Here are 20 valuable lessons to think about when implementing a meditation program in the workplace. Many of these insights are based on my learnings from leading a learning & development team for a Fortune 100. While I did not implement a meditation program during my time at that company, I learned a lot about the process of implementing new training programs within the corporate structure. And, here's how I think it would be successfully done within an organization.
1. Baseline the current state of stress in your company. Before you lay out a plan of where you want to go, first identify where you're coming from. See what your employees are already saying about work stress in your current employee survey. This will help you identify common themes and how a meditation program may help. In addition, this will give leaders some soundbites to tie back to your program rollout (e.g. we're doing this based on your feedback).
2. Gauge employee interest in meditation. Before investing in a program, it’s best to find out how much interest there actually is in your organization. While meditation offers many wonderful benefits, not everyone will be interested for one reason or another. Your employees are at varying levels in their journey of personal and professional development. These insights will help inform what type of resources are needed to implement a program. It’s not uncommon to have a small percentage of your employees actually express interest and complete coursework, of any kind.
3. Find the right meditation training partner. Take the time to interview various meditation training programs to see what's the right fit for your organization. How is the content delivered? What's actually in course material? How neutral and appropriate are any cultural or philosophical assertions in that material? What type of support does the partner provide to help you get the most out of the program?
4. Pay only for training content that gets consumed, not licensed/provisioned. The training industry is by and large a content licensing business. Unfortunately, a lot of licenses on software and on-demand content go unused at often a significant expense to the purchaser. There is a training funnel that employees go into when they engage with training. Let's assume you have 1,000 employees and are offering an on-demand module in your LMS or some other software being licensed to your employees. The training consumption funnel would look something like this:
This may vary by training program, but this gives you an idea how this works.
This funnel illustrates a few valuable lessons to leaders and procurement professionals:
1) People love the idea of learning more than learning itself. When trying to figure out how many employees to enroll in a program, be aware that many more employees will express interest in a program than will actually consume it. People like the idea of learning and being associated with ideas and concepts they feel align with their own values, and by verbalizing that need, it somewhat brings fulfillment, even if never completed (psychologists call this self-completion theory). The Japanese also have a wonderful word for this phenomenon, called: tsundoku, it means people who like to acquire books but never read them.
2) Blended learning ensures better consumption. This is why you need a blended learning approach in whatever training programs you offer; on-demand programs do fill a need, but students tend to fall off rather quickly without human interaction (live webinars, in-classroom training, private coaching, etc. ensure better consumption of training)
3) Negotiate a training deal that allows you to pay for consumption of content rather than mere provisioning--that's more of a win-win for everyone. Companies that license on-demand content and software generally want to collect payment between steps 1-3 in the above funnel. Your aim should be to pay on step 4, once you know it's getting used.
5. Alignment and customization. Many companies have a number of existing employee engagement and health and wellness initiatives, on top of corporate and department goals. Some organizations centrally manage everything, and others are decentralized. Implementation of a corporate meditation program works best when it falls into alignment with your existing programs and internal communication channels. To the extent possible, take an opportunity to integrate and customize your program to align with these activities—doing so will make your overall program stronger and allow employees to see the significance of the investment in their well-being.
6. Safety first. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, meditation is generally considered to be safe for healthy people. Your meditation program should advocate for healthy meditation practice, and help students understand what makes for a good meditation practice, and what may require additional support and guidance (e.g. deeper mental health issues).
7. Embrace diversity, be inclusive. A corporately driven program is expected to promote inclusion by respecting the values and beliefs of all its employees. There should be no philosophies or beliefs in a corporate program—just a framework based on the latest scientific research. However, it can be beneficial to acknowledge the rich heritage and history of meditation and the cultures and philosophies that have shaped its development for over two millennia. There is no one right way to meditate. There are many methods and techniques. And, it is for this reason students should be encouraged to personalize their meditations to align with their own values and beliefs.
8. Meet your employees where they are. Not every employee will be interested in meditation. Never force meditation onto an employee. Personal and professional development is often personal. Employees are more likely to make lasting change when they are part of designing the solution.
9. Leader buy-in. The support of your leadership team is critical to the success of your program. Leaders need to be educated on how meditation can benefit their teams. They also need to allow their teams the time and space to practice. This includes getting comfortable with observing employee behavior outside of traditional work norms (e.g. employee with head down, eyes closed, or employee who is unreachable for a few minutes to practice meditation).
10. Find your meditation champion. Implementing a meditation program in the workplace is more likely to be effective when it has the support of not only leadership, but an individual or group who can oversee the day-to-day success of the program. Finding an experienced meditator who has an interest in leading your program may be helpful. You could also leverage your training team or an employee involvement group (EIG) if you have one established.
11. Get the word out—communication is everything. When launching a new training program, communication is everything. Often, companies offer more training and activities than their employees even realize—it’s easy for things to get buried. Communication plans work best when they leverage a multi-channel approach and time and pace the communication to keep the information relevant and top of mind. Channels you may want to consider marketing your meditation program might include: company portal, department newsletters, learning & development collateral, health & wellness collateral, leader-team briefings, break room posters, lunch ‘n learn meeting, town hall sessions, and conference breakout sessions to name a few.
12. Training delivery. Most employees appreciate a blended approach to learning, simply because work fire drills can be common. Options that allow them to engage in flexible learning works best. This means delivering your course in multiple formats, like on-demand, live online (webinar), and in the classroom.
Some employees will meditate before or after work. Others will find tremendous value in doing their meditation at work. Give your employees the time and space to do their meditations individually and as a group--you’ll be glad you did. Meeting rooms and training rooms make great rooms to practice meditation.
13. Build opportunities for 1-on1 connection with peers. To keep your program active and vibrant, it’s important to build opportunities for 1-on-1 connection. Group meditation and group coaching allows employees to share their meditation experience as a collective and learn from each other.
14. Measure progress. Implementing a meditation program will bring about positive change across a number of dimensions (e.g. health, happiness, creativity, etc.). Many organizations have implemented quantitative and qualitative measures in their employee surveys to track the progress of meditation and stress management programs on employee well-being.
15. Build a culture that allows for moments of stillness. Run, run, run. That’s what it often feels like for employees the minute they cross the threshold of the office to the time they leave, and sometimes after they’re gone too. Finding ways to integrate stillness into some of your work activities may be incredibly fruitful, especially to activities like brainstorming sessions, off-sites, breakout sessions at conferences, workshops, etc. For example, if you’re going to host a brainstorming sessions about new product development, offer the attendees the opportunity to come 10 minutes early for group meditation—you may find this does wonders to the creative process.
16. Explore opportunities to integrate with your health plan, EAP, etc. Many health plans are actively engaging insurance members with proactive health and wellness solutions designed to promote healthy behavior—this helps keep healthcare cost down. Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) often makes referrals for employees who are seeking assistance with depression, anxiety, and stress. These channels may serve as good platforms to re-market your investments in stress management.
17. You don't have to do it all at once. Start with your LMS. Sometimes resources are tight around the office, and the idea of offering something new can be daunting, especially to your program managers who oversee day-to-day training activities. With meditation implementation, you don't have to do it all at once--it's an investment that you build over time--it will grow. The easiest way to get started is to at least get on-demand content added to your learning management system (LMS), and then build from there. However, meditation is a deeply human experience, and your employees will appreciate the option to connect 1-on-1 via a live virtual classroom or in-person.
18. Take credit and celebrate success. Your employees are constantly evaluating the investments you make in them—it shows up not only in your survey results, but in the overall morale. Take credit for the investments your company is making, and take time to celebrate your commitment to managing stress at work.
19. When you don’t have resources, then lean on a partner for a self-service option. If you don’t have any resources to implement a meditation program (time, budget, and/or headcount), then partner with a meditation training provider who can offer a self-service option to your organization via something like your employee discount portal or other special offers you market to your employees. Something is always better than nothing, and your employees will at least appreciate the opportunity that their employer has negotiated a special deal on their behalf.
20. Support multiple ways to manage stress beyond meditation. Meditation is just one way to relieve stress, but it’s not the only way. Stress management is not one-size-fits all. Take a holistic approach to stress management by advocating stress management through multiple initiatives. Companies who lead in stress management at work may offer things like a corporate fitness center, massage therapy, walking trails, sabbaticals, fun team activities, extended vacation time, etc. These initiatives all work together.
I've curated some of the latest stats & facts on work stress that organizations and their employees should consider as we head into 2018. Most of these stats are provided by the American Psychological Association from their 2017 Stress in America survey. It's a great survey that encompasses many domains of stress, in and outside of work.
Work stress is down, but still a leading cause of stress.
Since the financial crisis of 2007-2008, work stress has almost seen a 10 point reduction on the APA Stress in America study. The economy is more stable plus fewer layoffs since '08. However, we spend most of our waking day at work, so not a shock that it's still a leading source of stress.
Heavy workloads cause the most amount of stress at work.
ComPsych has been publishing a study over the years to measure the sources of stress at work. However, they only measure 4 things: workload, people issues, work-life balance, and job security (and they also rank in terms of most stressful in that order).
I wish this study was a little more broad in terms of the attributes it measures. It also appears they've made some changes to the categories measured recently by introducing an "other" category, which makes it difficult to determine some of the changes in what has been measured to date.
I do think many companies have made reorganization a frequent practice, and as a result, there's a lot of compression happening with job functions, especially as some of the older generations start to transition into retirement. It's not uncommon to hear employees say they feel like they're doing the work of several people.
Mental health among millennials is a growing problem.
Many senior leaders think their woes with managing millennials is attributed to generational gaps and new generational norms. This may be part of the issue, but mental health also seems to be a contributor as well.
Millennials experience more depression and anxiety at work than any other generation. Bensinger, DuPont & Associates (BDA) published these findings in their 2013 report on EAP in-take. But, if that doesn't scare you, then check out the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI). This study has been measuring depression/anxiety among young adults since the 1930s--and it's been a steady rise every since.
Companies need to get their hands around the issue, otherwise face rising health plan costs (and if those costs are passed back to the employee, then it's just a growing cycle of stress).
The other challenge for leaders is that mental health is somewhat amorphous when it plays out in the workplace, unlike other physical ailments. For example, if you break a leg, you get a cast, and it eventually heals. If you're dealing with depression and anxiety, the path to healing may not be so linear.
Technology, a blessing and a curse.
Technology has changed the way we live and work--but it may be coming at a price--our sanity. 20% of adults says tech is a significant source of stress and 43% identify as a "constant checker" (APA, 2017).
Tech has habituated us toward instant gratification, so when we have problems, we look for immediate answers. In the case of stress, we download the latest app--but it's not that easy.
There are tons of stress management tools being developed in the tech space. However, the intersection of tech and stress management, even with good intentions, may ultimately not serve us as well as we think.
Managing stress is about finding balance, and that can be hard to do within a platform that delivers a constant barrage of text messages, push notifications, phone calls, app updates, alerts, alarms, etc.
Thinking about another org change? Think again.
Workers who experienced a recent org change are 4x more likely to report physical health symptoms at work (APA, 2017).
Sometimes employees need is a little bit of stability in their work. Yes, businesses need to be able to adapt to market conditions, but when they change too frequently, you promote a culture of distraction. Employees should be focused on performing their best to serve the business, rather than being distracted by the uncertainty of the unknown.
Stress impacts the bottom line, tremendously
Occupational stress costs U.S. employers about $300 billion a year (APA, 2017). Let me say that again. $300 billion a year! If you're organization is only combing through profit margins and competitive responses, look a little closer to home. There may be significant costs savings by rethinking how you work as a company.
Companies who invest in their employees, financially outperform other companies
The Workwell study done back in 2014 on the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE) 100 index found that companies who prioritized employee engagement and well-being outperformed the rest of the index by a whopping 10%. Gallup has done similar studies on performance that had similar outcomes.
As a closing thought, I think the industry needs a standardized, long-term stress study done just on work stress. There have been many studies over the years, but most focus on a variety of stress types, and some are inconsistent in their application and findings. Such a study would help organizations with their planning of employee engagement and health and wellness initiatives. In addition, a study might provide transparency to potential job candidates on the stress impact across industries, companies, and job functions.
1. Meditation is uncomfortable and difficult, both mentally and physically.
It sure can be, depending on what you signed-up for. There are some programs out there that take a lot of rigor to do–ours is not one of them. You don't need to perform physical or mental acrobatics to meditate.
For busy professionals, you may find the techniques that promote a state of flow are most helpful, and here's why: 1) effortless to learn and practice, 2) relaxation happens quickly, 3) they offer deep insight on the ebb and flow of life and our lack of control over constant change. These insights in turn bring about a greater degree of acceptance and serve as a wonderful counterbalance to the working chaos so many professionals struggle with everyday.
Meditation techniques are not one-size-fits all, and neither is stress management. There are many ways to meditate and many ways to relieve stress. Your journey into stress management offers a lot of opportunity for exploration.
2. There's just no time.
That's like saying there's no time to eat candy, chocolate, or ice cream. If you never make time, you'll never have time. I know, I know, you're probably saying, that comment isn't even based in reality. Here's the good news. If you really only have 3 minutes a day to meditate–great, that's enough to get you started, and more than you did yesterday. In fact, 3 minutes a day for a year is 18 hours. Smells like progress!
But here's what's going to happen if you're really serious about meditation. You'll start to feel good. Then you'll ask, why am I enjoying this mental catnip for only 3 minutes and not the full 20? So 3 minutes turns into 5, and 5 into 10, and 10 in 20.
Everyone who starts out in meditation starts the same way. We all lament over the idea of how we'll ever fit this into our busy schedules. What you'll come to learn is that you have it backwards. Meditation will help you figure out your schedule and priorities, so you end up making it your #1 priority to help you figure out everything else. Why? Because in the stillness of the mind, we can solve a lot of things.
3. I don't have access to any space free from disruption or noise
A quiet space is great for meditation. However, one of the first lessons we learn in meditation is that we often have limited control of our environment. When we learn to accept things as they are, life just gets easier. As a result, meditators can meditate just about anywhere...airplanes, laundry mats, doctor's office, etc. However, I do appreciate that in the beginning, a quiet space does make a difference, especially as you're learning how to meditate. A conversation with family and co-workers about your goals may be helpful. And if not, maybe you can hijack your car, bathroom, or meeting room at the office as a meditation space.
4. If my company would make my workplace better, I wouldn't even need to meditate
Actually, you need to meditate because the nature of business isn't going to change anytime soon. Sorry. Work will continue to be crazy. The economy will continue to have ups and down. You'll continue to have role changes and new bosses. This will create stress. And yes, a lot of companies are making huge investments in employee engagement, health & wellness, etc. But here's the deal. Large institutions take time to change–they are slow to adjust their norms. You, on the other hand, can change today–and that's a powerful thing. Change sometimes works best when it's at a personal level rather than an organizational level (Julian Birkinshaw, Jordan Cohen, Making Time for Work That Matters).
5. It takes a long time to see the benefits
[Insert eye roll]. I too, wish meditation would deliver on all its promises as easy as Amazon Prime. We love instant gratification, and when we don't get it, we get frustrated. Not every facet of our collective, human experience can be reduced to an instant. At some point in our life, we have to seek meaningful connections with others and ourselves in order to grow. But, here's some good news to cheer you up. Many students see some pretty transformative changes rather quickly–like within weeks of starting a regular routine. And by transformative, I don't mean levitation.
6. The easiest way to meditate is through an app.
A partial answer to this myth can be found in myth #5 re: instant gratification.
Using guided meditations via smartphone apps may be a great way to get started–especially if you've really had no exposure to meditation. If you're making a long-term commitment to meditation practice, then this is probably not the most ideal solution.
The 2017 Stress in America Survey, administered by the American Psychological Association, cites that 1 in 5 Americans see technology and devices as a significant source of stress. And, that 43% of Americans identify as being "constant checkers" (e.g. always on their smart phones).
While our smartphones have made our lives easier in many ways–it comes at an incredibly disruptive price; via a never ending deluge of text messages, emails, push notifications, alerts, software updates, chats, calls, etc. The 2017 Stress in America study by the APA cites that 1 in 5 Americans view tech as a significant source of stress, and 43% identify as "constant checkers."
If you're looking to meditation for relaxation and personal growth, I don't know that using a meditation app on your smartphone is the best solution to help you find that balance.
And, this idea that relaxation can be "downloaded" just illustrates the impermanence of the solution and our obsession with what's trending. Meditation works best when it's treated as a habit, not a hobby or occasional interest or the latest shamwow.
Remember, meditation has been practiced for over two millennia without technology. The only thing you need to bring to your meditation practice is you.
7. Meditation is for hippies.
At one time, yes. Today, you'll find that many of the most successful people all have one thing in common–they meditate. Tim Ferris offered this discovery in his book, Tools of Titans. He says of the 200 high performers he's interviewed, about 80% practice meditation.
Science and research has brought meditation into the mainstream. And, we still have a long way to go to fully understand the connection between the mind and body. There have been many promising studies over the years, and universities like Harvard, Princeton, Georgetown, Columbia, and Emory have made significant commitments to integrate mind-body research into their academic and medical programs. The academic community is making these investments because there's more to be discovered...
So let's review the facts...
I'm picking up on a pattern here.
8. I read somewhere that there's no real benefit to meditation.
Me too. In fact, just about everything I've ever read has been contradicted by someone else. The information paradox we live in today is absolutely insane–especially in the science and research community. A scientific claim made this week will be contradicted next week. Take something as simple as chocolate for example. CNN recently published story on the medicinal history of chocolate over the last 500 years. And in that time, chocolate has been cited to alleviate everything from STDs to cancer. And guess what, much of that is now quackery, and we're still researching chocolate!
What makes this phenomenon even more challenging is that it often fuels ambivalent attitudes, and that really hurts our personal growth. We throw our hands up and say, "it's a wash." That's not good. What I do know is there are countless personal testimonies of its success from thousands of people all over the world. Meditation holds the title as the longest reigning personal development tool in human history. Doesn't that mean something? What does that tell us?
Socrates once said, "The only thing I know is that I know nothing," and I think those are words to live by; we should always be growing and learning. Information is fluid and changing. The only way you will know if meditation works for you is to try it. Period.
9. You can't learn meditation from a book.
Yes, you can, and many do. In fact, anytime I want to know something, I look it up in a book (or Google). Anything you could possibly want to know has been written about before.
However, I do think you are likely to stick with meditation when you have someone to guide you along the way. Plus, there's a wonderful community of meditators out there, and we like to socialize with and learn from each other. So getting involved will pay dividends over the course of your lifetime.
There are people who believe that meditation is a tradition passed from teacher to student, and that it can only be learned from a teacher (and sometimes through a ritual). I admire the desire for relationship and connectedness in the process (and I think they are important). However, if you can't afford to attend a meditation class, by all means, check out the books and other free resources to get you started.
10. Some techniques are better than others
Maybe, but not everyone responds the same to each technique. What's important is just starting the process to find what works for you. If you're basing that myth off some scientific research you read, then please see the answer to myth #8.
Meditation also has a lot of groupies–I love their passion. But, if you've ever belonged to a church, club, group, or association, then you're probably familiar with the rivalry that ensues as one group asserts their dominance over another. Meditation has a lot of strong followers who are passionate about their practice and the programs they follow. However, no matter how strong their opinions or research, that doesn't mean they are always right.
Meditation practice is incredibly personal. It's not one-size-fits all, and does require some exploration on your part.
11. It's against my religion or seems a little too woo woo.
If I had a dollar every time I saw someone walk-out of a meditation program because it 1) brought his/her values and beliefs into question, or 2) required someone to passively accept something (almost by slight of hand) he/she wasn't comfortable with...I'd be diving into a money vault like Scrooge McDuck (Hey, I'm a child of the 80s, and I do love some Ducktails!). If this is you, I hear you, and I'm sorry that you've had this experience.
Meditation does have a very deep social context in our history. It has been part of almost every major religion on the planet since the dawn of man. I am grateful for the wisdom of the ages, and I think it's absolutely worth acknowledging this heritage, but not at the expense of proselytizing people who don't want to be converted.
If you can breath, you can meditate. At its root, meditation doesn't require anything more than that–and there's nothing religious or woo woo about breathing. Dr. Herbert Benson gave us the scientific explanation 40 years ago of how and why meditation works in his book, The Relaxation Response. It's a simple, 2-step process, and it transcends all systems of belief.
However, some meditation programs do make it more than that, while also telling students they are secular at the same time–and you can't have both. Sadly, this lack of transparency and honesty plays out "bait and switch" style when students show up for sessions only to be confronted with esoterics and mysticism.
In the Meditation at Work program, we don't insert cultural or philosophical paradigms into our training. We leave that part up to you. You came to meditation with your own values and beliefs, and we invite you to make meditation your own–whatever that is for you.