A Mindful Nation and mindfulness in the workplace

The Mindful Nation UK report was launched in Parliament on 20th October as the result of a MindfulnationUK12-month inquiry by the Mindfulness All-Party Parliamentary Group into how mindfulness might be incorporated into UK services and institutions

The workplace has been one of the four policy areas examined by the inquiry that has particularly led to debate. The report makes a specific recommendation to the What Works Centre for Wellbeing in this area.

pro-picOur Director, Nancy Hey spoke at the Mindfulness in the workplace event last night to celebrate the launch of the report and look at next steps. The report looks at how we can ensure mindfulness fulfills its potential to help create a more healthy, productive and creative 21st century working culture across the UK.

Why does this matter?

There is good evidence to support mindfulness and mindfulness-based therapy.  Being mindful is part of taking notice, one of the 5 ways to wellbeing.  We know that, in general, our personal wellbeing dips, probably naturally from age 20, down to a low in the mid to late 40s and then back up to 60 and mostly continues upwards.

How can we cushion the impact of the wellbeing dip?

We know quite a few protective factors including good mental and physical health, good work, and social relationships.  Early analysis, as part of the ESRC wellbeing counts project, suggests that this age span is the time where ‘take notice’ also dips, particularly in the UK.  As this is the part of our lives where we  spend much of our time engaged in work, this suggests that mindfulness in the workplace could have a significant positive impact on our wellbeing.

I welcome the call in the Mindful Nation report to continue exploring the potential of mindfulness in an evidence based way.  To support employers in their investment decisions, there is a need to understand, in more nuanced ways, about what, how and when and for whom mindfulness practice at work can make a difference to both our wellbeing and our work.

This means evaluation – moving towards large scale trials with controls – of

  • Who its useful for and when, including monitoring over time
  • How – duration and format of training? combined with values or physical awareness? can train the trainer approaches work?
  • When – what is useful before and after e.g. do some people need physical approach first? better when combined into management training or volunteers only?
  • How often – Can it be delivered in ways to fit into the workplace and still be effective?
  • What is core and what can be adapted to context?
  • What impact does it have on other things e.g. staff wellbeing, performance or customer satisfaction?

Whilst the shift in attention to internal changes is welcome, this and similar approaches, can not be a sticking plaster for other issues that need attention. This means comparing mindfulness interventions with other things organisations can invest in for both impact and cost. Our early guide to evaluating wellbeing impact, alongside other outcomes, is here.

Want to partner or fund trials? email info@whatworkswellbeing.org

A thousand wellbeing flowers are blooming


Saamah Abdallah
, Senior Researcher & Programme Manager, NEF and part of the Community Wellbeing evidence team, shares his thoughts from the 5th OECD World Forum.


saamahMexico is a country of vivid colours, and its bright vibrant flowers are a welcome sight when you’ve come from autumnal England.  So it was a fitting country for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Fifth World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy, where, indeed it was clear that wellbeing initiatives around the world are starting to bloom.

The OECD’s World Forums have been central to the development of the wellbeing agenda.  The first one, in Palermo in 2004, was little more than an exploration of the idea that there are new things that we should be measuring to understand progress.  2007, the Istanbul Declaration was signed by the OECD, the United Nations, the United Nations Development Programme, the European Commission, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, and the World Bank, demonstrating the desire of the signatories to move Beyond GDP.  At the last World Forum, in New Delhi in 2012, talk was still focussed on measurement, and how it should be done.  But now, in 2015, in Guadalajara in Mexico, data was flowing and the policy implications being considered.

Countries all around the world were starting to measure wellbeing in ways that one could not have imagined a few years ago. Turkey has carried out a survey reaching over 120,000 households so as to be able to map wellbeing across its 81 provinces. In several states across Australia, wellbeing is being assessed for every single child at school. In Ecuador, the 2008 constitution incorporates the concept of Buen Vivir (good living) as their model of development (in opposition to a focus on economic growth) and the statistics department there is busy trying to measure this objective. The tiny Pacific state of Vanuatu, that came top of the first Happy Planet Index in 2006, has started collecting wellbeing data. And in Mexico itself, as well as an impressive network of citizen-led local initiatives measuring wellbeing, the official statistics office published the results of a large scale survey which has allowed them to assess wellbeing across all the 31 states, and explore the relationship between subjective wellbeing and material conditions.

Presenters were beginning to link wellbeing evidence to clear policy implications. Not just academics and think tanks, but political actors as well. UK MP David Lammy talked about supporting active transport, and arts and culture education. Aristoteles Sandoval, the Governor of Jalisco, the state Guadalajara is part of, talked about the need to reduce inequality (as indeed did almost everyone at the event). Sangheon Lee, from the International Labour Organisation highlighted new evidence that job quality does not need to come at the cost of job quantity.

And mechanisms are beginning to be put in place to ensure new data is considered in policy decisions. In Israel, the Ministry for Environmental Protection, Central Bureau of Statistics and Economic Council are creating a structure of wellbeing indicators which government ministers will be held to account on. In Finland, the Prime Minister’s office is identifying 25-30 indicators on five key themes with the same purpose.

The What Works Centre, which is of course one of the UK’s mechanisms for getting wellbeing data used, was well represented at the conference.  Chair Dr. Paul Litchfield spoke on a plenary panel about behaviour insights (I also chaired the session). Lord Richard Layard, who leads the cross-cutting evidence programme, spoke at a session on the importance of subjective wellbeing for the sustainable development agenda.  And Lord Gus O’Donnell, Patron of the What Works Centre, spoke at a plenary session on how alternative indicators were already being used in policy.

Slowly but surely, wellbeing is getting into policy.  The UK is making important contributions to this global movement, but there’s a lot we can learn from elsewhere too.  The What Works Centre will be keeping an eye on all this to make sure we do know what works to improve wellbeing.

Transforming policy changing lives – a view from the 5th OECD World Forum

OECD world forumThe OECD (partners on our cross-cutting evidence programme) held it’s 5th World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge and Policy last week with a focus on action and implementation.

Bringing together examples of policies, frameworks and institutions that are using new well-being measures around the world it looked to answer the question evolving from “How do we measure progress?” to “How do we best put those measures into practice for policies aimed at improving lives?”.

videos of all the forum sessions.

Our Chair, Dr Paul Litchfield reflects on the forum below.


PaulLitchfieldI have just attended the 5TH OECD World Forum on Statistics, Knowledge & Policy held in Guadalajara, Mexico.  The event drew some 1,400 representatives from around the world to discuss wellbeing and how measures are being used to drive a new approach to setting and evaluating policy.

For me, the event signalled a step change in attitudes.  Multiple examples were showcased of how a focus on wellbeing is transforming lives and, critically, a succession of political leaders articulated how they are now placing the concept at the heart of what their administrations are seeking to achieve.  Inevitably at an event with a strong focus on statistics, measurement featured strongly but it was refreshing to hear that most people are moving beyond dry debates about definitions and methodologies to focus on action and implementation.  The broad range of backgrounds evident among the speakers reflected the potential strength that is available through multidisciplinary collaboration.  However, there are many residual silos of expertise that will compromise rapid progress unless we learn each other’s languages, adapt to each other’s ways of thinking and respect evidence gathered in a manner different to our own conventions.

The programme featured a number of inspirational interventions but, as ever, Joseph Stiglitz’s contribution stood out for its coherence, gravitas and challenging messages.  The evidence presented to show the rise in inequalities that we have experienced in recent times was sobering.  Similarly the observation that the impact on human capital of the economic crisis has been underrepresented was compelling and the lifelong loss of training and skills acquisition resulting from high levels of youth unemployment must be a major cause for concern.

On a more positive note, the demonstration of how “big” and crowd sourced data can be used to supplement traditional collection methods was stimulating.  The elegant presentation by Johannes Eichstaedt of the strong predictive power of language used in social media to identify risk factors for disease and the optimum areas for intervention was truly exciting for a physician trained long before Twitter and other applications had been conceived.  The point was well made however that such sources are by nature ephemeral and cannot therefore be relied upon for the longitudinal studies that add so much to our knowledge.OECDvideo

The What Works Centre for Wellbeing was well represented with Gus O’Donnell, Richard Layard and Saamah Abdallah all speaking from the platform.  I took the opportunity in the panel session to which I contributed to describe the work of the Centre and to set that in the context of the What Works Network and the behavioural insights movement in general.  Our work attracted considerable interest and there is undoubtedly potential for future collaboration with a number of bodies from around the world.

We are recruiting…..

We are currently recruiting for a Project Manager post.2903577 What Works Banner Stand V0_2.indd

→Full details on our Work for us page. 

The appointment will be full time and is available from November 2015 for 1 year from start date with the possibility of an extension. The deadline for receipt of applications is 5pm on Friday, 16th October 2015.  

Please submit your application and cover letter by email info@whatworkswellbeing.org 

Shortlisted candidates will be notified by 23rd October and interviews will be held on Tuesday, 3rd November

Project Manager job and application details

Mental health day and wellbeing

October 10th is the 23rd World Mental Health Day hostedWMHD_report_2015_cover
by the World Federation for Mental Health.

Mental health is a key determinant of our wellbeing, from adult mental health and employment, child mental health, dementia to the promotion of mental health.

The wellbeing research and data give a good indication of where we can make a difference if we are serious about improving our wellbeing. Enhancing wellbeing is a key intermediate outcome in a preventative approach to policy and leads to other positive outcomes.

From the research and data we can formulate our priorities for improving wellbeing:

 Followed by:
2. Social relationships, social support and communitiesPositive social relationships at home and work have a significant impact on our wellbeing. Neighbourhood belonging is particularly low in the UK.
3. Prosperity – Sustainable, stable growth and good work. Money does matter, especially up to a certain point, but has diminishing returns. Most things, including a pay rise, don’t have a sustained impact on wellbeing but being unemployed for more than a year does have a sustained negative impact.
4. Childcare, early years, work life balance. Life-satisfaction, good mental health and wellbeing in adult-life is strongly influenced by the development of strong mental health, social and emotional skills in childhood. UK is lowest on sense of vitality in Europe.
Levels of wellbeing vary across the life course, dipping in the mid teenage years, at midlife, and again among the oldest old.  There are ways to cushion the impact of this dip and these will have an impact on other things we care about too like health, work and crime.
→Mental health is a key priority in improving our wellbeing, and we should support evidence-based approaches and interventions that can add to the evidence.
→Here’s on our patron, Lord Gus O’Donnell on Why we must stop ‘spending on failure’ with mental health.

→The theme of this years WMHD is Dignity in Mental Health.wfmhlogo

 “Dignity” is a word that has a number of meanings, none of them precise—but we all recognize dignity when we see it, and more importantly, we recognize the lack of it when it’s absent

→ You can support on Facebook and Twitter and also join Thunderclap to donate your status update on October 10 using #WMHD

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