Mindfulness in the workplace is gaining staying power and credence, backed by a growing body of research and data demonstrating the positive results of practicing mindfulness. Companies such as Intel, PWC, McKinsey, and AstraZeneca, as well as other organizations like the U.S. Marine Corp., Harvard Business School, New York Knicks, and Seattle Seahawks offer mindfulness programs. Given how mainstream mindfulness is becoming, I frequently get asked how to establish a mindfulness program in an organization? Here are some of the answers to that question.

Getting support for a mindfulness program is the first step, of course. Then you need to determine how you will provide mindfulness information to your employees.

According to Golbie Kamarei, who brought mindfulness to the world’s largest asset manager BlackRock, participants have three needs:

  • exercises and learning around developing mindfulness 
  • data and research that support the benefits of mindfulness 
  • group connection and community.

Kamarei addresses these various needs through a group mindfulness practice that meets twice a week during lunchtime. She emails participants in between meetings to stay connected and to offer other materials, such as articles on the latest research into mindfulness. She notes that these programs are provided on an opt-in basis, and no one is forced to participate.

It is also important to let participants know what to expect. The most common question I hear during my talks on mindfulness is: What exactly is meant by a mindfulness practice?

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In this instance, “practice” means engaging in guided exercises that develop concentration capacities by focusing attention on immediate experience. These exercises bring attention to an object (like your breath), then expand attention to your broader experience (like noticing what you are thinking and feeling). “Practice” in this context is no different than practice to improve your ability to play a sport, play an instrument, or learn a new language. In other words, you engage in exercises designed to develop specific skills. Some good mindfulness exercises are provided by the UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, free of charge. 

Finally, it can be helpful to anticipate and address some common challenges of those new to a mindfulness practice. Here is some feedback I frequently hear—and how you can address it:

  • “I can’t sit still.” When people say this, they really mean, “I’m not used to being still, and I feel very uncomfortable.” It makes sense that when we are rewarded for completing tasks and juggling multiple responsibilities, doing nothing feels odd and unrewarding. Like anything, it takes practice until something starts to feel natural and a willingness to be patient until you get there.
  • “I’m not very good at this.” There is a common misunderstanding that experienced practitioners can zoom into the present and stay there. In reality, though, even experienced practitioners often drift off. Mindfulness practice is not about being perfectly present, it is about noticing when your attention has drifted off and bringing it back to now, over and over again.
  • “It’s not working.” With just 30 minutes of practice a day for eight weeks, researchers see differences in the brains of those who practice mindfulness versus those who don’t. So, practice does pay off nearly immediately. Because brain scans are not accessible to most of us, invite people to assess progress in other ways: Do I seem to be less stressed? More focused? More self-aware?

Want to learn why and how to develop a more mindful workforce from scientific studies, anecdotal evidence, and hands-on exercises? Join me for Essentials of Developing a Mindful Workforce.