Working Well

Mindfulness Isn’t Supposed to Be a Cure-all

The corporate mindfulness trend gets a lot of flack, not without reason. Still, there are certain positive elements and executions to consider.

While on vacation in New Orleans, the same conversation topic kept on coming up: mindfulness. Photo by Andie Burjek.

Lucky, lucky me, I’ve recently returned from an extended weekend vacation visiting my sisters in New Orleans. Very pleasant. I took many long walks with my sister and her pit bull puppy in the Bayou District; we ate at a stellar Vietnamese restaurant; we went to our favorite wine bar and demolished five chunks of cheese; we drank bloody marys and strolled on the streets.

Saturday morning I took a yoga class taught by my sister. I sat at a picnic table and played with a few dogs while she and the other teacher swept cigarette butts from the pavement in their friend’s back yard and set up mats. After class, another friend cooked everyone a “mindful” brunch — locally sourced, vegan ingredients; you get it. The crowd there included a lot of young, creative types and a topic came up on a reoccurring basis: mindfulness.

I’m no expert on mindfulness, so I did a little research. I’ve been hearing more and more about topics like mindfulness training in wellness programs and the importance of having mindful leaders. I’ve talked to a lot of interview subjects recently who bring it up. In my research, I’ve seen strong arguments for and against it.

Chief Learning Officer’s Bravetta Hassell did a very good job distilling the con list for corporate mindfulness. The whole argument is very well-rounded and can be summarized pretty well, I think, in this passage:

[Read: What is Mindfulness’s Place at Work?]

“…The practice, in a word, trivializes very real and pressing issues that are part of the human experience and can’t simply be ‘thought away.’ Take, for instance, mindfulness classes conducted in under-resourced schools. That doesn’t change the factors driving the education inequality students in those schools have to deal with.”

Basically, the argument is that when external factors are subpar, you can’t change the situation by asking people to change themselves. The external problem will still be there even if someone does learn to manage their emotions better.

WF_WebSite_BlogHeaders-13That being said, since my colleague already argued this side of the argument so well, I’d like to focus this blog on the for end. Specifically, how can a company effectively implement mindfulness in a wellness program and have a positive impact on its workforce? We know what the wrong way may look like — using mindfulness without acknowledging the root of the problem, for example — but what’s the right way to be mindful?

Ruth Hunt, principal for Xerox HR Services, spoke with me about how to successfully implement a mindfulness program in the workplace.

First, she responded to the criticism often aimed at mindfulness training. “I don’t think genuine proponents of mindfulness are trying to oversell what it has to offer,” she said. Mindfulness training is not a panacea; it’s not going to solve all the world’s problems. However, it’s one of many tools that employers can offer, along with others like stress management or resiliency programs, that address the stress in many employees’ lives.

“Maybe some mindfulness advocates have taken it too far, but it has its role, just as other techniques do,” she said. It’s not for everyone, “But for some individuals it may just give them the skills and permission to engage in healthier actions. To be able to get something done without being paralyzed by distractions.”

We’ve allowed ourselves and our society to constantly deluge us with too many distractions, she added. One value mindfulness carries is the power to help people deal with distractions and stay focused.

If a company does decide to go the route of mindfulness training, a few considerations are key, said Hunt. Understand the profile of your workforce and what approach will work for them. Will they respond more to meditation, yoga, or something entirely different? Will classroom-based or online training be more effective? What about group activities versus something more personal and self-paced? What works in your corporate environment?

Fully understand what the issues are within the employee population, she advised, and maybe even test it in a pilot program to see how receptive people are and what solutions work for them.

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorComment below or email at aburjek@humancapitalmedia.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.

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