Cor­po­ra­tions em­brac­ing Bud­dhism, mi­nus the Bud­dha

Cor­po­rate Bud­dhism without Bud­dha aims to make work­ers hap­pier and more pro­duc­tive, Kevin D. Wil­liamson says. But can you really cal­cu­late karma’s bot­tom line?

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page -

Mind­ful­ness, a med­i­ta­tion prac­tice that is in essence Bud­dhism without Bud­dha, is ev­ery­where in cor­po­rate Amer­ica and celebrity cul­ture.

Andy Lee has an in­ter­est­ing job ti­tle: He is his com­pany’s “chief mind­ful­ness of­fi­cer,” and he is not em­ployed at some vogu­ish Sil­i­con Val­ley startup or by a chain of or­ganic-food co-ops. He works for Aetna, as old-fash­ioned a cor­po­rate gi­ant as you could ever hope to find.

In an in­ter­view with Healthy Work­place author Leigh Stringer, Aetna’s mind­ful­ness pro­gram was de­scribed in fa­mil­iar terms: “Par­tic­i­pants are re­gain­ing 62 min­utes per week of pro­duc­tiv­ity,” Stringer wrote. “They are see­ing an ap­prox­i­mate dol­lar re­turn, in terms of pro­duc­tiv­ity alone, of more than $3,000 per per­son per year.”

Never mind karma — this is a bot­tom-line is­sue.

Mind­ful­ness, a med­i­ta­tion prac­tice that is in essence Bud­dhism without Bud­dha, is ev­ery­where in cor­po­rate Amer­ica and celebrity cul­ture. (The two are no longer en­tirely dis­tin­guish­able: Bill Gates is a celebrity, and Oprah is a ver­ti­cally in­te­grated global con­glom­er­ate.) Google of­fered a course un­der en­gi­neer-guru Chade Meng Tan (em­ployee No. 107) that at one point had a six-month wait­ing pe­riod; Meng has

since gone off on his own.

Gold­man Sachs has caught the mind­ful­ness bug and uses a mind­ful­ness app to keep its em­ploy­ees mind­ful. In­tel is on board, and a study un­der­taken by the Na­tional Busi­ness Group on Health and Fi­delity In­vest­ments found that one in five of the com­pa­nies sur­veyed of­fered mind­ful­ness train­ing, with another 21 per­cent plan­ning to do so — at a cost of up to 10 grand per ses­sion.

When they aren’t push­ing Häa­genDazs out the door, Gen­eral Mills em­ploy­ees and ex­ec­u­tives have ac­cess to a seven-week mind­ful­ness pro­gram. Af­ter com­plet­ing the pro­gram, 80 per­cent of ex­ec­u­tives re­ported that their de­ci­sion­mak­ing skills had im­proved.

One won­ders about that: Were th­ese ex­ec­u­tives go­ing to tell their su­pe­ri­ors that their de­ci­sion-mak­ing skills had been de­graded, or that they’d wasted their time? Bear in mind that Häa­genDazs doesn’t ac­tu­ally mean any­thing in any lan­guage — the guy who founded the com­pany just thought it sounded cool and that peo­ple would buy it. There may be a bit of that at work here, too.

Sci­en­tif­i­cally, mind­ful­ness is way down there with yoga, acupunc­ture and home­opa­thy in terms of em­pir­i­cally ob­serv­able re­sults. The ev­i­dence for its ef­fec­tive­ness is largely sub­jec­tive, e.g., self-re­ported im­prove­ments in mood, at­ti­tude, stress or sleep. A re­cent pa­per pub­lished in Per­spec­tives on Psy­cho­log­i­cal Sci­ence, co-au­thored by 15 prom­i­nent

Chris Gash/Spe­cial con­trib­u­tor

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