What has meditation got to do with the workplace?

Companies are increasingly using meditation as a cost effective way of improving employee well-being and workplace culture.

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In the past meditation has been seen as the preserve of saffron-clad monks and hippies, unsuited for the business world so what has meditation got to do with the workplace?

Perhaps surprising to some, introducing meditation to the workplace is increasingly being seen by employers as a low-cost way of reducing stress related issues in their workforce. Businesses are starting to recognise that highly stressed employees are subject to greater health risks, increased cost, and productivity losses than those with normal stress levels and this is supported by independent research (e.g. Ref: Wolever, R et al “Effective and viable mind-body stress reduction in the workplace: A randomized controlled trial,” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2012).

The Mental Health Foundation in the UK estimates that one in four people will experience a mental health problem every 12 months. Work related stress is estimated to cost British businesses more than three billion pounds per annum and this is growing year on year. Globally, this figure is estimated to be exponentially higher. Prevention is always better than cure, and increasingly companies are using meditation and mindfulness as a means of increasing of mental health and well-being of their employees.

However, the benefits of meditation are much more profound than stress reduction and reducing mental health issues. As a former Chief Risk Officer, I know that underlying all company failures are people and process issues, commonly referred to as Operational Risks. Furthermore, it is the ‘culture’ of the company that is generally the primary target for criticism when government regulators issue warnings and censures against poorly performing businesses.

Changing a company’s culture, either for good or ill, usually involves replacing its senior leadership and Executive. This is expensive, leads to redundancies at all levels in the business and creates stressful uncertainty amongst the company’s workforce… But, what if there was a better way of changing a company’s culture?

A new way of generating a positive company culture, and employee well-being, is to use meditation. When meditation or mindfulness is introduced to a business it helps the workforce to be less fearful, less attached to old ways of doing things and more open to change. The governance and culture of the company can then be modified to encourage the workforce and its leadership to act in the best interests of the company rather than for short-term individual gain.

Much has been written about meditation over the centuries, but in essence, meditation is primarily about teaching people to be happy on the inside. When we are happy on the inside we treat the people around us, our family, our work colleagues and even people that we meet by chance in the street, in a caring way. In summary, we create a positive culture around ourselves and, as company workers, we reduce conflict, improve our relationships, increase positivity and inspire others to succeed in their roles.

Applying meditative practices, along with good company governance, and effective employee training programmes is highly likely to result in the workforce becoming more creative, less absent, less stressed, and more engaged. 

Companies are increasingly introducing, ‘Quiet Rooms’, to provide employees with a temporary sanctuary in which they can escape the fast pace of the work environment. Often workers are taught meditation and mindfulness so that they can make best use of such facilities. For example, being mindful of our body is a clever way of both relaxing and listening to what our body is trying to say to us. We often reduce our personal performance by neglecting our bodies, ignoring the small aches and pains that are warnings from our body by failing to relax properly, which can be the early signs of stress, insomnia and ultimately illness.

The meditation holistically reaches beyond the workplace, improving the well-being beyond the individual to the families, friends and people that each employee, taking part in the programme, come into contact with. Most significantly, the company starts to thrive, and the workplace becomes a place of positive challenge and enjoyment where members of staff want to perform rather than merely attend.

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