I recently came across a debate raging on LinkedIn regarding mindfulness apps and whether they are just a lot of hype.
With almost 800 comments on the discussion thread, a range of pros and cons of such apps were shared. Many claimed that the apps enabled them to find some much-needed harmony and a pleasant departure for 20 minutes during typically stressful days. Others made the point that they add to the amount of time spent on smartphones and in the digital world, which can be to the detriment of mental health.
One thing that can’t be questioned about these apps is their current success - Headspace, arguably the best known, now has 25 million users, while Calm claims it provides ‘meditation to relax, sleep, relieve anxiety and lower stress’ and has a 4.7 rating on the app store.
Many businesses have bought into the mindfulness trend and offer it to staff to reduce stress and boost productivity. Notable examples include Google, GlaxoSmithKline and KPMG. Research from INSEAD Business School revealed that just 15 minutes of mindfulness-based meditation, such as concentrating on breathing, can lead to more rational thinking regarding business decisions.
So, it’s perhaps little surprise that a host of firms are looking to use mindfulness - from the big boys down to start-ups. At a recent local business breakfast I attended, an MD of a software firm told me she was struggling, much to her dismay, to get her staff to attend a mindfulness session being run by the local council. It seemed to me that she took mindfulness to be a silver bullet - one which would instantly boost productivity and happiness among her staff.
I don’t know exactly how she was promoting its benefits to her staff, but I hope it was to promote rather than push. When it comes to any wellbeing in the workplace, where a primary objective should be to have a positive effect on mental health, workers shouldn’t feel forced into anything. Doing so could actually have an adverse effect on productivity and morale.
Mindfulness may work for some but it won’t work for everyone. I turned to it when I was going through a stressful period and I didn’t find it useful. If anything I got frustrated that tranquillity and calmness didn’t descend on me while I used one of the aforementioned apps.
My point is that individual employees have their own stress relievers and wellbeing techniques. Some will already know what they are - thankfully I know mine is any form of physical exercise, which boosts my outlook and productivity considerably. Thus any company that cares about their employees’ wellbeing should offer a range of options to their staff. Mindfulness may help many, just as subsidised gym membership or organised lunchtime exercise classes may benefit others. Educate them about the advantages of each, but don’t force them into participating.
Companies must also look closely at their working culture. Is there any point offering mindfulness and wellbeing schemes if employees are expected to work late and check and respond to emails at weekends and on holiday?
The French government tackled this head on in 2016 by introducing a new law which requires employers to guarantee their staff have the ‘right to disconnect’ out of hours.
While there’s no such policy in the UK, some firms, like Toast PR, similarly allow staff to disconnect, while Reboot Online bans out-of-hours emails. Companies that have adopted this approach agree that stepping aside from an always-on culture doesn’t negatively impact on their efficiency. They believe the rest, quality time spent with families, cooking, reading, and time away from screens increases concentration and efficiency during the working day.
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