Mindfulness at Work: why we started meditating in the office, and how you can too

Rik Sutherland, Senior Consultant, Advisory
Rik Sutherland, Senior Consultant, Advisory

I first sampled meditation 18 months ago, to manage the depression and anxiety I had just been diagnosed with.

Initially, I was sceptical: my Western upbringing and training in law/science didn’t leave space for chanting, incense, or other accoutrements associated with this ‘soft’ practice. But recently, my lawyer-scientist mind has come to accept the evidence proving the benefits of meditation. Personally, meditating regularly helps me understand and accept myself, and my mood disorder. It’s not that I don’t get sad and scared, it’s just that I don’t get as caught up in it, and my negative emotions seem to be shorter, and less intense.

It’s not just me: the evidence is also in thousands of journal articles. Neuroscientists have shown that practising mindfulness affects brain areas related to perception, attention, pain tolerance, emotion regulation, complex thinking, and performance.

Knowing the benefits of meditation to myself, to others, and for organisations, since joining KPMG five months ago I have helped develop a meditation practice here in the office. It’s been a remarkable journey, and I’d love to share some of the key ingredients with you.

  1. A Safe Environment

As a start-point, you need an environment where it is safe to discuss meditating and mindfulness – whether as a performance technique, mental health strategy, or stress-reduction mechanism. This was only possible due to the attitudes of my colleagues at all levels, who create a culture of openness to difference, and acceptance of new ideas. Innovation, even.

  1. Leadership Support

To get going, you will need leadership support of mindfulness or meditation, from a range of sources. I was fortunate in my first week to see Partner Andrew May from the Performance Clinic speak about mindfulness, and then have my initial impulse to explore this supported by my managing Partner, Christa Gordon. Additionally, I knew that KPMG encourages staff to use a meditation app – Smiling Mind. We are also very lucky here in Canberra that our Office Chair, Cath Ingram, actively supports a Wellbeing Program, encouraging various staff-led initiatives in this space. So, I had a sense that the organisation was behind me.

  1. Interested Co-Workers

If something is going to take off, there will have to be an appetite amongst your colleagues – either one you create, or an existing openness to mindfulness. When I mentioned meditation around the office, a lot of people responded really positively – either they meditated too, or were interested in it. Word got out, and more people started approaching me to talk about meditation. It seemed like there was genuine interest.

  1. An Event

When things are ready, you will have to bite the bullet – host an event (even if it’s just reserving a time and place) to test the waters and kick things off. I started by booking an office meeting room, every Thursday at 2.30pm, for a month, advertised by an all-of-office email. The first session, I sat alone, and felt a little defeated and embarrassed. But I persisted, people came, and as a group we started listening to guided meditation sessions from various apps played on loudspeaker from someone’s phone. How very 2016.

  1. Reviewing your Practice

After the first month, based on feedback, the group agreed to change the time of the meditation so that more people could come (we now have one before work, and one at lunchtime). We also started circulating more information outside the meditation sessions, including about apps and resources people could access. We have just started running an 8-week course provided by the Performance Clinic, and we will continue to seek input on how we can make meditation more accessible (either through our sessions, or outside them).

I don’t know where this will go. I would like to think that we are contributing to workplace wellbeing and performance, our ranks will continue to swell, and we will finally take over the board room! But perhaps it’s just as likely that in another few months it will cycle back to meditating by myself on Thursday lunchtime. Who knows. In any case, I feel strongly that our group reflects the genuine warmth, courage, and innovation of KPMG’s culture and people. With the support of this community, our weekly practice is giving me a large dose of what I need to be happy, healthy, and productive at work and beyond.

Even my lawyer mind can’t argue with that.

25 thoughts on “Mindfulness at Work: why we started meditating in the office, and how you can too

  1. What a great initiative Rik, thank you for sharing your story. Totally agree it’s a great idea to get this happening in the Melbourne office.

    1. Thanks Fiona, really appreciate it. From what I hear there are a few movements in this direction occurring down in Melbourne too – which is great 🙂

      1. Thanks Gaye!! I wonder whether you would mind connecting me with Rob? Would be great to be linked in with what you are planning 🙂

  2. Rik, thanks for sharing this candid and thoughtful article. Sounds like you have launched a great initiative in a very supportive environment. Well done.

  3. Rik – what a fantastic piece! I think you are very brave and courageous to write such a personal article. I am sure it will resonate with many! Thank you for starting up our Canberra Meditation Group, it is a wonderful experience and I encourage everyone just to give it a go. If you are in Canberra, come along and spend some time with us – Tuesday mornings at 8am and Thursday lunchtimes at 12.30pm.

    1. None of this would be possible without the mindful community that has built up in the office – that’s what really makes this wonderful, and sustainable. We all share it, and it takes on its own feel independent from any of us! Looking forward to seeing what’s next for the group.

  4. Hi Rik – thanks for sharing such a brilliant article! You may also like to try the Smiling Mind app we have available through Mobile Iron on your mobile device.

    1. Thanks Lainie – yes, I quite like the app, and we use it in our meditation group. Great that KPMG is so supportive of this!

  5. Simon Kuestenmacher

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    Fantastic initiative and a great article, Rik. Let’s make sure we get this happening in the Melbourne office too. I struggle keeping up my personal practice without an external structure to support this habit.

    1. Thanks Simon. From what a few people have said to me, sounds like there is a bit happening down in Melbourne – hopefully a bit of a movement forming 🙂

  6. Hi Rik – a beautiful and courageous article. Congratulations! I start all the PLG meetings (PLG = my leadership team in PPC) with a 3-5 minute meditation. My team really love the practice and I believe it helps us have more effective meetings. We share around the group who guides the meditation and use an app or our own words. At Barangaroo in a few weeks we will also be trialling a “Breathing Space” as part of B20. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help you keep going with this great initiative

    1. Great read! In Melbourne there are a few of us who head to a free meditation at fed square on Tuesday’s. Hopefully there will be something similar when we move down to Docklands or space available in the new building.

      1. Thanks Steve, sounds great!! I wonder if there are ways of spreading the word within your office. We have an office newsletter which I have used to raise awareness of our group. Hopefully there will be something for you in the new office too!

    2. Thank you so much for your feedback, Susan, I really value it. Yours all sounds like great ideas – word of your pre-meeting meditation had actually spread to me through other channels and I tried it before a meeting the other day, and will continue to do so. Going forward, would it be an idea to informally connect a few of us who are championing mindfulness in different offices around to country, to share insights? Other than the commenters on this thread, and people who have emailed me separately about this article, I don’t know who they are.

    3. Great article Rik. It would be great if the Breathing Space trial could be converted to a regular meditation group. What a great opportunity to utilise the amazing new facilities at Barangaroo. Mindfulness is such a great way to build the real resilience we all need to thrive.

      1. Thanks Paul, this is a great idea. Definitely worth touching base with Susan, and maybe the Performance Clinic (who are based in Sydney) to keep the conversation going!

  7. Great article Rik, I’ve also found daily meditation to be of huge benefit. Looking forward to seeing what space might be available for this sort of activity in the new Melbourne office.

    1. Thanks Quentin. I think it’s easy for leadership to get behind meditation in the workplace, as it’s proven to improve productivity, and free to run! From this thread it sounds like there are a few of you in Melbourne who are keen on this 🙂

  8. Thanks Rik, how valid in today’s frantic working environment! I remember turning to some mindfulness techniques last year when I really needed them, what a difference such simple measures can make.

    1. Thanks Alex, appreciate it. So many comments on here and I’m getting some emails and messages too – seems like this is really resonating with lots of us.

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