The Power Of 10 Minutes: How Mindfulness Can Address The Looming Mental Health Crisis In Businesses
This article was originally published in Forbes.
The Looming Second Crisis
Experts are raising the flag to warn that the COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a mental health crisis which could last for months and years. The measures we have been taking to control the virus – isolation, shutdowns, business closures, restricted access – have brewed a dangerous cocktail of anxiety, loneliness, grief and deep uncertainty. Given the amount of time all of us spend at work, it is paramount that businesses are mindful of and prepared for this second crisis. The promising news is that there are immediate and impactful actions that businesses and leaders can take to make a difference.
Potential Project observed the early smoke signals of this new crisis back in March. Over the course of twenty online webinars, we took the emotional pulse of approximately 5,000 employees and leaders from 1,000 global companies. We asked a simple, yet critical question: “What are you feeling right now?” Two emotions accounted for 50% of the total answers – worry and anxiety. In general, negative emotions accounted for a whopping 81% of the responses and positive emotions only 19%. The root causes of that negativity? Isolation, loneliness, uncertain financial futures, and fear of their personal and loved ones’ well-being.
It would be tempting to assume that once countries fully reopen and businesses are back to work that all will start to return to normal, including our balanced mental states. However, studies from other global recessions suggest that there will likely be a long tail to the macro and mental recovery.
The good news is that actions taken now can speed up and improve our mental bounce backs.
Individuals are working to help themselves, but companies play a key role
Our research is surfacing some positive news – that individuals are focused on protecting and caring for their mental well-being. When we asked the 5,000-person focus group to name what is not helpful to focus on right now, the list included the news, the uncertainty of the future, money and social media. These results aren’t surprising. Past research indicates that in times of uncertainty, people try to think their way out of their anxiety by following the news, obsessing over data, or interpreting social media posts. But, this rumination and analysis only makes us unhappier.
We also asked what they could pay more attention to in order to feel better. Topping the list was exercise, family, self-care, and a mindfulness practice.
So, is this individual effort enough to stem the crisis? Sadly, no. Millions of us will spend a quarter to a third of our lives in the workplace, increasing the impact that company cultures and programs have on our well-being. Ignoring this fact can come at a significant price to organizations. The World Health Organization estimates that the impact to the global economy from depression and anxiety is $1 trillion USD per year in lost productivity.
Despite these facts, mental well-being can still be an overlooked, often taboo subject at work. Several studies show that people who report that it is unsafe to discuss their workplace stress with their companies had the poorest outcomes for employee engagement, motivation and presenteeism.
Boosting Well-Being in As Little as 10 Minutes
Potential Project recently had the great privilege of working with one of the largest, global health technology companies. Well ahead of virtually any other company of their size, our client did something profound. Anticipating the stress and strain brought on by the coronavirus crisis, our client initiated a rapid, global roll-out of resilience training across their organization. Delivered by Potential Project, the training included Resilience Booster webinars and three weeks of daily, drop-in resilience training sessions. The daily sessions were 10 minutes of mindfulness practice plus time to share tips for finding calm and balance with work and family life.
Over 700 employees from 40+ countries attended the daily drop-in sessions over the three-week run. We polled participants on how they felt both before and after the sessions, and the difference was striking. Below are the key shifts that emerged:
From Negative to Positive
At the beginning of all sessions, the emotional tone of the participants was fairly dispirited. 75% of participants reported a negative emotion, such as sad/down/tired, anxious, angry and stressed. In contrast, at the end of the sessions, the emotional tone was overwhelmingly positive (99%) versus negative (1%). After only ten minutes of quieting their minds, 45% of participants reported feeling a sense of calm and 29% reported feeling gratitude.
From Thinking to Being
Similar to what we found with our March focus groups, many participants came to the sessions with a “let’s think our way through this crisis” mentality. At the beginning of the sessions, participants’ language reflected a very high degree of analytical thought (94th percentile). Throughout the course of the sessions, participants were able to let go of the over-thinking orientation and transition to just being present and experiencing their emotions. At the end of the sessions, participants’ language reflected a downshift to a more moderate and balanced degree of analytical thought (61st percentile).
From Alone to Together
One of the most encouraging insights which emerged from the sessions is that even a small amount of time together triggered a positive emotional contagion in the group – a sense that others feel the same way and we are all in this together. This emotionally unifying experience was achieved at scale despite the virtual format of the webinars, a clear testament to the fundamental need to belong especially during difficult times.
As companies intensely plan how to transition their operations and workforces to new realities, ignoring or avoiding discussions of employees’ mental states can come at a steep cost. The exciting news is that a small investment can deliver high dividends. Our client work has shown that creating even small, 10-minute opportunities for coming together and recharging our minds can alleviate anxious uncertainty and boost resilience and performance at work. When so much today seems insurmountable, companies have the chance to offer something tangible that makes a real difference.