Mindfulness and Compassion in the Workplace: Support Your Team’s Mental Health

In Week Two of RESOLVE Increments, we welcomed Scott Shute, LinkedIn’s Head of Mindfulness and Compassion, as the day’s keynote. In his refreshing and candid talk, “The Case for Mindfulness and Compassion in the Workplace,” Scott shared his own professional journey and painted a picture of a workplace where mindfulness and compassion practices are accepted and celebrated as essential.

Scott makes the case for not having to make a case when it comes to employee mental health and well-being. He reasons it should be self-evident if we ask simple questions like, “How much of your employee’s time do they need to be focused and mentally well?” Confident the answer is “as much as possible” and that the time is right to ‘operationalize compassion’, Scott offers individual steps we can take right now and directs us to resources for larger, organizational efforts.

An edited summary of Scott’s talk follows below. To watch the full replay and gain access to the presentation and resources, go here.

The Case for Mindfulness and Compassion in the Workplace

What’s the starting point to talk about mindfulness and compassion in the workplace? Well, how about that title behind my name? Where does one find a title like that? It may help if we take a step back, way back, to my childhood. I grew up on a farm in Kansas. And at the age of 13, I started the practice of meditation, as one does on a farm in Kansas. Just kidding. It is essential to who I am, though.

In some ways, I was always a bit of an outlier. I had been in the corporate world most of my professional life, but I had this non-corporate relationship with mindfulness and meditation. In my time at LinkedIn, that evolved and the two became intertwined. With CEO Jeff Weiner publicly talking about mindfulness and compassion, I was able to feel comfortable breaking that barrier I’d created for myself, just by volunteering to lead meditation exercises at work. This led to an informal side-gig as the “mindfulness exec” and progressed to the point where we decided to go all in – and I became, a true and authentic expression of myself, LinkedIn’s Head of Mindfulness and Compassion.

The Vision: Changing Work (and our World) from the Inside Out

Is your organization ready for a mindfulness program? It may sound daunting, but at LinkedIn, we’re doing it. One helpful philosophy for us has been to keep it simple. Do not complicate it. We have gyms and open spaces that are available. We find volunteers, we find partners or tools like the Wise @ Work app – all you must do is find interested people, get them in a room, open a pre-recorded program, do the practice, and then open the floor for conversation.

We need this now. We need mental health and well-being and connection during what is really a time of crisis. Ultimately, it’s about finding something that suits the individual. Here’s what I say, “Do you know what the most powerful type of meditation practice is? It’s the one you actually do. That’s it. It’s not about gurus or finding a new religion. It’s about finding a way to calm and center yourself and put the best version of yourself out there in work and life.

The Mission: Mainstream Mindfulness, Operationalize Compassion

OK. So, people are finding themselves and feeling better. Someone, your CEO or your CFO, might ask, “but what does that mean? Why mindfulness practices?” I might answer with a non-answer or a question in return. Not to be a smart aleck – well, maybe a little bit – but I might ask this, “Do you really care about your employees?”

I ask this question because I think we need perspective. Work has changed in America. Agrarian practices, industrial practices and the like, where people were, to some degree, interchangeable cogs in the machine, are largely in the past. We have around 800 million white collar workers. If you are a service company like LinkedIn, people are the one asset you truly have. To put it another way, if someone were to ask you to quantify the ROI on mindfulness practices at work, you could ask them to quantify the ROI on the workout facilities at work.

It should be self-evident that practices that improve the inner lives of our people will also improve the outer, productive lives of work where they spend so much of their time. That’s not why I do this though – to create efficient, productive people who do great work. Mindfulness is good for people. That’s why I do it. And the career growth and success that comes to individuals and to an organization is a wonderful byproduct of that. Mark Bertolini, CEO of Aetna, said this, “If we save one life, who gives a s*** about the money.”

Skeptics Abound

You will encounter skeptics. I have and I think about it a lot. On a trip back home, visiting my mother in Kansas, I found myself looking at magazines of fifty years ago in an antique store. I looked at the ads and some of the articles about sport and exercise. An interesting thing stood out. Our grandparents, most anyway, did not do exercise – not like we do. They weren’t ‘spending time on the elliptical.’ Lifting weights wasn’t really a thing. But now, it’s accepted that exercise has physical and mental benefits. We don’t all do it, but it’s widely accepted as beneficial.

So, I ask myself and others this rhetorical question. “Isn’t it self-evident that mindfulness is good practice for employees (for all of us)?” Shouldn’t that be widely accepted? We shouldn’t have to talk about it. I could follow up with these questions. How much of your employee’s time do they need to be focused and feeling well mentally? Do they need to be resilient and adaptable? Work is hard. Life is hard right now. We know this in our gut and the statistics tell us that people are struggling. It should be self-evident that a practice that improves the lives of employees will improve the work of those employees.

What Can We Do? What Can You Do?

Do you need proof? There are scores of peer-reviewed papers that speak to the increased creativity and decreased stress associated with mindfulness practices. And for me, there is great anecdotal evidence. People seek me out and tell me how their life has changed. Independently, their supervisors confirm that their performance has risen. The personal changes they’ve made have impacted their career and the organization. So, what can we do? What can you do? Keeping it simple, here are three steps for each question.

What can we do?

  1. Find your volunteers. They are there. They’re ready and waiting for something that will make them feel vibrant and alive.
  2. Find a partner. It could be an app or the people in your health program or workout facility. You don’t have to be an expert.
  3. Leverage your existing programs. If you have challenges related to health and wellness, fold mindfulness programs into it.

What can I do, as an individual?

  1. Just start. It’s easy to do. Raise your hand. They’re waiting for you.
  2. Gather friends. If you’re the first mover, others will follow.
  3. Find a champion. Find an exec who is interested and who will be a champion for the practice.

Operationalize Compassion

As passionate as I am about mindfulness, I’m one hundred times more passionate about compassion. Mindfulness is about self. Compassion is about how we work with each other. This is where we have to do the work. Compassion is moving from ‘me’ to ‘we’. It’s a mindset.

Compassion is a Success Strategy.

It requires:

  1. An awareness of others.
  2. A mindset of wishing the best for others.
  3. The courage to take action.

Adam Grant, the author of Give and Take, found that workers who thought about others and who think about the whole are the most successful workers. They’re better than the selfless givers. And better than the takers. Google did a study called Project Aristotle, looking at what factors typified the most successful teams. The number one factor in building high performance teams was “Psychological Safety.” That’s the answer. That means, ‘Do I have permission to fail? Do I have permission to succeed in front of you and will you still have my back?’ In Firms of Endearment, the authors found that companies who took care of all their stakeholders (not just shareholders) were the most successful – actually, 14 times more profitable than the S&P 500 average. That is your ROI! It feels good, and it’s good business.

How to Operationalize Compassion

What does it look like on the ground? Here’s what our people say at LinkedIn. This example is from a sales meeting.

  1. Provide Value – make sure we are actually delivering something of long-term value to our customers. Not just a sale.
  2. Members First – move from ‘me’ to ‘we’. What does the customer get out of it?
  3. Grandma – how would I treat this person if they were my grandma? This brilliant ‘sticky note’ thought came from a rep in our Omaha office who deals with 40 or 50 calls a day. A simple note that puts her in a frame of compassion.

As we wrap up, you might wonder what gets me (and my organization) to the ‘we’? How do we do something as simple as ‘treat people beautifully?’ Here are a few resources we use at LinkedIn, plus my book.

Gain full access to Scott’s talk and resources he shared at RESOLVE Increments Week Two here.

We love working with amazing employers like you to humanize work and create workplace cultures that lift people and performance up. I am passionate about employee mental health and well-being. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me directly or on LinkedIn with any questions or if you’d like to set time to chat.

Coming up next! In the first two weeks of RESOLVE Increments, we learned about racial equity and mindfulness and compassion in the workplace. In Week Three of RESOLVE Increments we discussed changes that impact your health strategy and people. Join First Person and National Association of Health Underwriters CEO, Janet Trautwein, to learn about trends in benefits and the impact of the new administration on healthcare and benefits. Get your on-demand webinar here.

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