Dear CEO, we need to talk about mental health in the new normal
Re: workplace wellness
As we gradually return to the office, we have a golden opportunity to revitalise our working environment and give people some great reasons to come together, collaborate, build relationships, foster productivity and do amazing work.
To enhance this fantastic opportunity even further, I’d like to make a suggestion.
But firstly, I want to take a quick look at some of the reasons why despite all the advantages they bring, offices aren’t necessarily designed to enhance productivity, workplace wellness, great relationships and therefore outstanding work.
The open plan office gives some real advantages - ease of communication, a buzzy atmosphere, a sense of space and a team spirit being just some of them.
However, some of these pros can easily turn into cons.
It is virtually impossible to be optimally productive with the background chatter, constant interruptions and manic schedule, running from one meeting room to another like a headless chicken.
You can feel your cortisol levels rise on a daily basis, which is extremely bad for your physical health, let alone your mental.
This is unfortunately a symptom of office culture, and is a hard thing to change.
The end game can sadly all too often be burnout.
Our mental health isn’t always 100% when working from home either though.
Distractions, kids, loneliness, various pressures and commitments can all contribute to similarly stress inducing situations.
The big plus of being at home though, is that when you need 20 mins timeout - to focus on your breath, meditate, micro-nap, or just listen to some sounds of nature - to regain a sense of balance, you can much more easily find the space to do that.
The office just isn’t set up in the same way - there are no private spaces to do this; apart from the toilets (and you might be surprised how many people resort to this).
The benefits of taking some time out are huge. Looking at one area in particular that’s been studied comprehensively - meditation - the stats show the benefits to companies clearly.
Studies show that a mere 8 weeks of meditating 20 minutes a day significantly lowers the amygdala (the reptilian, flight-or-fight reactive, cortisol administering part of our brain) response level*.
So meditation isn’t just a pleasant, stress reducing experience. It rewires our neural pathways to help improve our levels of stress on a long term basis, as well as having other knock on effects such as:
So, the benefits are clear, but what can we do about it? In my view it’s very straightforward.
1. Offer mindfulness meditation training and regular ongoing sessions thereafter
- There are numerous highly qualified mindfulness facilitators who offer one off sessions or longer term courses. This would be the first step to advocating the use of mindfulness at work, and a signal that mental health is a priority. But this isn’t enough…
2. Create a wellness area in the office
- Once mindfulness has been embedded in the business, we need a suitable space to be able to benefit from doing it regularly. There is an easy, off the shelf solution I’ve found for this:
- Meditation pods are a perfect option, as they require very little planning or maintenance. We just order them and they arrive. They can be used for a number of mental health practices such as meditation, movement, breathwork, light therapy, hypnosis, micro-napping or just a quick break from your screen. They’re made using natural materials and are the perfect space to recharge to be ready to go again.
Here’s some feedback from other companies who’ve invested in a meditation pod:
I believe that having a meditation course, as well as a meditation pod, will not only help our company's performance in the long run, but it will also entice people into the office and help to add to the sense of it being a destination people actively want to visit and benefit from.
I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this important matter.
*Gaelle Desbordes, “Effects of Mindful-Attention and Compassion Meditation Training on Amygdala Response to Emotional Stimuli in Ordinary, Non-Meditative State” –
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 2012
***Lorenza S. Colzato*, Ayca Ozturk and Bernhard Hommel “Meditate to create: the impact of focused-attention and open-monitoring training on convergent and divergent thinking” – Frontiers in Psychology 2012