‘Mindfulness’ and ‘resilience’ have become ‘trendy’ methods to address stress and anxiety over the past few years – but are they being used in the right way and do they deliver return on investment for organisations? Caspar K Ingham looks at how they can be used effectively.
When I started preparing for this article on the most effective workplace wellbeing strategies to reduce stress and anxiety, I was quite surprised how little research there was on the best outcomes from specific therapeutic strategies for employees.
Wellbeing, resilience and mental health
Over the years, especially since the Department for Work and Pensions cited a potential mental health epidemic way back in the early 2000s, there has been a significant amount of research into the cost of stress-related illnesses to businesses. In 2005, one in four were found to have suffered from a mental health problem such as stress, anxiety or depression.
With offices, shops and leisure facilities now opening many are anxious of simply being around friends and colleagues. We have been keeping as many people as possible mentally and physically fit over the last year but now the economy is opening up, anxiety is being experienced across all demographics, but especially among younger employees.
Many organisations have been highly resourceful at keeping their teams fit, positive, motivated, and calm during the pandemic. But what are the most effective methods? And do they represent a good return-on-investment (ROI) for employers?
Deliotte has done a fantastic job bringing together a wealth of resources on how to help keep staff mentally-healthy. Its document Mental Health for Employers, Refreshing the Case for Investment (January 2020), offers a treasure trove of actionable research.
From this, we have at the very least an idea of what can deliver the best ROI, in terms of preventative measures, interventions and group activities.
However, many organisations struggle to get the budgets they require for improving mental health at work. A CEO or finance director may look at a wellbeing budget as a waste, but the outcomes in terms of retention, performance and teamwork far outweigh the risks.
If the results demonstrate person-centred positive outcomes, which translate into long-term ROI (sometimes the ROI is not realised for up to five years), then it is a win-win situation for all.
Creating ROI and person-centred outcomes
A while ago I worked at a large corporate company in the UK. I was quite surprised that if we ticked the right boxes when filling out a wellbeing survey, the management team was satisfied that my colleages and I were happy and healthy.
And then came a focus on “mindfulness” – great, but does it work? This depends on how it is taught and practiced.
My understanding comes from experience. The practice itself creates mindfulness, not the other way around. The unique thing about the human experience is that we have the capability to be aware of our thoughts, feelings, and actions – this is mindfulness, moment to moment. This is often the result of many years meditating (this is simply “relaxed concentration”), but there are faster methods.
Most people cannot simply “switch off” their mind, especially in fast-paced office environments, where we are working our minds.
Most people cannot simply ‘switch off’ their mind, especially in fast-paced office environments, where we are working our minds.”
In 33 years as a practitioner, practicing with beginners and those who are more advanced, I’ve found that over 65% of individuals respond better to tuning into their body rather than their mind. You cannot be “thinking” about other things if you are focused on the moment of your body.
In comes “mindful movement”. For many this could be used in conjunction with a team building experience, or talking about a problem with a pracitioner. The endorphin release from deep breathing exercises is akin to seeing your favourite team score a goal or an intensive cardio workout.
However, many terms such as “mindfulness” and “resilience” are in danger of being misappropriated and co-opted into corporate speak without thinking about the present or long-term benefits. Building resilience should be a preventative, not reactive, measure, while with mindfulness, there are many more ways than simply sitting and being aware that help us to be present at work.
Doing this on a daily basis can be a great experience, but it can also lead to what some councillors’, who often work with deep-set emotions and trauma, call “spiritual bypassing”– just another defence mechanism. Depending on the client and situation, often mindfulness could be combined with other therapies for removing deep-seated emotional memories.
Cultivating the balance between accepting emotions, being present, and actively utilising emotions for positive change has helped many to transcend deep traumas. This could be achieved with cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness and hypnotherapy, and eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) – a rapid treatment used by counsellors to help relieve trauma and PTSD.
Cultivating the balance between accepting emotions, being present, and actively utilising emotions for positive change has helped many to transcend deep traumas.”
Frustration and anger can be harnessed – they are great driving forces if channelled correctly. Anxiety is best dealt with preventatively if possible, and there are many holistic methods to do this. From going for a jog (satisfies fight or flight mode), sea swimming, relaxation techniques and even some acu-pressure points and specific exercises, much can be done to relieve anxiety naturally.
Louise Patmore of NHS Sussex, who works in development in mental health services, finds that CBT with mindfulness are very effective for anxiety while EMDR and trauma based CBT are effective for releasing trauma. These therapies combined with peer support and meditative exercises are the most effective methods for relieving workplace stress and anxiety.
Tove Frisvold, an emotional awareness and behavioural training expert, believes that creating behavioural change is key. This can be accomplished by understanding ourselves better; what emotions drive us, and holding a space to help us understand our defense mechanisms so that we “act on” our emotions rather than “act out”. This gives us the capability to accept intense thoughts and emotions and, combined with compassionate mindfulness, could enable us to have the acceptance and drive to move past them.
Mindfulness and resilience training do have a role in the workplace, but they should be used carefully and in conjuction with other methods of building good mental health. Every organisations’ essential mental health toolbox should involve:
- Team interaction and peer support
- Person-centred therapy
- Prevention first then quick acting intervention – exercise/EMDR/peer support
- Understanding emotions for behavioural change with mindful movement
- Physical movement – with relaxed concentration.
NHS England (2005) The five year forward view for mental health. https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Mental-Health-Taskforce-FYFV-final.pdf
Deloitte (2020) Mental Health for Employers, Refreshing the Case for Investment. https://www2.deloitte.com/uk/en/pages/consulting/articles/mental-health-and-employers-refreshing-the-case-for-investment.html
BACP (2021) What is EMDR? https://www.bacp.co.uk/about-therapy/types-of-therapy/eye-movement-desensitisation-and-reprocessing-emdr/