Mindfulness: Making an Impact in the Workplace


A recent post included this question: Is mindfulness becoming a leadership skill?  This topic is ripe for continued exploration as more organizations are seeing this unique kind of workplace training as having a superhero-like impact. 

Google and Aetna are often held up as examples of mindfulness in workplace learning.  What about Iowa? Are there any companies right here in the middle of the country who are offering mindfulness training in their workplace?  Kevin Pokorny, who presented at a recent  Leadership and Civility Lunch directed us to Sarah Noll Wilson, Talent Development Business Partner at ARAG. The company is a leader in legal insurance. They  provide people with affordable and reliable legal counsel for everyday life matters.

ARAG’s North American headquarters are based in Des Moines, Iowa. They have earned the prestigious Center of Excellence Award for eight consecutive years (2007-2014) and have been named a Top 100 Call Center by BenchMark Portal for four consecutive years (2011 -2014), continuing their track record of industry-leading customer service. ARAG team members voted ARAG a Best Places to Work in Insurance (2009-2013).

An interview with Sarah included the following questions and her responses:

How does your organization define mindfulness?

We define it as a moment to moment awareness. It is mental training in the practice of becoming more aware of the present moment, rather than dwelling in the past or projecting into the future. It helps us shift from auto-pilot by taking pause and choosing how we act in order to improve relationships with ourselves and others, increase our mental agility and to lead more authentically.

How have you brought mindfulness to the workplace so far?

We offered a four week class for a small group of 10.  We wanted a small group purposefully. The following learning objectives demonstrate our desired outcomes.

Week 1 – Automatic Pilot

  • Coming to understand the meaning of mindfulness.
  • Becoming aware of the significance of automatic pilot in our lives.
  • Noticing how bringing awareness to our experience changes the actual nature of the

Week 2 – Dealing with barriers

  • Working with difficulties in a new way and discovering new ways of learning.
  • Discovering how we add layers to our experience and that it’s often not situations themselves that cause us problems so much as our reactions to them.
  • Seeing how problems can be worked differently.

Week 3 – Staying Present

  • Learning how to deconstruct experience: coming to see how it is made up of thoughts, feelings, and body sensations.
  • Developing an awareness of our reactions to difficulty and learning instead to respond to them.
  • Learning to make a different perspective.

Week 4 – Acceptance and letting be

  • Developing a different relationship to thoughts and emotions.
  • Discerning the difference between reacting and responding.
  • Learning to allow what we feel simply to be what we feel.

What have been the results?  

Our preliminary results include…

  • Improved listening
  • Increase in concentration
  • Decrease in reported stress
  • Stronger connection to co-workers

What about participant feedback?

Here is a sample of feedback that we collected:

“When I get stressed, I stop and breathe and then refocus on one thing. I suggest the same to co-workers when I see them stressing about something or rushing through something and doing a bad job because of it.”

“I have tools to help manage distress and have been able to re-direct myself back to work faster than in the past. I’m able to be more open to new ideas at work and no longer feel the need to always have the answer. More confidence in what I’m doing.”

“I’m better at empathy with colleagues, I can better manage stressful situations, and I’m more comfortable addressing and verbalizing issues I may be experiencing as I’m able to remain collected.”

Do you have any additional resources on mindfulness in the workplace?

Yes, The first resource I recommend is Search Inside Yourself  Leadership Institute .  It was developed and tested at Google.  It is now a globally-recognized program & network.  They combine practices of mind training with neuroscience and technology. 

The second resource is a called Mindful.org.  They are an online resource for people who are interested in various forms of mindfulness practice.  

And finally, a company from the UK called Headspace offers a series of 10 free meditations that people can try on their phone or digital device.  After the first 10, users can subscribe for more training.

Graphic of CultivateThe Wallace Centers of Iowa promotes conversation about civility in the workplace.  Tweet us your questions to keep the conversation going?