Mindfulness and mental health in the workplace

October 2023 | Behavioral Health

As a society, our careers are a significant component of daily life. In fact, you will spend approximately 90,000 hours, or one-third of your life working. So it’s no surprise that our jobs have a major impact on our health, both physical and mental.

With any career comes some inevitable stressors, and things like long hours or heavy workloads can take their toll. And while we used to be encouraged to “work through it,” today we know the value of a workplace that supports employees and offers tools that help us protect and improve our health.

One such tool that has become increasingly popular amongst both employers and employees is mindfulness practice. Sometimes we see mindfulness incorporated into in-office programming or offered as a health benefit through an online coaching platform. Either way, mindfulness is becoming an integral part of workplace cultures that proactively protect the well-being of their colleagues.

But what is mindfulness, and how is it changing the game when it comes to mental health in the workplace? At Point32Health, we have made mindfulness a central part of our organizational culture and have seen first-hand the benefits that can be realized when mindfulness and mental health are prioritized in the workplace.

What is mindfulness?

 When we talk about mindfulness, we are talking about a person’s ability to carefully pay attention to the things that are happening in and around them, as those things are happening. That includes the internal world—thoughts, emotions—as well as the external world, what we see, hear, or interact with. Mindfulness, then, is the act of being an active participant in our experiences and interactions, like at work.

Mindfulness practice, which is perhaps better referred to as mindfulness meditation, is how we strengthen the ability to show up to our lives as our best selves, and it starts with trying to steady the mind. This can’t be accomplished with the flip of a switch – it requires work and practice actively “anchoring” our attention to a single focus and returning to that focus when our mind wanders.

“Every time we realize our mind has wandered and we return attention to the anchor we have chosen, it is like we are doing a mental push-up, further strengthening focus and steadiness,” says Tara Healey, mindfulness program director for Point32Health’s Living Well program. “As we go about our days, even when our minds wander, we will find ourselves becoming accustomed to noticing that our minds are wandering—thereby allowing us to return our attention to where we want it to be.”

Benefits of mindfulness in the workplace

Extensive research has demonstrated the benefits of workplace mindfulness training programs. These studies show that colleagues who practice mindfulness, are better able to focus their attention on competing demands, and feel more satisfied and less burnt out at work. At Point32Health, the survey data we’ve gathered from individuals who have participated in our own mindfulness training programs since 2005 tells a similar story: those individuals demonstrated statistically significant improvements in the ability to relax; to handle stressful situations; and to feel like they had achieved a good work-life balance.

Beyond the data, we have seen what happens when a colleague – and a workplace – fully embrace mindfulness. Jonathan Roberts, operations manager, mindfulness-based learning for Point32Health, outlined these four fundamental markers of a mindful colleague:

  • They understand their strengths, and how to deploy those strengths in an ethical way, for the benefit of their team, the organization, and the community which the organization serves.
  • They grasp areas where they might improve, and are able to pay special attention to how those areas might impede their team’s work, and take action accordingly.
  • They do not assume their opinion is always the best one, but seek out a variety of opinions from other team members with differing backgrounds, in order to ensure the most comprehensive, innovative strategy is arrived at.
  • They understand that each person has their own strengths and weaknesses, and that an individual who may not be able to offer the most valuable opinion in one situation may, in fact, be holding the most valuable viewpoint in a different situation.

These qualities are highly desirable and important ones for any effective leader or team member to cultivate. Individuals who display these sorts of qualities are going to feel more connected to their work, and their colleagues, and are going to stand out as the type of person who their colleagues want to feel connected to.

“Where mindfulness reveals its power, then, is in the fact that mindfulness is a practice, providing specific exercises which one can, yes, practice in order to make their mind more prepared to cultivate these qualities, and then maintain them over the long term,” added Roberts.

Mindfulness practice at Point32Health

Since the inception of our mindfulness program nearly 20 years ago, we’ve benefitted in more ways than we could’ve anticipated. Not only have we seen colleagues’ interest in mindfulness practice grow in general, but the feedback from colleagues has allowed us to improve the wellness programming which we eventually take out to our employer groups, our members, and the public.

Given that it is largely still rare for organizations to offer mindfulness in-house, Point32Health is proud to offer comprehensive and in-depth mindfulness program to our colleagues. Thanks to our mandate to offer the benefit of mindfulness to our colleagues, we’ve consistently been able to support our colleagues’ interest with a variety of different types of mindfulness workshops.

“Learning about and practicing mindfulness in large groups—or in smaller, but consistent groups—is important to us, because research has shown that practicing mindfulness in supportive group environments is an important way to maximize the benefits which participants experience,” added Healey. “But beyond that, these groups are great examples of how we are growing together and building community organization-wide.”