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.