Disrupting Workplace Mental Health with Mindfulness

With Depression the leading cause of disability worldwide and as of 2010 the global cost of mental illness estimated at  $2.5 trillion per year by the National Institute of Health, it is no wonder that workplace mental health is on many peoples minds. The Conference Board of Canada estimates that depression costs the Canadian economy at least $32.3 billion annually, while anxiety costs another $17.3 billion a year.

The stigma of mental-health exists in many workplaces. In a recent study, 71% of employees indicated concerns of workplace stigma around mental health. Stigma is concerning because it can provide a barrier to action. This barrier becomes an important topic when we see statistics showing that 1 in 3 Canadian employees report having or having had, a mental health condition such as depression or an anxiety disorder. What options are available to approach workplace mental health? How can we build a case to introduce sustainable self-care programs to support this Mental Health landscape in Canada?   

We’ve identified the perception that an employee “lacks capacity”, as a key factor driving workplace mental health stigma. This perception has a real impact because it brings an aspiring and suffering colleague to a potential "loss" in the eyes of their peers and leadership. This perception may lead to missing a promotion, being viewed as a drain on resources, and/or leading to the selection of someone else for their desired position. Research into how the brain functions is showing that we can engage practices that not only help counter the effects of major mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, but also strengthen our ability to be more resilient in the face of mental health issues. This understanding can shift an organizations culture from viewing mental health as a "dysfunction", to viewing mental health as a continuum we all experience and an opportunity to develop skills for sustainable high performance.

Organizations that foster and advocate a research-based understanding of mental health in their workforce create a ripple of positive impact; cultivating self-care abilities within their employees and an overall sense of psychological safety. Based on the mental health data, we at MGC view this work as an important public health initiative. And, with over 5500 studies assessing its effectiveness, we believe that mindfulness is a strategic part of advancing this agenda.

Intentionally crafting a mentally healthy workplace is also good for the bottom-line and the organization as a whole. Employees at large (approximately 87%) believe that a mentally healthy workplace impacts the ability to meet business needs. Wellness approaches at work are a thing of the past; the quickly evolving demographic of knowledge workers are searching for workplaces that promote and advance self-care strategies in the workplace. Moreover, by doing so, you can affect the bottom-line. In a study completed on a training program deployed by MGC at Myplanet, a prominent software development leader, mindfulness training developed skills such as; resilience, stress-reduction, self-awareness and the ability to deal with conflict - this led to a lower risk of turnover indicating a $2,748.52 value for mindfulness training per employee. A recent study conducted by Morneau Shepell found that supporting and treating mental illness can yield a return of $4.80 for every $1 spent. As with any initiative the challenge comes with curating the right training; with research supporting it and a proven track record of sustaining.

With mindfulness research disrupting our way of thinking about mental health, making it accessible and something we can target with specific practices, we can bring mindfulness to the workplace to support and sustain mental health initiatives.  Workplace relevant mindfulness training can support resilience, decision-making, focus, interpersonal skills and emotion-regulation - all of which are workplace relevant, and essential skills for the 21st-century knowledge-worker. Approaching mental health in this way, we've found, decreases stigma and increases workplace integration of sustainable self-care practices because the approach towards the topic comes from a place of professional skills development, not dysfunction. Importantly, working with the minds of an organization's greatest asset, it's workforce, is a matter of great importance and consideration. When it comes to mind-training like mindfulness, it is vital to consider the risk of choosing trainers that lack the necessary mental health training and certification to handle the inevitable mental health and substance abuse challenges in the workforce. By selecting experts in both workplace mindfulness and mental health, an organization maximizes their strategic impact of enhancing professional skill and providing empirically supported and sustainable self-care in the workplace.