In recent years, major companies like Shell, Intel, General Electric, Apple, Nike, eBay, Ford Motor, and American Express have been providing their employees with mindfulness workshops and conferences led by Zen instructors. They offer subscriptions to apps like Calm Business, which is used by over 20 million employees in more than 3,000 organizations. These companies also offer yoga classes and provide “mindfulness rooms” accessible throughout the workday. Even Aetna, one of the largest insurance companies in the United States, reimburses its employees up to $300 a year for participating in mindfulness classes, a practice rooted in Buddhism.
Google was among the early adopters of introducing “mindfulness in the here and now” in the workplace. Laszlo Bock, the former Senior VP of HR at the tech giant, recounts in his book “Work Rules!” that, frustrated with unproductive, disorganized, and overly lengthy team meetings with poor decision implementation, he proposed trying meditation with his employees. He organized three sessions, which involved focusing on breathing, observing thoughts, and paying attention to emotions and the body. According to Bock, after this experiment, he noted that his employees were pleased with the effects of these exercises, and “the atmosphere seemed friendlier, and it was easier to reach agreements. In the following weeks, the meetings became more efficient and shorter.”
Since then, this practice has proliferated within Google, and it led to the creation of an external global program called SIYLY, or Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. This program has achieved remarkable success not only within the business world but also in broader contexts.
According to an article in Vox, “between 25 and 50% of multinational companies with over 500 employees have incorporated mindfulness into their human resources strategies, particularly in service-oriented companies, where it leads to a more friendly and efficient customer approach.”
Hassan Amar, a researcher at the University of Westminster, conducted a study involving a group of high-level English managers before and after their participation in a 12-week meditation program. The results revealed that this practice helped them become more mindful, emotionally intelligent, better at relating to their subordinates, and more inspiring. Amar noted, “Mindfulness enhances communication and empathy, fosters creativity and innovation, and does not reduce the workload but instead assists in managing our attention and responding more effectively, with greater awareness and adaptability in each situation.”
Additional studies have indicated that meditation enhances the well-being of employees at all organizational levels. It equips them with the capacity to comprehend their emotions, handle conflicts more effectively, and improve their relationships with colleagues.
This combination of advantages, according to experts, boosts productivity and efficiency while reducing absenteeism due to illness.
“Stress is regarded as the affliction of the 21st century, impacting nearly 25% of workers and often leading to anxiety and depression. Mindfulness, similar to physical exercise and a healthy diet, bolsters the overall health of those who consistently engage in it,” notes Javier García Campayo, a psychiatrist at Miguel Servet University Hospital.
Salvador Ibáñez, the country manager of the Top Employers Institute, an organization committed to “promoting best practices in workplaces” that provides mindfulness programs for companies, asserts that “through its implementation, companies allow their employees to enhance their concentration, make better decisions, and cultivate intelligent empathy. With a modest investment, workers perceive that they belong to an organization that cares about them and recognizes their value.”
Adecco, the world’s foremost HR organization, recently released a study that revealed that 65% of employees who underwent mindfulness training experienced an increased sense of calm and relaxation at work. Moreover, the study reported a remarkable 78% reduction in the number of days taken off due to anxiety, stress, and depression, accompanied by a substantial rise in productivity, estimated at around 20%.
For many individuals, the workplace is often the least conducive environment to find peace of mind, precisely because the demands of an increasingly stressful and competitive work setting can adversely affect psychological health.
Psychotherapist Miles Neale is a prominent critic of using meditation as a management tool and is credited with coining the term “McMindfulness.” This concept swiftly gained attention as a way to critique “mindfulness training in a fast-food style – akin to McDonald’s – which companies employ as an ostensibly quick and easy response to address stress.” According to Neale, marketing departments and profit motives have nurtured the more superficial aspects of meditation.
Ronald Purser, a management professor and Zen master, refers to McMindfulness as “the new capitalist spirituality.” Purser’s criticism extends to the fact that its integration into companies has not only spawned an industry worth over 300 million dollars but also contradicts the core principles of Buddhism, effectively transforming meditation into a tool that “greases the wheels of capitalism.”
Supporters of this practice contend that for it to genuinely and enduringly benefit the well-being and mental health of employees, and to transcend being a mere passing trend, it must be tailored to the specific context of each workplace. Management experts suggest that the evolution of mindfulness in the workplace should be akin to the trajectory followed by Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). When CSR first emerged in the early 2000s, it faced skepticism and was often regarded as a mere “marketing tool.” However, over time, this approach to a company’s relationship with its environment has matured and now stands as an integral part of the success of any organization.