Mindfulness at Work

It’s that time of the year when we’re coming out of a hard winter but balmy summer hasn’t yet fully arrived. Many people are justifiably frazzled, tense and tired. Just this last week, I’ve seen a number of staff who seem that little bit more stressed than is healthy. While my job is to reflect on the organisational factors that impact on this stress, it’s also extremely important, especially at such times, to put in place personal coping strategies. As you may recall from a previous blog post, I meditate on plane trips to and from Wellington. That discussion about workplace wellness generated a phenomenal response, prompting the introduction of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training for CMDHB staff earlier this year. Today I’ve asked Jo Soldan, Clinical Psychologist in our Critical Care Complex, to blog with me on this topic.

Mindfulness is defined by pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinnas “paying focused attention, on purpose, without judgment, to the experience of the present moment”. This can be a difficult concept to comprehend. We tend to better understand what it is to be mindless. You know when you get home and realise you can’t remember which route you drove, or the days that pass in a flash without taking time to stop and think? That behaviour is often described as being mindless. Mindfulness, on the other hand, is about learning to pay attention differently and being more present in our lives. One focus used to achieve this is on breath and the sensation of breathing in and out. Maaori culture captures the idea of breath sustaining life and taking a breath to pause, reflect and ponder with the word ‘haa’.

Fortunately mindfulness is a skill you can develop. It has many reported benefits such as helping reduce stress levels, increasing emotional intelligence and improving leadership function. An international study reports 70 primary care doctors found training in this area reduced their distress and burn-out, improved wellbeing and had the unexpected spin-off of increasing their ability to listen to patients and be more patient-centred. It is not a magic cure but an effective tool for managing stress and restoring life balance when combined with other management strategies. Global companies, including Google, offer mindfulness training to their staff.

At CMDHB, the introduction of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training for staff grew out of a piece of work undertaken by the Critical Care Complex. We’ve developed an Emotional Safety Policy, to assist staff who work in an environment where they are exposed to a range of emotional stressors. This strategy includes management, educational and psychological resilience factors, and led to the introduction of training to build up staff’s emotional safety and resilience. The first course was offered in August, with further courses scheduled for November and 2013. Running over four weeks, it is facilitated by myself (Jo) and external counsellor Dianne May. As participants discover, there are many ways to learn to pay better attention, reduce mental chatter in the brain and be more in control of their responses to what’s going on. Meditation is the main mindfulness building tool taught on the course but practicing mindfulness in the workplace can also be as simple as incorporating the STOP process every time you wash your hands.

Most staff in the August course reported lower levels of exhaustion and stress, and increased resilience as a result of their participation. “I’m back to singing and humming as I go about my work,” one commented, while another said “Greater ability to stay focused and calm which helps one to think through situations and de-escalate.” The colleagues and friends of staff who participated also reported improvements: “appears more settled”, “doesn’t take negative feedback as personally” and “more relaxed”.

Blogging about mindfulness is particularly relevant today as we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, for which the 2012 theme was “Take Notice”.  As health professionals, we spend a lot of time taking care of others and sometimes forget to take notice of our own wellbeing. But just as you get yourself immunised with an injection, mindfulness helps build antibodies for emotional resilience. Our challenge is to build an organisational culture which nurtures both the emotional and physical wellbeing of staff.

Is mindfulness an approach which would be useful in your role? If so, how can we together make it more part of our culture here? We’d be really interested to hear your thoughts: ceoblog@middlemore.co.nz.

Geraint and Jo


Author: Geraint Martin

Geraint Martin was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Counties Manukau DHB in December 2006. It is one of the largest District Health Boards in New Zealand and services a population of half a million. He has significant experience over 30 years in national policy & in managing both primary and secondary care . Previously, he was Director of Health and Social Care Strategy at the Welsh Government .He authored a radical 10 year strategy of reform, including the successful “Saving 1000 lives” Campaign.Until 2004, he was CEO at Kettering General Hospital & had held senior positions in London & Birmingham.He has worked closely with clinicians in improving clinical standards,patient safety,chronic disease management & managing acute care to reduce hospital demand.In NZ, He has promoted clinical quality and leadership as central to improving patientcare. This has led to a significant increases in productivity and access, whilst maintaining financial balance. CMH has completed in 2014 a $500 m capital redevelopment programme, the largest in New Zealand. A central part of this is the establishment of Ko Awatea,the Centre for Innovation and Research which will underpin CMH as one of the the leading health systems in Australasia.In 2008, he chaired the Ministerial Review of Emergency Care in New Zealand, and in 2013 was an member of the Expert Advisory Panel on Health Sector Performance. Geraint has an MSc in Health Policy from Birmingham University .His post-graduate work has focused on health economics and Corporate Strategy . He is adjunct Professor of Healthcare Management at AUT and Victoria University, Wellington Elected in 2006 as a Companion of the Institute of Healthcare Management, previously he was an Associate Fellow at Birmingham University.He is is Chair of the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, a member of the Institute of Directors, on the Board of the NZ Institute of Health Management & previously the Board of The NZ Health Quality and Safety Commission.

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