Well being: Expo 2020 staff learn how to switch off and de-stress

Staff at Expo 2020 have been practising mindfulness for up to 15 minutes a day as part of the company's Thriving Minds well-being programme.

Kimi Sokhi, the manager of employee engagement and well-being at Expo 2020 Dubai for the past year, says well-being is a “critical part” of the exposition’s preparations. Satish Kumar / The National
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Wouldn’t it be nice if your boss, instead of throwing new tasks your way as you walked in the door, insisted you stop and close your eyes for 10 minutes? That’s what is happening over at Expo 2020.

Employees working on the six-month-long exhibition at its Jebel Ali headquarters embarked on a 12-week Thriving Minds programme at the end of last year.

For an hour a week, 20 to 25 staff came together to talk about stress and resilience, productive thinking, values and emotional intelligence. They were asked to practise mindfulness each day for 10 to 15 minutes and to fill in a journal each week.

According to the World Health Organization, the cost of stress to American businesses is as high as US$300 billion, which means companies are sitting up and taking notice of ways to help staff.

US companies such as General Mills, Google, Merrill Lynch and Target have introduced mindfulness programmes to lower stress and improve focus among employees.

Kimi Sokhi, the manager of employee engagement and well-being at Expo 2020 Dubai for the past year, says well-being is a “critical part” of the exposition’s preparations.

“We need to be physically, emo­tionally and mentally ready for a six-month-long event, the size and scope of which the region has never seen before,” she says.

While the Expo is still three years away, Ms Sokhi says it is important that staff “stay hydrated, nourished and resilient under pressure” as they move from planning and strategy to execution and operation.

She hopes to lay “the foundations of good habits”, so they become “second nature” by the time the Expo gates open to an anticipated 25 million visits in October 2020.

Thriving Minds is about “increasing productivity through better self-management, self-awareness and mindfulness”, she says, with staff learning skills and techniques they can “apply to their daily lives, both in and out of the office”.

Emma Carbery, whose company The Workplace Yogi ran the programme, says that the lengthy course “enabled real learning and change to take place”.

Staff told her it helped them connect to their values, notice their trigger points and find joy. That has to be worth 10 minutes.

Q&A: Suzanne Locke investigates the benefits of mindfulness:

Is there a measured benefit to mindfulness?

The American health insurance firm Aetna runs free yoga and meditation classes, in which some 13,000 employees – over a quarter of the workforce – have participated. Some 28 per cent reported a reduction in stress, 20 per cent better sleep and 19 per cent a reduction in physical aches and pains. Aetna calculates that each employee gained 62 minutes of productivity a week.

Can long-term meditation really help?

In 1992, the Dalai Lama asked Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, to study the effects of kindness and compassion. Mr Davidson studied eight Buddhist practitioners, who had spent an average of 34,000 hours in mindful meditation. In MRI scans, he found their brainwaves worked differently when in a meditative state, allowing them to be more capable of change and more resilient.

What else has Expo 2020 done for wellness?

So far, Ms Sokhi – a former IT consultant and project manager in her native Canada – says she has run a Make or Break Challenge, to help staff break bad habits like high sugar and caffeine intake, and the Expo Games, aeam-building event that included table tennis matches and quizzes. Participants in the habits challenge were given desktop calendars to tick off each successful day; one woman cut her coffee intake from 20 to two cups a day.

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