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Mindfulness techniques can alleviate stress, improve focus and enhance sensory clarity by re-directing awareness to the body.damircudic

It’s clear that workplace stress and burnout have been exacerbated by the pandemic. As workers and employers look for ways to alleviate the mental health toll of the past couple of years, some experts are suggesting that mindfulness and meditation could provide some welcome relief.

And it’s not just something for employees to try – workplace leaders can better support the mental health of their teams by becoming more mindful themselves.

Mindfulness is an ancient practice and a type of meditation that uses techniques to help individuals focus and become aware of what they’re feeling in the moment without explanation or judgment.

The practice has several benefits, says Kerri Twigg, a Winnipeg-based career content coach and best-selling author of The Career Stories Method. It can, among other things, alleviate stress, improve focus, enhance sensory clarity by re-directing awareness to the body and help people experience equanimity. And, because you’re not obsessing about the future or are stuck in the past, one can be fully present in the moment, says Ms. Twigg.

When people reach out to Ms. Twigg for help, she says it’s because they’re either disinterested in their work, frustrated at the trajectory of their career or are not being valued by their organizations. Some are unhappy despite landing their dream jobs. Through a combination of science-informed mindfulness training, stories and career coaching, Ms. Twigg alleviates her clients’ dissatisfaction and directs them to ideal roles.

“There are six areas of career contentment: relief [from stress], concentration, fulfillment [how to appreciate what you have], self-understanding, mastery in your expression and work [how you show up to work] and connection [communicating with others],” Ms. Twigg says. “After my clients identify the areas, I teach them mindfulness techniques to support them.”

She also introduces her clients to mindful practices to help them deal with self-sabotaging thoughts and emotions.

Rooted in science

Last year, Canadian digital marketing firm Caddle published the results of a survey that showed 73 per cent of respondents believed regular meditation practice will improve work-life balance, 56 per cent used meditation for relief from stress and 58 per cent said they would participate in virtual meditation sessions should their employers offer it.

It’s a practice rooted in science: Neuroimaging studies reveal mindfulness and meditation have the capacity to rewire how the brain responds to stress and help improve working memory and executive functioning.

In 2012, Drs. Diana Koszycki and Andre Vellino founded the Academy for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies at the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) with the purpose of introducing mindfulness and meditation in an educational setting and bringing everyone, either teaching or researching mindfulness, together.

“Mindfulness and meditation have been found to have beneficial effects in helping people manage difficult emotions more effectively,” said Dr. Koszycki, a professor of counselling psychology at uOttawa and research chair in mental health at the Institut du Savoir Montfort.

“Mindfulness is the ability to not get caught up in difficult emotions and being able to respond with a sense of equanimity. I think it’s important for organizations to have workplace programs so that people can learn how to better manage stress.”

Mindfulness may not work for everyone, Dr. Koszycki notes. Individuals should embrace whatever stress-reducing strategy works for them and be consistent. Walking, listening to music, yoga and focusing on breath are all excellent options, she says.

Becoming mindful leaders

Mindful Employer Canada is a Hamilton, Ont., not-for-profit with teams across Canada, offering flexible programs and training for corporate and organization leaders. The goal of the organization is to equip participants with tools to deal with workplace mental health as well as other issues such as performance, conflict and building strong teams.

The idea is that mindful leaders at work will look inwards when dealing with situations and people in the workplace, making decisions by taking in information non-judgmentally and being empathetic towards their employees.

“We have an incredible generation of workers today looking to leaders to not only oversee them but lead and teach them,” says Sarah Jenner, executive director of Mindful Employer Canada.

The programs offered at Mindful Employer Canada place heavy emphasis on emotional intelligence and communication skills, Ms. Jenner says. Participants learn to lead without blaming, shaming or criticizing. They are also given frameworks to prevent and mitigate workplace issues such as bullying and harassment through use of moral courage, curiosity, personal accountability and empathy.

More mindful leaders will be better able to support the mental health of their employees, she adds. It might even help with recruitment and retention.

“Employees are rejecting toxic bosses in favour of those that will value and support their success,” Ms. Jenner says. “More importantly, employees want to leave work at the end of the day with energy left over to continue living their life outside of work as well.”

Ask Women and Work

Have a question about your work life? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.

I have been out of the job market for close to 12 years because I was at home taking care of my two children. Now, I’m ready to re-enter the job market, but it’s been such a long time that I’ve lost touch with all the people I used to work with. I’ve begun the process of looking for a new position, but I’m concerned about the gaps in my resume and my lack of recent references. How can I set myself up for a successful job hunt?

We asked Julie Labrie, president, BlueSky Personnel Solutions in Toronto, to field this one:

First, clearly mark on your resume that you were a stay-at-home parent and that you are now re-entering the job market. This way, recruiters and prospective employers will clearly understand why you have a gap in your resume, and they won’t question it.

Most employers today understand the value of dedicating time to be at home to raise children, so you are not starting from a deficit.

Your past job experience, no matter how old it is, doesn’t expire. This also means your references from 12 years ago are still valuable today, so consider re-connecting with past colleagues on platforms such as LinkedIn.

Before you can successfully pitch yourself to a potential employer, you need to change your mindset and be confident in your capabilities. Narrow down and articulate for yourself what you really want to do. Focus on the actual work you want to do and not on a job title.

While this may feel counter-intuitive to jobseekers who are anxious to secure work immediately, being armed with this information is the best way that we, as recruiters or prospective employers, can find the right match for you. If you don’t share your ‘wants,’ I can’t guess them for you. Then, I’m likely to move onto the next candidate where I can see a great fit.

So, clearly and concisely connect the dots for prospective employers. Help them understand your reasons for wanting to take a particular job right now.

Employers aren’t looking for perfection, rather, they’re seeking the right fit. I often present candidate profiles to clients, telling them: ‘This person has X to offer. They don’t have Y, but they do have Z.’ Time and time again, this leads to employers finding their star employees.

Net-net: Fully embrace the value you bring to an employer; then help them see what you see.

Interested in more perspectives about women in the workplace? Find all stories on the hub here, and subscribe to the new Women and Work newsletter here. Have feedback on the series? E-mail us at GWC@globeandmail.com.