Are you one of the many Americans experiencing job-related stress?
If so, you are not alone. In fact, stress has become a U.S. epidemic and the workplace is frequently to blame. According to the American Psychological Association’s Center for Organizational Excellence, 65% of U.S. employees feel stressed by their jobs, with over one-third experiencing chronic work stress. This is of particular concern, as chronic stress has been linked to increases in employee suicide and workplace violence.
And if that is not disturbing enough…
Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer reports in his recently released book, Dying for a Paycheck, that toxic workplaces have become the 5th leading cause of death. According to Pfeffer, factors that help create toxic work environments for employees include a lack of job autonomy, expectations for working overtime, micro-managing behaviors by supervisors, and an overall lack of social support within an organization.
Is All That Stress Killing You?
It is not surprising that toxic work environments have become a leading cause of death. After all, stress is implicated in many health-related problems, affecting not only the body’s immune system, but also the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. Furthermore, prolonged stress exposure can negatively impact brain functioning, interfering with higher-order cognitive processes including memory, planning, decision-making, and problem-solving.
When executive functioning is impaired, it is much more difficult to properly assess, manage, and respond to emotional stress.
Not only does chronic stress severely impact employee health, but employers suffer as well. According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress costs organizations over $300 billion each year in diminished productivity, absenteeism, presenteeism, turnover, and insurance costs.
There is an obvious need for more regulations at the organizational level to better manage expectations surrounding work hours, unrealistic project deadlines, and any other factors that may impede employee health. However, it is also important to note that the workplace itself is not always the entire problem. Stress is often the result of individual perceptions and subsequent responses to challenging events.
This explains why two people can have very different reactions to the same situation or environment.
How Can Employers Help Promote and Build Resiliency in the Workplace?
Enter Transcendental Meditation.
I first came across transcendental meditation (or TM for short) last year while reading a chapter on stress and resiliency in the book, Neuroscience for Leadership: Harnessing the brain gain advantage. The authors discussed how TM is a useful tool for helping leaders build resiliency in the workplace.
As a psychotherapist, I wasn’t at all surprised to read about the many health benefits associated with meditation. After all, I have recommended meditation to my clients for years. What I did find surprising were the number of scientific studies linking TM to factors associated with peak performance, including greater mental clarity, creativity, increased energy, and greater resiliency. In fact, there have been over 400 empirical studies conducted on TM at over 250 universities and research institutions across the globe.
That alone was enough to peak my interest.
While TM has been around for the better part of a century, it has recently reemerged in the popular press, with a long list of celebrity endorsers including David Lynch, Tom Hanks, Martin Scorsese, Katy Perry, and Jerry Seinfeld. Oprah Winfrey not only practices TM herself, she paid for all 400 of her employees to learn the practice. Ellen DeGeneres, who has been practicing TM for the past 7 years, has openly discussed the benefits that she has gained from her own TM practice. In a recent episode of Ellen that aired earlier this month, Bob Roth, CEO of the David Lynch Foundation and director of the Center for Leadership Performance was interviewed regarding the release of his most recent book, Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation.
Roth, who has been teaching TM for over 40 years, describes what happens to the mind and body during the TM process…
“During TM the thinking mind settles down to a unique state of inner restful alertness, while at the same time, the body gains a state of profound rest and relaxation.”
How and Why TM Works
TM is practiced for 20 minutes, twice a day and is taught one-on-one by a certified TM instructor. Meditators are given their own unique mantra that is repeated throughout their entire meditation to produce a profound state of rest and relaxation.
During a TM session, breathing and heart rate slows down and the body gains a deep level of rest. In fact, this level of rest is said to be deeper than one would expect from a full night of sleep.
TM has been linked to many other health benefits. In 2013, the American Heart Association endorsed TM claiming that it significantly lowers blood pressure. In another study, TM was found to reduce cortisol levels (stress hormone) by 40% as compared to just 5% in a control group who sat quietly with their eyes closed.
TM and Peak Performance Factors
While all forms of meditation are beneficial, TM has been noted to provide some unique benefits. EEG studies show that during TM practice, there is an increase in blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, leading to greater brainwave functioning.
The prerequisites to peak performance – planning, focus, creativity, short-term memory, decision-making, proactivity, and broad comprehension – occur when the brain (particularly the prefrontal cortex) is functioning coherently. Several rigorous studies have demonstrated that TM – more than any other technique – greatly enhances the brain’s coherent functioning.
EEG coherence fine tunes everything in the brain. Meditators can experience greater emotional stability, higher IQ, and improved learning abilities. It is this type of EEG coherence that distinguishes TM from other forms of meditation.
Aimee Hollendieck, a licensed psychotherapist at Counseling Connections & Associates in Omaha, NE shares her own personal experience with TM and how it has benefitted her workplace performance.
“I think from a work perspective, I have noticed a drastic change in my ability to recall information from past sessions…either because I am more present during sessions (with clients) or because my memory has improved. Either way, I have definitely noticed a huge improvement.”
The Scientific Evidence for TM Practice in the Workplace
Several scientific studies have found evidence that TM meditators experience peak performance perks including greater creativity, efficiency in learning new concepts, and higher verbal intelligence. In a study involving Master degree engineering students, researchers found those who learned and practiced TM for 6 months demonstrated improved performance on their standard examinations, as compared to a control group of students from the same academic program.
In another study, employees from two major organizations showed significant improvements on multiple measures of stress and employee development (both during and outside TM practice) after just 3 months of practice. These employees reported a decrease in job tension, anxiety, insomnia, and fatigue; less tobacco and alcohol use; improved general health, increased job satisfaction and performance and better personal and work relationships. Results from yet another study involving a managerial team employed at Volvo suggested that the psychological changes that accompany TM practice can enhance decision-making skills and improve employees’ ability to find creative solutions to complex problems.
My Own Experience with TM
For me personally, TM has been a game changer. Because TM is practically effortless, it has been very easy to execute and implement into my daily routine. As a result of TM practice, I have noticed improvements in my focus and concentration, memory, sleep quality, and overall mood.
For these reasons and others previously mentioned, I believe this type of meditation is a good choice for organizational leaders who are looking for ways to promote employee health and well-being. This goes for employees at all levels within an organization. After all, educational level or years of experience does not provide an immunity against the harmful effects of stress.
In order for companies to gain a competitive advantage, they must do something different to stand out from their competitors. Smart business leaders recognize that the ability to create a unique and dynamic team is one of the best ways to create a real sustainable advantage in a globally competitive market.
Research and scientific evidence strongly suggests that regular TM practice can positively impact the workplace. TM practice will help employees be more alert, mentally sharp, creative, less stressed, and most of all more resilient.
Really, what more could you ask for?
Alexander, C. N., Swanson, G. C., Rainforth, M. V., Carlisle, T. W., Todd, C. C., & Oates Jr, R. M. (1993). Effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on stress reduction, health, and employee development: A prospective study in two occupational settings. Anxiety, Stress and Coping, 6(3), 245-262.
Kember, P. (1985). The Transcendental Meditation technique and postgraduate academic performance. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 55(2), 164-166.
Pfeffer, J. (2018). Dying for a paycheck: How modern management harms employee health and company performance—and what we can do about it. HarperCollins.
Schmidt-Wilk, J. (2003). TQM and the Transcendental Meditation program in a Swedish top management team. The TQM Magazine, 15(4), 219-229.
Swart, T., Chisholm, K., & Brown, P. (2015). Neuroscience for leadership: Harnessing the brain gain advantage. Springer.