Imagine one day your boss said you had to meditate more, or you’d get fired. It sounds a bit mad, but it's not as unlikely as you might think.
You could end up with a KPI of having to meditate every morning before work. And if you broke your streak, you’d get in trouble. You might get stressed trying to keep up with it, or it could make you so much calmer and more focused that you’d gladly do it even without being asked.
An unusual thing to target people on, but meditation seems to have such a positive effect, we might start to soon see it made mandatory in workplaces.
So what is it about meditation that businesses seem to like so much?
Weightlifting for the mind
Mindfulness meditation encourages people to clear their minds of chatter and cultivate an ability to focus. By focusing on the breath going in and out as we breathe, concentration is diverted to the focus itself. It’s the exact opposite of the constant distraction we get from our daily digital information overload. Rather than reacting to whatever demands our attention minute-to-minute, it helps us to control attention and focus on what’s important to us.
It’s a sort of ‘weightlifting for the mind’, and the more you practice it, the better you get at focusing. And contrary to the stereotype that suggests otherwise - you don’t need to sit cross-legged or stick your fingers out like this 👌👌 to meditate.
According to Harvard Business Review, consistent mindfulness practice has four main benefits: increased focus, better calmness under stress, improved memory, and better interpersonal interactions. Meditation apps like Calm and Headspace now offer corporate subscriptions, so entire teams can join in, and some companies organise group mindfulness sessions for their employees.
You don’t need any fancy equipment or apps to do it - just sit and focus on the present moment for a while. That’s about it.
Reasons not to meditate
It’s not quite the secret to ultimate productivity, though. It might actually end up sapping your motivation.
In a study at the Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics, researchers found that subjects who meditated before being given a demanding task felt less inspired to complete it.
There are a few reasons this might be the case. A good part of cognitive work today focuses on organising things for future results, which is in opposition to the focus of meditation, which is the environment and body in the present moment.
Stepping back away from the mundane world of work and into the realms of the imagination can give you a different perspective on things. Sending a complicated email about supply chain issues seems pretty pointless after such a deeply human and energising experience.
There’s also something a little distasteful about a practice rooted in thousands of years of spiritual practice being reduced to a corporate productivity exercise.
Nobody owns meditation of course - there’s no rules - but some might find the connection to be a bit yucky.
Finally, implementing a corporate mindfulness program to compensate for a stressful work environment just won’t work. If everyone’s stressed out because of low pay, long hours and too much work, attempting to meditate will probably be a pointless exercise. Fix those issues first and your productivity will go up anyway (and your absence rate will go down).
Is it possible to meditate in your office?
If you do decide to introduce meditation into the workplace, you’ll have to think carefully about where to do it first.
Finding an effective place to do it isn’t easy. Preferably you’d be sat on a cushion with legs crossed and a straight back. You’d need your eyes closed and a lack of distractions.
Ideally, you’d do it in a reflection room; the kind of quiet place that’s advertised as a multi-faith prayer room in airports and the like. Even the most modern and progressive companies don’t often provide places like that, although co-working spaces are starting to offer things like ‘zen mindfulness dens’.
You could do it at your desk, but unless you’re a really bold type who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks, you’ll feel like a bit of a wally. It’s not unheard of for folks to find a toilet cubicle for a quick meditation session, but it's not the nicest environment and is probably best left as an emergency option.
Instead, you could encourage employees to do it at home with the help of videos, books or apps.
But would you track how often they did it?
The future of employee performance enhancement
Mindfulness meditation may be a bit of a passing craze, or it could turn out to be standard practice in employee wellbeing programmes. It’ll be interesting to see if mandatory meditation takes off.
But it does raise the question of how much companies can demand of their workers’ wellbeing.
While it makes sense that police officers and football referees have to maintain good levels of fitness, do you think office workers should be forced to do the same?
What else could we see in the workplace? What if there was a perfectly safe performance-enhancing drug that was proven to increase everyone’s output, like the fictional super brain boosting drug from the film Limitless?
Would it be ethical to force your staff to take it?
It’s a bit like something from a William Gibson novel, but you could imagine it happening. If some employees are willing to get sub-dermal implants for their employees to track them with, it’s not a massive leap of the imagination.
Most offices already have readily-available caffeine in the form of free coffee. Many newer places have beer on tap to help folks relax (or counteract a stressful environment).
But for now, regular meditation is probably best kept as an optional practice. Even if it works really well.