Mindfulness in the workplace: How building a culture of mindfulness can elevate your people and your business

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You’ve probably heard about meditation, or mindfulness. You might even be aware that some companies like Google, Nike, Apple have implemented mindfulness programs. Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff credits mindfulness meditation as a key to his success, and the company offers mindfulness training and meditation rooms.

The mindfulness training at SAP was taken by 6,500 of its employees and the company has seen a 200 percent return on investment, with the training leading to a rise in employee engagement and a fall in absenteeism.

The health insurance company Aetna trained 13,000 employees on mindfulness practices, and saw reported stress levels decline by 28%. The company also estimates annual productivity improvements at $3,000 per employee.

And while I don’t have any metrics to share about my personal experience with mindfulness, I do feel that mindfulness practices have helped me to become more self-aware and calmer. As a result, I’ve become more engaged in my works and better at dealing with distractions and stress.

So mindfulness sounds great in theory, but how do you get started?

What is mindfulness?


At its core mindfulness means being in the present moment and engaged, aware of what is occurring in your mind and in your surroundings without judgement, and with an attitude of openness and curiosity. With mindfulness comes greater self-awareness and better decision-making.

“Beginner’s mind” is a term often used in mindfulness training, and involves considering every moment and interaction as if it was the first time. When people operate from past conditioned behaviors without consideration of each party involved, conflicts and resentments tend to arise.

Having a beginner’s mind informs my management style. I’m trying to listen deeply, and the beginner’s mind is informing me to step back, so that I can create what wants to be, not what was. I know that the future does not equal the past. I know that I have to be here in the moment.
Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce.com

Meditation focused on the rise and fall of the breath is the tool used most often for cultivating mindfulness. Meditation helps to bring us back to the present moment, strengthening our ability to focus and decreasing mind wandering.

Other tools and techniques include guided body scans, exercises incorporating the five senses, single-tasking (instead of multi-tasking), mindful eating, and mindful observation of one’s immediate environment. Some companies practice mindfulness by starting every meeting with a minute of silent attention to the breath.

Many of today’s mindfulness programs such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) were derived from Buddhist meditation practices and have been backed up by neuroscience over the years. Another example, the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, was developed at Google by a team of experts in mindfulness, neuroscience and emotional intelligence.

Benefits of mindfulness in the workplace

There’s no doubt that today’s employees are stressed. Nearly two-thirds of professionals say their stress levels at work are higher than they were five years ago, according to a Korn Ferry survey. And just this year, “burnout syndrome” relating to workplace stress was recognized as an official medical diagnosis. Stress often leads to workplace injury, disease, increased absenteeism and high healthcare costs.

On top of stress, employee disengagement affects productivity. According to Gallup, only 34% of employees are engaged, the majority (53%) are not engaged, and 13% are actively disengaged.

Mindfulness training can be an affordable cornerstone in your company’s employee wellness program. According to various studies, mindfulness has been shown to:

  • Enhance task performance through greater focus
  • Increase job satisfaction
  • Reduce workplace stress
  • Increase innovative thinking
  • Enhance employee engagement
  • Reduce healthcare costs
  • Reduce absenteeism
  • Improve quality of sleep

Our always-on technology has created unrealistic expectations of workers, and made multitasking the norm when the brain can’t successfully multitask. Self-awareness brought on by mindfulness also extends to awareness of others and their needs, improving empathy.

Building a culture of mindfulness

Rising stress levels and conflict in the office makes bringing mindfulness to your organization sound like a no-brainer. Some of the ways a culture of mindfulness can benefit the day-to-day working environment include:

  • More effective communications and customer service through attention to other’s needs
  • More harmonious social relationships resulting from reduced reactivity to events
  • More innovative products through increased attention to customer needs during the development process
  • More effective decision-making that takes into account company values and long term goals

Ultimately, mindfulness entails adopting a new approach to work focused on increasing self-awareness for each individual (about strengths, weaknesses, physical and mental state) and becoming mindful of the impact of one’s decisions, actions, and words.

How to get started with mindfulness at your company

Like any employee-wide initiative, it will take some time to evaluate your options and chose a plan of action that’s right for your group. Here are five steps to get started:

1.Know your why
The first step to bringing mindfulness to your company is to define why your company is doing it. Take stock of the issues that are most apparent in your current company culture so that when you need to gather support for the investment, it will be an obvious choice.

Is your organization facing

  • Employee burnout?
  • Low employee engagement?
  • Poor communication among team members, or between teams?
  • A need for innovative thinking to stay ahead of the competition?
  • High turnover?
  • Other issues?

Map these issues to the proven benefits of mindfulness, and keep them in mind as you move forward.

2. Gather a team of mindfulness advocates
It’s hard to sell mindfulness if you haven’t tried practicing it yourself, so start today. Meditation has become quite popular, and there are likely several people at your company who already do it. Find them. A mindfulness champion on the leadership team will also be essential to your program’s success. Some companies start with teaching mindfulness to leaders and eventually roll a program out to all employees.

3. Research training options
Your pilot team may want to experiment with several options for bringing mindfulness to your staff.

  • In-person training: there are likely trained mindfulness practitioners and/or organizations in your area who are available for on-site training. Consider day-long seminars or weekly sessions. These can be local providers or well being consulting firms like Thrive Global.
  • Apps: Some popular meditation apps such as Calm and HeadSpace offer corporate subscriptions. Course-based mindfulness offerings like Whil are specifically geared toward companies.

As always, be sure to make the program optional for employees. Some may be initially resistant but may eventually be won over when they see the change in those who participate.

4. Create a meditation space or spaces
Space for meditation is part of a thoughtful workplace design. Meditation space can entail a larger room for a group to come and sit mindfully, or a series of smaller rooms that can be used to recharge. Some companies use 1-person meditation pods that can be placed in a designated area. Find what works with your space and budget.

5. Define a measurement strategy
If you already conduct employee surveys, you’ll have a baseline for employee satisfaction. If you conduct on-site training, be sure to track participation and survey employees when it’s over. Some of the apps give you access to usage metrics. Also consider adding questions on your regular employee surveys related to mindfulness.

Review your metrics on a regular basis and use participant feedback to adjust your plan as you go.

Conclusion: Mindfulness at work works

Work gets done in the present. When your employees aren’t thinking about the past or their next vacation, and aren’t emotionally charged by workplace dynamics or events at home, they can bring their full selves to every task.

Meditation practices have evolved over centuries in monastic communities all over the world and now science is catching up. The benefits of these easily accessible practices are proven.

Implementing a mindfulness program could provide your employees with just what they need to focus better, create breakthrough innovations and happier customers.

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