It’s officially a “thing.” Many corporations have enthusiastically embraced mindfulness and meditation to enhance employee experience. With outcomes both promising and proven, it’s no wonder that the likes of Google, Apple, Nike, JP Morgan and General Mills have invested in the belief that corporate mindfulness improves workplace wellbeing.
The numbers support the story. In a 2017 report on employer sponsored wellbeing, Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health reported that 86% of the 141 employers surveyed include an expanded definition of employee well-being in their business strategy. Specifically, 61% were already engaged in or considering mindfulness classes or training, up from 43% in 2016.
But meditation is usually a solo sport.
I recently had the privilege of joining the top leaders of EnPro Industries in a joint meditation and discussion led by Dan Siegel, MD, clinical professor of psychology at UCLA and a widely published author and expert on meditation and consciousness.Siegel explains that an effective meditation practice helps us to cultivate our capacity for being aware, to increase the quality of life and strengthen the mind. But the mind is both embodied and relational; it requires integration within the brain and body and externally with other individuals. “Presence allows us to facilitate the natural integration of a system,” he explains, but it also helps us to connect more effectively to the ideas and possibilities of others.
Although we were 100 strong as we followed his prompts together, the work was still individual. What if the individual attributes of meditation were something we could do not just simultaneously but together?
I’ve increasingly begun to think of Books@Work in just this way.
In a Books@Work program, a group of colleagues step back from day to day job pressures and workplace power dynamics to explore a story together. The story – by definition – creates some distance, an oblique approach to the human condition, that opens the consciousness to explore challenges from a different, more objective perspective. It invites us to challenge our reactions or paradigms and to take in new ideas through the interpretations of others.
Books@Work, like meditation, develops the skills to see things differently. As one participant expressed, “Most of the time, whatever your beliefs are, you’re pretty set in your ways. When you get different interpretations, it can open you up to look at things differently than you normally would.”
“It opens your mind to other things,” remarked another Books@Work participant. “It takes you away from all the craziness that’s going on in your division, in your department. And it allows you to think creatively. I found when I would come back after Books@work, I would be refreshed.”
Meditation does this, yes, but Books@Work allows colleagues to do it together.
Seeing Each Other in New Ways
Books@Work creates the conditions for colleagues to see each other and their interactions in different ways. Interestingly, the program’s outcomes parallel Siegel’s concept of mindsight or the “human capacity to perceive the mind of the self and others.” In Books@Work, colleagues at all levels practice questioning assumptions, listening to different voices and connecting to new ideas and each other.
This opportunity for questioning, listening and connecting – like training the mind – develops the collective skills needed for openness, observation and objectivity, elements of the healthy, human centered cultures organizations need as an antidote to rapid change and uncertainty.
Image: Kazuaki Tanahashi, Mind/Heart. [Public Domain] via WikiArt.org