Woodcut print of vultures

‘McMindfulness’ and big (and small) business

In All articles, Making sense of mindfulness by Norman Lamont

Woodcut print of vulturesDress Down Friday

A local company was losing good staff after a change of management. Everyone told them it was because of the way the new management treated people. Their response? Fresh fruit by the water cooler and Dress Down Fridays. It could easily have been a mindfulness class (compulsory of course).

Corporate mindfulness is bullshit?

In a discussion about mindfulness, my attention was drawn to these articles:

They’re both well worth a read, both well-informed and highly critical of the way corporations may misuse mindfulness as a sop. They make valid points that it CAN be misused by employers to absolve themselves of responsibility for the distress caused by their own management practices and demands. But is this the whole, or only story?

Opium of the people

I started (but didn’t complete) social work training in the early 80s. At that time there was a school of thought on the left that social work was no more than a sticking plaster on the wounds caused by the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class. It made the exploited just pacified enough not to rise up and overthrow their oppressors. And for that reason, some argued, it was a Bad Thing and should be abandoned. Perhaps some people still advocate this but if they do, they’re not so vocal about it. And their exhortations are in a different world from the daily efforts, untiring and often thankless, of millions of social workers across the world, who relieve a massive amount of suffering, sometimes more in one day than many of us would encounter in a lifetime. Who now would call for that pain, that deprivation, to go unrelieved in the interests of a possible, eventual revolution?

I hear echoes of this mindset in these criticisms of mindfulness. Indeed I have held back from offering services to companies for fear of becoming another sop thrown to suffering office workers, after Dress Down Fridays and fresh fruit at the water cooler. I’ve had to think this through.

Relieving distress

There is a lot of distress in the world of work, not just in big, nasty corporations but in public sector departments, charities, small businesses and the ever-growing freelance sector. If we can offer learning that will help some people deal with that distress, that seems the right thing to do.

The articles above rightly highlight one possible motivation for a company to offer mindfulness training; but might they also do it out of genuine care for their staff, or enlightened self-interest, or other more acceptable reasons? It is up to trainers to examine the proposal for potential courses to discern its motivation. Not only that but they must make it clear that mindfulness training will encourage participants, not to escape into la-la-land  imagining themselves on a tropical beach, but to examine the workings of stress I their own minds and bodies. When they do, they may make the informed decision to change their way of working – or even their employer.

‘Empowering’ has become an abused cliché nowadays, but that is precisely what mindfulness training should work towards – identifying sources of distress and taking action. Not just to breathe deeply but to think deeply. Not to acquiesce but to act.