Is Meditation The Answer To Employee Happiness?

Danielle Beurteaux

Google does it. So does Apple. So goes Silicon Valley, so goes the rest of corporate America? Meditation at work has been a tech trend for a while, one of the few holdovers from California’s hippy paradise days to its current iteration as tech giants’ stomping ground.

277214_l_srgb_s_glNow the digital economy is helping to make meditation big business. But companies don’t need to go to Google lengths to incorporate meditation and mindfulness training into employee wellness programs. There’s technology for that. An example: Recently, mindfulness and meditation startup Headspace raised $30 million in venture funding. That’s a chunk of money to think about. Is this the future for increasing employee work satisfaction and engagement?

Headspace, which is based in Venice, California, was founded by Andy Puddicombe, whose path to meditation is very well detailed in this article in The New Yorker. Headspace has quickly attracted a dedicated following including, apparently, investor-celebrities Jessica Alba, Jared Leto, and Ryan Seacrest. (And also The Chernin Group, which led the round.)

Some businesses swear by meditation as a means to improving the work environment and work outcomes. What’s behind the interest in this very old practice? Three reasons, says David Gelles, the author of Mindful Work, a book about the rise of meditation in corporate America. Meditation has become detached from religious practice; it’s a reaction against the constant stimulation most people face during their workdays; and there’s been research that supports the idea that meditation helps people work better.

That research includes a study that found a correlation between meditation and memory, empathy, and stress (although this study included only 16 people over a span of 8 weeks, hardly exhaustive). Another links meditation with stress reduction via the amygdala. (Headspace dedicates a section of its website to the research behind meditation.)

There’s plenty of competition—just Google “meditation apps”—and the “backed by science” claims are legion. But that makes sense, considering this is a trend that originated in Silicon Valley, via a bunch of data-loving techies more likely to support a scientifically measured concept. However, a recent literature review of meditation research found that most studies are too small and not particularly well designed, thus the results are hardly conclusive.

While meditation is being touted by some as a cure-all for what ails any company, it’s not that meditation at work doesn’t have its detractors. If a company’s program is digital, is it missing the important element of personal guidance? If taking part in such a program becomes required, will employees be engaged, enthusiastic, and appreciative? Or will it make them uncomfortable and bored? If that’s the case, and they don’t feel free to speak up about their dissent, they’re essentially just doing time.

Danielle Beurteaux

About Danielle Beurteaux

Danielle Beurteaux is a New York–based writer who covers business, technology, and philanthropy. Her work has appeared in The New York Times and on Popular Mechanics, CNN, and Institutional Investor's Alpha, among other outlets.