‘Mindfulness’ aids professional well-being - Veterinary Practice
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‘Mindfulness’ aids professional well-being

Helen Wiseman explains how the ‘Mindfulness in the Workplace’ programme has produced remarkable results at CVS in reducing stress and anxiety and enhancing well-being.

WE have all seen the statistics about lower than average levels of mental well-being, problems with work/life balance and prevalence of suicidal thoughts which dog the veterinary profession.

It is a picture that surprises many outside of the veterinary world but the hard truth is that too many veterinary professionals struggle daily with long hours of caring for their patients and dealing with owners, often in difficult circumstances.

As the largest employer of veterinary surgeons in the UK, improving the mental well-being of our 2,700 staff is a key priority so, back in early 2011, our Health and Safety team surveyed the company to assess how we were performing against the Health and Safety Executive’s Standards.

We used the feedback to develop a toolkit of resources to improve employee well-being across the company. “Tools” included offering discounted gym memberships and introducing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which provides employees and their families with 24/7 access to telephone counselling and support. Most significantly, we also embarked on the development of a “Mindfulness in the Workplace” programme – a first for the veterinary sector.

Mindfulness is a mind-body approach which enables individuals to change the way they think and feel about their experiences, especially stressful experiences. It can help to reduce anxiety and enhance well-being. In doing so, it can also improve performance and productivity and boost job satisfaction.

The inspiration to explore the value it could bring to our staff came from MiVoice, our staff consultation committee. A member mentioned the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, an international centre of excellence within Oxford University’s Department of Psychiatry, that works to prevent depression and enhance human potential through the therapeutic use of mindfulness. We were so impressed with the outcomes of the clinical trials and research they showed us that we agreed to run a pilot project in the south-west.

It was successful so we worked with them to develop a tailored training programme for CVS and began rolling it out across the company in 2012.

We run hourly sessions in a number of regions for a period of six weeks, led by tutors from the Mindfulness Exchange, an offshoot of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre.

They cover the science of mindfulness in the workplace with participants also invited to participate in some short mindfulness exercises in class. They are then asked to read relevant chapters from the accompanying textbook and follow recorded guided mindfulness exercises to support their learning outside the training environment.

Voluntary but encouraged

Courses are open to both clinical and non-clinical staff and, while staff are encouraged to attend, it is voluntary. Almost a year and a half on, training has been completed in four locations for 80 staff. By the end of this year we will have delivered it in four further regions and hope to have trained a further 100.

So the big question is, has it worked? The answer is yes. I believe we have experienced benefits which I can directly attribute to implementing a mindfulness approach across the business and a research student from Birkbeck University recently confirmed this when she conducted research into the effects of the training on one of our groups.

She used a questionnaire on which delegates and a control group which had not undertaken the training measured the change in their levels of perceived self-efficacy before, during and after mindfulness training. The results showed that the trained group had a higher level of “self-rated mindfulness” than the control group and the change was statistically significant.

When I discuss the training with them, the majority of staff are enthusiastic. While initially some were concerned that it sounded a bit “new-age”, their preconceptions soon disappeared. Admittedly, some have found it a challenge to get to grips with, while others say it is totally changing their behaviour.

Mental armour

The most important bene t is that it has given our staff a suit of “mental armour” to help protect them against the day-to-day stresses of life in practice. Many who have done the training have reported that they have developed a level of resilience which has helped them to meet their toughest challenges more easily.

For instance, some receptionists have reported that they have been able to deploy newly-learnt stills to deal with difficult clients or confrontational situations more effectively and without wasting time and energy worrying about how they should deal with them.

We have also seen some incredible individual results. One colleague has been able to reduce her reliance on pain relief for a physical condition and another now says she can have a good night’s sleep, something denied her for years.

Perhaps the most difficult thing has been to ensure that as many of them as possible continue to practise the techniques they learn once the training has finished. We are currently working with The Mindfulness Exchange to come up with ways to sustain momentum.

Overall, it has been a great initiative for CVS. We are all so often caught up in worrying, planning or just pushing ourselves to cope with the frantic world of work and it can take a heavy toll.

The biggest cause of long-term absenteeism is chronic stress – but days lost are just the tip of the iceberg. If we are suffering from stress, it affects our work and those we work with. Having seen it working first hand, I now believe that mindfulness can play a positive role in combating it.

Based on our experience, I would certainly encourage other practices to take a leap of faith and see what it can do. Approach a reputable Mindfulness Centre or perhaps try it first as an individual.

I recommend Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World by Professor Mark Williams, founder of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, and Dr Danny Penman, as a training resource. With blue chips like Google, GlaxoSmithKline and Proctor & Gamble adopting it, you’ll be in good company.

For more information, visit http://mindfulness-exchange.com/home/

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