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Boost your productivity and profits with mindfulness and meditation

Mindfulness and meditation exercises are becoming increasingly popular with businesses. What could they offer your firm? Natasha Clark investigates.

© mrhayata (CC BY SA 2.0) Cropped

Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates; Steve Jobs, Mark Benioff, Salesforce.com; Oprah Winfrey, Bill Clinton, Gweneth Paltrow and Rupert Murdoch. What do all these CEOs, celebrities and influential business leaders have in common?

They all practice mindfulness and the art of meditation, and swear by its practices to make them happier, more productive and more efficient at what they do. Could it work for your business too?

Mindfulness is defined as a head and body approach to well being that can change the way you think about experiences in order to reduce stress and anxiety. In a high-pressure world of constant interconnectedness, meditation and the practice of mindfulness can calm and focus the mind and help to avoid burnout. Most people who practice meditation do so for a small amount of time each day, where they focus on the body and physical presence, and train their mind to concentrate on the present.

More and more business leaders in the west have been using the Hindu-based practice in recent years, and many highly recommend the benefits. It’s more than just a feel-good exercise to benefit the self – meditation and the practice of looking after one’s mind and body can have an impact on your business, from increased productivity to more profitable decisions.

Google has used an internal mindfulness programme called Search Inside Yourself since 2007, and it has walking meditations and ‘mindful lunches’ to focus its employees’ minds. eBay and The Huffington Post’s offices have dedicated meditation rooms for employees.

The Bank of England has previously run taste meditation sessions for its staff as part of a series of ‘working life seminars’. Over 50 MPs in parliament have tried out weekly mindfulness sessions. Even the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills holdsfree voluntary meditation classes each week at lunchtimes, at no cost to the staff or department.  If it’s good enough for Mark Carney, could it help you too?

Although many of the businesses implementing techniques in the workplace are American, the trend is spreading across Britain too, with many companies starting off small with yoga and mindfulness classes outside of work hours, and CEOs advocating the benefits to their staff.

Guy Blaskey, CEO of luxury dog food brand Pooch and Mutt, has found the process “amazingly useful” with “the ability to concentrate on one thing, and not get distracted. There’s no point in getting stressed about things you can’t control, they key is learning to understand that.” In terms of his business, he attributes his company’s extended growth to his mindfulness approach to running his business.

“It’s focusing, and realising what’s important in your business, and not getting distracted by the things that aren’t important,” he said.

Gareth Lymer, Managing Director of creative solutions company Sense Worldwide, agrees. He’s practised meditation everywhere, from alone by a lake to on the Tube in rush hour.

“Meditation enables me to strip away the layers of prejudice, fear, hope, greed and ego that disconnect me from the most original solutions,” he said.

Ky Wright, one of the co-founders of Lick frozen yoghurt, recently moved the firm’s offices into a co-operative space in Brighton, where he takes part in yoga and breathing exercise classes with others from around the building. He says the impact it has on thinking, clarity and wellbeing can be “incredible”, and dramatically increases his own and his colleagues’ happiness.

However, he shines light on what might be thought of as ‘British’ attitudes towards mindfulness and meditation. “I don’t call it meditation. I call it breathing exercises,” he said. “I don’t want to scare people off. There’s a lot of stigma still – it’s seen as a ‘hippy’ idea.”

A growing number of scientific studies are persuading the sceptics that meditation is shown to reduce stress hormones and gain stability for the mind to focus, shown to improve everything from productivity to cases of severe depression.

Headspace is a meditation smartphone app rapidly increasing in popularity, based on a project designed to “demystify meditation”. The team wants to get as many people as it can to take ten minutes out of their day to practise a simple and easy-to-learn meditation technique to help improve physical and mental wellbeing.

Co-founder Andy Puddicombe launched version two of the app last week in London, and the firm has been asked to work with over 100 major firms such as Credit Suisse, KPMG and Deloitte.

“The requests vary. Sometimes it’s for focus, sometimes productivity,” he said. “Increasingly we’re seeing a trend that employers are genuinely interested in the health and wellbeing of their employees.”

“When we’re happier and healthier, we’re more productive. Collaboration and relationships are stronger. Creativity is boosted too, and every organisation relies on innovation. We work in the US a lot, and many companies even put it on their health insurance.”

BP in Canary Wharf has a meditation room, Goldman Sachs uses meditation pods, and a UCL study with one of world’s largest tech companies and a pharmaceutical company showed a reduction in stress in diabolic blood pressure with daily use of Headspace.

The most widely reported benefit of mindfulness in the workplace is that it improves productivity of employees. Rob Symes, the CEO of predictive analytics business The Outside View, relies on meditation at the beginning and end of every day to focus his mind. “I don’t force meditation on the rest of the staff. It’s like God to me,” he said.

He is taking mindfulness and positive employee practices to a new level with his ‘health, wealth and happiness programme’, which uses data to analyse the happiness, food intake, exercise and amount of sleep that his staff are getting. Staff get free gym memberships, and changes are made to optimise their happiness in the workplace, and make them more productive.

Mr Symes advocates that meditation can help improve business decisions and avoid expensive mistakes. “If staff haven’t done enough exercise or got enough sleep, they can be up to 20 per cent less effective,” he said. This has ramifications for all areas of the business, including on profits.

Vikas Shah, joint managing director of Swiscot textiles company, said that since setting up his own business at 14, mindfulness has been incredibly important to face challenges of leadership. “I genuinely believe that mindfulness has made me a better business leader,” he said.

And what about the effects on profits? In theory, if employee’s productivity is increased, its staff will do more work in less time, and may make more money. Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington Post, said in a recent blog post: “This is a tough economy. Stress reduction and mindfulness don’t just make us happier and healthier, they’re a proven competitive advantage for any business.”

Research from INSEAD Business School found that doing just 15 minutes of mindfulness-based meditation such as concentrating on breathing can lead to more rational thinking in making business decisions. It also shows a resistance to the “sunk cost bias” (attempts to recoup irrecoverable costs in past business endeavours), as mindfulness draws focus away from past and future events and focuses on the present.

John Clayton is the co-founder of The Pinnacle Practice in Harley Street London, and Nottingham, which delivers Wellbeing in the Workplace workshops for businesses to help improve their employees’ health, which includes meditation.

“This dramatically helps improve overall workplace health, well-being, happiness and productivity in order to maximise and attain optimal results,” he said. “Ultimately, this saves companies millions of pounds per year.”

In America, meditation can help lower healthcare bills for those companies who offer packages as part of their employee’s salary or benefits. In these cases, it is in the interests of the company to keep their staff as fit and healthy as possible.

At Aetna Health Insurance, CEO Mark Bertolini made yoga, meditation and wellness programmes available to his then 49,000 employees. Duke University conducted a study on the savings in 2012, and found a seven per cent drop in healthcare costs, and an additional 69 minutes of productivity each day. The company had 3,500 people sign up for their mindfulness and yoga programmes.

There remains some nervousness within the industry about the idea of being associated with the traditional image of cross-legged, eyes-closed humming. Corporate capitalism and the focus on the Buddhist practices of meditation may seem at odds with each other, but with the amount of leaders that are embracing these techniques in their businesses and swearing by their success, it seems inevitable that mindfulness and employee health will become even more of a priority for businesses in the future.

Photo © mrhayata (CC BY SA 2.0). Cropped.

  • Great article – thank you. You’ve raised some really important points about how meditation can help people to grow their business – and help their employees stay happy and healthy and productive.

    If you’d like to know more, I offer a free webinar on how meditating regularly can help you to grow your business, whether you’re a sole trader or a multinational. Here’s where you can register: http://www.clarejosa.com/free-webinar-how-to-meditate/

  • KristelKayser

    I love this article and the proof that meditation is becoming more and more “normalised”. I know it’s helped me tremendously in reducing stress and increasing the quality of my life. Focusing more on the present and rewarding your self is the entire message behind my business brand http://www.coffeebreakandchocolatecake.com.