Expert Interview: Mindfulness in blue-collar industries

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Mindfulness exercises have reached the center of society. In private life, more and more people are trying to act more consciously and thereby reduce stress and increase the quality of life. Companies also offer their employees courses or integrate different techniques, such as breathing exercises, into their meetings. How can this approach be transferred to the blue-collar industry and also be used in a meaningful way for workers? Mental stress caused by shift work, especially night or weekend shifts or noisy working environments, is particularly hard on the workers. Male workers, in particular, suffer from depression more often than their female colleagues. Nevertheless, they take up fewer prevention offers. We talked to Kristin Bub, an expert in mindfulness-based personnel development and training, about why companies should also teach mindfulness to their employees outside the office.

How do you assess the current situation of mindfulness in companies?

I am happy to talk to you about mindfulness. In the last few years, companies have made great strides from a “niche trend” to a severe component of occupational health prevention – especially in the white-collar sector. Many initially hesitant companies are now following these early adopters and introducing mindfulness. The exploding media presence and many research results provide support here and reduce the fear of contact that many people used to have. 

For all those who have not had contact with it, yet: Mindfulness promotes awareness. Thus, it helps us to get out of automatic thought and behavior patterns and makes us think and act more consciously. This may sound banal at first, but some studies show that 47% of the day, we do not pay attention. Of course, there are also beneficial automatisms: We concentrate on recognizing and accepting the harmful and unhealthy ones and on coming to more helpful thinking and acting. This promotes many skills that everyone can urgently use in the face of current challenges.

We have to address two issues in the coming years: On the one hand, mindfulness has a work and leadership culture-changing effect – something that has so far been recognized by only a few companies. In addition to that, how more people, such as in blue-collar professions, can benefit from the positive effects of mindfulness.

Do you see any differences between classic white-collar jobs and blue-collar workers?

Yes, I see differences here because different skills are required. Nevertheless, I maintain that mindfulness training benefits both groups of employees. The research situation in companies is increasing, but in the blue-collar area, there are very few reliable studies so far.

  • Mindfulness can help workers deal better with shift work or loud work environments leading to healthier employees
  • Mindfulness can not be used to make employees more productive in a bad work environment
  • Mindfulness help employees discover their needs earlier and prevent harmful stress
TOP TIPS FROM EXPERT KRISTIN BUB

Why do you think mindfulness is valuable for blue-collar employees?

It is worth taking a look at the characteristics of blue-collar jobs. There is usually a very high pressure of time and results with little room for decision making and personal development. From stress research, we know that these factors, in particular, lead to physical and psychological stress for people. 

As a result, we feel stress because the inner “alarm system” of the autonomic nervous system is excessively active, increases blood pressure, and releases stress hormones such as cortisol. Just for clarification: stress only becomes harmful when it is permanent. Unfavorable working conditions but also unconscious individual thought and behavior patterns can make a decisive contribution to this. Mindfulness exercises significantly improve the perception of breath and physical sensation in particular. On the one hand, this leads to calming and relaxation, because the body’s inner “calming system” starts up and shuts down the organism again. Through the more conscious body perception, people can gain the ability to feel what they need now, e.g., a break, food, or a different posture. There are also valuable mental effects: For example, people who are trained in mindfulness can concentrate better and stop automatic brooding more effectively.

Which competencies of the workers can you train with mindfulness exercises?

That also depends on the mindfulness methods used. In the blue-collar area, I see the following central competencies that can improve

  • Ability to concentrate, presence and attention control
  • Quality awareness
  • Mental and physical stress reduction and resilience
  • Self-care
  • Self-control 
  • Regulation of emotions
  • Change of perspective and reflection, e.g., in error analysis without assigning blame
  • Collegiality, team spirit, and solidarity
  • Design the training on a pragmatic, benefit-oriented approach with short units
  • Create a training that is suitable for the target group and the training situation
  • Introduce meditation apps like 7 Mind or Headspace to your employees
MINDFULNESS TRAINING FOR BLUE-COLLAR INDUSTRIES

Which techniques are particularly suitable for employees in factories? How can companies provide methods to their workers?

Training methods and language should be adapted to the reality of production. From my experience in the automotive industry and trade, I recommend that the design should be based primarily on a pragmatic, benefit-oriented approach and short units. For example, you could start with a short introductory workshop of 1-2 hours, in which the employees experience the benefits for themselves. Then I would intersperse short units into the work processes, e.g., a breath focus exercise of a few minutes before a work process starts. Or a five-minute body relaxation during the break. An eight weeks course would, of course, be most effective, I’m quite honest about that – but even short units have lasting effects.

What can I do as a company in the blue-collar industry? Do you have a few concrete tips that I could already implement today?

Mindfulness in production is, in my opinion, a treasure not yet discovered. It is important to me at this point that mindfulness cannot and must not be misused to make people more efficient under poor working conditions. A liberal attitude accompanies mindfulness. Fortunately, this does not work either – through mindfulness. People become much more aware of themselves and their environment. They will accept poor working conditions less often, but rather look for a new job.

Companies that want to help their workers be more stress-free and healthier productive should look into this issue. A first step could be to explain the benefits to employees and subsidize access to the well-known and good meditation apps 7 Mind or Headspace. These are also partly financed by health insurance companies. This opens the first door so that employees can try out the benefits for themselves without any pressure. You can build on this in a follow-up offer. The health insurance companies also subsidize courses such as MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) as a preventive measure.

Kristin Bub advises, trains, and coaches companies and individuals on a mindfulness basis. The business psychologist is an internationally experienced personnel developer and looks back on 16 years in large and medium-sized companies where she has worked in the fields of HR, cultural development, and communication in specialist and management positions. The Munich native follows up on her research with a teaching position in business psychology at the University of Applied Sciences for Economics and Management. For her, mindfulness is a human ability and attitude, without making it a dogma. More at www.kristinbub.de