Breathe, Pause, Focus: Businesses reimagine the workplace
Ivan Klopfenstein plays a song on his accordion while walking down the stairs at the Grappone Toyota dealership on Friday afternoon, December 27, 2013. Klopfenstein is one of the dealership employees that meets regularly to jam as a part of a mindfulness initiative led by owner Amanda Grappone Osmer. He keeps an accordion at the shop.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
At the Grappone Toyota dealership, a group of employees gather regularly to jam. December 27, 2013.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Lynda Krieger, right, smiles while singing "Count on Me" at the Grappone Toyota dealership on Friday afternoon, December 27, 2013. Krieger is one of the dealership employees that meets regularly to jam as a part of a mindfulness initiative led by owner Amanda Grappone Osmer.
(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
Many companies promote employee wellness, often by giving staff incentives to exercise, offering flu shots at the office or requiring ergonomic training. At some companies, the wellness program also includes mindfulness – gasp – the opposite of multitasking.
“It’s paying attention to what we are doing in the moment and saying, ‘Let me focus on that and do it well,’ ” said Shanti Douglas, whose 8 Limbs Holistic in Concord provides mindfulness training to businesses as well as individuals. “Am I coming to this meeting with judgement of what is going to happen and preconceived notions, or can I be completely present for that meeting?”
The practice of mindfulness can include meditation, breathing exercises, “purposeful pausing” and a self-awareness of both the physical and mental symptoms of stress. It encourages a person to be more sincerely engaged with the person or activity before them and to make a choice about how to
react to stressful situations.
“Being present” is a favorite mantra. Taking several deep breaths before responding is one of the practice’s most-recommended tools.
The idea is that this kind of intentional slowing down can make a person healthier, more satisfied, more creative, less stressed and more productive. And that, the thinking goes, should appeal to not only employees but bosses, too.
Yes, Douglas knows this concept sounds “woo-woo” and new-agey to those who’ve not tried it. Ditto for Margaret Fletcher, health outreach coordinator for Concord Hospital, who also offers mindfulness training for individuals and employees at the office.
“But what this is really about is radical effectiveness,” Fletcher said. “It’s not squishy in the least.”
Fletcher’s most enthusiastic cheerleader might be Amanda Grappone Osmer, who as the fourth-generation owner of Grappone Automotive in Bow has brought Fletcher into the office and her approach to every aspect of the business. Employees have access to a meditation room. They can use their “wellness reimbursement” to buy a kayak, yoga lessons or a gym membership.
The mindfulness approach even influenced the company’s decision a year ago to stop negotiating car sales and to instead post a vehicle’s price and offer it to all customers. Sales are now focused on getting customers into the least-expensive car that matches their criteria.
Grappone Osmer said 40 percent of her sales force quit as a result of the change, but those who stayed bought into the new way of thinking.
“On a near-daily basis, I receive what I’d describe as heartfelt emails from our team and our guests about what it means to be here,” Grappone Osmer said.
One male employee wrote that working at Grappone had made him a better person and able to show kindness, something that isn’t often encouraged in the car sales business.
Grappone Osmer said the move toward employee wellness and a mission that puts people and relationships first leaves her feeling under the spell of “fairy dust.”
“I might be considered a whack job,” Grappone Osmer said. “But I don’t care. I’m being the person I’m supposed to be. I care about human beings first.”
There is some indication the concept is piquing employers’ interest here and beyond. Douglas and Fletcher put together a Mindfulness and Business Conference in Concord in September that drew about 80 people. They plan to offer it against this year. And even during the economic downturn, the two have continued to get calls from employers seeking their expertise.
More broadly, Twitter followers looking for mindfulness tips can find them @ukmindfulness, the handle of a Londonite whose Twitter feed is tilted “Mindfulness at Work.” Forbes.com just published a piece on the topic. And in March, this headline appeared above a piece by attorney Flynne Coleman on the Huffington Post’s business page: “Yoga, Meditation and Mindfulness: ‘Trends’ That Could Change Everything.”
Coleman summed up the benefits of slowing down and paying attention this way: “For individuals, mindfulness is exciting because it helps us to discover new and powerful dimensions of ourselves. For groups and organizations, mindfulness is exciting because it can lead to better communication, greater empathy, and a culture of creativity and innovation.”
Jeff Kipperman, managing director at Mason and Rich in Concord, has incorporated mindfulness into the firm’s accounting and consulting practices. The company’s office administrator attended Fletcher’s eight-week mindfulness class through Concord Hospital’s Center for Health Promotion. And Kipperman is planning to send another employee next year.
“Keeping the health and wellness of your staff is a priority,” said Kipperman. “I’ve worked in other firms in D.C. (where high stress was a constant). I said I’d never run a firm like that.”
At Mason and Rich, Kipperman brings massage therapists into the office during the firm’s busiest seasons. He also ensures there are healthy foods in the office at those times.
He’s brought in yoga and meditation teachers for lunchtime training sessions and offered employees time with nutritionists at work.
“At first it sounds froufrou,” Kipperman said. “But if you think about it, your staff is your most important asset. We process a lot of information here, and we work with a number of clients in a very efficient manner, and I think it’s because stress is managed very well here.”
Kipperman said he has gotten questions about his approach. “People look at you a little bit different and say, ‘You’re a CPA firm.’ But I think the employees like it. It’s all about relationships. I manage (under) the Golden Rule.”
Kipperman said maintaining that thought process – treating others as you would like to be treated – brings big returns.
Fletcher agrees. “Often businesses will think about the stress-reduction aspects of (mindfulness),” she said. “But there is also an effectiveness boost when you practice it.”
It can lead to employees working more creatively together, she said, because practitioners are taught to drop judgment – about others and themselves – and to approach people and projects with a more open mind. Mindfulness encourages respect, for one’s own needs and limits as well as the ideas and needs of others, she said.
When Douglas works with a business interested in mindfulness, she acknowledges the stress and time constraints workers are under – at the office and outside of it. She tells her audience she can’t add more time to their day or eliminate all stressful situations from their lives. Instead, she offers an alternative approach.
“What would your life be like if you showed up for it?” she said. “It doesn’t mean we are not going to have stressful moments. It’s just awareness and instead of allowing our experience in the world to take over, we step back and say, ‘This is what’s going on,’ and make some decisions about what is the best step forward from there.”
(Annmarie Timmins can be reached at 369-3323 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annmarietimmins.)