The Latest Push for Mindfulness at Work Is Not What It Seems. Beware.

I’ve been writing about mindfulness for five years now on this site.  While I don’t publish as often as I’d like, I do stay pretty current on trends regarding this ancient practice.  Things are getting interesting out there.

When I started this site, the very idea of mindfulness in Corporate America made me nauseous. It’s not that I hate the mindlessness of the global pursuit of profit, some of it is necessary, and even good.  If we didn’t have organized crime corporate structure, we might not have iPhones, or Star Wars, or Star Wars on our iPhones…

There are some great corporations out there doing amazing work with solid leadership.  This article is not about them.  It’s about the other ones…

The Corruption of Mindfulness

It’s that the idea of co-opting a very introspective practice belonging to ancient spiritual tradition that celebrates freedom and individuality to serve a drone culture is, well, strange.  Corporate culture is group think, which, in my experience, punishes individuality.  You never want to be labeled as not being a “team player”, i.e. subordinate guilt driven indentured servant.

These types of environments are designed to get people to fall in line with the extreme profit motive of the executive class.  The propagandists in human resources and communications, at the directive of the officers, have this down to a science.  It’s all designed to make the employees think that they matter.  They don’t.  Believe me, if a robot could do middle management and all production, there would only be those at the very top taking all the money.  That would be the last nail in the coffin of the “middle-class”, in respect to those who rely on jobs in those companies.

So where am I going with this?  Here we go.

Corporate Mindfulness at Work

American corporations, beginning in the tech sector, namely Google, started offering courses in mindfulness.   One of their own wrote a pretty good book on the subject as well.  I believe that it was altruistic from the start.  Afterall, San Fransisco Bay Area was very progressive, being home to the hippie culture.  Now it’s insanely overpriced and tech driven, but I digress…  At least you can still wear sandals to work there…

What most likely started out as a way to get employees to have less stress has definitely turned into a way for management to pass the responsibility of employee engagement onto, well, the employee.  What do I mean by this?

Here’s a great blog post that explains this pretty well.  This dude is awake.

Corporate mindfulness rips Buddhist and Taoist practices out of their context and appropriates them for purposes at odds with Buddhist and Taoist principles. It’s not done to promote peace or enlightenment or even right livelihood. It’s done to distract employees from long hours, low pay, and no security, all worked to make executives even richer. It’s a drug intended to get employees to accept what should be unacceptable working conditions.

“A DRUG intended to get employees to accept what should be unacceptable working conditions.”  I love that quote.  It’s so true in so many ways.

Granted, those in Corporate America are not working on coal mines, and are not out in the hot sun picking fruit, but that doesn’t mean that they are not being overworked and drained for the sole benefit of those at the very top.  Benefits in many corporations have been eroding, especially since the “Great Recession”, when it became an employer’s market.

Don’t get me started on healthcare in the good ol’ USA either, even with the so-called “fixes” that Obamacare promised…  My deductible and out of pocket expenses… holy cr*p…  But single-payer, no, that would “bankrupt us”…er… bankrupt the… nevermind…

So where does that leave us with corporate mindfulness?  Oh yeah…

The Further Shifting of Responsibility

It passes the responsibility of productivity and happiness onto the employee.  If you are stressed out, hey, “we gave you mindfulness classes, so you obviously need to practice more.”  See where this is going?

Now, I’m not saying that all corporations are corrupting mindfulness for nefarious purpose.  There are some great corporations out there doing amazing work.  There are some amazing leaders as well, who actually do have their employees best interests at heart.  I’ve met some executives who are some of the most generous and cool human beings on the planet.  This article is not about them or their organizations.

It’s about the ones who use mindfulness as yet another way to shield themselves from an ethical responsibility to their employees and their work environment.  Enlightened dude goes on to say:

What will happen when some of these employees become more mindful and start to wake up?

They may realize that while there is honor in a job well done, attaching their self-worth to their job performance isn’t a good thing. They may decide to take right livelihood seriously and ask questions about how their employers treat their employees… and how their suppliers treat theirs. They may decide to take work-life balance into their own hands and simply stop working ridiculous hours. Ultimately, they may decide they don’t need what the corporate world is selling and decide to make their living doing something else.

Executives who wished for mindful employees may find out exactly what that means.

That would be a plot twist worthy of Star Wars.  Of course, people would need to practice mindfulness on their own, but I’ll say this…  When you go deep, certain truths reveal themselves to you, and you gain an uncanny ability to see through the smokescreen.  Those who think that mindfulness can be a great tool to up “productivity” and pass the responsibility for workplace engagement onto the employee will realize that they are playing with fire.

Maybe they should go back to Total Quality Management, or Six-Sigma, or whatever other buzzword du jour fits their plan.  Mindfulness is wonderful and can certainly allow an entire environment to rise, but only when used with the employees best interests at heart.  Not profit or shareholders.


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