Why Work May Be Killing You


Right! I’ve got your attention but can I keep it?

The evidence is against me. Each one of us spends at least 47% of our day not in the ‘present moment’.  It’s bad for our work. It’s bad for our productivity and it’s especially bad for our health – both physically and mentally.

It's Mental Health Awareness Week and I want to talk about how our minds and our jobs may be killing us.

This threat represents a big cost to both the workers and the bosses. Employers are now responsible for the mental wellbeing of their workforce. The Health and Safety at Work Act now defines ‘health’ as including mental health. 

Consider this:

  • One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.
  • Mental disorders are one of the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
  • It’s estimated that depression and anxiety costs the global economy more than $1.4 trillion each year in lost productivity.
  • Nearly a third of Kiwis are grappling with work-demands. Among the biggest causes of stress are excessive workloads, pressure to meet work targets, long hours, and management style and workplace relationships.
  • Sick and stressed Kiwi workers took around 6.6 billion sick-days last year – at a cost to businesses of $1.5billion.
  • Nearly 80% of employees say they are disengaged at work. This is leading to lower productivity, innovation and wellbeing.

Enough said.

The sobering news is that we spend more of our time working than doing anything else and yet it’s been found that these hours, on average, are the least happy of our lives. Work-related stress is one of the major causes of illnesses in the West.

Only this week, there was the sad news of the death of a 31 year-old TV reporter in Japan who died after working 159 hours of overtime in a month. An apparent victim of the ‘overwork culture’ that’s now so insidious and pervasive in western workplaces.

I have been there.  Nearly three years ago I was over-worked and over-stressed in my job. The problem for me was that it was, supposedly, the ‘dream’ job. I knew that aspiring journalists would have crawled over broken glass to be me. After all, I was working in TV and radio as ‘multi-platform’ reporter – something I’d wanted all my life.

I had covered a gruelling and brutal murder trial and it had taken its toll. During that time, I discovered a lot about myself. I couldn’t handle the emotional impact of the case and I was working every minute of the day supplying the mainstream and online platforms. I had no energy. I was burnt out. It was time to take control.

I changed my job and that changed my life. I started training to be a yoga teacher and began a new career as a media advisor and trainer for am&co, a communications company. I was transformed.

Now I see that ‘over-work culture’ present itself in nearly every client we work with. They walk in to our training – stressed, pre-occupied, distracted, exhausted and overworked. Yet they’re expected to be the best they can be when they need to front up on camera or in front of audience.

It’s our job to peel them back and then rebuild them. And that’s where mindfulness comes into it. And I know the word can often put people off.

So before you close the tab on your browser, hear me out… Studies have shown that mindfulness and meditation can have major health benefits. These include effects on depression, drug addiction, ADHD, asthma, psoriasis and irritable bowel syndrome. Research has shown that meditation can reduce levels of stress hormones and help us focus better at work.

It’s being used to improve creativity, effective decision-making and communication within the office space, too. It will make you a better leader, communicator and it can enhance creativity and innovation.

Novac Djokovic says his mindfulness practice is just as important as his physical training. 

Novac Djokovic says his mindfulness practice is just as important as his physical training. 

One of the biggest blocks to productivity is multi-tasking.  We check our phones an average 80 times a-day. Couple that with the constant slew of emails and we find ourselves in dangerously distracted territory. When we multitask we quickly switch between tasks and that exhausts us. It uses up oxygenated glucose in the brain, which is the same fuel that’s needed to focus on one task. In fact, every time we get interrupted it can take us more than 23 minutes to return to that piece of work. This all leads to a build up of stress.

You only need to look to multi-nationals throughout the world to see that they rate mindfulness. General Mills, Google, Goldman Sachs, LinkedIn, Facebook are all investing in mindfulness training.

Mindfulness is paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgementally
— Jon Kabat-Zinn

General Mills (think Betty Crocker desserts, Yoplait yoghurt) has seen impressive results following its seven-week mindfulness and meditation course. Eighty per cent of senior executives said they had improved their decision-making after the programme and almost 90% reported that they had become better listeners. General Mills now has ‘meditation rooms’ throughout all of its buildings.

Intel, an American multinational corporation and technology company, is brimming with scientists who were initially skeptical towards the practice. But its ‘Awake@Intel’ programme has seen a boost in creativity, wellbeing and focus along with a decrease in stress.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a MIT-trained microbiologist. In the 1970’s, he developed a course called ‘Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction’ for people suffering from chronic pain. He tested the effects on the meditators following the programme and found thicker grey matter in the areas of the brain linked with self-awareness and compassion. Areas associated with stress had shrunk. So, we can’t argue with neuroscience.

We can train our brain to focus better. Mindfulness can help us cut through the noise and simplify the complex. It can help us improve our emotional intelligence, in particular empathy and self-regulation.

We can create better leaders, better teams and better communicators. We can choose to respond wisely to stress, conflict and challenging situations. We can make the workplace and the country a healthier and more productive place.

So let’s put our mind to it and at least start talking about the importance of mindfulness in the workplace?

Tennessee Mansford is a communications advisor for am&co as well as a certified Ovio mindfulness facilitator.