For Your Benefit

Mindfulness Training Adds New Peace to Wellness Programs

Programs are offered by some health plans, hospitals, schools and even office complexes.

By Carol Brzozowski

T

eam Horner Group, a pool-supply manufacturing and wholesale distribution company with a nationwide footprint of 480 employees, focuses on employee well-being to the extent that it was one of five companies nationwide to win the 2014 American Psychological Association’s Psychologically Healthy Workplace award.

Not surprising, given that the company has offered employees meditation, financial and life coaching, and personal training at its in-house gym and exercise room, as well as a discounted massage program.

Team Horner has taken it up a notch recently, adding mindfulness education for its employees as an antidote to stress.

“According to the American Institute of Stress, 80 percent of workers feel stress on the job,” said Jeska Brodbeck, a Miami-based mindfulness and performance coach who taught Team Horner employees. “Stress is a tremendous issue at the workplace and is often only addressed minimally. Nearly half say they need help in learning how to manage stress and 42 percent say their co-workers need such help. Two-thirds of doctors office visits are for stress-related conditions.”

While a modest amount of stress in the workplace is normal, sustained levels can be harmful and lead to numerous health issues, affect professional and family relationships, and contribute to poor work performance, said Carol Ann Rydahl, a health strategy consultant with Minnesota-based managed health care company UnitedHealthcare.

A recent UnitedHealthcare survey indicated almost 90 percent of employees report a positive impact from meditation or mindfulness on their overall health and well-being, with 41 percent indicating a significant impact.

Mindfulness may help lower employee stress and improve productivity through freeing employees of habitual patterns of thinking, judging, feeling and acting, and may help them perform better, ignore distractions and make better decisions throughout the day, Rydahl said.

As such, “employers also may benefit by experiencing more productivity, with an enhanced sense of culture and connectedness that can drive more creativity and innovation while reducing absenteeism, burnout and turnover,” Rydahl said.

Mindfulness also can boost working memory, reduce emotional reactivity, offer greater cognitive flexibility and reduce rumination, Brodbeck said.

Following a solid body of research on mindfulness by universities and institutions that prove its multiple benefits, mindfulness programs are now offered by some health plans, including UnitedHealthcare, and medical centers, hospitals, schools and businesses, Rydahl said.

“Many times, we think of wellness programs as only focusing on nutrition and exercise and not mental health and the different ways of dealing with everyday stress,” said Joel Staco, Cigna’s onsite benefits representative for the city of Hollywood, Florida, in its human resources office.

Team Horner Group employees practice mindfulness training.

With roots in the corporate world, Brodbeck understands firsthand the challenges employees and executives face in the workplace. She has practiced mindfulness and yoga for more than 14 years, having trained at the U.S. Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health.

She is training in mindfulness-based stress reduction, a program based on the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, a preeminent meditation-based clinical program.

Through her business, Be Light Consulting, Brodbeck brings her Mindful Performance Training program to C-level private and public-sector executives and employees, teaching them practices such as mindfulness “that can act as triggers for the ‘flow state,’ also known in science as transient hypofrontality or by athletes as being in ‘the zone,’ ” she said.

“When a person is in the zone, they can perform with high levels of creativity, little to no negative stress and complete focus and engagement,” Brodbeck said. “This training creates a paradigm shift in the way employees are working and living so that they can get their work done and also enjoy the process.”

Brodbeck’s science-based course is taught in eight modules that delve into meditation, shifting from stress to calm in under five minutes, reducing emotional reactivity, and moving into the flow against distractions.

Other topics include time management, relaxation techniques and mindful communication.

Brodbeck’s mindfulness lessons bring something different to the table, said Kim Kent, who coordinates the well-being department at Team Horner.

Brodbeck’s course “ties it together like a thread, putting together techniques that are takeaways you can implement in your daily life,” Kent said. “Mindfulness is not just about addressing stress, it well. We learn about mediation, focus and flow.”

Of all of the wellness programs Team Horner has offered, Brodbeck’s has drawn the highest participation percentages from warehouse employees to vice presidents, Kent said.

Kent also favors Brodbeck’s scientific approach, which helps participants not only understand the impact of mindfulness on brain function but why it is important.

“We are so thrilled with what Jeska has done, taking the mystery out of this buzzword ‘mindfulness,’ ” Kent said. “People are embracing how the strategies she’s given us can really help our lives.”

At Team Horner, the course is taught during the lunch hour, with lunch provided by the company.

The wellness programs — especially the mindfulness presentations — have benefited the company, Kent said. Employee surveys indicate positive feedback. Employees also are getting bigger insurance discounts based on annual health risk assessments.

“We see upticks on data like employees’ blood pressure getting better because we’ve been teaching people about stress,” Kent said. “This is an employee-owned company with the understanding that when you invest in your teammates, your teammates feel valued.”

Of the city of Hollywood’s 1,300 employees, 25 to 30 voluntarily participated in Brodbeck’s program, Staco said, adding those who have participated in it have offered positive feedback.

As was the case at Team Horner, the driving factor for launching the mindfulness program was to provide a different aspect of wellness for city employees, Staco said.

“We all look forward to that hour respite from our daily work duties,” said Hollywood City Attorney Doug Gonzales. “The skills taught in that short period of time are invaluable and certainly lead to more productive employees, which in turn benefits everyone involved.”

Gonzales sees value for the program for anyone “who can use a relaxing moment to themselves during an otherwise hectic day.”

Health care facilities can be one of the most stressful workplaces and mindfulness can play a key role in stress reduction, said Tracy Duberman, president and CEO of The Leadership Development Group, a global talent development firm that works with health care leaders.

“In our experience coaching leaders, we incorporate mindfulness practices to center our clients as they begin and end a coaching session,” Duberman said. “This allows their minds to focus on the session goals rather than their next work task.

“Leaders begin to see the results of the practice in its ability to promote resiliency and the ability to lead in complex conditions,” she said.


Carol Brzozowski is a Florida-based independent journalist whose work has appeared in more than 170 media outlets. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.