Corporate mindfulness programs grow in popularity
An increasing number of organizations already offer or are considering mindfulness programs at work. But selecting the right vendor and mode of delivery for programs that aim to reduce stress, anxiety and even depression is critical in order to enhance employee participation and program success.
A 2016 study conducted by the National Business Group on Health and Fidelity Investments reveals that 22% of survey participants currently have mindfulness programs and 21% are thinking about introducing one in 2017. Thirty-six percent of companies where mindfulness training is available also permit participation by spousal and dependent partners.
Joe Burton, the founder and CEO of mindfulness company Whil Concepts, Inc. is not surprised by the growing corporate interest in mindfulness.
“Everything we’ve created at Whil is mapped against specific scientific studies that have correlated the benefits of mindfulness across an array of health and performance areas,” he says. “Companies want to improve productivity and performance. They also want to lower healthcare costs and absenteeism.”
eMindful CEO Kelley McCabe has also seen a definite uptick in awareness about the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace. Recently more than 1,000 people registered for a webinar eMindful conducted with Employee Benefit News. During a similar session three years ago 17% of participants reported they were considering adding a mindfulness program.
“Granted people who tuned in to the webinar are already interested in mindfulness, but this time 63% of participants told us they are currently thinking about bringing mindfulness training into their organization,” she says.
For the most part, workplace mindfulness programs are designed to help people improve focus, memory, relationships and self-control. But they may also address specific issues like stress, anxiety, depression or chronic back pain. While mindfulness training can be delivered in a number of ways including in person (individual or group) classes, audio recordings and online real time or recorded sessions, a recent Oregon study of 500 employees confirms internet-based training is the most preferred format.
Whil offers employees of client companies access to an online training library of 450 videotaped sessions designed to deliver exactly what individuals need “in the moment.”
Burton understands the attraction of live training but says companies must evaluate the quality of the teachers and whether or not they are promoting their personal views or specific brand of spirituality. He also notes that live training is very costly and typically not scalable for larger organizations.
“About 83% of our training occurs on a mobile phone right now,” he continues. “Our program costs employers as little as 30 cents/month per employee for a very large organization like Target, and increases to two or three dollars a month for organizations that have around 500 employees.”
McCabe describes eMindful as an “applied mindfulness company” that draws on expert experience to use mindfulness in tobacco cessation, weight, diabetes, pain management and other health-related programs. She says clients pay from 30 cents to $1.20/month per employee and they can expect an ROI of five to 10 times the amount they spend.
Employees of eMindful’s client companies are offered online classes at specific times during the week. “We have such a large population at this point that we can start new classes multiple times per month in different time slots. Programs are typically 55 minutes long and range from eight to 20 weeks.” she says. “Because every class is recorded, employees who miss a session can catch up using a HIPPA compliant portal.”
The Florida law firm Berger Singerman LLP combines both in-person training and online materials to offer a comprehensive mindfulness program to its 80 lawyers and 85 support staff located in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton and Tallahassee. Senior Counsel Debi Galler has been on board since the program was introduced in the spring of 2013.
“The firm brought in Scott Rogers, Director of the Mindfulness in Law Program at the University of Miami to do a series of five sessions we called Mindfulness 1.0.” she says. “Our subsequent mindfulness and performance enhancement program (M-PEP) started in the fall of 2015 is ongoing.” Rogers rotates between offices presenting live sessions available via video-conference to the other three locations. The firm has also introduced firm-wide 12-minute meditation sessions in each office at 3:30 PM on Wednesdays.
“In addition we have a library of materials in each office as well as a website developed for us with additional information and guided meditations. Employees can also set up individual Skype sessions with Rogers,” Galler explains.
As a both a law professor and a mindfulness expert, it is not surprising that Rogers is a great fit for Berger Singerman. But what questions should you be asking if your organization is looking for a vendor to deliver mindfulness training?
Burton says in a corporate environment non-spiritual, non-religious programs are a basic requirement. “Clients want credentialed experts who spend their time working inside corporations. They should know the lingo – for example that a KPI is a ‘key performance indicator.’ There is nothing ‘woo woo’ or hippy in anything we deliver,” he says.
For McCabe, the most important “must have” is to ensure that the specific programs being offered are research-based. “You also want to know how many times the vendor has offered programs to other employers, whether the programs are working and what kind of quality assurance process they have.” she says. “In addition, ask how experienced the instructors are, how they were trained and whether the program is scalable and repeatable.”
But simply introducing a mindfulness program is not enough. McCabe thinks that to encourage employees to take advantage of the program, company leaders need to actually participate so they can speak from experience. Offering incentives to employees can also help initially, she says.
For a first time launch Burton notes that the initial take up rate can range from 20-60%. To drive participation, he says mindfulness vendors should be capable of partnering with employers to develop and deliver a robust communications strategy.
Burton likens registering for a mindfulness program to signing up for a gym membership. “Anyone can join but people tend to use the service to address a specific problem. Our job is to make the tools available for anyone, anytime they need them.”