Mindfulness technology has been catching on in the enterprise as a way to boost employee productivity, reduce stress and improve leadership performance.
HR departments are getting good traction by promoting the stress reduction and performance aspects of mindfulness practices. Technology can help, but companies need to be careful these tools do not become a distraction.
So said vendors of mindfulness programs at the recent Mindful Workplace Summit near Silicon Valley, at which the sellers discussed more about what makes these programs work.
"The tech companies have been early adopters of mindfulness programs, more so than traditional companies," said Eric Forbis, co-founder and co-director of the Mindful Workplace Summit.
"There is an openness in letting people explore these things in the workplace."
Google is one early example of a company that pioneered bringing mindfulness technology and related programs into the enterprise. After the success of this internal program in boosting employee performance and engagement, several startups spun out, such as Wisdom Labs, which develops mindfulness training, including a digital learning platform.
Eric ForbisCo-founder, Mindful Workplace Summit
Wisdom Labs' research has documented increases of 18% in metrics of employee resilience and compassion when workers use mindfulness training. It has also begun looking at blood biomarkers that have identified improvement in gene expression related to reduced inflammation and improved immunity. "We need to collect more data with the biomarkers to make more definitive connections, but we have been encouraged with this early trend," said Parneet Pal, chief science officer at Wisdom Labs.
But getting these kinds of results takes a concerted effort by HR managers to develop a coherent program. "Adopting mindfulness takes more than attending a workshop or watching videos or reading about it," Pal said.
Making mindfulness technology work well
InteraXon, a biofeedback vendor, debuted Muse as a consumer product in 2014. The company then launched a business group after individuals started incorporating Muse into their enterprise mindfulness programs. Muse's foray into enterprises started out as a corporate gift-giving alternative to sports tickets.
"The enterprise push is more of a new thing for us," said Ben Nachmani, head of sales for performance and wellness programs at InteraXon. "It takes a technological angle to teaching meditation that resonates well in companies because we give feedback and results."
Mindfulness may have real benefits for companies
Real-time feedback can also help employees to discover whether a particular mindfulness technique, such as counting breaths, works better than others. "What works well for you comes from adapting to the feedback," Nachmani said.
Create multiple access points
It's important to create the conditions in an organization for a wiser workplace and to focus on long-term culture change, Pal said. This approach involves thinking about how mindfulness can become a way of life in a company.
For example, Wisdom Labs offers various access points for an employee or leader to cultivate behavioral change at an individual or team level. The program includes a blend of in-person, webinar and digital mindfulness technology that can be scaled. It could be as simple as an awareness-raising keynote or half-day workshop with follow-up webinars, to longer learning labs with access to a digital app.
Pal said that enterprise HR managers can differentiate their programs with content designed for the workplace. "It is a very effective way for employees to continue practices throughout their workday and use the practices in various aspects of their work, like meetings, conversations, eating and walking."
HR managers can promote mindfulness programs through a focus on improved performance or health benefits.
Executives are more likely to respond to the performance aspects, but many employees may respond to stress reduction. "Every culture is different," said Zev Suissa, chief digital officer at eMindful, an enterprise mindfulness company. A focus on health impacts can be important in insurance companies and medical industries.
Every organization is unique, and the messaging needs to be tailored to its culture, Pal said. Some are open to mindfulness, while others are more responsive to the outcomes that address a particular pain point, like stress resilience, emotional awareness or effective leadership. "In the end, buy-in is most likely when the program is included within the context of the culture and values of an organization," she said.
Balancing technology and practice
Not all mindfulness apps and technologies produce results, but quite a few do. "As with most things, they can be both a remedy and poison," said Dawa Tarchin Phillips, CEO at Empowerment Holdings, a mindfulness training firm. It depends on the application and the skillfulness with which someone uses it.
A lot of people do benefit from technology-assisted mindfulness programs, whether listening to prerecorded meditations, participating in an online course or receiving reminders in their email, Phillips said.
The downside is when mindfulness technology becomes another diversion. "If we don't look at our deeply ingrained desire for distraction and escapism, then having apps that are supposed to generate mindfulness can be counterproductive," Phillips cautioned.
"Ultimately, these mindfulness practices are practices, and the individual has to do it themselves," Forbis said. "The technology can assist. But it comes back to human beings having to take some time to go through the practice."