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