The Mindful Organisation

Chitra Narayanan | | Updated on: Sep 12, 2018

Can you meditate your way to higher productivity? Or is this just a fad?

Mindfulness is slowly making its presence felt in the Indian workplace. No longer do corporates think it is some kind of spiritual mumbo-jumbo. They actually believe that it can “accelerate organisational objectives” and boost productivity. This is what the Mindfulness at Workplace India Study 2018 report by Strat-Board, an HR services marketplace, reveals.

The study, released recently at the Mindful Leadership Conclave in Gurgaon, shows that 78 per cent of respondents surveyed believe it can significantly contribute to organisational effectiveness. However, only 11 per cent have a structured programme around it.

Of course, the sample size of the survey — with 50 companies — may seem small, but Sapan Shrimal, managing partner, Strat-Board Services, believes the results fairly capture the mood among Indian corporates. The low adoption in India, he believes, is more due to lack of clear understanding about the concept, practice and implementation of mindfulness than due to scepticism.

Contrast this with the US, where mindfulness training has penetrated quite deeply in the corporate space. It accounts for nearly 8 per cent of the $15.1-billion alternative care market, according to market research firm IBISWorld, which estimates mindfulness to be a $1.1-billion industry. And, the pace at which mindfulness is growing, with apps like Headspace, Calm, Mindbody, Buddhify, 10% Happier capturing everyone’s imagination, it could soon be a $2-billion industry. From tech giant Google, which had a cleverly-named, in-house, mindfulness training programme called Search Inside Yourself, to tennis star Novak Djokovic, who credits mindfulness and visualisation for his peak performance, there have been a lot of big names adopting it, leading to the spurt of interest in it.

Being in control

So what exactly is mindfulness? Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter in their new book The Mind of the Leader call it training the mind to be more focussed and aware. They call it a survival skill and a cornerstone of self-leadership.

Hougaard is the founder and managing director of Potential Project, which provides organisational effectiveness solutions and mindfulness is one of the solutions. Hougaard, who was in India recently, attending the conclave, evangelises a selfless culture and compassionate organisation, which can all come through mind-training practices.

Sapan Shrimal, who himself has been practising mindfulness for over 20 years, and is a passionate advocate, says focus and awareness are but mere starting points. When you practise meditation or mindfulness, it starts affecting you neurologically. You gain more control over your mind. He explains the scientific basis for this — when you are mindful, the pre-frontal cortex, which is responsible for reflection and creativity, asserts more control than the amygdale, the part of the brain responsible for emotions.

Haresh Khoobhchandani, Autodesk CEO, APAC, is another firm believer. He says mindfulness is an essential part of doing business today, given the fast pace of life, the vast amounts of information, and finite time. “It’s imperative to create an environment to find balance between work, pressure, intensity, so that it does not dominate people and stress them out,” he says. In this context, Mindfulness becomes important to harmonise people, their minds and yield goodness.

Mind and management

Although classified more as a wellness training, there is lots of management wisdom in mindfulness. It is about being in the present and listening. Other tips include giving complete attention to one thing and not multitasking. Sleeping well and practising digital disconnectedness for short spells are other key points.

Aetna is a global case study of a company that has integrated Mindfulness training in the company with some documented results. Of course, it all came from Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini’s personal conviction and journey into mindfulness. Before putting them into the programme, they tested the heart rate variability of 250 employees to establish their stress levels. After 12 weeks of mindfulness training and yoga, there were dramatic drops in heart rate variability and an increase in presenteeism and productivity.

In India, such documentation is still not available. Sapan Shrimal hopes that when they do the study next year, they would be in a position to capture some of this.

Fad or not

However, as with all programmes, mindfulness too can suffer from the dangers of commercialisation. Santhosh Babu, founder of OD Alternatives, is sceptical about the plethora of apps invading the space. “Mindfulness should not be “a doing” activity,” he says. It should be a practice that changes your being.

Six years ago, when Santhosh Babu conducted a three-day mindfulness retreat in India, he points out that this was a hardly talked about term. Today, even as mindfulness has become a big buzzword, Babu has chosen to retreat from it, no longer offering training in it.

He explains why. According to him, the current wave of mindfulness sweeping the world is about wanting and chasing something — success, productivity, effectiveness at the workplace and so on. “The idea of mindfulness is about renunciation,” he says. “The problem I have is connecting mindfulness with achievement,” he says.

Essentially what Babu is warning is that there is no short route or quick fixes to achieving mindfulness. It has to seep into the culture. “What you require is a mind shift to embrace mindfulness,” he says. In an organisation, if you introduce meditation as a practice, will it benefit people? Yes, certainly. It can make people aware of their desires and wants, reduce negativity, he says.

Sapan Shrimal also agrees that there is a feeling that the invasion of the apps has trivialised the practice of mindfulness. However, he points out that when it gets into the culture of the company, it can make a difference. Strat-Board has set up an email helpline where companies that are interested in mindfulness can find out how to go about it.

Published on September 12, 2018
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