In many ways, introducing an effective and sustainable mindfulness or meditation program presents the same challenges as any other corporate change initiative: It requires “leadership buy-in, resources to support the effort, and actually changing the habits of your team,” said Jason Apollo Voss, who created a meditation guide for the CFA Institute, a global association of 160,000 investment professionals, in an interview with CMO.com.
CMO.com talked to digital business leaders and experienced trainers about how to successfully integrate mindfulness and meditation programs into corporate settings.
1. Demystify mindfulness: Start by addressing any misconceptions about mindfulness and meditation processes. Choosing the right language with which to talk about the initiative can help.
“We translate the teachings of mindfulness and emotional intelligence into business language, metaphors, examples, and cases,” said Laurie J. Cameron, author and certified mindfulness teacher, who incorporates data-driven, evidence-based practices and exercises in her corporate mindfulness programs. “Hard science offsets the fear of mindfulness being the ‘soft-stuff’ or too esoteric.”
Many employees of National Vision Administrators had never even heard of mindfulness when the program was introduced. “Education first was a must,” said NVA CEO and president David Karlin. “Once employees understood the purpose of mindfulness and its connection to our work, they were willing to give it a try.”
2. Start at the top: While grassroots mindfulness efforts can have some success, sustainable programs require high-level commitment and investment.
“Mindfulness begins with leadership,” said Dr. Leah Weiss, who teaches compassionate leadership at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business. told CMO.com. “The best way to introduce mindfulness and/or meditation into a company or organization is to train leaders in mindfulness and compassion. When leadership sets the bar or example, employees will follow suit.”
3. Create a network of champions: Many of the most successful corporate mindfulness and meditation initiatives can be traced back to one individual who had experienced the benefits of the practice in their personal lives and sought out like-minded individuals at work to help launch a corporate program.
“It is usually not hard to find leaders at all levels who have a meditation practice already or are very interesting in taking on a change catalyst role in making it happen,” Cameron said. “Find and enroll these champions, bringing them along first, and having them become sponsors and advocates of change.”
4. Bring in the experts: Individual mindfulness advocates are a great foundation, but a successful program requires the skills of those capable of educating the workforce on the concepts and guiding them in mindfulness and meditation practices.
When Peter Bostelmann, director of the Global Mindfulness Practice at SAP, was first interested in piloting a program at the technology vendor, he brought in the team that had helped create the Search Inside Yourself program at Google to get it started. Several years later, SAP now has developed its own competencies in running the program.
5. Know your audience: When selecting third-party experts or advocates, look for those with cross-functional expertise not only in mindfulness and meditation but in the business environment in which you operate.
“There are a lot of people hanging out the ‘mindfulness teacher’ shingle these days,” Cameron said. “We only use people who have walked in our clients’ business shoes—who understand the nuances of deadlines, making the numbers, serving professional clients, and internal politics and change.”
6. Offer options: “While many want mindfulness programs in their workplace, it can be challenging to get employees away from their work to take time for themselves,” said Suzanne Dawson, chief customer officer at YogaWorks. But once they attend, the benefits are immediately noticeable and they typically come back, she said.
Giving employees the ability to select the level of time commitment and engagement they are comfortable with also encourages greater participation.
“We offer keynotes, workshops, full-day programs, and a full, three-level journey that is run for cohorts over a two-month period,” she said. “It is hard to commit to longer sessions, yet once people experience the transformative power of mindfulness, they are interested in making space for the deeper dive.”
7. Create communities of practice: While mindfulness and meditation can be practiced individually, most experts recommend in-person training and on-group practices for greater effectiveness.
“Meditations are not meant to be done alone, in isolation as a part of some self-help project,” said meditation teacher Jona Genova. “When we face difficult emotions alone on the cushion, without the right support or responsive instruction that’s only available when meeting with an expert in real time, we are forced into feeling more isolated, alone, depressed, or anxious. Or our meditation becomes a practice of avoidance and further packing in of feelings that wish to be heard if we want to move forward.”
8. Make the practices actionable: Like any other tool, if mindfulness and meditation are not easy to incorporate into their work routines, employees will reject them.
“The biggest challenge is always finding the micro-practices for people and teams to engage in that fit within the structure of their already busy days,” said Prakash Venkataraman, who incorporates mindfulness into his executive and team coaching at LinkedIn.
Even five minutes of daily meditation can improve brain function and a sense of well-being, YogaWorks’ Dawson added. Helping employees understand how to integrate the practices into their work lives and tracking the benefits increases the likelihood that workers will take advantage of them long term.
9. Give it time: Meditation, for example, can deliver instant benefits in the form of increased mindfulness or ease, but it’s not a quick fix or one-and-done exercise.
“Sure, we feel better and lighter after a meditation session, but this doesn't mean lasting results have been achieved,” Genova said. “Meditation rewires your brain—there’s lots of talk and research on this. With the right guidance and enough time, we open to our natural capacities of creative responsiveness, courage, stability, love, and energy that can move mountains.”