Leatham Green shares his insights about the benefits of a mindful, holistic wellness approach to employee health and productivity.
By Marta Chmielowicz
1. The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
2. The practice of maintaining a non-judgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, or experiences on a moment-to-moment basis.
Simply put, mindfulness can be defined as the act of noticing things. Whilst the practice has its roots in Buddhist tradition, it has expanded to serve a more secular function thanks to one reason: By actively observing, mindfulness allows people to become fully immersed and engaged with their reality. In turn, fostering greater awareness promotes curiosity, understanding, and acceptance.
It is for this reason that Leatham Green, founder of the Mindful HR Centre, has embarked on a career that promotes mindfulness as a key business strategy. “I have been a meditator for over 30 years and have experienced first-hand the benefits that this technique can deliver,” he says. “The practice of mindfulness has become part of my life and an essential routine in my day-to-day living. The benefits I have gained from this have always covertly influenced the way I have engaged and managed people, and I am delighted that I now have the opportunity to be overt about why this is critical in any business.”
How can organisations leverage mindfulness exercises to achieve business results? In this exclusive interview, Green shares his musings about the role of business in promoting mental health and wellness, the top mindfulness techniques, and the measurable impact mindfulness can have in the world of work.
HRO Today Global: How can the concept of mindfulness be applied as a strategic HR tool? What effects does it have on workplace culture, wellness, leadership, and overall productivity?
Leatham Green: The concept of mindfulness in the workplace fits into a much broader concept of holistic well-being. It recognises that organisations are comprised of people who are more than a resource—they are complex beings with physical, mental, and emotional needs. The same also applies to your customer.
In essence, it is an antidote to the emergence of ‘anomie,’ a condition of instability resulting from a breakdown of values or a lack of common purpose or ideals. This is generally displayed in organisations through high levels of sickness absence, high turnover, low engagement scores, low levels of customer satisfaction, and poor external audit assessments.
As organisations sector-wide strive for growth or even fight for survival, understanding the significance of well-being considered from a broader strategic business perspective of the organisation, team, and individual employee becomes essential.
Currently, workplace well-being is generally perceived as a ‘soft’ topic and can struggle to receive adequate buy-in across organisations, often playing second fiddle on a corporate agenda. Well-being is often considered to be a ‘marginal’ activity—something that is managed through the HR and occupational health and safety teams with a focus on employee assistance programmes and reinforced with activities such as running clubs, head and back massages, and in some instances a focus on individual financial well-being.
These are all very laudable; however, they address a very narrow strand of what is a much broader and richer landscape of organisational health, performance, and success. In contrast, a holistic or integrated well-being strategy seeks to create a future business strategy that ensures the talents of each employee are fully recognised and utilised for maximum business impact.
In turn, this develops:
- a thriving and healthy organisation that can adapt and respond quickly and successfully to change;
- a flourishing, productive, and healthy workforce of employees that are actively involved in the business and take responsibility for their well-being, career development, and personal performance; and
- a customer and user experience that is consistent in quality.
HROTG: How can HR leaders encourage employees to participate and engage in a more mindful approach to work?
Green: Adopting a more mindful approach is not something that you can be instructed to do. It is more of a way of being that should be reflected in the culture or the DNA of your organisation. We go to work for many reasons and connecting with others is one of them—this sits at the heart of human nature. How we can create meaningful connections at all levels in an organisation is a challenge. The answer is bringing a greater sense of kindness and compassion, or mindfulness, in how we operate at work.
If people feel as if they genuinely belong—that they make a difference in whatever they do—and genuinely care for one another, they will be more creative, resilient, and eager to contribute to the success of the organisation. The discretionary effort that all businesses seek is within their grasp if only they adopt a more human touch to the way they engage with the people they employ.
HROTG: How can HR professionals demonstrate the value and ROI of mindful HR as a strategic business practice rather than just a wellness initiative?
Green: The present challenges facing organisations across all sectors are monumental and will not ease anytime soon. In order to succeed, thrive, and flourish, organisations will be required to radically reassess why they exist, and reappraise how their service or product delivery directly impacts the health and wellbeing of the people they employ. The two are mutually dependent, and failure to recognise and respond to this fact will result in greater inefficiencies, inertia, and an ever-greater resistance to change.
Well-being has the ingredients to transform an organisation’s performance, and using data to reinforce this message is essential. Specifically, metrics relating to sickness absence, turnover, error rates, and poor decision making and presenteeism—or attending work when ill and not fully productive—can be valuable. A recently published U.K. study titled Thriving at Work: The Stevenson and Framer Review of Mental Health and Employers highlights that the average cost per employee per year of absenteeism, presenteeism, and turnover is between £1,205 and £1,560.
Adopting a broader strategic approach to wellbeing in the workplace has been shown to enhance business performance, enable change to be embraced rather than feared, drive employee effectiveness and engagement, and help to attract and retain top talent.
In fact, The Lancet published evidence in 2017 from the Australian Fire Service which highlighted that investment in mangers’ mental health training programmes resulted in reduced employee absence and an associated return on investment of £9.98 for every pound spent on such training.
Every organisation is different and finding the right hook to be able to get the key decision makers on board is key. This is something that HR leaders must learn to access and then bring it to life in a way that is relevant and meaningful.
Green: As a lifelong meditator, the first technique that I would recommend is meditation. There are many different forms that can be used in the workplace, such as the Rising Minds E-learning Resilience programme which teaches techniques and everyday practices to enhance resilience. It’s rooted in mindfulness practice with a strong emphasis on cognitive psychology and neuroscience, making it relevant and useable at work. It is something that assists in quieting the mind—becoming absorbed in the present moment and cultivating clarity.
Secondly, I would recommend taking a five- to 10-minute break in the morning and afternoon. This needs to be diarised, otherwise it will not happen. Use this time to take a walk. Ideally, get some fresh air and think about what you are bringing into the workplace, what impact you want to have, and make any necessary adjustments if this is not happening. Just allowing yourself time away from the intensity of technology, sounds, conversations, and day-to-day activity allows you take a pause and reflect.
The third technique is to spend two to three minutes before you start the day to take a few breaths and think about your intention for the day. How do you want to be perceived? Breathe deeply and freely, relaxing with your breath out and feeling the energy and your intention filling your body and mind on your breath in.
HROTG: How does the concept of mindfulness influence an organisation’s broader approach toward wellness and mental health?
Green: We have experienced something of a revolution over recent decades in relation to the significance placed on physical health and well-being and its connection with a healthy and productive employee. It is seen as part of an everyday routine to walk, swim, jog, and participate in other physical activities to support physical fitness. So why is it that the same openness is not given to the mental and emotional wellness of individuals when they can have as much, or even greater, impact on an individual’s ability to thrive and succeed at work?
Humans are heavily programmed to believe in what they can see, which makes the invisible nature of mental wellness the key reason why there continues to be so much discrimination in this area, both in the workplace and society at large. My experience and research show that the four key reasons for hidden mental health remain: stigma, language, presenteeism, and organisational-centric well-being measures. The fact that mental illnesses such as anxiety or stress cannot be seen makes them easier to dismiss. Yet, according to a recent CIPD study, the impact of ignoring mental ill health and emotional well-being in the workplace is very visible:
- thirty-seven per cent of sufferers are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues;
- fifty-seven per cent find it harder to juggle multiple tasks;
- eighty per cent find it difficult to concentrate;
- sixty-two per cent take longer to do tasks; and
- fifty per cent are less patient with customers and clients.
When we are emotionally well, we think, feel, and perform to our best. Organisations that actively acknowledge and positively reinforce the importance of mental health and emotional well-being create a working culture of openness, acceptance, and awareness. They lead with kindness and compassion that enable a genuine understanding to emerge about the connection between mental and emotional health and productivity, and what needs to happen when they or their colleagues need help. Creating a working environment that enables all employees to thrive and flourish every day and be valued for who they are and the difference they bring to work sits at the heart of my approach.
HROTG: What types of policies should companies have in place to help them identify when employees are struggling, offer support, and combat stigma around mental health issues?
Green: Sufferers of mental ill health face their own internal battles, and this is compounded by the negative responses they can often experience in the workplace or from society at large. This often presents itself as stigma where a person is discredited because of their illness. A recent 2017 U.K. poll revealed the devastating human cost of mental health stigma at work in that one in five lost their jobs due to their mental illness. These results are staggering and demonstrate a real need for enhanced education about mental illness and the removal of negative labels to those who appear as fundamentally different. Increasing the knowledge surrounding mental health and making it more ‘normal’ will begin to remove such stigma.
So, the key to eradicating stigma around mental health is not through the introduction of more polices but rather by encouraging and promoting open and positive dialogue. By raising awareness around the different types of mental illness and enabling people to speak out safely when they are in need of help, companies can begin to normalise the subject.
HROTG: Are there any technologies that you feel are particularly valuable for promoting employee wellness and mental health?
Green: The most exciting piece of technology I have worked with in recent years is a diagnostic tool called CARI (Care and Resilience Index), which measures and predicts the level of mental and emotional well-being. It is easy to use and the reports produced are powerful in their clarity and simplicity. This tool has been used to great effect across all sectors and helps to break down the stigma attached to mental illness.