Why Mindfulness Training Will Become The Most In-Demand Office Perk (Sorry Ping Pong Tables)

What happens when we choose better health instead of beer kegs?

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It’s no secret that workplace stress is killing us.

What is surprising is that nobody seems to be doing anything about it.

Holding a full-time office job myself, as well as being a certified yoga instructor, I often find myself in conversations about stress and mental health. Even in my home in Los Angeles, the land of office dogs, oat milk and catching the morning surf, I’ve had many conversations with friends about their exceedingly high stress levels. How did this come to be?

Common Workplace Stressors

The leading culprits contributing to this epidemic; insufficient physical activity, and workplace stress. Together, these are a lethal combination.

Insufficient Physical Activity

Sitting at a computer for hours at a time is detrimental to our metabolism, our heart, and even our brain. Being sedentary increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association.

UCLA researchers linked too much sitting to negative changes in memory function. In MRI scans of 35 people, sedentary behaviour predicted the thinning of the medial temporal lobe (the region of the brain involved in forming new memories).

A rising movement has named sitting the new smoking. 85% of America’s workforce sits at a desk for prolonged periods of time, which is the #1 contributor to chronic diseases. The list goes on.

There are solutions… set a reminder to stand every 30 mins. Go for a 10 min walk, invest in a standing desk… but even knowing how to correct the problem, we still find ourselves unable to make a change.  As we answer emails and get through the workday, we don’t even realize the damage taking place. We have the information, but it’s not an education problem, it’s an awareness problem.

Now pair these physical determinants with an even more powerful force, workplace stress.

Occupational Stress

Stress is your body’s natural reaction to threat. Whether a threat is real or perceived, your body produces a chemical reaction that allows you to instinctively prevent injury – fight or flight.

Your heart rate increases, muscles clench, breath shortens, and blood pressure rises. When stress becomes frequent (late night emails, urgent morning text messages, continuous multitasking) our bodies stay in this heightened state. Just take a look at the impact workplace stress can induce on your body:

Over time, chronic workplace stress increases the risk of mental health problems, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.

When I take a look at the data and reflect on today’s working world I can’t help but think that, although technology has made our lives infinitely better, with seamless connectivity and flexible access — we’ve suffered a tradeoff.

I can’t help but think that, although technology has made our lives infinitely better, with seamless connectivity and flexible access — we’ve suffered a tradeoff.” – Elyssa Seidman

Even for people who love their job, the expectation of constant connection, paired with lack of activity and increased work hours provides a dangerous dose of stress. Employers are well aware of these challenges. To keep employees happy, many companies have introduced office perks in hopes of re-energizing their workforce. Dream companies offer rock climbing walls, massage tables, nap pods, video game rooms, and don’t forget the free food. But despite each brag-worthy office perk, stress continues to rise. Unused vacation policies and endless supplies of candy will not reverse this health crisis. Companies need to embrace changes that truly serve the interests of their employees.

The Solution to Workplace Stressors

It’s no longer just Google offering gym memberships and nutritious snacks. Forward-thinking companies are swapping superficial perks for initiatives that focus on long term health. The newest perk promising to make a world of difference exists in your mind. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of bringing your attention to the present moment. Mindfulness training in the workplace can stop unhealthy patterns in their tracks. In just one meditation session, employees report elevated mood, reduced stress, and increased mental clarity. Over time, regular mindfulness meditation can bring employees into the present moment, giving them more control over how they experience their work day.

Long-Term Stress Reduction

With regular mindfulness training employees become more aware of themselves and their needs. Employees may be more inclined to notice when they haven’t stood up in a while, when they need a glass of water, or when their mind shifts away from the task at hand. These micro-changes can add up over time, contributing to a better mood, increased energy, improved collaboration, and greater overall productivity. It’s no surprise that employees who have participated in mindfulness training feel better equipped to handle day-to-day situations without experiencing the mental and physical tolls of workplace stress. After a 5-week course, employees cite improved ability to stay focused and feel generally happier at work. We spend the majority of our time at work…imagine what it would be like to get more out of that time. Bringing mindfulness to our daily tasks, habits, and behaviours is the spark that can change everything.

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