How can employers best use mindfulness?

How can employers best use mindfulness?

Mindfulness is becoming more common as a tool used by businesses to help their employees better cope with stress or anxiety and become more productive.

But despite its fairly common use in clinical practice, there remains some confusion about what mindfulness is and how it can be applied.

Here, we answer four key questions to help you decide whether mindfulness is appropriate for use within your organisation.

What is mindfulness?

In basic terms, mindfulness means awareness of the present moment. By practising mindfulness, you learn to pay greater attention to the present moment, instead of getting caught up in your thoughts.

Its origins are rooted in Buddhist meditation but it is increasingly being taught as a secular practice, designed to help us become more aware of everyday experiences, such as sights, sounds, smells and tastes.

This not only helps us to appreciate and enjoy the world around us more, but also become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and learn not to become entangled in them.

How does mindfulness help mental wellbeing?

By becoming more aware of the present moment and less wrapped up in our thoughts, we become more able to step back from our thoughts and notice patterns, including the effect they have on our emotions.

As a result, we can train ourselves to realise when unhelpful thoughts are ‘taking over’ and deal with difficult situations in a more positive, productive manner. This kind of awareness also helps us to notice signs of stress and anxiety earlier.

Mindfulness is also recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as a way to prevent depression in people who have had three or more bouts of depression in the past. It increases activity in a number of brain regions, including those parts involved in learning and memory processes and emotion regulation.

How can mindfulness be implemented in the workplace?

Given mindfulness is a personal process, it is appropriate to provide employees with the relevant training, tools and information before allowing them to determine their own practice.

Mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to thoughts, sounds, the sensations of breathing or parts of the body. Consequently, it might help to offer employees a quiet space or meditation room, or provide guidance on practice, such as breathing exercises, they can do at their desk.

Practice should not be enforced but instead encouraged on a ‘little-and-often’ basis so that newcomers to the technique can become accustomed to it. It is often helpful to work practice into everyday activities where possible.

Mindfulness might be introduced as part of leadership training, personal development or specific stress management initiatives in order to encourage staff to take a structured approach to its practice.

Is there any proof for the benefits of mindfulness?

A wide range of research supports the use of mindfulness as a tool to reduce the impact of stress, anxiety and depression and will be useful when encouraging your organisation to invest in its use.

A research study published by the University of Oxford in November 2013 into the effects of an online mindfulness course on 273 subjects showed an average, after 58 per cent reduction in anxiety levels, 57 per cent reduction in depression and 40 per cent reduction in stress after one month.

A 2010 study conducted at the University of Pennsylvania found mindfulness also improves working memory. The non-meditating group in the study had decreased working memory capacity over time, whereas a group that underwent an eight-week mindfulness course saw working memory capacity increase with meditation practice.

Where can I find further information on mindfulness?

Detailed information about mindfulness, including tips on how to be mindful and different types of practice can be found on the NHS Choices website.

The Mental Health Foundation also provides further background information, including details of mindfulness training and teachers, as well as operating an online mindfulness course Be Mindful.

The Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice at Bangor University also has a large amount of information, including details about courses and retreats.

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Willis PMI Group saves National Trust 40% on healthcare cover (01/03/2016)

Employee health risk specialist Willis PMI Group, part of Willis Towers Watson, has helped the National Trust to fund a new health and wellbeing scheme for all of its employees by saving the charity 40 per cent on its premiums.

Founded to preserve places of historic interest or natural beauty, the Trust employs around 7,000 permanent and 4,000 seasonal staff in a range of roles throughout Britain – from office-based staff at head office to cottage caretakers, cooks and conservation experts in some of the remotest parts of the country.

By saving 40 per cent on the cost of its existing medical insurance cover for the management team, Willis PMI Group freed up funds for the Trust to pay for a voluntary, 50 per cent-funded Health Shield cash plan to reward and engage all of their staff with health and wellbeing.

“Our cash plan is a central component of our overall health and wellbeing provision,” said Louise Heppinstall, Reward and Engagement Manager at the National Trust. “We are pleased to have been able to offer something so valuable to our entire workforce, and delighted that it has been received so well by them.”

Designed to offer affordable cover for everyday healthcare, such as optical, dental, prescriptions and health screening, the cash plan has been carefully tailored to complement other benefits arrangements. It also includes an unusually-wide range of 18 health benefits to meet the varying needs of such a diverse workforce.

Employees can choose from five levels of cover, starting at £1.30 per person, per week, and can use the plan to claim back the cost of recently introduced voluntary health screenings, effectively giving employees a free health screening when they take out a comprehensive cash plan.

Richard Munro, Willis PMI Group’s Managing Director, added: “Our premium saving demonstrates what can be achieved by specialist health risk consultancy, not only cutting costs but bringing healthcare benefits to a previously uninsured audience.”

A proactive communications plan was critical to the scheme’s success. Health Shield visited over 100 National Trust sites, distributing flyers and providing free taster massages to bring the benefits of the scheme to life and encourage employee engagement.

Ten top ‘quirky’ employee retention initiatives

Most HR departments recognize the value of benefits and perks in helping to boost staff morale and improving employee recruitment and retention.

Some firms however, tech companies in particular, have really pushed the boat out in a bid to attract and hold on to the most talented personnel.

We’ve compiled ten of the most unusual and outlandish benefits and perks – some may even offer you a little inspiration for the year ahead.

1. Take a break

Rest and relaxation are high on the priority list for retail entrepreneur Julian Richer.

Staff working across his Richer Sounds outlets can recharge their batteries at the company’s holiday homes, sited at various locations across the UK including Pevensey Bay, Chesil Beach and Brighton.

After six months of service, employees are given free access to the holiday homes – although the perk still constitutes a taxable benefit.

Other initiatives that help to boost staff retention rates include chiropody and massage treatments, an extra day’s holiday for employees on their birthdays and use of the company Bentley for a month for employees that scores the highest marks for customer service.

2. Unlimited holidays and parental leave

Online streaming provider Netflix operates a “policy of trust”, allowing workers unlimited holidays and unlimited maternity and paternity leave in the first year after their child’s birth, or adoption.

As long as their job responsibilities are met, employees can monitor their own holidays with time off only having to be approved by HR beyond 30 days.

Other companies have followed Netflix’s lead with Sir Richard Branson being the latest high profile name to adopt the policy. It is believed that such flexible treatment of staff not only boosts staff retention but also increases creativity and productivity.

New parents are paid their full salary during their chosen period of maternity and paternity leave. They can return part-time, full-time, or return and then go back to their parental duties as required.

3. How clean is your house?

In the fight to attract and retain talent US tech company Evernote used to provide a free housecleaning service twice a month to all its employees. The policy, one of many innovative perks, including $1,000 spending money for employees going on holiday for a week or more, was aimed at not only the employee, but also their partners.

Co-founder Phil Libin told The New York Times: “I want the pressure from them to be, “You better not be thinking about leaving Evernote.” I don’t want the pressure to be, “Maybe you should think about going somewhere else?”

4. Vegas baby

If you’re one of the lucky winners of the annual ‘luggage party’ at Chicago-based law firm Freeborn & Peters, you’ll be whisked off to the airport for an all-expenses paid weekend break to Las Vegas.

Every year on ‘luggage party’ day four employees, excluding equity partners, are selected at random from members of staff who, fancying the free trip, bring their packed suitcase to work.

5. Free beer!

A trip to the kitchen for employees at T-shirt design firm Threadless can mean a free sup of the company’s own brand beer.

When CEO Tom Ryan and his friend Benjamin Finch, owner of Finch’s Beer, devised a collaborative brew, a unique keg-shaped employee perk resulted. We hear there’s always a plentiful stock of Threadless IPA – and it’s free for all employees who are partial to a pint of pale ale.

6. Are you being served?

As companies strive to become employers of choice, some choose to offer their staff concierge services to help provide them with a better work-life balance.

Corporate concierges are particular popular among blue-chip companies such as Samsung and Ernst & Young. The benefit also tends to be well-received in sectors such as financial services, where there is a high demand on employees’ time.

Services can include anything from arranging dry cleaning to booking theatre tickets. By taking care of such time-consuming tasks, employees can focus on their work and employers are believed to benefit from higher levels of productivity.

7. Shopping convenience

Microsoft’s HQ in Washington offers employees their very own shopping mall, the Commons, allowing them to buy their groceries, drop off their mail at the post office, pick up their dry cleaning or get their hair cut.

The complex was built to help relieve employee stress by cutting down on their need to commute to carry out regular day-to-day tasks.

Employees can even dine out at a choice of on-site restaurants at a dedicated food court.

8. Guest pets at work

A recent survey by Nestlé Purina revealed that staff are happier and healthier when they are able to take their pets to work. Forty-seven per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds said they view bringing a pet to work as a work perk.

Nestlé Purina started encouraging its associates to bring their pets to work more than 17 years ago with Regional Director Richard Watson claiming it boosts employee morale, encourages more physical activity and helps create a stimulating environment.”

A number of companies have followed suit. New York firm Chartbeat, for example, has its own ‘Puppytorium’ – a library that houses puppies where employees can go to relax and de-stress. In the UK, Nestlé’s Gatwick HQ recently became one the latest workplaces to allow employees to bring their furry friends into the office.

9. Sail away

Employees at the HQ of California tech firm iCracked, located next to a communal dock, can relax out on the waters overlooking Redwood Shores thanks to free, unlimited, access to the company’s yacht.

In a similar vein, at the riverside office of West Midlands IT firm PCA Predict, employees are encouraged to interact away from their desk on either kayaks or the company barge, which is moored near the office and available for staff to borrow on evenings or weekends.

10. Egg Freezing

The prize for perhaps the most unusual ‘benefit’ to recruit and retain staff goes to… *cue the drum roll* …Apple and Facebook who will pay for female employees to freeze their eggs.

Both companies offer up to $20,000 for egg freezing – Apple under its fertility benefit and Facebook under its surrogacy benefit.

An employee with cancer inspired Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer to consider introducing the initiative with the company then deciding to extend the cover to all female employees.

An Apple spokesman said: “We are always looking at new ways our health programmes can meet their needs.”

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Workers sceptical about colleagues who take time off for mental health issues (24/02/2016)

One in five British workers (20 per cent) are sceptical about colleagues who take time off as a result of mental health issues such as depression, stress or anxiety, new research has revealed.

The study of 1,388 workers commissioned by Willis PMI Group, part of Willis Towers Watson, also found that 14 per cent still do not believe stress is a genuine mental health condition. This is despite the fact more than a quarter (29 per cent) claim to have suffered from mental health problems at some point themselves.

“These results highlight the extent of the challenge employers face in educating their staff about the serious nature of mental health issues,” said Mike Blake, Director at Willis PMI Group.

“Stress and mental ill health are both among the top four causes of long-term absence for manual and non-manual workers(1). Therefore, it is crucial businesses overcome the traditional stigma attached to these conditions in order to create a more open, empathetic culture. Doing this will allow them to better identify sufferers, provide effective treatment and make the return to work process smoother and less daunting for the employee.”

The Willis PMI Group study further revealed that 48 per cent of UK employees have worked with a colleague who suffered from mental health issues. Twenty-one per cent of workers also believe colleagues who have previously suffered from mental health issues are less able to fulfil their job role properly.

Blake added: “From a risk perspective, there is potential for a rise in Employers’ Liability claims related to stress and mental health. Therefore companies can leave themselves badly exposed if they fail to provide sufferers with a clear pathway for reintegration into the workforce.

“There are clear implications for productivity and sickness absence too, but the effects can be mitigated by implementing a comprehensive framework for tackling mental health issues that includes proper data capture, company culture, benefits and wellbeing schemes.”

(1) Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, Absence Management Survey 2015