Does Mindfulness Training Have Business Benefits?

Two experts debate the issue.

By Pandit Dasa and David Brendel Mar 23, 2017
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It helps reduce employee stress and create a more positive work environment.

DasaOne in 3 working Americans report being stressed on the job, according to the American Psychological Association’s 2016 Work and Well-Being Survey. Workplace stress is costing U.S. businesses billions of dollars. 

Many companies, including Google, JPMorgan Chase & Co., General Mills Inc., Bank of America, Aetna Inc. and Intel Corp., are using mindfulness to help their workforces create a more positive and harmonious work environment—which can translate into tangible business benefits. 

Additionally, some NBA and NFL teams are bringing in mindfulness experts to help their elite athletes deal with the pressure of performing while tens of millions of fans watch their every move. A bad call from a referee or a few missed shots could impact players’ confidence and concentration. 

Mindfulness and meditation can help these competitors leave the past behind and get back in the zone for the next play. Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan have used meditation to improve their performance and remain calm and focused during games. 

After a skiing accident that left him with a broken neck, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini incorporated yoga and meditation into his wellness routine. He found it so beneficial that he offered sessions for Aetna employees, and more than 13,000 took him up on it. The participants reported, on average, a 28 percent reduction in stress levels, a 20 percent improvement in sleep quality and a 19 percent decrease in pain, he told The New York Times in 2015. The workers also gained an average of 62 minutes a week of productivity each, which Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee each year.

Mindfulness can also boost emotional intelligence. Sattva CEO Archana Patchirajan and other top executives claimed it helps them be more patient and have more control over their emotions, according to “How Meditation Benefits CEOs,” a December 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review. 

I’ve seen this firsthand as well. During a nine-week workshop I conducted at Novartis, I guided about 250 employees through breathing and focusing exercises designed to help relieve physical and mental stress. I also asked them to think of a challenging situation at work or a difficult colleague and then visualize themselves dealing with that problem or person in a calm, balanced and productive manner. Many participants later told me that they were able to use some of the techniques during their workday to reset, recharge, and gain a positive perspective on the things happening in their professional and personal lives.

There is ample research and personal testimony that shows how mindfulness training can benefit employees and teams and how diverse industries, such as finance, insurance, education, government and IT, are leveraging it to create happier and healthier employees and a more positive culture. 

If you’re still not convinced, all you have to do is try it for yourself. But remember, just as going to the gym only once isn’t going to do much good, meditating a single time won’t bring you lasting peace. You’ll need to make a daily short-term commitment if you want to strengthen the muscle of the mind. Try meditating for five to 10 minutes each day over the course of one or two weeks to see if the practice can help you cope better and feel more productive.  

Like most things in life, you’ll get out of it what you put into it.

Pandit Dasa is an inspirational speaker, meditation teacher and well-being expert who conducts stress management workshops at major corporations. He is the founder of Conscious Living LLC and author of Urban Monk (Conscious Living, 2013).

There is little evidence that corporate mindfulness training improves business results.

David Brendel

The outsize growth of mindfulness training in workplace settings over the past few years is perturbing and unjustified, given the dearth of clear and convincing evidence that such programs propel business growth. In fact, in many instances, applying mindfulness strategies at work may be counterproductive—even if credentialed experts deliver the training.

Mindfulness can be defined as nonjudgmental awareness of one’s subjective experience in the present moment. Programs to promote it may include training on how to direct your full attention to breathing, listening to sounds or watching the world around you. Not surprisingly, many business leaders are skeptical that these lessons can enhance workplace productivity and profitability.

There is research evidence that mindfulness activities, such as meditation and yoga, have general health benefits. Such practices can help people to pause, appreciate their immediate experience, relax their bodies, and reduce their anxiety and stress. Since mindfulness strategies can improve quality of life, it’s unsurprising that they have endured for centuries.

But that doesn’t justify widespread mindfulness training in workplaces, where evidence of business gain is preliminary at best. One study suggested that learning mindfulness meditation exercises “may effect positive change in the multitasking practices of computer-based knowledge workers.” But, like most studies of its kind, it didn’t examine or confirm any resulting bottom-line benefits. There is also scant empirical data indicating that mindfulness practices improve other essential business skills, such as critical reasoning.

Some people may even misuse the techniques to disconnect from challenging work responsibilities, rather than disciplining themselves to think rigorously, plan carefully and execute tasks effectively. I’ve observed in my practice that some clients tend to enter a kind of disconnected state with mindfulness work.

Undeterred enthusiasm for mindfulness has elevated it in some settings to cult-like status, which creates a risk of groupthink and social conformity. I’ve encountered several corporate situations in which team leaders have facilitated mandatory meetings that began with mindfulness meditation sessions. Some attendees reported to me that they felt coerced into participating, with fear of negative judgment if they didn’t behave as “team players.” If offered in workplaces at all, mindfulness experiences should always be voluntary and trainers should respect personal preferences.

Stress management programs that include some mindfulness training are preferable to those focused only on meditation or related techniques. Mindfulness practices may play a synergistic role as part of a general model that also emphasizes developing a “growth mindset,” medical wellness and a mission-driven attitude. Company leaders should think beyond the business trend of the moment and take a multifaceted approach to reducing employee stress—by fostering positive work cultures with strong social connectedness and considering flexible work hours, more vacation time, enhanced employee assistance programs, manager training and executive coaching.

We should regard mindfulness as only one possible component of a comprehensive stress management and wellness model. A balanced view of the risks, benefits and complexities of mindfulness training can empower us to consider implementing it in a careful, focused, and effective manner. 

David Brendel is a psychiatrist and the founder and director of Leading Minds Executive Coaching LLC in Boston. He is also a partner at Camden Consulting Group and co-founder of Strategy of Mind LLC.



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