When it comes to Corporate Wellbeing, there’s no doubt about the benefits of yoga. Yoga brings peace and harmony, far away from the high-octane world of board rooms and trading floors.
When you step into a yoga studio, the aim is to balance the constant fluctuations of the mind and cultivate a sense of steadiness and good space for people to move into. This is what classical yoga texts say, far away from the “circus yoga” that is presented on Instagram today.
With the primary benefit of stress reduction, it is little wonder that the corporate world has gravitated towards offering yoga classes. There is a lot to be said for a workforce that is less stressed and more productive. My classes, by their own admission, leave my students and fellow employees in a ‘zen like’ state.
That said, by merely offering yoga classes, are companies discharging their duty to employees in the area of corporate wellbeing? Do they believe that by simply offering classes, enough is being done to improve the wellbeing of employees?
Sadly, it is not. To offer classes is one thing. To actively encourage, facilitate and allow for employees to attend is another. If the working culture involves long hours, it means recognising that employees are more likely to perform better after they have had some time away from the desk. To this extent, it means acting flexibly, taking into account individual employee needs.
In this regard, we need embodied leadership from our senior managers that actively encourages students to attend classes. This means to be reasonably practical, organising meetings around employees yoga classes and other corporate wellbeing activities, making it easier for them to attend.
It also means senior management attending and participating in classes. After all, with more than 1 in 8 workers estimated to suffer from muscoskeletal disorders (MSD), and 33% of all long term absences from work attributed to MSD, attending yoga (or other body-conditioning classes such as Pilates) is pretty much essential. After all, its not necessarily bad posture that is the cause of back pain and other ailments, its the sedentary lifestyle that is killing us. In some cases, literally.
An approach that is as-hoc and superficial in terms of its delivery will not do anything for employees’ wellbeing. For, so long as yoga is associated with the more aesthetic, playful aspects of wellbeing, it will never get the respect it deserves.
To this extent, we need changes in attitude which characterise yoga not as a luxury, but rather as essential. After all, would you skip lunch or dinner if you were busy?
A student said to me recently that “work takes priority over yoga” and then created a habit of not coming to class. On one level, it is understandable. Work is to be done. Unfortunately, I see this all the time. The attitude that “I’ll only go to yoga if I have time, and if I don’t have enough perceived time, then I’d rather be stressed and tired and still do my job”. The perception in most cases is only 15 minutes or so, but it’s enough to stop students attending yoga.
Rather, the change in thinking required is how yoga can help you increase your performance at work. What would happen if your output (and hence productivity) would increase after going to class? Anything that increases the blood flowing through the body, oxygenates the brain and releases feel-good stress busting hormones, including increasing levels of GABA in the brain (the body’s natural tranquilliser), is going to make you feel better and hence work better. It makes total sense, except most people and management don’t see it that way. Time is measured in terms of hours present, not what is actually performed in those hours.
Johnson & Johnson, the pioneers in employee wellbeing in one study have demonstrated that even with ‘short term’ interventions in employee wellbeing, the quality of employee’s lives increases. In particular, the study aimed at encouraging “participants to work toward their action plan by adopting behavioural changes aligned with personal goals, such as reducing stress, managing energy, and maximising purpose.”
That’s the key message about corporate wellbeing. Make employees feel good about themselves, and they are likely to be more productive and focused. Isn’t that what every employer wants? I appreciate that yoga may only be part of the corporate wellbeing jigsaw puzzle, but it is a step in the right direction in terms of integrating it into employees’ every day life.
In my vision, every organisation will have ‘Chief Wellbeing Officers’, including a ‘head of yoga’. It would have responsibility for not only organising the yoga programme and promoting it, but also measuring (and being accountable for) its success and performance, tailoring it to employees’ needs. Perhaps that dream is not too far off from fantasy. After all, in the age of disruption and new ways of thinking (and working), why wouldn’t an organisation want to adopt a new approach to working? Welcome to the new age of corporate wellbeing. Where anything is possible, including more (effective) yoga in the work place.