Do you feel tense at work?
When you spend 40+ hours per week at work, developing and maintaining healthy habits is crucial. But, you shouldn’t have to struggle to do this on your own. Leadership within an organization can — and should — promote and actively encourage wellness. It makes for more productivity, better work outputs, and a generally happier culture.
Since moving to a remote and hybrid model in March 2020, we started a virtual community meditating 3x per week. Then, the team — and likely yourself — were feeling stress and anxiety. Our little “islands of sanity” are a place for people to find calm and develop crucial inner tools of awareness, resilience, and patience.
Major Tom dot Calm and the Culture of Wellness was born out of constantly hearing and reading about (and feeling!) workplace stress. Stress is a widespread issue that manifests in a variety of ways:
Roughly $224 billion is taken out of the US economy per year due to lost productivity from presenteeism and absenteeism. Presenteeism is defined as being at work but out of it, and absenteeism is defined as when an employee is habitually and frequently absent from work.
As we're all keenly aware, work becomes extremely stressful when there is a lot at stake! Problems — like burnout or not sleeping well — arise when we ignore what our bodies and minds tell us. Practicing mindfulness builds the capacity to have intense emotion, like deadline anxiety, without giving in to it. Fundamentally, emotions are sensations, and meditation makes us familiar with what anger, stuckness, and anxiety feel like so we can meet it with acceptance. The greater the acceptance you can bring to what you are experiencing, the more you can decrease the amount of struggle and suffering you experience. Mindfulness isn’t always about being calm — it’s about being aware.
Think about this: digital jobs are 99% mental and 1% physical. If our work is 99% mental, doesn’t it make sense that we should exercise our minds, too?
Global tech leaders have revolutionized the way workplaces consider mindfulness. To put things bluntly, when you pay your employees to use their big, beautiful minds to further your corporation, you must take care of those assets.
Patagonia, Nike, Coca-Cola, and General Mills are all amongst those who have recognized and capitalized on supporting mindfulness in the workplace. Google has Search Inside Yourself, LinkedIn has a Department of Mindfulness & Compassion. Cisco has had a mindfulness program for more than five years and has been voted Fortune's World's Best Workplace for the last two years, both post and pre-pandemic.
We have Major Tom dot Calm.
Our wellness initiative has a few components. We do three guided meditation sessions weekly and have bi-weekly presentations on topics such as Normalizing Self-Care and How Taking Breaks is a Superpower. Every employee has a premium subscription to Wisdom Labs Wise@Work meditation app in which employees take part in 30 Day Mental Fitness Challenges. A Compassion Lab is coming soon, too, so stay tuned!
Mondays are Metta Mondays. Metta basically means connection. Metta practice is about offering your best wishes and goodwill to various people or groups. The intention is to recognize how interdependent we are on one another: how many people have to be doing a good job at their job in order for me to do a good job at my job? Who are we dependent on?
Even though we are at work and we're getting paid to do a job, a little appreciation goes a long way. Our metta practice is about offering up a felt sense of kindness to those we may tend to expect things from or just plain overlook. Ultimately this is a benefit to the practitioner. Us doing it are the ones who benefit in real-time by the lightness and openness of heart it brings.
Benefits of Metta Mondays:
On Wednesdays, we focus on the breath. Breathing is natural and so, often taken for granted. The manner in which we breathe influences our entire being from mental-emotional states, to the nervous system, hormonal balance, digestion, sleep, muscular function, and immunity.
Back in 2008 HuffPost coined the term email apnea and reported that 80% of us have it. It means chronic shallow or interrupted breathing, and it happens during sleep, emailing, texting — anytime we’re on screens — and contributes to numerous health concerns.
During apnea, the levels of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide fall out of balance. When the biochemistry is out of balance it can lead to issues with learning, memory, sleep, joint health, and inflammation.
The bad news is that over time this can lead to stress-related imbalances like heart disease, and increased feelings of anxiety, and depression. Are you holding your breath right now? If so, take a nice deep breath in and out before you read on.
The good news is that there are benefits to learning to breathe properly:
On Friday, we do a straight-up mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is synonymous with meditation. The instructions taught are from the Vipassana style. We use the body and breath as anchors for awareness and when the mind wanders, we notice the thinking as an object of awareness and shift back to the anchor. It’s simple, though not easy, and can bring about a profoundly deep peace of mind. The main rule is to focus on whatever is predominant in your experience. The paradox is that you let it go in the same instance.
Here are some testimonials from colleagues about being part of the Culture of Wellness:
“Weekly mediation sessions on Fridays have definitely given me an outlet at work where I feel comfortable in releasing any form of anxiety or stress. Seeing my coworkers join in has allowed me to feel that I’m not the only one going through the motions and it’s great to see everyone finding a healthy way to unwind together, while most of us work remotely! Thank you for always bringing a sense of calm and mindfulness back to us, Kari!" - Scott Woodworth, Fit Manager
"Major Tom's wellness programs (led by the incomparable Kari) are honestly the best job-based wellbeing programs I've ever participated in. When I started at Major Tom, I was skeptical as someone with chronic pain and physical limitations, but there's nothing intimidating or forceful about the programs. Major Tom dot Calm and our monthly challenges are presented as fun, for every BODY and they make sure to emphasize that you're doing this for you regardless of your skill or ability level. I've only ever felt supported in taking part -- and that each challenge we take on, or meditation we practice has truly been picked to benefit us as whole people, without agenda or shaming." - Chloe Pereglut, Senior Project Manager
"I had never meditated before, and when I heard that we had regular meditations at Major Tom, I didn't know what to make of that. Fast forward to today: I feel like something's missing if I haven't attended at least one practice per week. I even got tools to improve my focus or calm a busy mind in the day-to-day. I am super grateful for these sessions and Kari, who leads them. The challenges are also a lot of fun and create a feeling of togetherness in remote work culture. I love that our challenges are very diverse and always benefit us in everyday life too." Kate Zinggl, Social Media Manager
"Meditation helps me start my day the right way and clear my mind before diving into work. I'm very thankful that I'm encouraged to attend and have the opportunity to do so with a team. Thank you Kari for being the calmest, kindest and most peaceful teacher!" - Laura Tuturas, Account Executive
As a part of our commitment to offering a consistent space, an “island of sanity”, we invite new hires from day one, post regular reminders of upcoming sessions in slack, and post recordings of the sessions for those who can’t make the scheduled times.
With free memberships to the Wise @ Work app, employees have access to training focused on navigating difficult conversations, resiliency, beating stress, and unlocking creativity.
In our March 2021 30-day meditation challenge, more than ⅓ of our organization took part and logged close to 2,400 minutes! Below, you can see the total minutes Major Tommers spent on each focus to date:
And, here’s an impact analysis of our hard work!
Companies that have rituals and practices around empathy, compassion, and self-awareness tend to thrive because these practices lift us up. They are the bridges that support ourselves and each other. They are resources we can use to discover that we can be calm and composed in the face of deadlines and challenging situations. In fact, it’s because of life’s challenges that we need practices like these to remind us over and over, that we can begin again more skillfully. Mindfulness at work fosters a dual bottom line of employee productivity and employee wellness. May all employees be happy and healthy!
It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.
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