In May 2019 the World Health Organization classified Burn-out as a Disease in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). According to WHO, diseases are “[f]actors influencing health status or contact with health services” but that are neither illnesses, nor health conditions.
Burnout is defined by the ICD-11 as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.”
With this definition comes the caveat that burn-out is a phenomenon specifically related to one’s occupation and does not apply to other aspects of life.
Other mental health factors that influence employee productivity are anxiety and depression. The WHO estimate 264 million people life with depression globally, with many of these individuals also experiencing anxiety. A study led by WHO found that the global economy loses nearly US$ 1 trillion each year due to lost productivity as a result of these mental health conditions.
A different WHO-led study estimated that for every US$ 1 that was dedicated to the treatment of common mental health disorders, US$ 4 was returned in the form of improved health and increased productivity.
In 1979, Emeritus Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre, Jon Kabat-Zinn introduced the west to The Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programme.
In a study published in Creating Healthy Work Environments in 2019, the authors found that integration of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) techniques in the workplace led to lower cases of worker burnout. The researchers also found that MBSR led to lower depression, anxiety and distress amongst employees.
Hilton and colleagues published a summary of recent Mindfullness-based research in Work in 2019, while this article published by Forbes (and this article here) indicate that large companies like Google, Intel, Aetna and General Mills have all incorporated mindfulness training as employee wellness offerings.
While a person’s mind tends to wander about half of his or her waking hours, mindfulness training helps to bring focus back to the task at hand. Mindfulness has been shown to improve stability, control and efficiency. Employees tend to be less scattered and complete tasks more thoroughly and quicker.
Practicing mindfullness has a positive impact on a variety of areas. It improves attention, cognition, emotions, behaviour and physiology. It reduces stress enabling employees to feel calm and focussed on the task at hand. It also has physical benefits such as lower blood pressure and stress-induced health concerns. This means lower cost of health benefits and less employee absenteeism due to poor health caused by stress.
Individuals who practice mindfulness show greater empathy, emotional resilience and compassion which leads to better interpersonal behaviour and workgroup relationships.
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present without judgement. Often referred to as ‘in the now’ or ‘in the moment’, it is the practice of fully engaging with an activity or situation that is occurring at that particular moment, without judging anything that comes up. Besides paying attention to the activity, practitioners of mindfulness are also aware of themselves in that situation, of their physical and emotional responses in that space, again in a non-judgemental way.
There are many was to cultivate mindfulness, with meditation being one of the most powerful tools to do so. With practice one can enter a deeply meditative state where the focus is completely directed at the quiet space with, linked to the breath and the sensations in the body.
Other practices like yoga and mindful eating or walking can also assist in cultivating mindfulness. Mindfulness practice is exactly that – a practice. Some days it might come easier than others. The key to releasing the benefits is to engage in it consistently.
As per the summary published by Hilton and her colleagues, there are a number of different mindfulness practices aimed at improving employee wellness, and through that efficiency and productivity. With the growing popularity and the pool of research on the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace more and more employers are introducing these programs.
Specialised employee wellness and mindfulness programs provide employees with the skills to perform better under stress and to be more productive while at work. These skills can be, and often are, transferred into the employees’ lives outside work, leading to overall improvements of health, psychological wellness and general contentment. Employees who find contentment in and outside of their workplace tend to be more motivated and stay with their employer for longer.
Mindfulness programs in the workplace not only hold benefits for the employees, but also for the employer in the form of lower absenteeism rates and more productive employees. This, in the long run, lead to lower costs per employee, and higher income due to a more efficient workforce.
Take a look at our employee wellness and mindfulness offer here.