Mindful thinking

What can employers learn from mindfulness?

Many of us lead increasingly hectic lives where it’s all too easy to dash from task to task and day to day without pausing to contemplate.

Yet it’s incredibly important to take the time to be in the present moment, pausing to consider your own thoughts and feelings and the world around you. 

Also known as mindfulness, this can ensure we don’t become overly reactive to or overwhelmed by events in our lives and has multiple positive health impacts.

Why is mindfulness important?

We all know the importance of exercise for our physical health. Yet many of us don’t realise that our minds also need their own version of a workout to unplug from today’s fast-paced world. Mindfulness is one such option that’s been shown to help with:

  • stress
  • anxiety
  • memory and focus
  • low mood.

Mindfulness is also linked with physical health improvements. This includes lower blood pressure, improved management of chronic pain, a stronger immune system, better sleep and even supporting the treatment of heart disease.

How to practise mindfulness

So how do you practise mindfulness?

Put simply, mindfulness is noticing the everyday. Whilst it’s easy to engage autopilot and make no conscious note of your experiences, mindfulness is about noting your thoughts and feelings, bodily sensations and the world around you. 

This could be little things you find pleasant, like the air on your skin, the warmth of the sun or birds singing.

You don’t have to do this constantly. You could reserve a specific time in your day to engage in mindfulness as part of your routine.

Some mindfulness exercises to consider include:

  1. Mindful eating
    Everyone needs to eat or drink, so when you do consider paying attention to taste, sight, smell and textures. With a hot drink, focus on the temperature or the steam rising from the cup. If you’re eating a sandwich, focus on the crunch of lettuce or similar ingredient or the smell of the bread.
  2. Body scan
    Move your attention slowly throughout your body from head to toes, making note of aches, pains, tension or anxiety.
  3. Progressive muscle relaxation
    Related to body scan, you could try guided progressive muscle relaxation, such as this recording from the NHS. You tense and release subsequent areas of your body (avoiding body parts experiencing pain or injury), bringing awareness of tension and relaxation in your own body.
  4. Mindful colouring
    Colouring isn’t just for kids! Adult colouring books exist, with colouring aiding relaxation, reducing anxiety, improving focus and lowering stress. Focus on the colours of the pencils or pens and the feel of them on the paper as you watch your masterpiece grow.
  5. Meditation
    You might not realise it, but mediation is the best-known form of mindfulness. Sit quietly in a place you find calming, focusing on your breathing. Take note if your mind starts to wander from your breath — but don’t judge if it does. Simply bring your thoughts back to your breathing and anchor yourself in the here and now.

For more information, check out Unum’s podcast on mindfulness, with our in-house mindfulness practitioner Hayley as a guest contributor.

The business benefits of mindful employees

In 2021/22 914,000 workers in Great Britain experienced work-related stress, anxiety or depression. Also in 2022, wider mental ill health resulted in 18.5 million lost working days across the UK economy — very nearly 10% of all sick days.

This is, first and foremost, terrible for people living with poor mental health, especially that caused or worsened by work. Yet there’s also a cost to businesses and the economy. According to the Mental Health Foundation and the London School of Economics1, poor mental health costs the UK economy £117.9 billion annually. 

The paper advocates for greater spending and intervention to support people living with mental health conditions. It also cites the workplace as an “important setting where actions can be taken to promote and protect mental health”.

Introducing employees to mindfulness can provide this support. The benefits of mindfulness could translate into a happier, healthier and productive workforce, with evidence that it can:

  • increase focus and concentration
  • boost creativity
  • increase emotional intelligence and resilience
  • improve communication.

Promoting mindfulness and supporting employee wellbeing

At the most basic, you could promote mindfulness to employees by signposting to free resources such as the NHS, or charities like the Mental Health Foundation or Mind.

For those with access to certain Unum Group Risk policies, employers can encourage mindfulness and manage employees’ wellbeing directly with resources such as:

Wellbeing Checks

A Wellbeing Check offers employees of Unum Group Income Protection customers a 1-2-1, personalised session with one of our in-house wellbeing experts. They’ll support employees to manage wellbeing concerns in any part of their life and suggest tips to manage their wellbeing moving forwards.

Mental Health Pathway

Also available to Group Income Protection customers is our Mental Health Pathway. This is a single access point for employers and employees requiring specialist support to manage mental health concerns.

The Pathway includes early intervention support for businesses, which can help address issues when they’re more manageable and reduce the risk of them becoming long-term problems.

Workplace Health & Wellbeing Review

Our Workplace Health & Wellbeing Review is perfect for those not sure where to start with their workplace wellbeing strategy. We look at your current wellbeing measures, suggest improvements and then work with you to implement them over 12 months.

Training and development

Unum’s On Course workplace wellbeing workshops offer both guided webinars and self-guided learning for employers and employees on managing stress and mental health at work. Many of employer and line manager courses are CPD-accredited.

Embed mindfulness into your culture

Mindfulness can be a powerful business tool to improve employee wellbeing. However, whilst providing links to resources is useful, it can’t be all you do to build a mindful workforce. Employees need and deserve more.

Make them aware of all the resources they have available and look at your overall health and wellbeing strategy. For instance, offering employees a good work/life balance can provide them with the time and headspace to engage in mindfulness that they might not get with an overly busy working life. Encourage employees to take adequate breaks and maybe consider providing a quiet room designated specifically for calm contemplation and ensure you encourage breaks.

Done right, many of the above benefits from mindfulness can contribute to reduced presenteeism and absenteeism, as well as improve workplace morale. That’s why it’s worth putting mindfulness at the heart of your company’s agenda — something Unum supports our customers with every day.

1 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-06/MHF-Investing-in-Prevention-Full-Report.pdf

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