In Focus: Mindfulness Part 2

Nancy Hey, director of the What Works Centre for Wellbeing, on how companies can promote mindfulness

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing are a new, independent organisation looking at what business, government, communities and individuals can do to improve wellbeing. Its director, Nancy Hey, came to Second Home to share her thoughts on mindfulness in the workplace.

Our individual wellbeing has a great impact on a large number of things: productivity, creativity, collaboration abilities. It also impacts our immune system, how long we live, how good our social connections are.

Wellbeing does this funny thing over the life course, when we get to about 20 it starts to dip, and then it comes along and hits the bottom about 48, and then it comes back up the other side about 60 and then keeps going for most people to pretty much old age. That, for me, is that the mid-life crisis is real [laughs], and the sad thing is that it’s probably physiological, it happens to great apes and our other nearest relatives as well. So it’s probably something to do with how we’re built.

The other thing is that 20–60 bit is when we’re at work and also when early studies are showing that we stop taking as much notice. There are some things we can do to cushion that dip that goes down for our wellbeing: work, looking after your physical health, and your social relationships make a big difference. These have been summarised quite well — the foresight report was mentioned earlier — and this was summarised into five ways for wellbeing: being active, learning, giving, connecting and taking notice. There’s some early research that we’ve seen, European-wide research, that shows that in the UK in particular what we’re really bad at as we dip is taking notice.

The second bit is about this research and this discernment point. As we adapt mindfulness for the workplace, we need to think more carefully and give a more thoughtful approach to the application and start thinking a bit more carefully about how we do this, when we do it, who it works most effectively with, does it need to be with something else? Which things have to stay core and which can be adapted to local situations? Which bits are essential to keep in, which are not? When we’re thinking about this, is it also that there’s some things that need to go alongside it? Does it need to go alongside thinking about values like kindness? There’s some evidence to say that if you integrate kindness it’s worth doing. Likewise, do some people need to access this more through the body?

I think we’re starting to do that, and we need to do it in a bit more of a consistent way, and we need to think about how we get this dosage bit right. It can’t be a sticking plaster, so whilst this focus on internal change is brilliant and lovely to see at last a focus on internal change rather than just the external conditions that we tend to rearrange quite a lot — that applies nationwide across a whole range of issues. But on the other hand, we can’t just leave those systemic things alone, and I do wonder if the discernment that comes from a mindfulness practice may lead to some uncomfortable changes in the workplace, which I think I welcome [laughs].

So I want to say two things to finish: one, try things out, learn from them and share it, and second, start with your own internal change — you cast a big shadow, you also shine a bright light, so start from where you are.

Further Reading

In Focus: Mindfulness Part 1 with John Amaechi can be read here
In Focus: Mindfulness Part 3 with Unilever’s Tim Munden can be read
In Focus: Mindfulness Part 4 with Kate Unsworth can be read

This talk took place at Second Home, a creative workspace and cultural venue which brings together diverse industries, disciplines and social businesses. Find out more about joining us here: