Two centuries ago, American statesman Thomas Jefferson summed up his thoughts on exercise as: “A strong body makes the mind strong.” While the third U.S. president’s sentiment may still hold water in some ways, modern science may argue that the opposite is true. Studies have shown that lasting and long-term health starts between our ears and moves throughout the body from there.
Particularly within the confines of an office, where external stressors like deadlines, profit margins and employee evaluations bombard the working individual, it has proven crucial to cultivate mental fortitude. In 2012, the Society of Human Resource Management reported stress and mental health as their biggest concerns for employees.
However, the trend of stress compromising productivity is slowly shifting, with many companies seeing the value – both in terms of employee satisfaction and profit margins – of facing mental wellness head on.
Studies show that when workplace stress is met with support, there’s a direct correlation to reduced absences for employees. Likewise, when stress is allowed to mount, employees can buckle and productivity can grind to a screeching halt. For proof, we can roll back the clock a few years to the Great Recession of 2007. Following the global credit crisis, the UK saw a 47% increase in stress-related hospitalizations from the previous year; a trend that was reflected in many countries where the crisis wreaked havoc.
However, properly treating stress at its source can have a positive effect. In a preliminary study, the Benson-Henry Institute (BHI) for Mind-Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital noted that implementing mind-body awareness programs like meditation and yoga in the workplace reduced medical visits by 43% over the following year.
Chances are that by now you’ve heard of mindfulness, the practice of centering one’s self – usually through an exercise like breathing or the repetition of a mantra – in order to focus on the moment at hand. It’s a popular means by which to reduce stress and increase focus, and has been adopted by companies like Google, Aetna and General Mills.
Let’s look specifically at Google, which Forbes has rated as the best place to work for seven out of the past 10 years. Since 2007, Google has offered “Search Inside Yourself,” a mindfulness course that teaches emotional intelligence and thoughtfulness. In surveys of thousands of the course’s alumni, mental health spiked, communication between teams proliferated and stress dropped off a cliff. At Aetna, mindfulness programs have resulted in 62 more minutes of productivity per week for each employee participant, which translates to about $3,000 per employee per year.
Aetna was an early adopter of mental wellness programs. In addition to a Mindfulness at Work program, Aetna also launched a Viniyoga Stress Reduction course a few years ago in partnership with Duke University. Roughly 12,500 employees have taken part in one of the courses. According to The New York Times, they report 28% reduction in stress levels, 19% reduction in pain, and 20% boost in sleep quality.
This is valuable knowledge, since we know that an employee’s ability to handle stress has a strong relationship with health care costs. In fact, Aetna found that those participants who “reported the highest stress level, had nearly $2,000 higher medical costs.”
Whether it’s accomplished through the implementation of programs, partnerships with outside research institutions or simply company-wide mindfulness mandates, like periodic breaks or group discussion periods, it is clear that promoting mental and emotional wellness is best practice for companies. Beyond the quantitative proof, there are qualitative differences in companies who alleviate stress instead of letting the mental pressures fester.
Company efforts to help employees reduce stress signify that the company cares about its employees, which fosters a more positive overall atmosphere. When mental health is prioritized, communication between colleagues, supervisors and employees improves. Better communication means better ideas, quicker implementation and, usually, a better bottom line.
In every sense, facing stress head on is simply good businesscomments powered by Disqus