Want to Build a Mindful Company? There's No App for That.
When it comes to the modern search for mindfulness, collective wisdom seems to say, “There’s an app for that.” After all, apps abound for finding pet sitters, booking vacation rentals and creating investment portfolios. Why wouldn’t we expect to find inner peace via our smartphones, as well?
With the proliferation of tools such as Calm, the meditation app that topped App Store rankings last year, everyone from Hollywood celebrities to ambitious professionals seems to be swept up in the tech-enabled mindfulness trend. Setting aside the fact that some apps are more scientifically grounded than others, however, an app-based mindfulness sort of misses the point:
While tech platforms certainly make meditative concepts more widely accessible, they can also foster a shallowness of practice. Without a holistic understanding of what mindfulness means, practitioners will never achieve the benefits -- personal or professional -- that they seek.
Mindfulness in the workplace
Mindfulness is all about experiencing the present moment. When you’re conscious of your thoughts instead of letting them run amok, you can make deliberate choices and refrain from impulsive and potentially harmful statements. But, in my experience, people can’t achieve mindfulness merely by practicing it for a few minutes each day helped by an app. They must return to the practice's principles again and again, and that requires a substantial commitment.
Many big-name companies, such as Google and Aetna, have embraced mindfulness in recent years. The goal of increasing creativity and well-being, both good for employees’ health, is also good for corporate productivity. It’s heartening that leading brands are promoting what can be a life-enriching habit. But a mindfulness approach can have limited effects if it becomes half-hearted or inauthentic.
How to achieve group enlightenment
Studies show that mindful teams experience fewer interpersonal conflicts and are more results-oriented than their more reactive counterparts. A drop in conflict, for example, enables managers to focus on high-priority tasks instead of refereeing employee drama. By some estimates, in fact, managers spend up to 40 percent of their time addressing interpersonal conflict. Imagine what they could achieve if they could reclaim even a fraction of that wastage.
So, consider: Group yoga and meditation sessions could cultivate mindfulness throughout your organization and inspire colleagues to collaborate more effectively. When people have the presence of mind to critique one another’s output rather than their character, they’re more likely to develop productive solutions.
Mindfulness could also help diverse colleagues at your organization respect one another’s differences without rushing to frustration or judgment. There’s a clear financial benefit, as well. Aetna has seen productivity increases worth $3,000 per employee after introducing pre-meeting meditations and other mindfulness offerings.
Again, though, mindfulness initiatives must be rooted in authenticity. Companies that invite employees to engage in meditation, yoga or other practices in this realm must create environments that support genuine mindfulness. Here’s how your company can do that:
1. Explain the why behind your company’s mindfulness policies.
Before every meeting, I center myself in my intentions and in what my team and I are trying to achieve. Doing so enables me to embody those values without having labored discussions with colleagues about our goals.
The concept of meditating to improve business performance may seem alien at first. Leaders should brief their teams on what mindfulness is and how it corresponds to the company’s culture and long-term ambitions.
Cultivating mindfulness takes time, so leaders should offer employees support as they adjust to the new mode of thinking. Explanation sessions and mindfulness-centered activities are great opportunities to model the types of interactions and attitudes desired within the company.
In 2017, global consulting firm Accenture rolled out its flagship Accenture Mindful Performance program, which includes mindfulness training that emphasizes strategies to improve attention and mental focus. To date, more than 1,000 employees have participated in the program, and 20 certified facilitators are available across the company to help employees adapt the practice across leadership and HR programs, team events and webcasts. Overall, Accenture says the program has increased focus, creativity and resilience while reducing stress and distraction.
2. Give people the choice to opt out.
Forcing employees to adopt a mindfulness practice is a bad idea. That only fosters resentment and stress -- the exact effects mindfulness is supposed to reverse. Companies should offer and promote meditative activities on a voluntary basis. As long as employees treat their co-workers with respect and thoughtfulness, they can still be effective members of the organization.
For many people, seeing is believing, so participation in mindfulness activities should always be open to all. Those who shy away in the beginning may come around when they see the positive effects meditation has on their peers.
SAP, a German software company, provides employees with a wide range of mindfulness activities, including meditation micropractices, mindfulness challenges and in-house meditations led by trained guides.
As of this year, some 6,500 SAP employees had participated in the company's two-day mindfulness course, with another 5,500 on the waiting list. While those numbers are impressive, it's likely that there were skeptics in the group at the outset. Offering a variety of mindfulness activities enables people to engage in the ways that feel most comfortable to them.
3. Emphasize actions over intentions.
Too often, egos get in the way of meaningful interactions. Mindfulness can help in this regard. I used to become frustrated with a colleague who included me only on certain email threads, and I assumed he was trying to one-up me by excluding me from other conversations. When I approached him about his behavior, however, he had a rational explanation and no ill will toward me.
Mindfulness prevents us from jumping to emotional conclusions by enabling us to focus on another person’s actions and our responses, rather than conflating our assumptions with reality. That awareness goes a long way toward reducing unnecessary conflicts.
A recent study by University of British Columbia researchers found that interpersonal conflict decreased when teams were more mindful at work. Team members also were less likely to turn frustration with a task into personal conflict with a colleague. The reason: Mindfulness allowed them to effectively detach and eliminate any strong emotions associated with that task.
Mindfulness can be incredibly powerful for building conscientious teams who engage with one another (and with clients) from a place of compassion and integrity. But, to be effective, it's something that must permeate a company's culture.
In short: There's no app for building mindful companies, no matter what the App Store says.