I couldn’t find the original comic that I saw once upon a time, but I went to a meme generator and reproduced it to the best of my memory. If you manage employees, you have probably been in one of these management meetings where the big boss or the HR staff conduct a brainstorming session on how we can help our employees deal with stress. On the surface, these meetings are structured with the idea of our employees are struggling with some external/internal stress (currently, of course, that would be work from home and COVID). In reality, these meetings are called to help our attorneys and employees to reduce stress in order to improve their productivity at work. Happy workers are productive workers.

Your workers see your true motivations behind these programs. You’re fooling yourself if you think otherwise.

There is a need for programs within the workplace to help guide the people who work there to identify the good stress that helps motivate you to focus on the task at hand, and there is the bad stress that distracts you from those tasks. The structure of many of these wellness programs are set up to do just that, but the way the programs are rolled out and marketed misses this point. Stress is a part of the job. Stress is a necessary motivator. The wellness programs aren’t there to eliminate stress, they are there to help workers manage stress. Unfortunately, that message doesn’t always get through.

One example of this mismarketing of wellness programs is meditation.

Meditation is marketed as a way to take time to yourself, to reflect, to calm the body and mind. That is true. But the biggest effect it has on improving work and reducing the bad stress of your work is that it trains you to understand that your mind will wander. In other words, while you are meditating, it is natural for you to start thinking of other things. Do I need to pick up some eggs and bread from the store? Did I pay the kids’ tuition? When did that crack in the wall appear?

These are natural occurrences because the brain, your brain specifically, was trained to always be thinking. In the legal profession, this is exponentially more prevalent because we are all trained issue spotters. Our brains are constantly searching for problems to solve.

What meditation training teaches us that this is fine. It is natural. Don’t try to stop the mind from wandering, but gain an understanding of when it does. And by understanding that your mind is wandering, meditation teaches you how to bring it back to the task at hand.  It helps you push away the bad stress and brings you back to the good stress. And by doing so, the time you spend on the task is reduced. For management, the result is more productivity. For the worker, the result is a reduction in stress levels. So everyone is rewarded.

Wellness programs have an important role to play in the workplace, but the messaging behind the “why” of wellness programs sometimes gets lost. As managers, it is important to understand the real reason we want these programs for our workplace and to communicate the entire reasoning to the workers of what’s in it for the organization, as well as the workers.