If you read this blog than you likely know that the scientifically proven benefits of meditation are many. I wrote recently about a study showing how just 8 weeks of training can effect a lasting reduction in stress and anxiety. Studies that look at the impact on individuals in a testing environment are becoming increasingly common. Less common are attempts to look at how meditation effects people inside a work environment. Can meditation really help us at work?
The authors of a March, 2005 study published in the Journal of Social Behavior & Personality were looking to see if meditation could have an impact on occupational stress. Numerous studies have determined that when workers are experiencing stress there is a significant and measurable cost added to doing business. A highly stressed employee might be pictured as a car driving with its breaks on, stress being the breaks. As the authors of this study note, “when researchers look at compensation claims, reduced productivity and increased absenteeism, added health insurance costs, and direct medical expenses for related diseases such as ulcers, high blood pressure and heart attacks…The costs of stress are variously estimated at hundreds of billions of dollars annually, or 12% of U.S. GNP”. Clearly any business looking to reduce costs should be interested in inexpensive means of reducing occupational stress.
Practicing meditation is free, but can it be show to reduce job site stress? The authors of this paper note that it has previously been shown in studies that Transcendental Meditation (TM) produces a “unique state of restful alertness that is not achieved during ordinary eyes-closed rest.” TM has also been shown to improve cognitive performance and increase self confidence in clinical settings. These studies certainly imply that stress would be reduced in a testing environment, but what about in an office?
Researchers went to a South African marketing research consultancy firm of 80 people. They measured stress levels in employee using both psychological symptoms such as employees self-reported incidence of nervousness, irritability and headaches as well as objective measures such as blood pressure and heart rate. In addition to the impact on individuals the study aimed to investigate the consequences of individuals stress levels on the business as a whole by analyzing metrics such as staff turnover rates, perceptions of company climate and some measures of company wide productivity. Researchers described the atmosphere at this firm as being one of “frenetic activity attendant on frequent deadlines and the need to coordinate hundreds of part time field workers.” Sound familiar?
Employees were told that their superiors wished to evaluate to two potential approaches to stress reduction, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, and TM. Participation was voluntary and about 85% of employees opted to take part. 61% of these (49 people) eventually learned TM. They received 1.5-2 hours of instruction on 4 consecutive days with follow-up at 2 and 6 weeks and 3 and 5 months for a total of 16 hours of training. The results?
Employees trained in Transcendental Meditation techniques did show a significant measured decrease in occupational stress symptoms. The major reduction started about 2 weeks after beginning training. Participants also showed a significant decrease in blood pressure (BP). A few participants who were in the hypertensive BP range at the start were later measured to be in the normotensive range, a significant health improvement. The authors reported that, “The blood pressure findings of this study are consistent with blood pressure findings previously reported in well-controlled randomized clinical trials.” What is perhaps more hopeful is the fact that there was also a measurable reduction in the stress levels of those who did not receive training in either technique. This supports the hypothesis that having trained meditators in a work environment can have a positive impact on the stress levels of all employees. Calm people may soothe an environment much the way that a hysterical person can disrupt it.
Looking at company wide financial figures there was a net gain of 9.2% while “sales growth rate doubled from 6% before the intervention to 12% after.” With adjustments for inflation this amounted to “double the average real growth rate for the seven years prior to the
A common question is whether meditation is any more useful than simply resting. As these authors report, “a meta-analysis of 32 studies has found that the physiological effects of the TM technique are significantly greater than ordinary eyes-closed resting for the same period of time.” In other words, there is more happening in meditation than simple rest. While putting aside time to be still is profound in and of itself, the techniques do appear to offer other benefits above and beyond what the untrained person will likely access without training. Looking at my experience, and those of my clients, I would say that this difference that meditation can make is profound.
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