Mindful Work

A reporter I’ve admired for a while is David Gelles. Then someone was kind enough to introduce us, and I learned of his practice of mindfulness. He’s got a new book coming out on Mindful work, and I wanted to get his take on how this practice can help us navigate the social era, powerfully.

Mindfulness seems all the rage. At a time when people are getting more connected, this seems ironic or at least surprising. Tell us why you think this is true…

A few things are contributing to the surging popularity of mindfulness today.

First, several decades worth of empirical evidence has made it clear that mindfulness and meditation can, in fact, reduce stress, improve focus, and even make us healthier. This growing tome of research has allowed businesses, governments, schools and other organizations to accept mindfulness and meditation as valid — and valuable — practices.

A second contributing factor, I believe, is that between 24/7 workdays, ubiquitous technology, and an onslaught of media, mindfulness is — for many of us, at least — more valuable today than ever before. By allowing us to slow down and focus on the present moment, mindfulness offers a welcome counterbalance to the hectic pace of our daily lives.

There were some great stats in the book that mindful work helps both individuals and organizations perform better. and do you find people “convinced” of this:

The studies are persuasive, but let’s look at one specific case study.

At Aetna, a company I profiled in an excerpt of Mindful Work that was published in the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/01/business/at-aetna-a-ceos-management-by-mantra.html) the results continue to be impressive.

About 13,000 of the company’s 50,000 employees have taken either an 8-week mindfulness or yoga class. Those that stick with the programs report, on average “a 28 percent reduction in their stress levels, a 20 percent improvement in sleep quality and a 19 percent reduction in pain.”

They also become more productive, reclaiming an average of 62 minutes per week of working time, which Aetna estimates is worth $3,000 per employee per year. What’s more, the classes appear to have made the workforce healthier, and even helped the bottom line. In the first full year after the programs were rolled out at scale, health care costs fell 7.3 percent on a per employee basis. That amounted to about $9 million in savings for Aetna.

The CEO, Mr. Bertolini said that without his experience with yoga and meditation, he might not have been inspired to act on his impulse. “It’s made me question what I do and how I look at the world,” he said. “It’s made me consider my influence and how I treat people.” Aetna increased its minimum wage in the United States to $16 an hour, from $12. Thousands of customer service and claims administration workers around the country got raises, and Aetna would also reduce their out-of-pocket health care costs.

This resolves an apparent paradox: Aetna shows a business culture where taking a breath is part of making a buck.

How do you think mindfulness help people know their onlyness, live their onlyness?

There’s a phrase that goes something like: “Money makes people more of who they already are.” The same, I think, is true of mindfulness. Mindfulness allows us to be in the present moment, to stop dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. In those moments of clarity, we’re able to be our authentic selves.


How did your onlyness lead you to this book? And how has it changed you or your ideas?

I was looking for answers to life’s big questions from the time I was a teenager. But it wasn’t until I discovered mindfulness that I found anything that made a bit of sense. That was on New Year’s Eve, 1999, and shortly after that, I began meditating. A few years after that, I traipsed off to India for the better part of a year. There, I studied with Zen masters, Tibetan teachers, and one of the great mindfulness instructors of the 20th century — Anagarika Munindra-ji.

Since then, I’ve practiced mindfulness on and off — sometimes going through intensive periods of meditation and even going on retreat, and other times being less rigorous about formal practice.

But when I heard that some companies war bringing mindfulness into the office, I knew that this was a story I was meant to tell. As a business reporter — first at the Financial Times and now at the New York Times — I knew that the confluence of meditation’s rich history and the corporate world was a great story. I wrote a magazine article about it for the Financial Times, and soon after that, I had a deal to write Mindful Work.

If you had every reader do just 1 thing, what would it be?
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There are lots of ways to begin a mindfulness practice. From Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) classes offered in cities around the globe, to apps like Headspace, there are lots of ways to get a taste of a practice that top businesses, athletes, world leaders and artists are finding great value in.

And, David has offered to hang around here, and answer questions about mindfulness. Just like Stewart Friedman did when his book came out on Leading the Life You Want, he’s sharing himself with the Yes & Know community. Thank you, David.  And one of you will win a signed copy of David’s book. If you don’t want to risk missing out, buy your copy now. (link to buy).

5 Replies

  1. Mindfulness is something I’m learning to practice on my own to bring balance to my life. I’m happy to see companies embracing the concept (and the financial benefits to further encourage it).

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