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A growing number of SMEs are putting their staff through meditation workshops as a way to improve health and wellbeing and increase productivity. We talk to two meditation teachers about the benefits as well as a business that’s reaping the rewards.
Mark Watkin, Managing Director of advertising agency BWM Dentsu Melbourne is one of a growing number of executives that believes in the benefits of meditation to improve the wellbeing of staff.
He offered free meditation classes to the entire agency under the tutelage of Kate James, a Melbourne-based coach and mindfulness teacher, with about 12 of the 62 staff members ultimately participating in the six-week program.
A former athlete, Watkin’s introduction to meditation came through visualisation techniques used while playing sports to maximise performance. He’d worked with James previously (she’d been his career coach).
“We work in advertising, which is high pressured, fast moving and very agile, so anything we can do to help people have a little bit of calm and balance is a good thing,” he says. “We try and focus on the smaller things – the 1% that will make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of our staff.”
Tomas Jajesnica, Chief Meditation Officer, Mr Meditate – who runs corporate workshops teaching the mindfulness strategies used by Google, Facebook and Twitter – says businesses are becoming more open to the “best stress buster” on the market. In 2014, he ran 300 sessions for NAB alone.
“The world is waking up to the benefits meditation because they’re learning why so many world-leading organisations have meditation as an essential part of their operation,” he says. “There’s scientific evidence of changes in the brain after eight weeks of practising mindfulness meditation. Parts of the brain responsible for stress start to reduce while the areas of the brain responsible for clear thinking, happiness, calmness and inner peace increase.”
Jajesnica sees plenty of benefits for businesses whose staff meditate including better concentration, memory and learning ability; reduced costs of staff absenteeism caused by stress; improved productivity and overall staff wellbeing; greater awareness/mindfulness of staff; enhanced employee job satisfaction and a clear corporate responsibility stance.
“We teach meditation as a productivity tool,” he says. “Essentially what organisations – from small business owners to large corporations – benefit from is what we call the CFC Method, which is about becoming calm, focused and clear. Once you are these things, everything else in that person’s life starts to improve. For example, when somebody’s calm they make better decisions, when somebody’s focused they get more done in less time and when someone’s clear, then clear-thinking is a natural by-product, but it also creates space in the mind for new ideas and new ways to solve things and get creative.”
One of the biggest barriers to participation for the busy executive is the feeling they’re so busy they don’t have time to sit back and meditate. Jajesnica says this attitude is particularly rife in the legal profession where he worked before launching Mr Meditate.
“A lawyer bills in five to six-minute incremental units and spending three of these meditating isn’t considered productive,” he says. “However, you speed up by slowing down. You’re maintaining your mind. You’re not performing at your best when stressed or anxious, and your mind is ruminating. Even by just taking five minutes out to reduce tension and re-enter whatever you’re doing with more calmness and a bit more perspective, objectivity and awareness; will help with performance.”
Meditation teacher Jacqui Lewis, who co-founded The Broad Place with her husband Arran Russell in 2013, concurs that there’s a valuable role for meditation in corporate Australia.
“The key thing about meditation is that it’s like exercise; there are lots of different types and they all get a different result,” says Lewis, a practitioner of Vedic Meditation, whereby practitioners are given a personalised mantra by a teacher and then practise independently.
“Vedic meditation has a profound difference to the other types of meditation in that it actively launders stress, tension and fatigue out of the nervous system, so people feel clearer, calmer, more creative and dynamic,” she says.
Lewis previously ran an advertising agency but shifted her focus to teaching meditation after she had children and found herself on the verge of burnout from juggling a young family with running her business. She became a convert to Vedic meditation as a way to help reduce stress and could see the benefit of introducing it to a wider audience. As well as running sessions for individuals, Lewis is seeing a greater number of corporate clients interested in training their staff.
“Small-to-medium-businesses are high pressured environments; you have people doing more than their allocated task as their roles tend to be so much broader,” she says. “When you get businesses with 5 to 25 people everyone is triple handling. Having a tool that allows them to give their nervous systems a break, give their brain a little holiday and become more joyful –and for the employer to see the results in regards to productivity and staff retention – is just brilliant.”
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