Erica Pinsky



 available as a PODCAST

The Value of Meditation at Work


Work related stress is now the leading cause of workplace disability, costing the Canadian economy close to $5 billion a year.  Doing more with less is the mantra in many of today`s workplaces.  Change is the name of the game.  Given those realities, the likelihood that work related stress is going to end any time soon is slim to none.


So what`s an employer to do?


How about offering a weekly, 30 minute meditation class?


Wendy Quan, Organizational Change Manager at Pacific Blue Cross  (PBC) has been leading  a weekly meditation class for her colleagues for the past 2 years.  The class has grown from 12 attendees to over 150.  And it is producing tangible results.


Wendy has been conducting research in order to quantify the business benefits of her meditation classes.  Despite that fact that PBC is in year 7 of a 7 year system change project that impacts everyone in the organization, the latest study found a 400% increase in attendees’ self-reported ability to handle workplace stress.  There was a 530% increase in how employees rated their personal resilience.


Employees report being able to handle conflicts more easily, being better able to focus more easily, to think more clearly and make better decisions.  They feel calmer and don’t get as upset as they used to: they are not as easily triggered.  They are experiencing less anxiety.  Employees that have been diagnosed with clinical depression are finding they are able to reduce their medication and/or have less need for counselling. Many are finding more joy in their lives and are going home after each class to share what they are learning with their families.


All because they are making the choice to attend one mediation class a week, held on company premises, facilitated by one of their colleagues, during their lunch hour.


The benefits are enormous.  The costs to the organization are nil.


I had the opportunity to attend one of Wendy’s classes recently and sat down with her afterwards to find out more about how the meditation program at PBC got started.  I have captured the highlights of the interview here. I strongly recommend that anyone interested in low or no cost, practical strategies to support employees to deal with change, or who has been thinking about starting a mediation practice listen to the entire interview.


Wendy’s personal story is inspirational.  She is a cancer survivor who credits the benefits of a mediation and mindfulness practice as critical to her healing.  “When you go through a change, when you go through something you have no control over, like a cancer diagnosis, you have a choice in how you react.”  The practice of meditation and mindfulness offers the opportunity to increase our personal resilience – “the ability to handle what life throws at you and the ability to bounce back more quickly or not fall as deep.”


Increased personal resilience means employees are better able to deal with change at work.   In order to support her colleagues in dealing with the “huge system change” that PBC has been involved in, Wendy has focused on developing personal resilience in her meditation classes. “There is always change at every work place. Increasing personal resilience and increasing perspective is about realizing that there is a lot that is going to change but you are going to get through it. It is ok. You can handle it by developing a sense of peace and calm, and the building of personal joy.”


Attendees learn simple techniques to practice mindfulness and reduce stress at work. Wendy teaches many different meditation techniques so individual employees can find those that work well for them. “It can be as simple as focusing on your breath for 5 breaths: you are rushing to a meeting - breathe.  Or you can do walking meditation: whether you walk slowly or quickly just put 100% of your attention on what your body is doing when you are stepping.  You can add an internal mantra: right, left, with each foot. Focus on each step, where your weight is, on what part of your foot: your toe or your heel.”


With an interest in sharing the bottom line benefits of this weekly meditation class, Wendy submitted a paper entitled “Building Change Resiliency through Meditation and Mindfulness” for peer review in the innovation category to the Association for Change Management Professionals.  Her paper was selected for publication at the 2012 global summit.


The fact that Wendy has had executive participation in her classes since she started has been instrumental in her ability to develop the program.  She advises others who may be interested in starting a meditation program to “Talk to people who have a personal interest and know the benefits so that they can be advocates to talk to HR or Health and Wellness reps.”


She also advises individuals to be mindful of how to structure the sessions.  As PBC is a unionized environment it was important to structure the class so that it would abide by the Collective Agreement provisions.  Employees have a 30 minute lunch so she plans for a slightly shorter session that allows employees to get to the class and back to their desks within their allotted lunch times.


PBC has a host of wellness options available for its employees: regular yoga classes, fitness classes every day at 4:30, ‘lunch and learns’ on health related subjects.  The meditation class has been the most popular among all of these offerings.


I asked Wendy what she attributed that to. “People see the benefits. Four out of seven on our senior executive team come on a regular basis because they see the benefits.  Even those that are only coming once a week are seeing benefits.  Someone gives you a funny look at a meeting – you can use a silent mantra like Let it Happen, Let it Go.  You can choose to let go and move on.”


In 1960 the US Navy coined the phrase “Keep it simple stupid.”  While I instinctively object to the insulting name calling, the idea of adopting simple solutions to manage the myriad of challenges we face in our ever changing workplaces is most appealing.  The success of Wendy’s mediation classes at PBC was somewhat accidental.  It was a result of her sharing her personal story in dealing with her illness when she returned to work that colleagues asked if she could show them her “secret.”


Her secret is a simple practice that is thousands of years old: one that might have even more relevance, more value in our contemporary workplaces than at any time in our history.


What struck me on hearing about the success of the meditation program at PBC is that change management strategies don’t  have to be complex, elaborate or expensive.  It can start with a simple conversation with your employees, soliciting their input and ideas for dealing with change and managing stress.   It might be as simple as reminding your colleagues to breathe and to take time to celebrate success.


Individual employees make a choice to attend the classes. To reap the benefits of attending they must, by definition, also make a choice to apply what they are learning.


It is easy enough to focus on our breath.  The challenge is holding ourselves accountable for doing so, creating a habit or practice of doing so.  Reminding ourselves to breathe when something stressful comes up.  Choosing to stay present, to focus on a walking meditation as we go about our busy and all too often, stressful work schedules.  It may be that the bottom line  value of meditation is its ability to empower us, to allow us to recognize and embrace our power of choice, to realize that we have more control over workplace experiences than we might have thought.


Effective change management strategies are a requirement for any organization looking to achieve sustainable business success. Why not take a page from PBC’s playbook and get the meditation conversation started at your workplace.


Pauline Johnson
Envirotest Canada

"Our company recently implemented a Respectful Workplace training program. While researching and developing the program I discovered Erica’s book Road to Respect: Path to Profit. After reading it I realized that the information and guidance contained in the book would provide real value to our organization, so I distributed copies to the entire leadership team. For those organizations committed to building a respectful workplace, Road to Respect: Path to Profit is a must read."