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Corporate Wellness

Studies have proven mediation increases productivity, creativity, intelligence, concentration, and mood. This equates to a healthy, less stressful and more productive workforce for corporate users of meditation.

Mark BertoliniMark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna , the third-largest health insurer in the USA with 30,000 employees insuring 17 million people. In 2010, Aetna partnered with Duke University's School of Medicine and found that regular yoga substantially decreased stress levels and health care costs. Following this, Bertolini made yoga available to all Aetna employees nationwide.

There seems to be a divide within in the corporate world. One side is all about beating growth, quarterly statements, and focusing on the bottom line. The other side is a growing awareness of the costs of stress on the workplace. Stressed employees are unhappy employees which in turn equate to increasing medical costs, lost creativity, performance, and productivity.

According to the World Health Organization, the cost of stress to American businesses is as high as $300 billion. And unless we change course, this will only get worse. Over the last 30 years, self-reported levels of stress have increased 18 percent for women and 25 percent for men.

In 2000, workplace stress cost American corporations approximately $9,500 per employee every year in health care, lowered productivity, absenteeism, turnover, legal and insurance costs (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics). Since then the cost of health care has more than doubled—and so has workplace stress—the The main reason why we’re not able to control health care costs is because organizations and policymakers are approaching the problem from the supply side. They think that if we simply increase the supply, or make it more accessible to everyone, then the cost will come down. This approach works in most industries, but not in health care because it is a supply driven industry.

The incentive in health care is for patients to use as much services as possible, so they feel like they’re getting their money’s worth from their insurance. Furthermore, health care providers run patients through all kinds of tests to minimize their chances of a malpractice lawsuit. Clearly, the supply side approach to solving the health care crisis is not working.

Naturally, if we’re going to gain any control over health care costs, then we need to approach the problem from the demand side. We need to reduce the demand for health care services by reducing workplace stress.

CDC Stress affects a wide array of illnesses such as high blood pressure, which afflicts nearly 70 million people, costing $130 billion a year to treat. Or diabetes, which 25 million Americans have. The CDC estimates that 75 percent of all health care spending is on chronic illnesses like these that can be prevented. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, two-thirds of visits to the doctor's office are for stress-related conditions. As a panelist on health care at the World Economic Forum put it this year, what we have right now isn't health care but "sickcare." And sickcare is a lot more expensive than real health care. Especially for businesses.

Business professors Michael Porter, Elizabeth Teisberg, and Scott Wallace wrote in the HBS Working Knowledge, that studies show U.S. employers spend 200 to 300 percent more for the indirect costs of health care -- in the form of absenteeism, sick days, and lower productivity -- than they do on actual health care payments. Their recommendation: that companies "mount an aggressive approach to wellness, prevention, screening and active management of chronic conditions."

Jeffery PfefferToo many companies are still not focusing enough on stress management. According to  Jeffrey Pfeffer, professor at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. "The lack of attention to employee needs, helps explain why the United States spends more on health care than other countries, but gets worse outcomes. We have no mandatory vacation or sick day requirements, and we do have chronic layoffs, overwork, and stress. Working in many organizations is simply hazardous to your health." And thus to the health of your company as well. "I hope businesses will wake up to the fact that if they don't do well by their employees, chances are they're not doing well, period," Pfeffer said.

In the recent documentary Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare CEO Steve Burd recounts that in 2005 Safeway's health care bill hit $1 billion and was going up by $100 million a year. "What we discovered was that 70 percent of health care costs are driven by people's behaviors," he says. "Now as a business guy, I thought if we could influence behavior of our 200,000-person workforce, we could have a material effect on health care costs."
So they created new employee incentives to lose weight, control their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It was a huge success. "You allow and encourage your employees to become healthier, they become more productive, your company becomes more competitive," Burd says. "I can't think of a single negative in doing this." He concludes: "Making money and doing good in the world are not mutually exclusive."

Mark Williams Mark Williams is a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford, an expert in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and the co-author of Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World. According to Williams, after nine weeks of training, participants in a mindfulness program had "an increased sense of purpose and had fewer feelings of isolation and alienation, along with decreased symptoms of illness as diverse as headaches, chest pain, congestion and weakness.”

Apart from the obvious stress relief, it has also been noted that when people are relaxed there is less likelihood of injury and accidents. The number of sick days taken by staff also fell dramatically. Williams refers to a National Institutes of Health study that showed a 23 percent decrease in mortality, a 30 percent decrease in death due to cardiovascular problems and a big decrease in cancer mortality as well. "This effect is equivalent to discovering an entirely new class of drugs (but without the inevitable side effects)," they write.

Dr. Richard Davidson is a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and has used MRI machines to study the brain activity of Tibetan monks. As Fortune's Oliver Ryan reports, "The brain functioning of serious meditators is 'profoundly different' from that of non-meditators -- in ways that suggest an elevated capacity to concentrate and to manage emotions. [Davidson] calls meditation a 'kind of mental training.'"

In the summer of 1997, he led a research project that studied the impacts of a limited meditation program on the brain and immune system functions of workers at Promega.

Jon Kabat-ZinnOne team of workers engaged in a weekly meditation class led by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the medical professor celebrated as a pioneer of mindfulness training. A control group went about their lives as usual, without meditation. Following the eight-week class, Davidson's researchers hooked up the participants' to an EEG machine to record their brain activity. The team gave participants flu shots and then took blood samples. The people who got the meditation showed "changes in their brain function toward ways associated with well-being and resilience," Davidson says. They also showed "improved response to vaccine. In the workplace, we think these kinds of strategies improve efficiency, improve attention, fostering emotional balance, facilitating interpersonal interest and teamwork and cooperative activities more generally. Those 21 minutes taken out of a day will more than pay back in terms of attention productivity and wellness, with fewer absences."

This can make an equally profound difference in our work lives. As Tony Schwartz, author and CEO of the Energy Project writes, it's not about the quantity of time we put into a task, but the quality:

“It's not just the number of hours we sit at a desk in that determines the value we generate. It's the energy we bring to the hours we work. Human beings are designed to pulse rhythmically between spending and renewing energy. That's how we operate at our best. Maintaining a steady reservoir of energy -- physically, mentally, emotionally and even spiritually -- requires refueling it intermittently.”

iopenerIn short, happiness and productivity are not only related, they're practically indistinguishable. According to the iOpener Institute, in a company with 1,000 employees, increasing happiness in the workplace:

Reduces the cost of employee turnover by 46 percent.
Reduces the cost of sick leave by 19 percent.
Increases performance and productivity by 12 percent.
And the happiest employees spend 40 percent more time focused on tasks and feel energized 65 percent more of the time.

Happier employees also take six fewer sick days a year, and remain in their jobs twice as long.
Marie Asberg, professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm describes burnout as an "exhaustion funnel," which we slip down as we give up things not conventionally deemed "important." As Mark Williams and Danny Penman note in Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World:

Notice that very often, the very first things we give up are those that nourish us the most but seem 'optional.' The result is that we are increasingly left with only work or other stressors that often deplete our resources, and nothing to replenish or nourish us -- and exhaustion is the result.

JAMAOne occupation known for burnout is physicians. Studies show that anywhere from a third to half suffer from it. But a 2009 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that doctors taking part in meditation exercises were less burned out. Even more dramatic was the fact that many of the improvements continued even after the year-long study concluded.

This is why more and more companies are realizing that their employees' health is one of the most important predictors of the company's health. Along with sales reports, market share and revenue levels, in those all-important Wall Street conference calls business analysts should be quizzing CEOs about their employees' stress levels: "Yeah, I see your net profit numbers, but how burnt out are your employees?"

Chade-Meng TanMany large corporations are now employing these meditation companies to come into the workplace and conduct classes focusing on a non spiritual or religious approach of meditation in an effort to lower stress levels and boost productivity. One company that "gets it," and has since its inception, is Google. One of the most popular classes it offers employees is known as S.I.Y., short for "Search Inside Yourself." It was started by Chade-Meng Tan, engineer, Google employee number 107, and the author of Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace). The course has three parts: attention training, self-knowledge, and building useful mental habits. "I'm definitely much more resilient as a leader," Richard Fernandez, a director of executive development who took Tan's course, told the New York Times. "It's almost an emotional and mental bank account. I've now got much more of a buffer there."

Janice MarturanoBut the trend goes way beyond Silicon Valley and companies like Google. Janice Marturano founded the Institute for Mindful Leadership after she left General Mills, where she set up a popular mindfulness program -- and a meditation room in every building of their campus. "It's about training our minds to be more focused, to see with clarity, to have spaciousness for creativity and to feel connected," she told the Financial Times' David Gelles. According to the company's research, it worked: 80 percent of participants said they felt it had improved their ability to make better decisions. Joining General Mills are one-quarter of all U.S. companies -- including Target, Apple, Nike, Procter & Gamble,The Huffington Post and AOL.

"The main business case for meditation is that if you're fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader," says William George, Harvard Business School professor, former CEO of Medtronic. There's nothing touchy-feely about increased profits. This is a tough economy, and it's going to be that way for a long time. Stress-reduction and mindfulness don't just make us happier and healthier; they're a proven competitive advantage for any business that wants one.

If your yoga studio, spa, corporation, or human resource department would like to learn more how the neo meditation machines can enhance your workplace meditation experience or if you would like us to help you implement a custom meditation program within your business please contact us.