4 steps to bring mindfulness to work without it becoming a fad.

In today’s world, many of us spend a third of our waking hours at work. We also tend to work in close teams where effective communication is essential. Organizations need to manage resources, so we often find ourselves overloaded with demanding tasks, too.

Work is a great place to share mindfulness. Many of us work in a community of peers that needs to collaborate on solving complex problems under pressure. Growing interest in mindful organizations seems totally natural.

When we surveyed professionals successfully bringing mindfulness to organizations, many expressed concerns that their efforts might be short-lived. How do we ensure that mindfulness becomes a sustainable and growing part of an organization, instead of just another trend which eventually fades? How do we bring mindfulness into the workplace without it becoming a fad?

We brought this question to A Mindful Society 2015, where we led a design thinking workshop with a group of professionals who produced clear insights for us to share with the community.

Attendees at A Mindful Society 2015 wander through the design thinking area, browsing others’ thoughts about this complex question. Everyone is free to post their ideas, while trained facilitators analyze and group them in real-time.

1. Earn Trust from Decision-Makers

Whether you’re looking to start a weekly mindfulness group or trying to dramatically change how your team gets things done, it can help a lot to start by getting both cultural influencers and operational leaders on your side.

  • Think about your workplace culture and team, and contextualize your approach. Keep your audience in mind when you answer the inevitable question: “why practice mindfulness?”
  • Choose practices which address real issues within the organization. For example, if your team has a lot of interpersonal conflict, talk about that directly and lead mindful communication exercises.
  • Use scientific evidence, relevant benefits, and stories from successful mindfulness programs in other companies to make the case.
  • If decision-makers are wary, mitigate risk by recommending a small pilot program. Once it’s running, document participant experiences from the team— these testimonials will help you expand the program later.
  • Make it as accessible and universal as possible. Consider skipping the meditation cushions, esoteric philosophies, and singing bowls. Fit mindfulness into existing norms. It should feel just like any meeting.

2. Set Realistic Expectations

There are a lot of misconceptions about mindfulness and meditation. If people are expecting dramatic transformation after a single session, they’re going to leave disappointed and never come back. Demystifying the practice is key.

  • Emphasize the concrete and useful skills that mindfulness can help train: focus, concentration, awareness, listening, calmness, decision-making, etc.
  • Make sure participants know that a wandering mind is a totally normal and universal part of the process — many believe the purpose of meditation is to completely silence the mind, and they end up self-critical.
  • Establish clear, honest expectations and a realistic time frame. It can help to ask participants to sign-up and commit to a longer program — this really drives the point home. Avoid lofty truth claims.
  • Leave room for dialogue — let participants ask questions and answer them truthfully. Ask everyone about their expectations in the first session so you can address them directly. Hold discussion periods after each session.

3. Make it Part of the Culture

Mindfulness is only relevant if you bring it into everyday life. The same is true for an organization — it only becomes relevant if starts to seep into people’s daily lives and influence the team culture.

  • Establish norms for the organization. Trying to start a meeting with a 1 minute meditation is less awkward when the whole team has already discussed it as an approach that the organization is experimenting with.
  • Set your team up for peer support. Participants shouldn’t only have to rely on you for support and guidance. Highlight other champions and practitioners and pair people up into small groups to practice together.
  • Dedicate space and time. Ideally you could have a permanent meditation area, but that’s not always possible. The least you can do is book a daily or weekly session where everyone is welcome to drop-in.
  • Provide opportunities for deeper practice. Whether you can set up an EAP or pay out of the company’s budget, offering employees an opportunity to go to external classes and retreats can underline your team’s commitment.
  • Piggyback on existing routines. Encourage everyone to take a mindful minute before meetings, have a group meditation in your all-team meetings, include meditation with weekly training/yoga sessions, etc.

4. Keep the Integrity

If you’re serious about creating a mindful organization that will be sustainable beyond the fad, it’s important to offer as authentic a practice as possible.

  • Identify champions. Change comes from within, but it also comes from an experienced facilitator. A total external is not likely to change your culture, you want to find or create an internal leader who embodies the practice.
  • Draw from community resources. Experts offer a wide range of courses, apps, and devices — if you don’t have the internal champions, form a group to progress through an existing program together.
  • Keep it voluntary. Mindfulness involves both a community and a personal journey. Work with your team to build up the intrinsic motivation to sustain a practice dedicated to inward exploration and curiousity.
  • Don’t let it become “part of the job.” Focus on personal development and wellness. Participants lose interest quickly if it’s all about productivity or unhealthy work stress. Motivate them as human beings, not employees.
  • Practice first, talk second. Give participants an experiential reference point through which to understand any concepts you decide to share. Let them trust their own experience before you get up on your pedestal.

Transcending the Fad

We hope the tips above help you bring a well-motivated and sustainable element of mindfulness to your workplace. It’s certainly not an easy thing to do, and it takes time, so change will be gradual. But that’s okay — if you’re serious about having an impact, set your sights high and take it slow. Work beyond a weekly practice group. Aim to change the very culture of your team.

Jay Vidyarthi holds the Design Thinking Chair for A Mindful Society conferences and events. Between keynotes, workshops, and practice periods, we host structured conversations which are captured and analyzed for articles like this one. More to come, so follow us on Twitter for updates!

Interested? Join us at A Mindful Society 2017 on April 21–23 in Toronto!

Gratitude to our friends at Pivot Design Group for helping us facilitate this group discussion at the conference.