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mindfulness in the workplace

MU Expert Discusses Workplace Mindfulness Practices

by Kate McIntyre

COLUMBIA, MO; May 13, 2013—Nearly three decades have passed since mindfulness practice first entered the mainstream as a way for individuals to reduce stress. Researchers and clinicians at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School have helped bring the stress-reduction technique to healthcare, research, academic and corporate settings. University of Missouri health psychologist Lynn Rossy has trained extensively at the center and, last month, delivered one of the keynote presentations at the center’s 11th Annual International Scientific Conference, “Investigating and Integrating Mindfulness in Healthcare, Medicine, and Society.”

Rossy, a health psychologist with Healthy for Life, the T. E. Atkins Wellness Program that serves University of Missouri System employees, founded the Mindfulness Practice Center on the MU campus in 2002. In the past decade, more than 7,500 people have participated in the center’s activities and programs, such as the mindfulness-based stress reduction classes, a mindfulness eating program called Eat for Life and sitting meditations.

Here, Rossy discusses challenges to introducing mindfulness in the workplace and suggests steps to help employees become more self-aware and understanding of others, improve their self-esteem and enthusiasm, and decrease symptoms related to depression, anxiety, chronic pain and immune system dysfunction.

Q: What does a culture of mindfulness mean for businesses? Who should be in charge of creating it?

A: Being mindful is essential for businesses to achieve their strategic goals and overall missions. Instead of getting caught up in constant doing, cultures of mindfulness allow people to use the skill of being present to reflect non-judgmentally on the purpose and outcomes of their actions. Shared attitudes, values and practices lead to more harmony within businesses as well as greater congruence between employees’ intentions and outcomes.

It’s everyone’s responsibility to help create cultures of mindfulness within their workplaces; however, it is best when leaders are supportive of mindful cultures. Mindful leaders create mindful environments that encourage innovation, bring clarity to organizational processes, and energize employees.

So many work habits are just mind-sets that need challenging and changing. Mindfulness is a wonderful practice that facilitates examination of these mind-sets and promotes creative problem-solving and culture shifts.

Q: What are the most convincing reasons for organizations to adopt a culture of mindfulness?

A: Workplaces that encourage employees to adopt and learn mindfulness-based skills will be healthier, happier and more productive. These skills teach people the ability to respond better to stress, pain and illness. Mindfulness leads to an increase in important self-care strategies. When you directly experience the impact of your behavior on your health, you are more likely to make choices that improve your health. Over time, these choices culminate into a greater commitment to health and well-being on all levels—personal, professional and societal.

With rising healthcare costs across the nation, employers would benefit from more mindful approaches to employee health and wellness. Stress and its associated medical conditions cost the employer in terms of decreased creativity, performance and productivity.

Q: Which types of industries can benefit from mindfulness practices?

A:  Mindfulness can benefit every industry and is being taught across disciplines. Mindfulness practices are taught within law practice, medicine, higher education and K-12 education. They have also been taught in settings as varied as prisons, athletics, hospitals and corporations (Google, General Mills, Target, Apple, Nike, Procter & Gamble, Huffington Post, and AOL, to name a few).

Q: How can businesses best serve their employees through mindfulness practices?

A:  Employers would be smart to encourage a culture of health and mindfulness by giving employees time for self-care during the workday. We know that you can’t wait until the end of the day to take care of yourself; research indicates the ability to be flexible about your hours and the place you do your work improves productivity, retains good employees and improves morale.

The old paradigm of sitting at your desk for hours a day is destroying the health of employees and leads to burnout. Employees and leaders can affect the culture by bringing mindful practices into the workplace like taking breaks throughout the day, bringing in healthy food to share or having healthy food at meetings, encouraging standing or walking during meetings, and supporting co-workers in their efforts to engage in healthy practices at work. Even giving people time to get up from their desks and stretch and move every 60-90 minutes will help them be healthier and improve the quality of their work.

Lynn Rossy has been teaching and researching mindfulness-based interventions targeting stress, pain, cancer, depression and eating since 1999. She received her doctorate and was trained as a health psychologist at MU, and has worked with the Healthy for Life program since 2008.

In addition to leading the mindfulness-based stress reduction classes and the Eat for Life program at MU, Rossy shares tips for implementing a healthy culture at work on her blog Tasting Mindfulness, on her Facebook page and on Twitter.

Press materials provided by the University of Missouri News Bureau.

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