Mindfulness APPG Event report

Mindfulness in the Workplace Roundtable – 25 November 2014

More than 70 policymakers, business leaders and mindfulness practitioners gathered to listen and feedback on research and evidence gathered to date. The Mindfulness in the workplace workstream is now in its final phase of research and is part of an overall report called ‘the Mindful Nation’, which will be published in June 2015. The meeting was opened by Tracey Crouch MP and chaired by Madeleine Bunting.

Chris Tamdjidi (Founder, Kapala Academy) talked about the shift from manual to complex knowledge-based work. Physical health problems such as injuries, back pain and accidents at work are declining, as are overall sick days. However, the inability to work due to mental illness, stress, or psychological issues is growing significantly. Chris identified difficulties in measuring knowledge-based work in employees: i.e. How do we know how workers are engaged? Are they working towards a goal? Companies are realising workers need to be engaged, collaborative and socially and emotionally intelligent, which is why they have become interested in the field of mindfulness.

Chris described a research project he is conducting in Germany where 22 companies are undergoing a mindfulness programme in parallel for data comparison. Benefits have been observed for both individuals and groups taking part. One of the research outcomes is that groups benefit regardless of whether individuals are practising or not.

Dr Jutta Tobias (Cranfield University) talked about scientific externally-evaluated evidence on mindfulness in the workplace, and the need to establish a robust evidence base. Less than 10% of papers out of 1000 on mindfulness are related to workplace issues. There is a need for a systematic, reliable link between mindfulness and beneficial outcomes. In 2013, over 15 million absent days were attributed to depression, stress and anxiety in the UK. Dr Tobias suggested that investing in well-being enhancing measures could have economic benefits in reducing absenteeism and healthcare costs. Mindfulness training has shown to have positive effects, including mindful leaders who are emotionally intelligent leading to their teams feeling satisfied and less likely to burn out. Effects on productivity are a result of fewer cognitive errors and lower emotional exhaustion.

Chris Ruane MP presented a case study from County Durham on unemployment. Chris reported statistics from Gary Heads' work in Durham using mindfulness to get the unemployed back to work, including 47% who attended his course going directly into work or full-time education.

Emma Wardropper from Capital One, talked about how mindfulness was introduced to her organisation two years ago. Currently 300 out of 1000 employees have attended and been provided with resources, including some guided meditations, CDs and booklets to practise, as well as a mindfulness room on site.

David Bolt from Capital One presented his powerful personal story about how mindfulness has impacted his life and helped him in his transition back to work after being off for a prolonged period.

Tessa Watt (The Mindfulness Initiative) gave a summary of the current reach and constraints to workplace mindfulness. In the process of collecting case studies over the last 6 months, the team have a good sense of what is happening in the UK workplace and are observing variety, innovation and creativity in training. Tessa summarised the challenges facing mindfulness in the workplace including quality and integrity, distinguishing between mindfulness versus attention training, a shortage of trained teachers and lack of evidence about the efficacy of mindfulness in different formats and doses.

Chris Cullen (Oxford Mindfulness Centre) shared his thoughts on the challenges facing mindfulness in the workplace, and described a shared desire that the mindfulness movement happens with integrity. Chris called for the same deep literacy about mindfulness that shaped programmes like MBSR and MBCT to be applied to workplace contexts. The challenges are to adapt these programmes for the workplace with a deep understanding of the psychological grammar of mindfulness. He cautioned that mindfulness can become instrumentalised, as either a performance enhancer or a banal self-help tool or a way of pacifying people in the context of inappropriate work conditions.

Sue Cruse (Executive Coach) and Dr Philip Gibbs from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) shared more detail on their mindfulness programmes, ranging from face-to-face training for executive coaches through to online training for staff.

Marion Furr (Chair, Staff Health and Wellbeing Board, Department of Health) talked about how the government, the biggest employer in the UK, holds a responsibility for being a mindful employer, to seek out the research and find out what works. Marion recommended that policy workers need to be mindful and one solution is to bring mindfulness to this workforce. There are already pilots showing significant benefits.

Michael Chaskalson (Mindfulness Works) talked about the dilemma of the vast need for training, and limited number of trainers with a deep, established mindfulness practice, in depth understanding of mindfulness, empathy and compassion and the ability to transmit these values. Chaskalson expressed a fear that short-cut solutions and pseudo-mindfulness will be epidemic and not bring about lasting change. He emphasised the need to uphold high standards and not to cave in to mass need.

Sarah Post (The Mindfulness Initiative) said that we don't yet have enough evidence yet about what constitutes 'best practice' in mindfulness at work training, but there are examples of successful programmes being run across the country. Strategies can be very different depending on the organisation, but there are good practice examples including: choosing the right trainer/delivery method for your organisation, engaging employees so that early participants can become mindfulness advocates, collecting evidence of impact, and thinking about how to sustain and embed mindfulness in the organisation.

Geoff McDonald (Director, Bridge Partnership, previously Global HR Director, Unilever) discussed the need to break the stigma around mental health issues, which will help to open up the mindfulness conversation. He urged Occupational Health, HR & Comms to work together to support in making this happen.

A range of thoughtful contributions from the audience included Taravandana (Future Lives), who questioned the assumption that all mindfulness trainers need 10 years experience and suggested that mindfulness could build on existing workplace skills such as coaching and Organisational Development. Jenny Edwards (CEO, Mental Health Foundation) expressed concern that mindfulness is rolled out in a way that doesn't strengthen and extend inequalities.

Back to the top