Why Meditation Is Emerging as the Hot Employee Perk

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Editor's pick: Originally published June 3.

Move over unlimited free sushi and shuttle buses to work; just maybe the emerging hot employee perk is meditation which, you are right, is mostly emptying your mind and concentrating on, well, nothing.

That is easy to say but hard to do - and yet when it is done right, payoffs are plentiful, said multiple sources.

Just ask Brandon Atkinson, chief people officer at New York based online advertising company AppNexus on why meditation is the rage. "It's a reaction to the always-on workplace," he said. "A lot of employees are feeling frazzled and finding it harder to focus. Mindfulness is about being present. In an always on culture that is important."

Think of it as an off switch in a world that always is on and, right there, its value is plain.

In the tech world, too, Atkinson noted the "competition for talent is extraordinary." He believes employees who feel their employers are investing in them are happier employees, and meditation is such an investment.

AppNexus twice weekly offers a guided meditation session in its New York office and, said Atkinson, the half-hour session usually is attended by 10 to 15 people. The company also has a designated meditation room at its satellite offices.

Many other companies are climbing aboard. At group messenger app developer Blend in San Francisco's SoMa, co-founder Matt Geiger said he personally pushed for a daily meditation session at 4 p.m.., around 10 to 15 minutes daily. Geiger mixes up the sessions - some are guided, some are breath based, some are out of the Eastern tradition. He estimated that daily about 40% of the 18 person staff does the meditation and, he said, a payoff is reduced stress.

It's not just tech companies either. At communications and marketing agency Peppercomm in San Francisco, meditation is also on the to-do list. "We host three, 23-minute sessions, back-to-back, twice a month," said Sara Whitman, managing director and chief culture czar for Peppercomm. "Employees can join one or all three. But, it's really about more than that. The idea is to help people learn techniques they can apply on their own to feel and focus better. The in-person sessions provide the opportunity for learning and to help form a habit."

"I am a recruiter, because my passion is to people to excel in and love their careers and to help companies hire and develop highly productive teams," said recruiter Marissa Peretz, founder of Silicon Beach Talent in Los Angeles. "I encourage my clients, both companies and people who are growing their careers in this increasingly connected and distraction-filled society, to meditate. Why? Because more people are realizing that meditation helps people deal with stress in a healthy manner."

Add it up and, suddenly, business gurus are pronouncing meditation as the next up and coming billion-dollar industry, right next to yoga. Not only is it gaining ground in the workplace but new apps - such as the wildly popular subscription app Headspace - are winning millions of individual users.

Exactly what are meditation's proven benefits? First off, understand that insofar as research shows benefits, they come with a steady, regular practice, probably a minimum of ten minutes daily, maybe five times weekly.  The very occasional session may be relaxing but don't count on seeing big payoffs.

Beyond that, research - including some at Massachusetts General Hospital - definitely link meditation with brain activity and also growth of some aspects of the brain itself.

Research also says that meditation can reduce anxiety among practitioners. It can also help in better regulating emotions. The biggest payoff: stress reduction is claimed by many practitioners.

People who meditate also generally say they feel more in control and that matters in a hectic world.

Maybe the best proof that meditation is having its day in the sun is story behind how AppNexus's Atkinson came to believe in meditation: he was pointed to it by his personal executive coach, with whom he works to "bring my best self to work." That coach taught him the basics of meditation and suggested he make it part of his life. Atkinson did as instructed and, he said, what meditation really teaches "is self-awareness and that is business critical -- that's where success starts."

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