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Why is it important to create mindful work cultures?

Among the impacts of the pandemic, it will take a while for us to fully grasp its effect on mental well-being. Certainly, the rise in the number of people suffering from mental health issues has accelerated since the pandemic began. The World Health Organization (WHO) found that, in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic alone, global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%.

While no age group is immune, when it comes to the perceptions of mental health, there is a slight generational divide. For example, when surveyed, the majority (68%) of baby boomers and Gen Xers think their mental health is good or excellent, but only 49% of millennials say the same. The mental health of Gen Z is arguably most concerning, with 7 in 10 reporting symptoms of depression during the pandemic.

Currently, the oldest Gen Zs are just 24 years old, so they’re still a relatively small portion of the U.S. workforce (11.6% in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics). But as they get older, mental health issues will only increase in the workforce – unless something changes. The COVID-19 pandemic may have put things into perspective when it comes to understanding and managing mental well-being.

Creating a mindful work culture is a great place to start. It can help employees to reduce stress and burnout, improve productivity and increase focus. For the business, this can result in less absent employees and a lower employee turnover rate.

So why doesn’t everyone do it?

Well, it’s still a relatively new idea. Though the concept of mindfulness is over 2,500 years old, there’s still an education that’s needed around how it applies to the workplace. This is particularly important right now because, as technology and the role of work in people’s lives evolves, we can no longer think of work and home as separate entities. To stay competitive among others in their industry, employers can start promoting areas that may not have previously been considered. Enabling employees to work flexibly and prioritizing mental health will restore goodwill and encourage talent to stay.

Another factor is the difficulty of implementation. Even when business leaders and the workforce are on board with mindful work cultures, putting them into practice takes time. There are challenges that come with creating a mindful work culture.

What barriers should organizations expect?

Despite some positive change in how we view mental health, plenty of stigma still exists in society and the workplace. Stereotyped views around mental health issues often stem from extreme cases and can portray those suffering in a negative light.

A 2019 national poll from the American Psychiatric Association (APA) found that mental health stigma is still a major challenge in the workplace, with about half of workers concerned about discussing mental health issues at their jobs. More than one in three were concerned about retaliation or being fired if they sought mental health care.

Only about one in five workers were completely comfortable talking about mental health issues. Again, a generational divide was found by the poll: millennials were almost twice as likely as baby boomers to be comfortable (62% vs. 32%) discussing their mental health.

How can organizations overcome these barriers?

As the workforce becomes more educated on the topic, these stigmas can be reduced and eventually broken down altogether. Research has found that knowing or having contact with someone with mental illness is one of the best ways to reduce stigma. Individuals speaking out and sharing their stories have a positive impact.

If individuals are willing to speak about their experiences and share their stories, organizations should harness this power to change the narrative. Some businesses may even appoint mental health ambassadors or advocates. These individuals may share their stories and experiences, helping to further educate the workforce and encouraging others to speak out.

When we change the way the workforce thinks about mental health and well-being, we set the stage for creating mindful work cultures. Not only does it help individuals understand the importance of these cultures, but it also teaches others how they can institute them.

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