Meditation: a solution for improving employee health and well-being

Monday, June 16, 2014

Whether to manage stress, take a step back or simply recharge, more and more managers and employees in Canada are practising meditation in the workplace. Major American companies like Google, General Mills, eBay, Nike, Target and Twitter have already introduced the practice, organizing workshops and conferences to promote “mindfulness meditation” among its staff. Even the US Army uses it, aptly calling it “Mind Fitness Training.” Because that’s exactly what it is: a sort of workout that strengthens your brain, making it fitter and less prone to anxious thoughts.

What the research has shown

Just last year, 400 scientific articles were published on the positive effects of meditation. That should make the skeptics sit up and take notice! Although there are a number of myths associated with meditation, and it’s sometimes perceived as a strictly religious or esoteric practice, it’s really just some basic techniques to help calm people. Research has shown that regularly practicing meditation increases neuroplasticity, reduces levels of cortisol (a hormone linked to stress), improves concentration, reduces blood pressure, alleviates depression and strengthens the immune system.

Improved well-being and lower healthcare costs

Meditation in the workplace has a long list of benefits: better stress management; increased creativity and empathy; improved health and teamwork; better mood and less anxiety (all sources of numerous health problems). Some people have also reported that it has made them more open to change and more resilient.

In addition to its health benefits, there is evidence that meditation reduces employee absenteeism and turnover, increases work satisfaction and alleviates depression.

So it’s in a company’s best interest to let their employees know about the benefits of meditation and promote it in the workplace, especially since it’s easy to practice, costs virtually nothing and is accessible to everyone.

An approach that’s perfect for the workplace

Mindfulness mainly involves concentrating on your thoughts, emotions and breathing, and observing the way they affect your experience of the present moment—without analyzing or judging them. With regular practice, you can develop deeper self-awareness, which helps you stay focused on your priorities and values.

You can find mindfulness audio and video resources online.

How to promote meditation in the workplace

It’s easy to promote the benefits of meditation to employees. You could invite a speaker to talk about the scientific evidence that supports meditation or offer a professionally-led introductory workshop or a full program that employees can sign up for if they’re interested (a lunch and learn, for example).

You could then introduce a few ways to make it easier for employees to practice, such as a common room they could use whenever they felt the need. You could also put up posters or distribute leaflets explaining the steps for a specific easy-to-learn meditation technique. Another idea would be to provide a list of resources such as books, CDs, MP3s, mobile apps (like GPS for the Soul and HeadSpace), Internet addresses for online meditation or the contact information for reputable local organizations.

Practicing meditation requires a lot of discipline, though. It would be wrong to say that just one talk or workshop would be enough to convince employees to practice regularly. Managers who want to promote meditation or mindfulness in the workplace should first practice it themselves, because if employees notice the positive changes in their manager, they’ll be more likely to do it too.

Benefits for managers

Managers who’ve made meditation a daily practice say that, after doing it for awhile, their intuition had improved, they were making better decisions, they’d become better listeners and they were working better with others.1

Pitfalls to avoid

It’s important not to make meditation mandatory for employees; you have to let them do it because they want to, not because they have to, as it’s a very personal process. Even if meditation has a potentially positive impact on productivity, the main goal should be to improve workplace wellness. You should also avoid any kind of “us and them” attitude that would divide employees into two groups—those who meditate and those who don’t. That’s why it’s better to stress right from the start that it’s not a religious practice, but rather basic training for the mind.

Where, when and how

You don’t need any special accessories to meditate and you don’t have to belong to a meditation group. You can practise on your own, sitting on a chair or on the floor. You can meditate in silence or listen to a guided meditation session online, on CD, MP3 or using a mobile app. Some people meditate in the morning, while others prefer to do it on their lunch break or in the evening. It’s up to everyone to choose the best time for them. What’s important is that you meditate for 10 to 15 minutes every day, if you can.

A win-win situation for everyone

Employees who are happier, healthier, more creative and engaged will bring more to the company, especially if managers have also bought-in to the idea and integrated certain principles into the company’s values and culture. They’ll then be better able to drawn on the energy of their employees to achieve a balance that will benefit not only the company but also employees and their families.

Meditation in Canadian organizations

Meditation isn’t yet as popular in the Canadian workplace as it is in the US, but many organizations are interested in it, including the Montreal Heart Institute’s Centre de médecine préventive et d’activité physique); Université Laval’s Faculty of Business Administration, which offers the mindfulness-based Complexity, Consciousness and Management Program; and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, which runs a mindfulness program adapted for the business world. Université du Québec à Montréal’s Groupe de recherche et d’intervention sur la présence attentive, an interdisciplinary team of researchers and clinicians whose work focuses on mindfulness, conducted a study of two major Quebec organizations, which concluded that meditation reduces employee anxiety, improves their well-being and increases their clients’ satisfaction. The University of Calgary, offers an eight-week stress-reduction program for cancer patients through the Tom Baker Cancer Centre, while the human resources department at the University of British Columbia offers a six-week Mindfulness at Work program. Community organizations, hospitals, elementary schools (especially those in BC) and even prisons also use meditation.

SOURCES

Gelles, David. “The Mind Business,” Financial Times (August 24, 2012).
Hochman, David. “Mindfulness: Getting Its Share of Attention,” New York Times (November 1, 2013)
Macdonald, Cynthia. “The Science of Mindfulness,” University of Toronto Magazine (March 20, 2014).
Pickert, Kate. “The Mindful Revolution,” Time magazine (February 3, 2014).
Poitras, Lucie. “Les bienfaits de la méditation au travail” [“The Benefits of Meditation in the Workplace”], Affaires RHI.

RECOMMENDED READING

Chaskalson, Michael. The Mindful Workplace: Developing Resilient Individuals and Resonant Organizations with MBSR. Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
Bondolfi, Guido (spring 2004). “Les approches utilisant des exercices de meditation de type ‘mindfulness’ ont-elles un rôle à jouer?” [“Do Approaches that Use Mindfulness-based Meditation Exercises Have a Role to Play?”] Santé mentale au Québec, vol. 29, no. 1, p. 137–145.
Goldstein, Simeon “Être plus zen : la meditation en milieu de travail” [Be more Zen: Meditation in the Workplace], Avantages (February 1, 2013).
Newbigging, Sandy C. Mind Calm – The Modern Day Meditation Technique That Gives You “Peace With Mind”, Hay House, 2014.

1To hear managers, including the founders of Facebook, Twitter and eBay, talk about their experiences with meditation, go to wisdom2summit