Creating a Mindful Workplace: An Interview with Aetna's Former Chief Mindfulness Officer, Andy Lee

_BL00 - Creating a Mindful Workplace An Interview with Aetna's Former Chief Mindfulness Officer, Andy Lee

In this interview, Mo Edjlali, Founder of Mindful Leader, engages in a compelling conversation with Andy Lee, former Chief Mindfulness Officer at Aetna, about the integration of mindfulness into the workplace. This interview covers a range of topics, including Andy's personal mindfulness journey, the infusion of mindfulness into Aetna's culture, the pivotal role of Mindfulness Advocates, and more. Through this dialogue, we gain insights into Aetna's journey to overcome barriers and make mindfulness accessible to its employees, yielding impressive outcomes. In this article, we highlight the key takeaways from this exchange.

A Mindful Leader's Impact at Aetna

Leading the charge in cultivating a deeply ingrained mindfulness culture at Aetna, one of the largest health insurance companies, Andy Lee brought a wealth of expertise in organizational psychology, human resources, and mindfulness to his former role as Chief Mindfulness Officer. His emphasis on blending mindfulness practice, teaching experience, corporate acumen, and research insights proved essential in driving effective change within the corporate landscape.

Mindfulness: Personal Transformation Unveiled

Andy's journey with mindfulness began in 1999, introduced during his tenure at Capital One. However, it was a period of personal and professional tribulations that triggered a transformative realization of the necessity to attune closer to life's decisions and experiences. This pivotal shift marked the genesis of his unwavering commitment to mindfulness practice, which has since played a profound role in shaping his life.

The Genesis of a Mindful Workplace

Aetna's voyage into mindfulness commenced a decade ago when CEO Mark Bertolini, seeking solace from chronic pain following a near-fatal skiing accident, turned to mindfulness. This profound encounter prompted the organization to explore mindfulness as a conduit to enhance employee well-being and performance. A 10-week virtual mindfulness program was launched, yielding remarkable results. However, the challenge lay in translating individual benefits into a collective cultural transformation.

Mindfulness in Motion: Aetna's Holistic Approach

To bridge the gap between individual practice and cultural assimilation, Andy Lee orchestrated a multifaceted approach at Aetna:

  • Education and Normalization: By defining mindfulness as "attending to the present moment with openness and curiosity," Aetna demystified mindfulness, highlighting its role in fostering awareness and clarity, beyond mere relaxation.
  • Mindfulness Advocates: The establishment of a network of Mindfulness Advocates, employees trained in mindfulness, transformed them into valuable resources. They facilitated group sessions, provided guidance, and championed a mindful work environment.
  • Tailored Content: Aetna devised bespoke mindfulness content, harnessing internal resources to craft educational materials, guided practices, and courses, catering to diverse mindfulness approaches.
  • Sustained Engagement: Initiatives like month-long mindfulness resource campaigns, featuring weekly themes and corresponding resources, along with guided mindfulness practice sessions, ensured regular engagement.
  • Research and Measurement: Aetna underscored research's pivotal role in substantiating the business case for mindfulness. This approach aligned with the clinical and research-oriented nature of the organization, spotlighting how mindfulness contributes to stress reduction and other business outcomes.

Overcoming Enrollment Barriers Through Integration

Andy acknowledged Aetna's initial misstep in offering a basic 90-minute mindfulness course solely on the internal intranet site, resulting in lower-than-anticipated enrollment. Recognizing the need for a shift, the team integrated the course into the learning management system, placing it alongside other vital courses. This strategic move exponentially increased enrollment, with each session accommodating over 50 participants. This experience underscores the power of integration and accessibility in fostering broader participation.

Crafting Inviting Mindfulness Spaces

An additional challenge Aetna faced was ensuring that physical mindfulness spaces were not only accessible but also enticing for all employees. Recognizing that having a mindfulness room alone might fall short if its use remained unclear, the company embarked on efforts to make the space more inviting. This encompassed broadcasting practices during key hours and displaying informative content on AV systems. These strategies aimed to eliminate perceived barriers and embolden employees to explore mindfulness practices confidently.

The Mindfulness Challenge: A Testimony of Success

A standout achievement for Aetna is the "mindfulness challenge," a program designed to immerse employees in mindfulness practices. Each Monday, participants receive an email containing an array of mindfulness resources: educational videos, guided practices, work tips, and external articles. The program's impact has been resounding, leading to an 18% stress reduction, elevated engagement survey scores, improved retention rates, and enhanced performance ratings.

Mindfulness as Strategic Bedrock

The interview also delved into how mindfulness was seamlessly integrated into Aetna's overarching business strategy. Positioned within the company's health and clinical services, mindfulness reported to the chief medical officer. This strategic placement ensured mindfulness permeated both employees and external stakeholders, establishing it as an integral facet of Aetna's holistic well-being offerings.

Fusion of Digital Accessibility and Community Nurturing

Concluding the interview, the conversation shifted towards infusing mindfulness practices into digital resources and fostering a sense of community. Simple strategies, such as commencing meetings with a one-minute pause, proactively encouraged employees to weave mindfulness into their daily routines. Furthermore, fostering a sense of accountability and camaraderie among employees played a pivotal role in nurturing a culture of mindfulness.

Final Thoughts

Aetna's journey in embedding mindfulness programs exemplifies the transformative potential of these practices in the corporate sphere. By addressing accessibility hurdles, crafting engaging spaces, and introducing innovative initiatives such as the mindfulness challenge, Aetna serves as a testament to the positive ripple effects of mindfulness on employee well-being, engagement, retention, and overall performance. As mindfulness continues its evolution as a cornerstone of workplace well-being, Aetna's approach stands as an invaluable guide for organizations aspiring to unlock its myriad benefits.

What are your thoughts on Aetna’s integration of mindfulness? Has your organization begun implementing mindfulness? Tell us your thoughts below!

Andy Lee, Mindful Leader CWMF Instructor, Founder Mindful Ethos, former Chief Mindfulness Officer, Aetna, will be speaking at the 2023 Mindful Leader Summit, and he is teaching our Fall Certified Workplace Mindfulness Facilitator (CWMF) program.

Want to see more insightful talks from Mindful Leader? Visit our YouTube page to watch more and make sure to subscribe so you never miss a new one! 


Chris Kenny

Great interview and good job summarizing the key points in this article. Since Mr. Lee is identified as Aetna's "former" Chief Mindfulness Officer, has Aetna continued with someone in that role? Is the company still seeing employees embrace the mindfulness practices that Mr. Lee brought to the company? Are the statistics regarding stress levels, engagement, retention, and overall performance still trending in the right direction?

Read more
Read less
David Forbes

We're proud that our union, PSC-CUNY, and the activists in the NYC Retirees, have so far defeated the attempt of the city to switch us to privatized, for-profit health care under the Aetna corporation, which we call Medicare Disadvantage, at the expense of public Medicare. Healthcare should be for everyone and not for private profit. You're not going to convince us that a private company is more interested in health care for all rather than private profit, as evidenced by the regulating and in some cases turning down of medical procedures prescribed by doctors for their patients. This article shows a disinterest in making mindfulness engaged and relevant to people's lives and clearly favors the status quo of corporatized health care--all their mindfulness doesn't change the basic inequitable power structure of health care. I hope you do better.   

Read more
Read less

Leave a comment