost American businesses $300 billion a year.

In comparison, countries like the UK where employees have access to the free National Health Service (NHS), the demands on paying healthcare premiums is less pronounced. That’s not to say that all businesses should move to the UK, but the cost benefits of implementing a wellbeing initiatives could vary across countries.

The impact of Mindfulness on the bottom line

With two mindfulness programmes launched in 2010, Aetna is a U.S. based health care company that sells health insurance plans to its 46 million customers. In 2012 the organisation conducted its own research, and found that employees who were “highly stressed” cost the company an additional $2,000 per year in associated healthcare costs. With annual healthcare costs of $90 million per year, the 7% reduction achieved as a result of their Mindfulness programme resulted in cost savings of $6.3 million per annum.

With regards to productivity, Murray Paterson is a legal firm who first introduced Mindfulness as an attempt to help focus staff in stressful and highly pressurised working environments. Through a combination of guided meditations and a 6 week Mindfulness course, their analysis of employee productivity concluded a:

  • 10% increase in employee performance
  • 11% increase in employee communication skills
  • 12% increase in employee focus
  • 10% increase in employee efficiency
  • 17% increase in employee work/life balance

In an environment where long hours are routinely expected, Mindfulness was viewed as a technique that could enhance focus. Instead of working very long hours because staff were distracted, or lacked focus, staff could still choose to work those long hours, but they were getting more work done in less time.

With the initial emphasis on senior managers and business leaders, the programme has now been extended to junior executives, helping the benefits to permeate throughout all levels of the business.

Overall, there are frequent correlations between the practice of mindfulness, and reduced feelings of stress and increased productivity. While many businesses will still value profits above all else, mindfulness initiatives are demonstrating that improving the health and wellbeing of staff while increasing quarterly profits aren’t always mutually exclusive.

This post was written by The Minded Institute, a world leader in the development and implementation of yoga therapy and mindfulness programs for those with mental health and chronic physical health problems.

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