Bringing Mindfulness to Work
By Mo Edjlali, Mindful Leader's President and Chief Community Organizer
In recent years, mindfulness has made tremendous strides into mainstream society. People are practicing it individually and bringing it into their organizations. Through my work at Mindful Leader I have encountered, advised, and learned from countless champions of mindfulness at the workplace across the globe and at companies of every size and industry.
If you are interested in bringing mindfulness to your organization, this short article is offered as a starting point to help you consider some of the challenges and prepare for launching a program. Initiating change of this sort in an organization can be very difficult and we still start by exploring two common mistakes that people make when attempting to do so: 1) making a weak case and 2) overhype and misrepresentation.
Making a Weak Case
The best organizations make good decisions by focusing on the projects that are aligned with their principles, values, and strategic goals. To justify starting a mindfulness program, you will need to make the case for how mindfulness at work connects with these factors underlying your organization’s day-to-day operations. Here are some things to consider.
Start with the Foundation of a Personal Practice
Having a strong personal mindfulness practice will help you speak with authenticity and with authority. The deeper your practice and the more your embody the work, the more likely people will believe in you and what you have to say. But meditating on your own isn’t about preparing to make a good pitch, but rather it enables you to connect to others on a human level and to model the benefits of meditation. Being a living, breathing example can cut through the hype.
It’s important to also get educated and connected. At the end of this article I’ll share some resources that I believe will be helpful in both getting more familiar with bringing mindfulness into the workplace and to connect with peers that are facing the same challenges. With a deep personal practice, an understanding of mindfulness in the workplace, and the support of community you will be most capable of to handle objections, to recruit allies, and represent this work at your organization. Simply being a meditator is not enough and connecting with others engaged in organizational change will help you take the next steps.
You can solidify your case with skeptics and others that might be hesitating by having examples of other organizations that have implemented mindfulness programs at work. Providing examples of well-known, well-respected organizations—along with organizations that most closely reflect your organizations size and industry—will help overcome fears and the sense of risk of taking something new on. It also depersonalizes it. It is not your pet project; it has been successful in other businesses. Some of the most well-known examples across a few industries include Google, General Mills, Aetna, and Bridgewater Associates. Many more examples exist, and with some research or reaching out to the Mindful Leadership community you will find an example suitable for your organization.
Science and Religion
It’s important to address the elephant in the room. Many people feel skeptical of mindfulness because its arrival in the West through Buddhism, and they are reluctant to meditate because it will make them “Buddhist.” Have open conversation to address any concerns people in your organization might have. I suggest acknowledging the Buddhist roots of mindfulness meditation and sharing the way many individuals and communities present mindfulness in a secular way, based on scientific evidence. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, created by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is a very well-known example of secular mindfulness and you can find some great resources at Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center website.
There has been a great deal of research on mindfulness and speaking about the neuroscience and sharing empirical data can help to get buy in by demystifying the benefits of the programs. Lastly, connecting mindfulness to emotional intelligence—a term many in the business world are already comfortable with—may help to create familiarity.
Every organization has problems. From the point of view of a decision-maker in your organization, they may be completely ideologically on-board with a mindfulness program at work, but they also need to consider it as a business decision. A mindfulness program can be relatively inexpensive, but it is important to consider its costs: paying a facilitator, the time people spend away from their normal tasks for the program, and so on. The creation of a sustainable program will require some funding, or at least the commitment from management to allow employees to use their work-time for meditation, and in order to justify that you will need to articulate how mindfulness helps solve a problem in your organization.
Are people stressed and not communicating well with each other? Are decisions being rushed or mistakes being made through inattentiveness? Is work-life balance or a holistic workplace important for your company? These cultural examples could have a tremendous effect on employee well-being and retention, as well as the quality of your product and the satisfaction of your customers.
Start identifying the organizational pain points. I have found they tend to fall into two main categories: wellness and productivity. Then look for clear budgets and metrics that support your case to address the pain point with the unconventional means of meditation.
But don’t omit the “soft” effects of mindfulness. The long-term influence of mindfulness supports a healthy workplace culture and helps individuals alleviate suffering. However business-minded your organization is, it still cares about these human effects. You will be successful if you give the right mix of a business argument and a human argument.
Overhype and Misrepresentation
It might seem odd to have the first mistake be “not making a good enough case” and the second mistake be “making too good of a case,” but hear me out. Don’t hire a “guru” who claims your team will have telekinetic powers and that profits come from vibration and light.
Both these mistakes come from not having confidence. The first mistake means you under-promise mindfulness because you lack confidence. The second mistake means you over-promise because you feel you have to in order to convince others. Most of what I said in the above section about how to make a strong case, will build your confidence. This second section is simply a warning not to go too far and to use due diligence in selecting the right training program.
The mindful leadership and mindfulness at work movement have had some great success and momentum. At this point, it has reached mainstream status. I am seeing that, as the movement matures, there is more critical examination of the science and its claims. Simply put, many of these claims have been overhyped and publication bias has only expounded the issue.
Perhaps it would be easy to launch a mindfulness program at your organization if you relied on over-exaggerated claims. Then again, if it sounds like you are promising a workplace utopia overnight, you are not likely to be taken seriously. If you want your program to be sustainable, it’s important to balance the expectations of organization’s stakeholders. Be conservative in your projections of the benefits and ROI on a mindfulness program to allow room for improvement and some space to reach your goals. Many of the most successful programs I’ve seen started as pilots and gained momentum from continuing to meet or beat expectations.
There is not an industry standard for a “mindfulness teacher.” With a lack of real standards and credentials, anyone can call themselves a mindfulness teacher. You must be thoughtful in selecting the training curriculum and providers. Look for recommendations and credible teachers who have experience working with organizations like yours. If you are interested in teaching meditation yourself, tread carefully. You might undermine your case if you are not properly trained. Lastly check in with your own intentions. Why are you doing this? If your intention is ego based or if you are using mindfulness in name only you will not find long term success.
I hope you found this article helpful and a good starting point as you consider the challenges in launching a mindfulness program in your organization. When creating anything new there will be setbacks and an emotional toll. Seek support and remember to practice what you are preaching. There has been a wonderful surge of excitement around mindfulness at work. There are many great organizations and opportunities for you to find communities, allies, and resources to best support you in the journey ahead.
Mo Edjlali is the President of Mindful Leader Inc., producers of the Mindful Leadership Summit. He is a serial entrepreneur and has over 20 years experience in management, technology, and marketing for start-ups, non-profits, F500 companies, and government agencies.
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