The concept of mindfulness may be new to many in the benefits business, but it’s actually been going on since the late 1970s — a practice of taming and training the mind to stay in the present moment rather than fixating on the past or future. It’s now making its way into the workplace, thanks largely in part to Janice Marturano, who left her 15-year tenure as vice president of public responsibility and deputy general counsel for General Mills, Inc. to begin the Institute for Mindful Leadership. Since 2008, she gives seminars to clients’ executives and general employees for companies all across the globe, even recently traveling to Davos, Switzerland, to lead a session at the World Economic Forum.

EBA spoke with Marturano to find out how the benefits community might bring this concept into the world of wellness.

Why don’t we start off by having you explain mindfulness to our readers?

Well, first let me say that we have been deluged by folks like [wellness providers], so people like Ceridan and Cigna and folks who are saying they don’t just want mindful-based stress reduction, they want something else. So I think you’re right that people seem to be interested in understanding exactly what this is.

So what is it? We understand from neuroscience, from modern medicine, that wellness goes far beyond physical fitness; that the interconnection between the mind and the body is strong and powerful in both positive and negative ways. What we have developed over the last eight years at the Institute for Mindful Leadership is based on observations and experiences in the workplace, so what I have seen in more than 25 years at General Mills, at Nabisco, at Panasonic — all companies where I was employed. I saw over and over again great leaders at every level — and a leader is someone with influence, it’s not necessarily about title. Well, we all influence and in that regard and we are all, for better or worse, leaders. The question and the piece that we look at is how do we learn to exercise the innate capabilities of our mind in ways that allow us to lead with excellence?

So when we are training in mindful leadership we are cultivating what we call four fundamentals of excellence: focus, clarity, creativity and compassion. And in the decades that I was on the inside of organizations in mostly the for-profit world, I saw great leaders. The best leaders are the people with bright minds, warm hearts and they’re incredibly frustrated and overwhelmed because they know there is more they can bring to each day, at work and at home. And yet they feel that no matter how fast they move, no matter how hard they work, there’s always something left behind, there’s something that’s missing. And as we train the mind, we begin to rediscover or uncover more of who we actually are and more of our mind’s capability to do just that — to be focused, to see more clearly, to be more creative and to embody compassion — rather than what we spend most of our lives doing which is, we run on autopilot. We wake up with our alarm clocks, drag ourselves out of bed, run the gauntlet for 10, 12 hours, fall into our beds again and the bell rings again and we start all over. The effect on employee engagement, the effect on our health, the effect on our sense of fulfillment is all affected by the fact that we run on autopilot most of the time.

One of the simplest parts of the training is beginning to develop this muscle, to begin to attend, to be fully present for this moment of our lives. Whether that’s a conversation at work, a meeting, a moment with our child, a meal — whatever it is — to actually notice those times when our mind is racing into the future or where we’re still hung up on a meeting we had four hours ago and to be fully present in that moment. Why does that matter? Well, it matters because we want to be our best selves in that moment and we can’t bring our best selves to the moment when we’re only partially there.


Mindfulness is something that many people choose to do outside of work, so what made you think to bring this to the workplace?

I saw a great deal of dissatisfaction, people who were feeling like they were going through the motions or that they were so much on autopilot that they missed the day, missed the month. So many times we look at the clock and see it’s 6 o’clock and we think, “How could it possibly be 6 o’clock?” Or we look at the calendar and see February and think, “Wasn’t it just Thanksgiving?” And more and more when we look at the impact that has in the workplace — it affects safety, ethical choices, our ability to be compassionate, to bring kindness into the workplace. And so the overall environment simply can’t continue to thrive without giving folks more of who they are and helping them meet the complexity and the chaos in a way that doesn’t exhaust them and that doesn’t leave them feeling disengaged and disconnected.

If we can bring people to a place where they can begin to notice their autopilot, there’s that spaciousness that’s available for them to be their best selves, to lead with excellence. Hence, the name of my book [Finding the Space to Lead]. That is really the history of how I got the name … that when I asked employees if there was one thing that would really make a difference to them, they said some version of: I just need some space.


How does the institute work?

It’s a non-profit organization. My colleagues and I offer a wide variety of workshops and retreats around the world. But I’ve worked with hundreds of organizational leaders at this point and we also now have an online [platform]. We’re doing our first online mindful leadership training starting on Feb. 12. So we offer lots of ways for people to train — including the book, which is a how-to; it’s a practical guide for mindful leadership because everyone who works at the institute has been a senior leader in an organization, all kinds of folks, so we go into organizations knowing first-hand what it is that will work and what won’t.


You started the program first at General Mills before you left. How prominently have other workforces picked up mindfulness programs?

In 2006, we offered different retreats for leaders and employees at all levels, it’s still going on there and more than 500 senior General Mills officers, directors have been trained in mindful leadership.

Very diverse groups have worked with me outside of GM now. A radiation clinic: We actually did a study with them on error reduction in radiation treatment for cancer with the implementation of mindfulness. All the way to … I did customized retreats for international financial services organizations. I’ve worked on a huge multi-year project for a Canadian health organization. So, a broad diversity … working on everything from safety and error reduction to innovation and communication. We tailor our trainings to work on specific topics, and that’s what I think makes the institute’s work unique.

Our audience of insurance brokers stays on top of wellness trends in order to advise clients on these matters. How can they use this in their business?

What’s perfect for smaller businesses is we can do an online training, as well as they can just use the step-by-step guide within the book. This can be very simple. There are also free downloadable meditations and guided practices and reflections that come along with the book so there’s much more there than just a dry book.

Any challenges implementing this in workplaces?

One thing I’m careful to tell people who are considering this is that like physical fitness, mindful leadership requires commitment and attention. What is of concern are the programs that offer to teach you training of the mind in an hour over lunch. It simply doesn’t happen that way, any more than you can change your [physical] fitness level in an hour over lunch.

How is this different from general wellness programs?

Well, on one hand, it really should be thought of as a fitness for the mind, so in that way it might be similar. But the main difference is that we are talking about people’s minds.So, be sure that the people providing the training are well-trained, very experienced, that will know how to respond as people begin to notice their own thoughts and think about those implications.

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