North Americans would rather achieve than relax. In a culture that worships work, busyness has become a badge of honour.” This stated by author, Brigid Schulte in The Globe and Mail about her book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time.  Folks are scrambling to juggle their jobs, homes, and families which means that mental wellness and time out from the rush are probably last on the To Do list.  Dead last.  

We’ve all heard it before, “You can’t help others until you’ve helped yourself.”  So why are many North Americans letting their health decline and not making space for the care of their precious minds that see them through their lives?  At my previous workplace I saw stress and a ‘no time for anything’ attitude as a viral toxin among the staff.  It spread like wildfire and was a common default response to everything.  This led to staff feeling burnt out, overworked, and overwhelmed.  Before long, myself and some other staff members got together and decided to initiate a once-a-week lunchtime movement and meditation session. We’d intentionally set aside 60 minutes once a week to get active, de-stress, and connect with our minds.  I led each session and by about the third week, the change among our committed group was palpable.  One colleague of mine said, “[The session] transports me away for an hour of peace.”  This was the start of some real research and thinking for me - what happens when the employer initiates time and space for a wellness program DURING the workday?  If staff don’t have time outside of work, let’s intentionally make it a part of their day.  

The reality is that meditation and movement produce a number of benefits that an employer would reap the rewards from and in turn, staff would thrive.  "An eight week study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain's grey matter in just eight weeks.  The analysis of MRI images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection.”  To have staff that are more focussed, aware, and learn quicker are all substantial benefits to not only those individual staff but also to the employers and the company as a whole.  And I probably don’t have to convince you of the benefits of moving throughout your workday.  “Active breaks help restore our attention, increase creativity and make us more productive.”  North Americans have a serious problem with sitting and it’s the employer’s job to create an environment that will increase wellness and decrease unhealthy habits.

Are you itching to get to these three tips?  Okay here we go!

Knowledge is power!  Get everyone on the same page by going over the benefits of a workplace wellness program and the ways in which it will positively affect the team as individuals and as a whole.  This will make the entire team feel like a part of the process in coming to a collectively healthier place.  Provide the group with resources, videos, and data to back up your claim.  

Here are some links to check out:  

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/04/18/mental-health-issues-take-a-toll-on-half-of-gta-workers-and-employers-too.html

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/12/11/harvard-study-unveils-what-meditation-literally-does-to-the-brain/

https://www.comcare.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/99303/Benefits_to_business_the_evidence_for_investing_in_worker_health_and_wellbeing_PDF,_89.4_KB.pdf

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5AqgMo1P05E

Within the information session, circulate Self Care Packages that provide staff with tips for how they can integrate mental wellness practices into their lives outside of work (ie. meditation, fitness, walking, confiding in a loved one, taking time for yourself, saying ‘no’ more often, finding a hobby, etc).  This will get staff thinking of the real ways in which they could apply this to their own lives and kick the conversation off with them feeling valued.

Get some feedback and input from your staff - perhaps from a quick online survey or if your group is small enough, some one on one conversations.  Consider everyone’s needs and varying accessibility when designing your wellness program, as well as the physical space that you have to work with.  The changes can range from large to small - either way, any move towards a healthier workplace, is a good one.  You could do one of the following:

  1. Set a timer for everyday or every other day when all staff get up from their desks together and follow a 10 to 15 minute sequence of stretching and light physical activity.

  2. Initiate a weekly staff newsletter that provides the team with one healthy habit to work on that week - folks will feel united in their efforts towards the same goal.

  3. Hire a meditation and/or yoga instructor to lead your group in weekly sessions.  Work with the professional to keep the class within comfort and accessibility levels.

  4. Put up flyers around the office as physical reminders for taking breaks, getting up out of your chair, and asking for help from others in order to alleviate stress.

  5. Initiate a monthly staff retreat centred around stress relief and self care.  Bring in an inspiring speaker, get out in nature, plan a fun activity, or do something active/physical.

This is a tough one, I know.  The thing is that folks are so accustomed to this ‘go-go’ mentality that they need to be directed in shutting off.  It may not be easy depending on the personalities among your staff but they will likely warm up to the routine once they feel the benefits setting in.  Let’s compare this move to ‘tough love’ and as an employer, it’s important that you prioritize the health of your staff even if they don’t prioritize it themselves.  

 

Still not convinced?  Mental health has a huge effect on the workplace - the proof is in the numbers. "[A] CivicAction report finds 1.5M workers in the Toronto-­Hamilton region have experienced a mental health issue, resulting in $17B in lost productivity over a decade(4)."  This is money lost and folks suffering that could have been potentially prevented or at least minimized if employers had implemented a wellness program for their workplace.  Make wellness and health accessible to your staff and everyone wins.  

 

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Published by Brittany Turner , Founder of The Courage Collective