In Australia, there is an upward trend of companies who are embracing the importance of wellness programs. Wellness programs include Mindfulness Classes, Therapeutic Coloring Book, Lunchtime Yoga Classes, and Stress Reduction Seminars.
Some companies go beyond these by allowing their employees to make their own smoothies. These said programs are used to reduce the workplace stress and increase the team productivity. If you haven’t encountered one at your workplace, it will most likely come by.
Picture the multi-colored and vibrant halls of Google’s Sydney headquarters. Since August 2015, there was a small room dedicated to silence and relaxation. The fragrance of essential oils and comfortable cushions filled the haven of isolation. This space is where the employees retreat and where they are motivated to practice “mindfulness”.
Mindfulness is the intentional and non-judgmental focus of one’s attention on what is happening at the present moment. Studies have shown that mindfulness can improve one’s quality of life and reduce one’s stress levels. Mindfulness is practiced through meditation.
Aside from Google, Precision Sourcing and Seyfarth Shaw moved to the same direction. Precision Sourcing is a recruitment company based in Sydney. Rather than reaching for nicotine or caffeine for stress relief, employees were encouraged to grab adult coloring books.
I have to admit that I was one of the people who were hooked by this bursting trend. I experienced a sense of calm and mastery as I complete a portrait. My hunger for more crafts interest me to try the art of Calligraphy. I prefer the discipline of Calligraphy than that of the coloring books’.
Australian law firm Seyfarth Shaw embeds the significance of health and wellbeing to the workplace. In its two branches, employees took part in health and wellbeing seminars with several activities such as on-site massages and nutrition lessons. A partner at the firm, Justine Turnbull, once said that: “It is about engagement and caring about our people who are sometimes required to work above and beyond…” It is refreshing to see that the purpose of engagement came from a selfless place.
As a Psychology professional, the question that boggles my mind is whether these wellness efforts are beneficial in the long run. I acknowledge the presence of numerous literatures stating that mindfulness can eliminate the feelings of stress and anxiety. But, this is only possible if the practice is consistent and proper. Mindfulness skills must be taught by trained professionals.
Despite these studies, academics including University of NSW Professor Julie Cogin argued that it is not enough to provide a meditation room or yoga classes. Professor Cogin believes in the holistic approach to workplace environment and culture.
One dilemma that can strain the holistic approach is the profit-focused purpose of some companies. In other words, while employees are learning how to accept their current state and to slow down, their supervisors may be expecting them to utilize these techniques to work faster and harder than before.
While mindfulness and other wellness programs are helpful, these shall not be used to encourage compliance in a toxic environment. Organizational change must occur!