Zen-inspired Corporate Wellness

Stories of work place stress and anxiety are common today. In January of 2010, my wife was laid off from her work at a large non-profit organization. She used to tell me about the "knot of fear" she would experience in her solar plexus when she came to work in the morning. There was so much job uncertainty, this ripple of fear spread throughout the work environment. Michael, a friend who worked at a large corporation here in Chicago put it this way, "Often, while engaged in particularly large or intricate projects, stress levels would mount and cripple our best efforts to move forward. We called the experience 'vapor lock'." With job uncertainty at an all-time high, workers often end up doing more with less resources. This increased work load can easily contribute to higher levels of stress which adversely impacts morale, focus, productivity and health. So it's not surprising to discover that there is increasing interest in exploring how mindfulness in the workplace may help reduce stress. High-profile companies such as Google are offering classes in mindfulness meditation, mindful listening, mindful emailing, empathy and social skills in their School of Personal Growth which is part of Google University. It must be helping because Fortune magazine has named Google the #1 Best Place to Work for the last two years in a row.

The Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago (ZLMC) is pioneering an innovative approach for Corporate Wellness that is based on mindfulness and living a Zen-inspired life of openness, empathy and clarity. With a strong foundation in mindfulness meditation that is non-denominational and secular in style, this approach to mindfulness in the workplace can address some of the root causes of stress and anxiety that prevent many business from achieving their mission and purpose. ZLMC proposes that a Zen-inspired business aspire to excel in three areas: openness, empathy and clarity.

Openness Openness allows us to be present to ourselves and others in way that is more receptive and less reactive. When we are more receptive, we are able to learn and absorb new information more quickly. When we are open we can listen more carefully to those around us, and we can share and collaborate more skillfully with them. When we are open, we are more able to focus on the task at hand and to follow through with less distractions. When our work environment feels unsafe and uncertain, then it becomes increasingly hard to remain open. We are more guarded, less connected with those around us, and more reactive. All of these contribute to increased stress and anxiety which compromise our ability to get the job done. We learn to look busy, but nothing much is really getting done.

Empathy Empathy allows us to be connected with each other in ways that cultivate and nurture trust. Business is built on trust. When empathy is present in the workplace, people "feel felt" and this experience enhances a sense of security and safety. Empathy is what lubricates our social skills, allowing us to work together more effectively, to share ideas, to admit and learn from our mistakes. When empathy is lacking, morale suffers. When morale suffers, trust begins to be compromised. And when trust is absent, business becomes more expensive and inefficient. If empathy is absent in the workplace, resentments easily grow and fester, leading to further communication problems. A Zen-inspired workplace cultivates empathy as a foundation for increasing trust among all stakeholders in the organization. This increased trust, well-being and happiness contribute to an over-all workplace environment that is less stressful, more creative and more productive.

Clarity All successful businesses that are sustainable over the long-term, are grounded in principles that reflect their vision and mission. This principle-centered approach that has so successfully been pioneered by people like Stephen R. Covey and Peter Senge is increasingly recognized as a vital component for any business success. A Zen-inspired business is grounded in the clarity of what is important  All businesses must have leaders who inspire others by their example of integrity, honesty and their commitment to core values, regardless of how dire or difficult the circumstances. When business thrive, it is because they are clear about principles and core values. This clarity supports everyone in the company to feel safe and allows them to give their best in fulfilling the mission. Morale is high. Enthusiasm is high. Workers become brand ambassadors and productive, creative work gets done each day.

All three of these qualities can be enhanced and strengthened by introducing mindfulness meditation in the workplace. From a foundation of mindfulness awareness, skill sets that promote openness, empathy and clarity are more easily understood and implemented. When a business is proactive in cultivating mindfulness awareness in its workplace, ZLMC believes they will increasing harvest the rewards of increased well-being, happiness, creativity and productivity from all of their stakeholders.

Robert Althouse