In today’s job market, what constitutes an engaging employee experience is constantly redefined. There was a time where a fun lounge area with games and snacks was viewed as a key factor in retaining employees. But look at Google. For all its hip attempts to create a fun work environment, it has one of the lowest median employee tenures at little over a year, according to PayScale.
“If employees aren’t engaged and satisfied at work, they’ll move on to the next best opportunity to advance their career or better fit their lifestyle,” says Sarah Stoddard, a community expert at Glassdoor. “As such, an unsatisfied workforce can negatively impact a company’s bottom line as they spend more time and money to recruit, hire, and train new employees.”
The American workforce is increasingly demanding that employers provide meaningful benefits to retain their skill and time.
Aetna invests in mindfulness
Over the last decade, health insurance firm Aetna has sought out a healthier and more impactful employee experience with the introduction of mindfulness. The mindfulness program, in which over 20,000 Aetna employees participate, has shown that a great employee experience can be in the moment and developed into a passion.
Cheryl Jones, director of mindfulness at Aetna, defines it as paying attention to the present moment with an attitude of openness and curiosity. It functions under the bigger umbrella of wellness as a way to encourage healthier habits and outlooks on life. “Mindfulness empowers people with a way to navigate our fast-paced and overloaded modern life and experience more joyful moments at work,” says Jones.
Jones, alongside Andy Lee, chief mindfulness officer, and Cheryl DuBois, a senior project manager and mindfulness advocate, have guided a journey of well-being that was led by Aetna’s former CEO Mark Bertolini, a champion of living in the moment. Bertolini, who suffered a life-threatening skiing accident in 2004, has long been a prominent voice in promoting mindfulness and meditation as a path to self-betterment. In 2008, Bertolini spurred an internal study at Aetna to see the effects of mindfulness on employees. It discovered that mindfulness helped reduce stress, improve sleep, and better manage physical pain.
Not to be limited only to meditation, Jones described in a blog how mindfulness can be associated into everyday work by breathing to clear one’s mind before calls, avoiding multitasking, and carefully considering what one may send in an email. “When we are practicing mindfulness, we are aware of breathing, thoughts, feelings, sensations, and surroundings,” she explains. Participants are paying attention to all of this whenever they pause and tune in to the present moment during the workday.
To accommodate its large employee population, the Aetna mindfulness initiatives are made available to all employees through a variety of platforms. This can range from videos and audio practices on the internal website, to newsletters, blogs, and a streamed speaker series with external experts.
In 2017, the healthcare company made a significant leap in its mindfulness program by opening its first Mindfulness Center at its headquarters in Hartford, Conn. The center aims to be a space employees can visit to collect and calm themselves, participate in weekly activities, and learn from speakers. Employees outside the center are able to join many of its functions virtually.
It’s part of an effort to make mindfulness values and practices available to anyone who’s interested, regardless of their location. An effective employee benefits program needs to be inclusive and easy to reach for all locations, says Jones, especially if it wants to inspire adoption of mindfulness to create workplace well-being.
According to a survey by Thompson Online Benefits, 81 percent of employees who have easier access to their benefits said they feel more loyal to their employer and 77 percent who better understand what they are offered see themselves staying with their employer.
One of the biggest strides Aetna takes to encourage mindfulness is its mindfulness advocate program. Jones describes it as a training program for colleagues who want to become leaders of mindfulness in their workspace. Advocates can help build awareness of the principles and benefits of mindfulness as well as lead practices. An employee becoming an advocate at Aetna is not an official title, but instead a pursuit of their passion and values at the company.
“People want to work for a company that has clearly defined its core values,” Jones says. “When leaders endorse mindfulness, employees are more likely to give themselves permission to practice it during the workday. Over time, this impacts how people ‘show up’ for work and transforms workplace culture.”
Many findings have pointed out that a large majority of employees do not fully understand the core values of their company. According to a study by Gallup, only 27 percent of U.S employees believe in their company values, while only 23 percent can apply those values to every workday.
Mindful results for Aetna
Getting employees to actively participate in a program that coincides with a company’s beliefs can be a tough initiative for even the biggest of brands. The high involvement rate in several of Aetna’s mindfulness programs is a testament to the decade of work they have put into building a healthy workplace culture that employees would choose to be a part of, Jones says.
For the last four years, Aetna has hosted the Mindfulness Challenge, a four-week series of mindfulness topics, with new topics every year for employees to engage and learn from, including how mindfulness improves resilience, energy, and focus, and how it can impact physical health, emotional well-being, and social connection.
Despite the name “challenge,” there is no award at the end. It’s the journey that counts.
“We had over 8,000 people participate last year with no incentive,” says Jones. “We believe the prize is well-being, that you actually feel good from doing this. That’s your prize!”
Additional results from the 2018 Mindfulness Challenge included an 18 percent reduction in stress, 4 percent increase in the corporate employee engagement survey results, and an 87 percent employee recommendation rate.
Employee mindfulness is more than a passing fad
Aetna’s origins in the mindfulness space has been a push not just toward profits, but also to creating and engaging a positive space that encourages employee retention in the workplace.