Is Mindfulness at Work Worth Coaching?

Health & Education

I remember years ago at school having a whole-year assembly with what I believe was my English teacher at the time. She spoke about all the benefits of mindfulness around exam periods and how would help eliminate exam stress and improve mental health. Now, however, according to a new major UK study of thousands of pupils across 85 schools, this effort seems largely to have been a waste of time.

But what is mindfulness?

Put simply, it is an approach that aims to help people live in the moment – to focus on what is currently happening, rather than worry about the past or future – and to live more present, caring lives. 

The practice has grown in popularity – somewhat unsurprisingly – alongside the explosion of social media. These services, though posing as social platforms, often act against our self interests as social creatures: they keep us tethered to the past; make us compare our lives to our peers; and make us anxious about our social standing and futures.

The technique has seen worldwide adoption and is now being adopted by a number of large corporations too; a happier, more considered workforce is a better, more conscientious one.

The Kickback 

Despite its many benefits, a recent study published in the Evidence Based Mental Health journal discussed how the technique, when taught to young people in schools, often fell flat. It also found that many students were not interested in using the method considering it frivolous and boring. In the end it has been deemed as a program that was doomed to fail and that effort should be channelled into tackling deprivation and more targeted mental health care.

Professor Mark Williams, a co-researcher from Oxford University, said that, on average, pupils only actually practiced mindfulness once over a 10-week programme:

“That’s like going to the gym once and hoping you’ll get fit,” he said. “But why didn’t they practise? Many of them found it boring.”

The fact kids found the practice boring will come as a surprise to exactly zero people, I’m sure. Though children do certainly have the capacity to be invested and interested in a course, if they lack the understanding of why it is important or why it may help them, it’s understandable that many were not invested in these lessons in particular. 

Final Thoughts

Given the aim of study was to get school children and teenagers to practice mindfulness outside of school hours I’m sure you can imagine that it was destined to fail – I know I certainly wouldn’t have, that’s for sure. However, not to detract from the benefits that mindfulness or mindful activities can have one of the issues is that it may be an off-the-shelf product to cure mental health. It should instead be another method to support sound mental health.

As mindfulness and mental wellbeing become ever more important parts of our lives – business or otherwise – it is important to assess whether your business is doing all it can to provide the proper resources for sound employee wellbeing. Polestar has worked with a number of companies involved in the employee wellbeing space, so we’d be more than happy to talk you through your options if you’re thinking about selling or taking your business to the next level. 

“It is important not to view mindfulness sessions as a panacea, and as an ‘off the shelf’ product that can just help teenagers and their teachers to become ‘more resilient’, without appreciating all the other influential factors, such as the school environment. We also cannot ignore the fact that teenagers and teachers have gone through an incredibly difficult two years, and given the circumstances in which we are living, and the stressors this brings, it perhaps isn’t completely surprising that the cohort in the studies didn’t see a huge uplift in their wellbeing.”

By Joe Graham on 29/07/2022