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How to reduce work stress by applying a few simple mindfulness principles

Work stress and burnout cost US businesses an estimated $300 billion annually, with one in three working Americans reporting they experience excessive pressure on the job. In New Zealand, more than 30 percent of employees state that their level of stress has risen in the past five years, while UK businesses lose 12.5 million productive working days per year due to employees calling in sick caused by work-related stress issues. So how can employees – and employers – empower themselves to stay on top of wellness? One possible solution is mindfulness, Mangawhai-based expert Marisa Garau says. She breaks down three ways to practically use it in the workplace. 

Being a mindfulness expert who always had her own businesses and staff, I am a strong advocate of applying the sensible mindfulness principles such as trust, letting go and acceptance in our private lives as well as on the work floor. I believe that Kiwi employers can prevent their workers from burning out if they would have a hard, honest look at the generally accepted but hopelessly outdated working conditions that force each and every employee in the same tired mould, and suppress rather than utilise their unique traits and preferences.
So what can employers do to keep their workers inspired and engaged?

1. Give trust, not toys
 
Now that the crazy office trend where employees meet in Mario Brothers themed rooms and spend brainstorm sessions on swings and skateboards is slowly losing its appeal, employers start to realise that ensuring the wellbeing of staff lies within trust, not toys. Talk to employees about work stress, and you soon find out what their number one complaint is: micromanagement. Even though research shows that micromanagement is creativity killing and soul-crushing, many managers still cling to this unproductive management style.

Trust is a powerful mindfulness principle and works in every situation — at home with your partner and children, as well as at work with your employees and co-workers. Trust means that you trust in your employees’ skills and work ethic. Staff is hired based on their qualifications and work experience, so why not assume that they know how to do their job? There is no need to breathe down their necks every minute of the day, dictate how they must do their work, control them, tell them off, or give them ‘constructive’ feedback which only makes them feel miserable and demotivated. These are all proven counterproductive management techniques.

Business leaders need to learn to let go, and have faith in the capabilities of their workers. Naturally, they must be available if guidance is needed. But apart from that, they had best remain in the background and let their staff take care of the jobs on hand. It’s a win-win, because it will significantly reduce stress, anxiety and frustration for both employer and employee.

2. Allow for autonomy
 
Closely interwoven with trust is allowing employees to work according to their own preferences. We never seem to question the ‘one size, must fit all’ doctrine, which originates from the Industrial Revolution where people worked in mills and were considered cheap production units.

In this technology-driven era each and every hip start-up claiming to be ‘new’ and ‘disruptive’, still sticks to that old Victorian tradition — meekly hiring an office space where they hurdle together and work from nine to five. But haven’t these business wonder kids, along with their older entrepreneurial pals, noticed that — hello? — this is the 21st century? With all the technological possibilities available to us now, we can work when and where we like, and still be more connected than ever. But most employers believe the illusion that packing their employees in a dull office space is the only way to make them super-productive. They rather see their staff wasting at least three hours a day right under their nose (checking email, Facebook, Instagram, travel websites, TradeMe) than being highly productive in the quiet of their own home, or in the hustle and bustle of a cafe, or wherever they work most efficiently.

Most people have strong work ethics, understand deadlines, and want to get results. Trust me, they’ll be fine, wherever they work. I hire freelancers myself, and I don’t care if they take the whole day to write an article for my website, or spend thirty minutes on it and then take off to the beach… as long as there is a properly written piece of copy in my inbox at the end of the day. When people work autonomously, in the office or at home, during the day, evening or night, whatever suits their natural fancy best, they perform optimally and get the best results. This freedom will lower their stress levels, while employers will lower their risk of having to pay for sick leave due to work stress and burnout.

3. Offer individual workspaces
 
No matter how modern it seems… the scientific research that the open office plan doesn’t work is overwhelming. We are social animals and highly sensitive to each other’s moods. Having to spend eight hours a day in the group dynamics of co-workers, who offer a startling mix of positive, stressed, angry, frustrated and anxious energy all at the same time, is a mental health hazard that is categorically being ignored by employers. Colleagues walking in and out, talking to each other, talking on the phone, turning on the radio, making snarly remarks because they are going through a bit of a rough time… how can you successfully focus on your work in such a hectic environment?

To improve wellbeing and productivity, employers who don’t trust their people to do their job when they are not within sight should at least offer individual workspaces. Employees who happen to need their own space to perform optimally, then have the option to retreat and, not hindered by ineffective group dynamics, spend a few hours in complete solitude to get their work done.
 
Final thoughts
 
With ever growing burnout figures and soaring sick leave costs, employers should consider a new approach to employee health and make an effort to integrate the mindfulness principles in their business style as it will help their workers develop better focus, resilience and self-confidence. 
 
About the author
For ten years Marisa Garau (51) ran her ad agency in Amsterdam, working as both a copywriter and a journalist. With her husband she moved to Mangawhai where she authors internationally published bestsellers on mindfulness. Together the couple started their own olive oil brand, and run Growing Mindfulness online platform, Luxon Spirited Scents, and MindSpa, an in-office mindfulness solution to help employers reduce work stress, boost creativity and nurture holistic leadership. Find out more tips about reducing work stress with mindfulness at her website.

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