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The nine best ways to boost workplace mindfulness success

A corporate mindfulness program can help your employees become more productive and can support your wellness efforts. Here's a look at how to get it right.

Imagine your next meeting starting with a moment of silence. If that meeting was taking place at TimeXtender, a software provider enabling business intelligence and analyticsthat's exactly how it would start. The company’s chief DNA and culture officer, Anne Krog Iversen, explained why: That moment of silence -- of being mindful -- "allows all participants to break free from their previous engagements, relax, clear their mental clutter, and prepare for the new meeting ahead."

Indeed, workplace mindfulness has become a powerful success tool for a number of companies looking to tap into its well-documented benefits. For example, the American Psychological Association points to a boost in working memory, focus, empathy and relationship satisfaction, as well as stress reduction, anxiety reduction, and less rumination.

And yet, the road to a great workplace mindfulness program is paved with some serious obstacles, including our pervasive culture of multitasking and ever-growing digital distraction. For example, Apple recently showcased how you can answer a phone call on your Apple Watch Series 3 -- while paddle-boarding on a serene lake. Amazon has introduced a new bedside table Echo designed for video chat and audio calls. And Google partnered with Levi's to design a jacket that lets you more easily control your smartphone during bike rides.

On the other hand, a number of technology companies are investing in tools that are specifically meant to boost mental health and wellness, including mindfulness. In addition, tools that have other uses -- such as videoconferencing or collaboration tools -- can also be used to promote mindfulness

Some organizations are leading the way by using such tech tools and by creating strategies to take their employees from frazzled to zen. Here's wise advice on how you can do it too.

workplace mindfulness program

1.     Get top-level support

It's not enough to set up a "wellness room" or offer mindfulness training if the company culture clearly doesn't support such efforts, and that support starts in the C-suite. The more invested leadership is in reducing stress levels and promoting workplace mindfulness initiatives, the better the chance of success.

Take the example of TimeXtender. Leadership truly supports the concept of workplace mindfulness. Mindfulness practices are woven throughout TimeXtender's culture, and Co-founder Krog Iversen is even a certified mindfulness practitioner. 

2.     Use tech in the right ways

"Being mindful is about paying attention to the present moment without judgment," said Jennifer Gentry, benefits program manager for Intuit, which offers a corporate wellness program called Well Minds. "Being present varies per person. It can mean using a smartphone as a tool to help practice mindfulness, or it might mean taking time away from all technology to recharge."

The constant buzz of email, instant messages, and other bursts of information can make it difficult to focus, said Karen Wiens, the director of global benefits for Cisco, which has launched a mindfulness program called Mind Set. That said, she believes that "the technology isn't the problem; it's how we use it." 

3.     Use mindfulness apps

To the above point, some companies are carrying out their workplace mindfulness with the help of technology.

Since we work across multiple time zones, the key is to share information and sessions for everyone.
Anne Krog IversenCo-founder and chief DNA and culture officer, TimeXtender

For example, Intuit's Well Minds includes access to meditation app Headspace, emotional well-being app Lantern, and virtual mindfulness classes through Lantern. At Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, employees attend mindfulness sessions via Adobe Connect conferencing software and receive meditation lessons via the meditation website and app 10% Happier. Cisco utilizes video conferencing to coach employees on mindfulness and share information through Cisco Spark.

In addition, companies may want to investigate apps to help employees "just breathe" -- a key component of mindfulness. Several devices can provide users with guided breathing exercises, such as some Fitbit models with the Relax feature and Apple Watch's Breathe app. 

4.     Teach employees when to unplug

Ideally, mindfulness workshops should help employees understand how to be thoughtful about how and when they use technology, Wiens said. Companies should help employees identify triggers, such as high stress levels, that can cause them to seek out technology as a distraction and teach them healthier alternatives, such as using their favorite app to meditate or to take a time out.

Through its Well Minds program, Intuit employees are learning practical mindfulness tips for dealing with technology, Gentry said. For example, to stay focused, employees are encouraged to turn off all alerts that don't come from people (such as breaking news alerts from CNN). 

5.     Create a distraction-free zone

Lack of attention can spread and detracts from those who are trying to focus, so looking at ways to support focus is important.

Cisco's Mind Set program, introduced Oct. 5, 2017, is a five-part course designed to teach employees workplace mindfulness techniques. Each session is delivered via Cisco WebEx conferencing. All participants will appear on screen to the others in the video conference, said Ted Kezios, Cisco's senior director of global benefits. "When you know you can be seen on camera, you might be less likely to multitask," such as firing off a quick email while the mindfulness instructor is talking, Kezios explained.

6.     Help employees establish mindfulness routines

The benefits of healthy endeavors and success-promoting habits come from regular routines, not onetime efforts, and the same is true of mindfulness. To this end, businesses should encourage employees to develop a mindfulness practice.

"Start by establishing a fixed schedule for mindfulness practice and training," said Krog Iversen. A set schedule -- every Monday, in TimeXtender's case -- helps reinforce the practice and weaves mindfulness deeper into the organization's DNA.

7.     Create an inclusive environment

TimeXtender invites anyone with an internet connection (not just employees) to join its Monday Mindful Recharge sessions. The offer integrates well with, and reinforces, the company's mantra of "time matters," as well as its goal of making mindfulness in business part of its DNA, said Krog Iversen.

In addition, she said that ideally, employers should help enable meditation practices by designating a conference room or other space as a "mindfulness room."

8.     Use chat tools

Group Collaboration tools are useful for raising awareness about upcoming mindfulness training or meditation sessions and encouraging dialogue among practitioners. For example, TimeXtender uses collaboration software Podio to post inspirational mindfulness messages two or three times weekly, said Krog Iversen. Video recordings of the company's Monday Mindful Recharge meditation sessions are made available on Podio the next day, for employees who weren't able to attend.

"Since we work across multiple time zones, the key is to share information and sessions for everyone," Krog Iversen added.

9.     Look to employees for training support

Many businesses outsource their workplace mindfulness training to professionals in the field. And though Cisco is among them, the company also plans to have trained employees lead some Mind Set workshops. Participants of those sessions may be "more willing to listen to someone internal to the company who lives and breathes our environment," Kezios said.

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