Employers Bank Valuable Productivity Gains From Meditating Tech Workers
Meditation boosts productivity so when it comes to expensive tech workers the gains are very valuable. And so are the lower healthcare costs.
What started as a grassroots effort among a few colleagues to meditate during the lunch hour has now grown into an officially supported 10-week long program at Intel.
Now in its third year, the Awake@Intel program imparts on participants concepts such as mindfulness, intention and relational intelligence. Intel is among a growing list of companies, such as Google, General Mills, Ford and LinkedIn, to offer classes on mindfulness.
It may seem paradoxical that taking a moment to slow down and be mindful would be beneficial to environments where agility is paramount, but elite athletes such as Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter practiced mindfulness techniques.
Intel employees Lindsay VanDriel and Qua Veda are the co-founders of Awake@Intel
Similar mindful practices are helping workers at Intel, many of whom are engineers, lower their stress levels, boost focus and increase productivity, say the program instructors. Stress costs US businesses upwards of $300 billion annually, according to the American Institute of Stress.
“The idea is to give people a set of fundamental skills that they can use at anytime, anywhere, to help them deal with stressful situations,” said Lindsay VanDriel, a platform strategist in Intel’s Software and Services Group and a co-founder of Awake@Intel. “Instead of having their brilliance diluted across multiple projects all the time, they can bring all of their brilliance into laser-like focus, go deep and apply that into one project.”
For health insurance company Aetna, the idea came from its CEO Mark Bertolini, an active practitioner of yoga and meditation. Aetna now offers a 10-week program to teach thousands of its employees mindfulness and yoga.
In 2012, the company saw a 7.3 percent reduction in medical claims, which translated to $9 million in savings. Aetna also saw an additional 62 minutes of productivity per week for each worker, worth around $3,000 per worker per year.
Led by VanDriel and another Intel employee Qua Veda, who is a market research analyst in IT, the Awake@Intel program is now taught at Intel’s campuses in Hillsboro, Oregon and Folsom, California, and there are plans to expand it to offices in Chandler, Arizona; Santa Clara, California; and Bangalore, India, later this year.
While mediation practices are an integral part of the course, the majority of each 90-minute Awake@Intel session involves participants journaling thoughts, discussing concepts, and sharing problem-solving techniques.
The results are measurable. Intel management identified nine key areas to survey relating to feelings of stress, ability to focus, engagement in meetings, creativity and innovation, among others.
“We saw a positive 2-point shift on a 10-point scale on all indicators, and we’ve replicated that over the years,” said Veda. “We have very consistent results even across different groups.”
Anand Sharma, an Intel software engineer, found that practicing meditation has alleviated headaches and increased energy. And it has had a positive effect on his colleagues, enabling quicker problem solving.
“The team was not sure about delivering a key component that was expected from us in the next few weeks,” said Sharm. His team was already stretched thin and working on multiple tasks in parallel. A 30 minute meeting stretched to two hours. “At the end of two hours we had a solution which we could not have imagined. This was only possible with patience and empathy.”
Not New Age-y
Brian Cockrell, an Intel software engineer who participated in Awake@Intel in 2013, went into the program “very skeptical,” but discovered it “was very down to Earth and not at all New Age-y.” The mindfulness concepts even helped Cockrell devise a solution to an engineering problem by filtering out distractions.
Nearly two years later, Cockrell says he still applies the teachings he learned.
“The core concepts are still with me. I set an intention most days in order to organize my busy personal and work life,” Cockrell said. “I shut off email and turn off instant messenger frequently so that I can concentrate. I am mindful about not constantly using my phone when I’m with family and friends so that I can be engaged with them.”
Managers such as Matthew Bruce, an engineering manager in the Intel Internet of Things group, are finding that mindful practices are helping them become more effective leaders.
“It starts with your conversations with your employees and the way you relate to them,” said Bruce. “If you’re constantly focused on whether or not the person you’re talking to has met expectations, then you’ve dehumanized the relationship. As a manager your goal is for long-term, sustainable output.”
Bea Rataj, a localization manager in IT, said, “My mind is clearer. I remember more about what was being said. I understand things better and can provide better input.”
“I used to come home tired, grumpy, frazzled and wasn’t much fun to be around. Now I come home just tired,” Rataj said. “The quality of tired is that of having done a good day’s work and feeling satisfied with it. I have felt more engaged and am actually looking forward to work the next day.”
Awake Inside and Out
The Awake@Intel co-founders are looking to also help specific groups inside and outside the company. “There are about 2,000 veterans at Intel and I would like a special offering for them,” VanDriel said.
Graduates of Awake@Intel are also reaching outside of the company on their own personal time, to places such as high schools or working directly with at-risk youth groups, to teach mindful concepts.
“It’s an inspiring example of how employees can be empowered and engaged to make something great happen,” said Veda.