How to Implement a Workplace Mindfulness Program

Google, Aetna, Mayo Clinic and the U. S. Army are just some of the more familiar organizations offering mindfulness in their workplaces (Jha, et al., 2015; Tan, 2012; West et al., 2014; Wolever, et al., 2012).  While a few organizations were at the forefront, a 2016 study found that 22% of companies surveyed said that they have already implemented a mindfulness-training component and another 21% said they planned to add this type of training in 2017 (Altizer, 2017; Hassell, 2016; Taylor, 2016). If your organization is considering offering mindfulness in your workplace, there are a few things you need to know. 

  1. Make It Voluntary. Most experts agree that mindfulness needs to be positioned as an entirely voluntary program (Antanaitis, 2015; Altizer, 2016; Brendel, 2015).  Considering the wide range of benefits to employees and the organizations, it is tempting to consider mindfulness training mandatory for all employees. However, mindfulness is best positioned as a voluntary program that employees choose when, where, and how they practice.
  2. Allow Mindfulness to Spread Organically. Most organizations have found that the best way to get widespread acceptance is to enable employees to share with other employees how their practice has helped them. While some organizations experimented with financial rewards for participating in the program, most agreed that a voluntary program that is encouraged, not positioned as mandatory, is the best way to incorporate mindfulness into the organizational culture (Altizer, 2016; Pazzanese, 2016).
  3. Packaging Matters. Get a jump on misunderstandings and misconceptions about mindfulness by providing a business rationale for introducing mindfulness into the workforce.  Being able to explain how it fits into existing or planned strategic initiatives will help employees have a context and understanding what it means to them (Altizer, 2017; Antanaitis, 2015).
  4. Keep it Secular. All communication needs to use secular language and be careful to distance the program from any religious connotations and be prepared to deal with misconceptions (Chapman-Clarke, 2017). 
  5. Beyond Stress Reduction. When the program is positioned as a means to reduce stress only, many employees are reluctant to sign up because they are concerned that they might be labeled as someone who can’t handle the pressure of the workplace (Antanaitis, 2015).
  6. Position it as a Scientifically Based Practice. Mindfulness needs to be presented as a scientifically based practice that will not only reduce stress, but will also a) enhance decision-making (Brendel, 2015; Hafenbrack, et al., 2013), b) improve the ability to work in high-pressure environments (Dane, 2011), and c) promote creative and strategic thinking (Brendel, 2015; Talbot-Zorn, 2016).
  7. Identify a Program Champion. Human resource professionals are in an ideal position to champion mindfulness programs. Because the HR professional is often at the center of employee initiatives such as leadership development and workplace wellness, they are in the best position to understand how mindfulness can be of value to their organizations (Altizer, 2017; Ulrich, et al., 2012).
  8. Leadership Matters. Organizations with leaders who support and practice mindfulness have found that employees are more likely to embrace mindfulness when the leaders are willing to share with employees how the practice has benefited them (Ulrich, 2016).
  9. Not a Standalone Program. When mindfulness is offered as a standalone program, employees quickly lose interest even if they are starting to see the benefits. When organizations begin to integrate mindfulness practices into day-to-day activities such as meetings, performance feedback, and coaching, they make the connection on how mindfulness can benefit them in their work lives (Hulsheger, 2015; Saks, et al., 2015).
  10. Provide Anytime, Anywhere Access. The ubiquity of smart phones provides organizations a way to offer mindfulness programs that allow them to take control of their learning and provides organizations a low-cost, accessible solution to provide “moment of need” learning (Khaddage, et al., 2016b).
  11. Make the Program Accessible. While it is useful to target select audiences in the early stages of integrating mindfulness, organizations would benefit from considering how they can make the program available to all interested employees. One of the most common approaches to offering mindfulness is in-person programs at various locations within the organization.  While this approach is useful for the individuals that are fortunate enough to be located where these programs are offered, many organizations find that it limits who can participate and is expensive to maintain (Hyland, et al., 2015: Querstret, 2017).
  12. Execution Matters. Mindfulness programs are no different from any other initiative in your organization. Success depends on a well-thought plan. Many organizations have found that anchoring the program to other initiatives or the organizational values, helps employees understand why the organization is making the program available (Altizer, 2016; Chapman-Clarke, 2017).
  13. Customize Program Objectives. Because organizations have different goals, different cultures, and contextual or situational issues, it is important for organizations to develop their customized measures for the program (Chapman-Clarke, 2017; Connolly, et al., 2015; Miksch, et al., 2015).
  14. Start with a Pilot Program. One of the best ways to ensure a successful program, is to pilot the program with a small, manageable group of employees: a) select target audience for the program; b) gain support from managers and supervisors; c) refine measurement or success criteria; d) assess the necessary level of support/communication (Orellana-Rios, et al., 2017).

Mindfulness programs are not a quick fix, nor are they a cure-all for all organizations and employee issues. For example, a mindfulness program will not fix organizational structural problems or fix a toxic or unhealthy work environment (Adams, 2016; Good, et al., 2016; Hulsheger, 2015; Petechsawang, 2016).  Because the benefits of mindfulness will fade over time, organizations are encouraged to consider how they will sustain the program after the initial launch. (Hulsheger, 2015; Hyland, et al., 2015).


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