For the past three years, I have helped companies implement mindful work practices. Our process and lessons may be helpful to your business.
As of 2018, nearly 70% of Fortune 500 companies are offering some type of mindfulness programming. The businesses I have worked with include call centers, sales development teams, marketing and ad agencies, system programmers, industrial site workers, and caregivers.
What is clear to me is that creating a mindful workplace is relatively simple and highly effective in connecting people with themselves, each other, and their companies.
At one company, a supervisor received thank you notes from her team for the first time, after just one week of starting her one-on-one meetings with mindful questions and unplugged time. They thanked her for caring about them as human beings. She had always cared and had never been given the tools to practice engaging leadership.
Most business owners and managers tell me they are interested in creating positive work experiences, yet concerned about how much time it will take.
Working mindfully does not take additional time. While there is a commitment to communicate and make changes, rather than adding time to your day, we repurpose time. Workshops and introductory sessions were scheduled within meetings that were already on the calendar.
For more information on the research that has influenced my work, click HERE.
If you are interested in learning more about the steps that are working for us, see below.
Steps to Creating a Mindful Workplace
- Leadership Engagement
The most important step. Whether you are leading yourself, a team or a company, compassionate and visible leadership each day is the key to short and long-term success.
- Vision, Communications, and Engaging Others
Create and communicate your vision, and bring others along in their own way. Be authentic and begin with your story. How did you hear about mindfulness or resiliency practices? Why do you think it could apply to your team or company? Share an article or stories that have inspired you. Get the conversation started. People have been amazed at the level of energy these conversations stimulate. Some employees felt they were being noticed and listened to for the first time.
- Identify Natural Pauses in Your Work
The biggest challenge to trying something new is where to fit it in. Two minutes is all it takes to begin. Look at natural places in your work day, where you start and stop and begin there. Between emails, driving to an appointment, before a meeting begins, on the way to a bio break, after a phone call, etc; all are great places to start. Most people can see themselves trying something for 2 minutes.
- Select Tools for Practice
There are many tools available to support your practice as an individual, team, or company. Your health plan or Employee Assistance Program at work have videos on their webpage. You can Google 2 to 5-minute meditations, stretches, or deep breathing exercises and there are dozens of videos or audios to choose from. I partner with Radiant Beginnings for beautiful video content which is a Press Play curriculum with 1 to 5-minute modules.
There are also excellent apps to support your practice. Some are geared to individuals (Headspace, Omvana, Stop, Breathe, and Think) and others designed for employers who want to track activity and measure results (Whil).
- Appoint/Hire Ambassadors for Rollout
If you are an individual, find another person or two to check in with on daily or weekly basis; inspire each other to keep practicing.
For a team or a company, using wellness ambassadors is an excellent way to encourage and model new practices. Engage them from the beginning as part of your communication strategy. You can also hire professionals short term to help you with all of these steps. If you avoid a single turnover or reduce unplanned absences (which is likely in just a few weeks), you will have more than paid for the investment.
- Determine Metrics for Success – What Matters to You?
What are you tracking today? Employee satisfaction or engagement, turnover rates, unplanned absences, healthcare costs, work quality metrics? All of these are measurable, what matters is what’s important to you. Mindful work leads to improvement in each of these metrics and more.
Make sure your communication is consistent. Develop a schedule and plan for the month, each quarter, and the year. There are many tools available to support automation.
- Practice, Check-In, Celebrate Success
Develop ways to practice together based on your environment. Begin the day with deep breathing, then mid-morning stretches, or after-lunch games. You can also kick off your meetings with an unplugged activity. The possibilities are endless.
Check in with your teams to gain feedback on what is working and what isn’t and adjust your plan. You can use Survey Monkey or built-in tools through automated email software.
Celebrate your success together as you achieve milestones such as completing the first week, 10 activities in a row to start meetings, first employee breakthrough (improved work). In my last job, two people from separate teams went for a 15-minute walking meeting and happened to solve a system issue we had been working on for weeks via conference calls with a dozen people. Celebrate those moments!
- Measure and Communicate Improvement
This is important for motivation at all levels. Make sure to communicate when you achieve progress on the things you choose to measure in #6. This will keep both leadership and everyone else engaged and excited to continue.
Mindful pauses in the workday addresses rising workload stress levels and overuse of technology in the workplace. The World Health Organization calls stress the #1 Health Epidemic of the 21st Ccentury.
We have the tools to be better, together.
In 2025 nearly 75% of our workforce will be comprised of Millennials and 25% will be Baby Boomers.
Why does this matter? Primarily because the two groups come from very different spectrums in their approach to work. It’s a unique opportunity to strengthen culture and improve performance.
Bringing these two generations together might feel like combining oil and water, as Nathanial Koloc mentioned in his excellent article, but if you dig deeper this approach solves challenges for each demographic.
One of the most important things for Millennials in the workplace, after compensation, is training and development. They want to understand how their work relates to the bigger picture and why it matters. I have often heard millennials described as entitled, or not ready for work. That is not true in my experience.
Baby Boomers certainly have experience and may seem more responsible if you are looking for butts in seats during traditional work hours, yet they are prone to conformity. See my interview with Francesca Gino, Professor at Harvard Business School.
“Somehow from very early on in our careers we are taught to conform to the status quo, to the opinions and behaviors of others, and this pressure only becomes bigger and grows as we climb the organization ladder” …
“I think the step that often leaders don’t take is stepping back and thinking all this conformity at work might actually hurt us in terms of allowing people to be creative, think innovatively about problems, solve problems that are close to them, and just being more engaged in the work that they do.” … Francesca Gino
Think about that. We have a group of employees that are highly knowledgeable, yet prone to conformity, and a group of people entering the workforce with energy; eager for stimulation and challenge. This is an opportunity.
The challenge for most of us is time. With our already over-booked schedules, who has time to train? I have found a simple path using the time we already have in our work day.
One of the places where employees come together regularly is through daily or weekly meetings. Why not make a simple change in the way most meetings happen? For one-on-one interactions and small groups, get out of the office, away from your desks, away from your computers and phones, and take a walk. Movement stimulates thinking and listening. It strengthens attention because you eliminate common interruptions such as incoming email, instant messages, and text notifications.
In my observation leaders spend too much time inside their offices or tethered to their devices. It feels terrible as an enthusiastic newcomer to sit in your manager’s office trying to grow a connection and learn something, only to be interrupted countless times as emails and texts come in from “more important” people. Walking solves for that and it’s great for your health.
You can go a step further and create regular walking discussion opportunities with seasoned leaders and newer associates. Call it “Walk with a leader today”. Ask your senior leaders to schedule two or three 30-minute time slots each week to take newer associates for a walk and use that time as an opportunity to talk about company vision, history, future products, etc. Leave a few minutes for questions and observations from these associates, you may be surprised at what you learn.
All generations want to be listened to and better understood. Take time to build a bridge of opportunity and possibly improve your business in the process.
What are you doing to bridge your work generations? I would love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org
At a workshop on the importance of unplugged pauses during the workday, we talked about a recent 60 Minutes segment on smartphone addiction.
Anderson Cooper interviewed behavioral scientists who are working to ensure our smartphone applications are as addictive as possible. That’s how they make money.
One person in my workshop had this realization, “I’ve only had an iPad for about 3 years and have noticed a disturbing practice: I now first reach for the iPad and then turn on TV.” Think about that.
Many of us no longer watch a single program or video without having a device in our hands in case we are bored for even 15 seconds.
We all nodded in agreement and shared our own examples, which got me thinking.
What did my life look like before device addiction?
- Go for a walk with the dog without checking texts, and watch the sun rise.
- Turn off my old fashioned alarm clock, daydream a bit and then get out of bed.
- Go for a hike and smell the woods, enjoy every flower, the sky, and trees.
- Ride in the car with the radio on letting my “mind wander a thousand miles away” with Bruce Hornsby.
- Leave work at 5:00 or 6:00. Come back to the office at 8:00 or 9:00. Not a single check-in and everyone was fine.
- Sit on the beach and watch the sailboats through binoculars.
- Put an album on the turntable using imagination and good memories to guide my selection.
- Quite different from above.
To be honest, there are many things I love about technology: instant recipe ideas, music, research, mobile camera, video chats with family across the country, GPS, and more!
I also believe that unplugging is extremely important to our well being.
Here’s a challenge: schedule a few moments or hours each day to do something you design without your device. Post your ideas and photos on the BreakTogether Facebook Page.
It’s one thirty in the afternoon and I have been sitting in this chair for nearly six hours. There is a conference call droning on that I shouldn’t have accepted, a half-eaten energy bar by my keyboard, while I multi-task with emails, instant messages, and the occasional pop-in question.
Sound familiar? Have you ever felt like this on a Monday, or any other day?
As I look around the office, I am not alone. People rarely take time for lunch anymore, let alone eat together, and the only people I see taking regular breaks are those who smoke.
That was two years ago. Before I gave myself permission to begin taking breaks on my own and with my team.
Permission seems to matter. The #1 reason that people don’t take breaks is they feel guilty; primarily due to the lack of their managers and leaders taking breaks.
When I started taking short breaks with our team, very few wanted to join me. I was fairly new to the organization, and even though I was a couple of levels up we needed to get everyone involved for them to feel it was acceptable.
We began with a 5-minute standing stretch routine 2x per day and then started a 15-minute walking break team. The positive effects were amazing:
- In just 5 minutes we were smiling and our faces relaxed.
- After two weeks, people were interacting more freely and someone suggested eating their lunch together in the conference room – something they hadn’t done for years!
- Within 6 weeks, people were freely discussing challenges and developing solutions together on our brief walks. I witnessed solutions developed between groups who normally do not interact in the day.
So with all of the scientific data and examples of breaks being beneficial, why haven’t we adopted change on a larger scale?
It appears to involve leadership. In many professions, very few leaders are seen taking breaks. Law firms, accounting, financial services, business administrators, and healthcare workers are notorious for long hours with few breaks.
We need to give ourselves and our employees permission to take breaks, unplugged.
Two minutes, 5 minutes, or 10 minutes is truly all it takes to lower your stress and recharge. Disconnecting for short periods from a project or task actually adds time to your day by creating endorphins that fuel creativity and improve decision-making.
Try it. Here’s a 3-minute break you can do most anywhere.
Please share your ideas or ask a question at email@example.com.
One thing I have learned in trying something new, is that having friends along for the ride makes it much easier and fun. My inspiring friend has reminded me the importance of scheduling fun breaks in my calendar, even when my work week screams “No!”.
Think about this: in just 3 decades we have added multiple ways to connect people, such as computers, voicemail, internet, email, text, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter (to name a few); yet we have spent hardly any time on learning how to disconnect.
There’s a reason that we have those aha! moments in the shower. It’s one of the few places we can unplug.
You’ve heard the term, doing more with less? This is the environment most people are working in. People are stressed. For you employers, in addition to absenteeism, employee turnover, and productivity costs, stress negatively impacts hypertension, acid reflux, and diabetes – all major drivers of your health care costs.
Eighty percent, yes 8 out of 10 workers, are stressed in their jobs. Pay level has been listed as the #1 reason for stress until 2013. As of 2013, “work load” was referenced just as often, according to Huffington Post.
To continue adding work or hours to the work day is not sustainable.
So, how did we get here? My point is we are here. The question is how do we change? We need to put energy into adding short, mindful breaks back into the work day, just as we have invested in wellness programs. It matters to people and their health, and to the bottom line.
Taking a 10-15 minute break is one of the best things you can do for immediate stress relief. When you return, you will be more productive. Scientific evidence has supported this since the 1920s and that evidence keeps growing.
The only way to take a break is to do it. Find an inspiring friend, schedule a 10-minute break and do something fun. Play a quick game, listen to a couple of songs from a new band, or just be still. You will want to do it again; I promise. And you can.