There’s a new trend emerging in the workplace: Yoga.
It’s not completely new. Some companies have been offering ways for employees to de-stress in the office for the past few years, such as Aetna, a health insurer that has been providing free yoga and meditation classes since 2010. But now, a lot more organizations are jumping on the bandwagon. Whether this is to increase employee happiness or just make it appear that companies are investing in employee development, however, is a little unclear.
The Boston Globe recently published an article about practicing yoga and mindfulness in a corporate setting. It features the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine of Massachusetts General Hospital and the meditation classes offered weekly for its employees. The article then delves further into why more and more companies offer these types of benefits.
What once started as a unique employee perk has evolved into the new normal. Approximately 95 percent of large U.S. employers offer some form of workplace wellness program, at a cost of around $100 to $300 per worker per year.
So why are companies making this investment?
From a public relations perspective, offering wellness programs can reap large benefits for companies. It can certainly help attract new employees as well as retain current ones. What employee wouldn’t want to work somewhere that offers weekly meditation classes or yoga after work? Many companies who have invested in mindfulness consulting have seen calmer, healthier workers.
Calmer employees help a company’s bottom line, too. According to the Globe article, the World Health Organization estimates that stress-related disorders cost US companies over $300 billion each year in absenteeism, turnover, decreased creativity and reduced productivity. Wellness programs lead to an increased and more positive sense of well-being for employees, therefore causing them to want to show up for work. Therefore, this boosts the bottom line for numerous organizations.
However, there has been some backlash from critics who do not support this corporate emphasis on mindfulness. Some say companies should instead focus on providing more flexible work hours or vacation time rather than weekly meditation sessions. Others point out that employees at some companies are penalized for declining to join wellness programs, which can then lead to negative media coverage and damage a company’s reputation.
Research supports the health benefits of mindfulness/wellness programs. Regular mindful practices – whether it’s meditation, yoga or tai chi classes – have been proven to boost participants’ physical and mental health by reducing stress and lowering blood pressure and heart rate. Once people feel calmer, they also feel happier and become more confident that they can resolve problems that arise at work.
So whatever companies’ real motivations may be for providing wellness and mindfulness programs, let’s hope it continues to positively impact company culture.