Why Mindfulness at Work Matters
and How to Starta chat with Mounira Latrache
Agents of change come in all shapes and sizes—and some have that special spark that enables them to bring something new into an environment with an aura of infectious joy. Mounira Latrache, former lead of the YouTube Space in Berlin, clearly is such a person.
Mounira is a Forrest Yoga teacher and has been at the forefront of the Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program in Europe. After coming across the wildly successful mindfulness and emotional intelligence course at Google's headquarters in the U.S., where it had been initiated by former Googler Chade-Meng Tan, she was immediately enthralled by it and eager to bring its message across the Atlantic. This dedication turned Mounira into one of SIY's first certified teachers in the world.
Let's have a look at how this exceptional change maker helped spread and continues to grow the power of mindfulness across Europe's workplaces. We'll share how she brought mindfulness into the corporate environment, what benefits Google's and YouTube's teams experienced, and why it was integrated into organizational culture without any type of quantitative measurement.
But let's start at the beginning: what drove Mounira to give mindfulness a try?
"I had arrived at a point where I worked too much for too many years but didn't notice, often operating too close to my limits," Mounira admits. "It was time to make drastic changes in the way I lived, both at home and at work. I had to find a way to regain my balance and become more aware of my boundaries. When I hit upon the practice of meditation, I realized that it could be just what I needed."
For her it was a gradual journey of awakening. "Before I started to practice mindfulness, my inner voice became more noticeable, especially in the form of self-criticism, adding to the exhaustion I felt every day," Mounira explains, highlighting one of the ways many of us unwittingly add to the stress in our lives. Mounira is not alone in this. We simply tend to be unkind to ourselves, we expect too much and punish ourselves silently whenever we feel that we have not measured up to our own (too) high standards, the worst case of which is perfectionism.
Thankfully, the point came when Mounira realized that all that self-defeating talk, that nagging voice inside her head, came from the ego and the fears it nourishes. With this revelation, she took a step back and stopped blindly following that inner voice. "I suddenly understood deep inside that I don't have to participate in every situation that I encounter, but that I have the choice to stay present without reacting or resisting," she says.
And like that, life literally transformed before her eyes: She started to work less, grew more conscious in the workplace, and paid more attention to her own needs, such as her own physical and mental health. All the while, the results kept getting better and better: she became happier, healthier, and more creative and productive.
"Now it's not just a practice for me but a way of living—yoga and mindfulness. They have opened my heart again."
Then came that fateful visit to Google's headquarters in Mountain View. While there, she found out about the SIY program, talked to its participants, who back then were mainly engineers, and decided that she had to find a way to extend the program's reach. "I went to SIY's leaders and asked if I could implement it at Google and YouTube in Germany," Mounira recalls. "They said yes, but told me that I have to arrange and organize it all myself."
Of course that didn't stop her. Yet the early beginnings of her efforts made her understand the value of patience and persistence.
"It was a bit challenging to bring up the topic of meditation and mindfulness at first—for me," she says. "But I learned to be more open and to admit that not all tasks are easy for me. It's important to have people right from the start, people who support you and do this together with you. I was the kick-starter but not the one who pushed it forward by myself, nor did I support it on my own. It evolved organically and had its own dynamics."
First, she put up fliers around the building, but the most successful communication tool turned out to be word-of-mouth. The initiative started with a 10-minute meditation every day—and yes, it was a very small group. "Sometimes it was only me and one or two others," Mounira says with a laugh. "The important thing is to persevere, not to give up when at first things don't seem to have the impact we desire. Because then attendance slowly grew, week by week. Then we did scheduled mindfulness sessions, but not every day, and I also offered yoga lessons."
When she meets new people, she runs into those who are excited and curious about mindfulness as much as those who have never heard of it or doubt its benefits. "I always talk about it openly, even with business people. I tell them about my own experiences, what positive impact it had in my life. But I also bring up the science behind it if I think it's necessary, such as the research on Emotional Intelligence. Although, the science made no difference to me. For me, it's the personal experience that counts. Sometimes simply doing a quick presence exercise—just a few short minutes—with people I meet can show them that mindfulness can be very beneficial. I found that it leads to more attention and better performance in all areas of one's life."
What's special is that doing all of that was not Mounira's real job, even when she was co-leading mindfulness initiatives for the company's EMEA region. "There was no official role for this work anywhere at Google or YouTube," Mounira adds. "Everyone who is a part of this movement, does it in addition to their formal job. And I learned a lot more by teaching others or collaborating with them on these activities and programs."
So what did the company actually get out of it? And how was it measured? Wait, was it measured at all?
"It's always a balancing act. I know of a large corporation that measures it, but we didn't. We did surveys that ask what kind of benefits people experienced with the program, but it was not a quantitative measurement. I think it's tough to measure what has really happened underneath for the individual and thereby for their work. What's important for Google is happiness at work: so health, fitness and sleep, for example," Mounira clarifies.
"We didn't think it's necessary to measure anything as long as people say it helps them. We saw people collaborate differently, engage a lot more in social community activities, and connect more easily to help each other with their health and well-being. Team members were more engaged, more enthusiastic at work."
"How should we measure that? And why should we? Because if we did, the whole effort might seem more like a sales activity: we are offering mindfulness so that you work more, produce more, bring us more sales and so on. Then people become resistant. They wouldn't want to participate as freely and wholeheartedly because mindfulness now appears to be something that is imposed from above for a business i.e. a profit purpose. It would look like it is no longer about really caring but about 'getting more out of us'," Mounira concludes.
While there can be many wonderful outcomes in regard to productivity and creativity from regular mindfulness practice, that is not the main reason why many people engage in it. "We do it to learn more about ourselves, to gain peace and balance, to find a way to enjoy life more by stepping out of the autopilot and reconnecting with our compassion," Mounira emphasizes. "We do it for our heart and soul, not our work."
And how can you measure the heart and the soul? Hmmm, I leave that answer to you.
Now I wanted to hear more about the specific benefits Mounira experienced: what has she witnessed in and heard from other people that are participating in SIY or other mindfulness initiatives?
"We can deal with situations more effectively and calmly, thereby bringing better solutions and ideas to the table. Hence, I am also more creative. There are a lot more occurrences of Flow experiences," Mounira says.
"It also becomes easy to take a few steps back from unwanted or challenging situations, so that there is less inadequate reacting and more reflection and collaboration. And despite coming to work late or leaving early when my body or mind needs it, I get more done than ever before. Energy levels are higher, and I have a better, clearer view of the big picture and the details."
Comparing the daily grind at work and outside of it to an assembly line, Mounira tells me that she is now able to consciously jump off that assembly line and jump back on whenever it feels right. "Mindfulness practice gives you a new sense of self-awareness and self-esteem."
Wouldn't it be fantastic if more workplaces, more people good reap such rewards? What else can a company do to help spread and fortify such an initiative?
Of course, this is where technology can contribute positively. "Mindfulness apps can very well support such a program. They can help employees get more into the practice of mindfulness whenever they have a free moment, not having to wait until a session is scheduled. It can easily be integrated into everyday activities."
Is she using an app?
"I prefer to meditate without using an app. It's always a personal choice," Mounira replies.
Yup. And starting a mindfulness journey—whether technology enabled or not—definitely appears to be a smart one.
A couple of years ago, Mounira left Google to start her own consultancy focusing on mindfulness in the workplace. Her company, Connected Business offers leadership programs and organizes mind- and eye-opening conferences such as Mind Conference.
Mounira followed her passion and intuition to break through the conventions of workplace culture in Germany and create something that made a difference in many of her colleague's lives and far beyond the walls of Google and YouTube. Now imagine what you could do, and get started!
External resources mentioned in this story:
Search Inside Yourself Leadership Program: SIYLI.org
© 2016, updated 2018