4 steps to harness mindfulness in the battle against burnout

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Has your job ever made you feel so drained you have nothing left to give? If so, you may be suffering from workplace burnout, and chances are your employees are experiencing similar feelings. In fact, two-thirds of full-time employees say they have experienced burnout at some point in their careers, and those numbers have skyrocketed in recent years. Yet despite that growth, 36% of employees do not believe their employer has resources to help them avoid burnout.
For employers attempting to manage these trends, mindfulness can be a powerful resource. By helping individuals better understand their inner state, mindfulness can help employees identify the causes of burnout and equip them to better manage daily stressors, in many cases heading off burnout before it becomes an issue. For example, an eight-week mindfulness course helped health care workers improve their scores on the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which measures factors such as emotional exhaustion. Another study found that mindfulness practices decreased emotional exhaustion and depersonalization while improving mood and empathy, all of which can help combat burnout.
Results such as these should be encouraging for employers attempting to manage burnout and its contribution to what McKinsey has called the Great Renegotiation. With the voluntary quit rate still 25% higher than pre-pandemic levels, it has become clear that traditional means of attracting and retaining employees are no longer as effective as they once were. In fact, a Gallup poll earlier this year found that 61% of employees say work-life balance and personal wellbeing are “very important” as they consider a job, up from 53% in 2015. Employers who fail to recognize this reality may be putting their organizations at a disadvantage for maintaining a strong, healthy workforce.

4 steps to reducing burnout with mindfulness
Managing a complex issue like burnout requires more than a single solution, but mindfulness can be a powerful part of a broader effort. For employers interested in embracing mindfulness, here are a few simple steps to get started.

Make mindfulness approachable: Your employees may have some misconceptions when it comes to mindfulness (i.e., Buddhist monks sitting cross-legged with minds emptied of earthly distractions). And while meditation can be an element of mindfulness, there is far more to the practice than that. Teaching employees that mindfulness is as easy as pausing to acknowledge and address obstacles, rather than ignoring the problem, may encourage them to give the practice a go. To introduce employees to mindfulness practices, consider virtual instruction that guides them through the basics in the emotional safety of their own home or workspace.
Teach four-square or box breathing: Sometimes dealing with stress is as simple as taking a breath. Encourage employees to try four-square or box breathing when they feel things are getting out of control. This involves inhaling for a count of four, pausing and holding for a count of four, exhaling for a count of four, and holding for a count of four. Continue this exercise until feelings of calm and focus are restored.
Introduce STOP meditation: STOP meditation doesn’t require any special equipment, or even a meditation-focused environment. Rather, it’s an opportunity for individuals to take a break, shake off lingering distractions, and be more present and intentional about their actions. Teach employees how to: Stop what they are doing for a few moments. Take a few deep belly breaths. Observe how they feel. Proceed with greater present-moment awareness. Introduce employees to these concepts, then give them permission and opportunities during their day to practice STOP meditation.
Normalize breaks: The workday can go by in a blur, sometimes without an opportunity to take a break, fuel your body, or clear your mind. Yet those breaks are a critical opportunity for employees to step away from workday stress and calmly evaluate their circumstances. Encourage employees to rest when they need it, whether that means stepping away from what they are doing, going to lunch rather than sneaking bites between email replies, or taking an occasional mental health day. Learn the signs that employees may be getting burned out, and help employees recognize those signs in themselves. Then, make sure they know that it’s OK to step back when tasks start to feel overwhelming. Better yet, model this behavior by taking breaks yourself.

Related: Get physical to fight employee burnout
The negative impacts of burnout can be seen in increased health spending, high levels of employee turnover, and even increased death rates. Employers who understand these challenges and take steps to help employees reduce burnout will put themselves at a considerable advantage. As if that wasn’t reason enough to consider mindfulness as an employee wellbeing strategy, encouraging and teaching mindfulness doesn’t require any specialized equipment or additional expense for your HR budget. It’s accessible and achievable by any organization, of any size. And, when you nurture a culture of wellbeing that encourages mindfulness, you can effectively help employees manage stress before it progresses to burnout.
Jan Johnson is a certified yoga instructor, vegan chef, and instructor for Wellbeats, a LifeSpeak Company.

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