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?
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