Four HR practitioners and training providers share tips and their experience in encouraging mindfulness in the workplace.
Suellen McCaffrey, general manager people and communications at St George Community Housing
“We had 18 staff do a mindfulness program over two months, meeting every Friday for a 90-minute session. Every day we now have a scheduled 10 minutes at 10am and 10 minutes at 3pm for everyone to meet up for a mindfulness session together. Not everyone attends. Some choose to do it at home or wherever.
When we do it as a group, we put a phone app on loudspeaker and a voice guides us through a mindfulness exercise.
When you say mindfulness, people think it’s a bit waffly and ‘out there’. In introducing it to staff, we tried to tap into how people were feeling as a reason for wanting to do a mindfulness program.
We asked whether they were having trouble keeping up with their day-to-day business; did they feel tired and overwhelmed and stressed by things?; did they consider they were not always being the best they could be in every situation?; and did they want to improve that? Because that’s what the outcomes are for people in their daily work. It’s also useful for improving conversations, which is important for people working in teams and to get things done.
If you just say its mindfulness, employees think they are only going to meditate. You have to link it to the benefit for them, which is about the increased clarity and focus, the sense of calmness and that sense of more time being created to achieve more.”
Vikki Rose Graydon, CEO of Association for Childhood Language and Related Disorders
“We have 55 staff in admin and professional roles, including teachers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, music therapists and psychology. About 18 of them completed an introduction to the mindfulness program at the beginning of the year.
We said we’d commit a certain amount of our wellbeing and professional development funds to offsetting the costs of staff doing a course. The staff and the organisation paid a half each.
Staff have reported improvements in their ability to manage stressful situations and cope with anxiety.
I have applied for another wellbeing grant through Work Health and Safety Queensland to either implement the program again for staff who haven’t done it or offer more in-depth or ongoing training for staff who want to continue.
Before the program began, one of the important things for me was getting everybody on board and saying, from the CEO’s perspective, that this was an important aspect of maintaining wellbeing, being self-reflective and empowering ourselves, rather than expecting the organisation or another person to solve our stress problems for us.”
Amanda Sinclair, professor of diversity and change at Melbourne Business School
“When you’re setting up a program, you don’t want it to be seen as just another fad. It’s important to spend time with leaders of the organisation or groups you’re aiming to work with to understand their issues – for example, what’s getting in the way of them exercising innovative leadership – and see how ideas of mindfulness might respond to that.
Also, HR professionals come under a lot of pressure to kind of package things and specify outcomes. I understand the business logic that drives that, but I think it’s important to have ways of quietly resisting it and saying, ‘Look, we need a different approach if we’re going to try this, and if we approach it like any other business or development task, we might miss out on some of the important things in it’.
I’d encourage organisations to approach it with a very experimental, generous, appreciative mindset.
One of the very powerful things about mindfulness is that we aren’t judging ourselves or others. We’re open to whatever effort is there. Every effort is good.
Rasmus Hougaard, founder of The Potential Project
“It’s important that organisations do it fully or not at all. We have had companies and organisations that think it’s enough to do a two-hour workshop, then tick the box, saying, ‘We took care of our people this year.’ It doesn’t work like that. It’s not a quick fix.
If they want to use mindfulness as a tool to improve performance and reduce stress, it’s more than a two-hour workshop.
Another important thing is to make sure to find a provider – and there are many great ones out there – who not only has experience in mindfulness (that’s good and great), but who also has a corporate approach. Otherwise there will be a lot of scepticism and people won’t be happy with the program, because it takes time to give them the effectiveness they’re longing for.
The third thing is to make sure there is leadership support for the program. The organisation’s leaders need to walk in front of a program like this.”