Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Create Time and Space for Meditation at Work

One Tuesday morning after a three day weekend I came into work to find a bouquet of flowers on my desk, and on the desk of everyone in my four-woman events marketing team.

Curious, we looked for cards to see who they were from. We soon discovered they were from the sales department, and were an apology for cancelling the elite event which we had spent days, evenings, and weekends planning. They cancelled it because they could not support the increased sales it would bring.

My three team-mates were incensed. We had dedicated a lot of personal time to creating a perfect event, and invitations had been distributed the week before. We couldn’t believe all our hard work was for nothing - just to have a creation we were proud of erased by another department who could not handle the success it would bring. One of my team members threw her flowers into the trash, accompanied by some choice swear words.

I, however, felt fine about the whole thing. I knew it was a blow, and it seemed like all our time and effort had turned into a thankless farce. But I didn’t experience the tremendous emotions the rest of my colleagues did. We all had just enjoyed three days to ourselves, after a month of working Saturdays in preparation for the marketing event. Why weren’t they as calm as I was?

I had spent my long weekend at a meditation retreat. Three days of meditation left me feeling like this incident was just a piece of flotsam on the vast ocean of my life; indeed of the world. It wasn’t anything to get worked up about; just another minor change of plans. I observed my reactions and the contrast in the reactions of my team mates, and realized the immense value of meditation. They were really upset. I was not upset at all.

Much has been written about the power of meditation to reduce stress. It’s all true. Most people don’t have the time or inclination to meditate every day, much less for an entire 3-day weekend. However, your workplace could make it easier for you to do it, and the benefits for both companies and individuals have been well-documented. Consider:

R.W. (Buck) Montgomery instituted meditation at his chemical manufacturing firm (Montgomery Chemicals, since sold) in 1983, allowing employees to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes at a time. Over the next three years, absenteeism fell by 85%, productivity rose 120%, quality control rose 240%, injuries dropped 70%, sick days fell by 16%, and profit soared 520%, according to Mongomery. "As a result, people enjoyed their work, they were more creative and more productive," he said. "I tell companies,`If you do this, you'll get a return on your investment in one year.’”

Puritan-Bennett Corp., which produces respiratory care and other medical equipment, started a pilot program in 1993 that compared 38 people who meditated to 38 who didn't. At the end of three months, an independent firm reported that those who meditated said they had more energy, were able to handle stress better, had fewer physical complaints and had lower cholesterol levels, said Dr. Mary Martha Stevens, manager of the company's health and wellness program. Their co-workers said those who meditated were easier to get along with. Those who didn't meditate reported no changes.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters has a dedicated meditation room where employees can receive regular meditation instruction. “If you have a meditation practice, you can be much more effective in a meeting,'' says Green Mountain Coffee founder Bob Stiller. "Meditation helps develop your abilities to focus better and to accomplish your tasks.'' According to, Green Mountain (GMCR) is one of the notable stocks on the rise. Shares in the company have consistently outperformed others in the same industry.

Among other appointments, William George is the former CEO of Medtronic, a current director at Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil, one of the “Top 25 Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years”( so named by PBS), and a professor of management science at Harvard University. George started meditating in 1974. During his time as chief executive officer at Medtronic Inc. he encouraged employees to try it and dedicated one of the company's conference rooms as a meditation room.

"Meditation has been integral in my career; it is the single best thing that happened to me in terms of my leadership,'' says George.  "Meditation enables one to focus on what is really important; and I haven't had high blood pressure since the 1970s.'' George is the author of several books including
True North: Discover Your Authentic Leadership.

Meditation helps one think more clearly, resulting in better decisions, higher productivity, and increased creativity. The benefits for both individuals and organizations have been consistently recorded since the 1970’s, when meditation began to be more widely practiced in the United States. It makes all kinds of sense for leaders to make it easier for their employees to take advantage of what meditation has to offer.

Back when I was a dedicated twice-a-day meditator and worked for a company, I would retreat to my car for a lunchtime meditation. This was not easy when the weather was very cold, very hot, or there was pressure to socialize. Conference rooms were difficult to reserve for meditation and not conducive to relaxing as I expected interruptions at any time.

Leaders can make it so much less difficult by dedicating a small room as a ‘quiet room’. Providing meditation instructors, recorded guided meditations, and allowing meditation time on the clock, are simple actions that let employees know how much leaders value their mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

Because diversity and inclusion are important, a meditation room can easily be used for prayer as well.  However quiet rooms should not be meant primarily as napping rooms. I know that sometimes the need for sleep can overwhelm the meditator but allowing sleep in rooms meant for meditation and prayer dilutes the message and confuses the intent of the space. The results and benefits of focused meditation are different from napping. 

Although meditation in the United States has come primarily from Buddhist and Hindu traditions, it has been secularized to the point that religion does not need to come into the practice. Merely picking a soothing word such as “peace” or “serenity”, and repeating it as a point of focus during a quiet period of twenty minutes is one way to practice and glean the benefits of meditation. When your mind starts wandering, as it will, simply return to repeating your mantra.

There are many meditation techniques so it is wise to just pick one and get started. An instructor can be especially helpful with beginners’ questions. Meditation is a “practice” so practice it daily for a few months.
Get into the habit and notice how it benefits you.

Then create a quiet room in your organization. Make it open to all by naming it something neutral like “The Blue Room” or “Desert Isle”. And reap the benefits of stillness in the midst of chaos.

No comments:

Post a Comment