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?

Mindfulness: A Leadership Skill?


Is mindfulness becoming a leadership skill?  There has been significant research devoted the benefits of mindfulness practices related to health and wellness. Numerous large organizations have taken these benefits seriously and brought mindfulness to the workplace; Aetna, Google, Intel, General Mills are a few leading companies that have offered programs about mindfulness.

Stuart Levine of Credit Union Times, writes:

Mindfulness is a must-have for effective leadership. Published research from graduate business school INSEAD reported better communication skills, more appropriate reactions to stress and improved innovative thinking through mindfulness practice. Effective leaders are keenly aware of how their mindsets, emotional states and actions affect team members. They are able to control their behaviors and suppress automatic responses. Mindful decision makers take time to observe, not falling prey to assumptions which can be misleading and are able to consider various options. The cognitive benefits of being present supports a more effective decision-making process.

What are your thoughts about mindfulness and its impact on business? Do you work for a company with a mindfulness program?

Gather Tips and ToolsSeeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  We gather tips and tools about leading (and developing emerging leaders) with civility.

Leading with Civility: 5 Steps to Include Others

Graphic of Include OthersNo matter where you work, there are probably people that feel left out; they might even appear like they want to be on their own. There can be all kinds of reasons for their isolation. The reasons do not matter as much as the steps you can take to include them.

Why does including others matters?

The benefit of including others, even the loners, is that they have something to contribute; perhaps it’s a unique perspective to the work you are doing. Including others contributes to an organization’s overall well-being, which is why so many are investing resources in practices that promote diversity and inclusion.

5 Steps to Include Others

Graphic of 5 Tips

  1. Pay Attention – The first step to inclusion is to pay attention to those people that seem to be on the sidelines; those who don’t say anything at a meeting or just keep to themselves.
  2. Don’t try to change the person – The next step is to realize that the goal isn’t to change them in some way or to “get them” to contribute. The goal is to understand their perspective.
  3. Assume a mindset of curiosity – Now that you know there are people out there with perspectives different than yours, you can assume a mindset of curiosity and a willingness to risk being rejected. They might not want to share their perspective so it may take patience and time.
  4. Build Trust – Know how to use social and one-on-one situations effectively. In social situations it is best to invite them along without expecting anything in particular. After you have built a level of trust, you can engage them in a conversation.
  5. Look for signs that will allow conversations to unfold naturally – Watch for signs that a conversation could unfold. Is the other person expressing any emotion? You can simply say, You seem_______.” You fill in the blank with the emotion you are observing. After hearing what they have to say, you can keep the conversation going with comments like, “I hear you.”, “How did that go?” or “What’s next?”

If you try these tips or have additional ideas, reach out to us at @seedsofcivility

Additional resource: The Inclusion Dividend: Why Investing in Diversity and Inclusion Pays Off by Mark Kaplan and Mason Donovan.

plant seeds graphicThe Seeds of Civility is a blog that is created by The Wallace Centers of Iowa.  Here we plant seeds of inspiration for your daily life.