Jobs in the high-tech sector can be stressful, requiring serious multitasking and taxing one’s ability to focus. But 1,500 Intel Corp. employees have looked within and taken to meditation and mindfulness training to combat stress and increase focus.
The chip maker, based in Santa Clara, Calif., with 102,000 global employees (including almost 1,400 here in Austin), has been offering Awake@Intel for the past year. It started in Hillsboro, Ore., where most of the participants are located, but it has also been adopted at Intel’s Folsom site and is offered virtually to some teams around the globe.
It started with an informal Tuesday lunchtime group, led by Lindsay Van Driel, an operations manager in Intel’s Business Client Platform division who is certified in yoga and meditation instruction.
Van Driel said she learned about mindfulness programs at Google and General Mills and attended “Wisdom 2.0,” an intensive, two-day conference that delves into “the intersection between high tech and mindfulness.”
She started to blog internally at Intel and connected with Qua Vega, an IT strategy and market research analyst who also had a Tuesday mindfulness group.
They collaborated on developing a nine-week mindfulness program, led by Van Driel and Anakha Coman, who has also coached employees at Nike Inc. and Oregon Health & Science University.
The program, now in its sixth quarter with up to four groups going at once, costs $500 per employee, which comes out of the training budget for each business group. Intel’s total investment so far has been about $75,000.
The 90-minute weekly sessions receive quite a few newbies — at least half of whom typically have never meditated before, Van Driel said. Many of them stick with the classes.
“A switch gets flipped and they want more,” she said.
Marne Dunn, a digital literacy strategic program manager at the Folsom campus, took Awake@Intel twice and has co-taught it.
“The main benefits are aroused awareness of myself and how critical I am of myself and not allowing negative self-talk. It was a matter of being frustrated that I wasn’t getting anywhere and I wasn’t being heard. I was finding when you have negative stuff going on, you’re projecting that,” Dunn said.
She feels that the classes have improved her interactions with her peers and direct reports alike and made her more aware of “what’s going on with them and to read their body language.”
A typical session starts with five minutes of meditation. Everyone gets in a comfortable position, closes their eyes and focuses on the flow of their breath.
“You’re taking your consciousness from external factors to the inner landscape, using your breath as a focal point,” Van Driel said. “It helps you build that muscle that is awareness. We’re asking people to arrive in the present moment and let go of everything outside the doors.”
This is followed by the reading of a poem and reflection questions. Everyone writes in a journal for a few minutes. A sample topic might be, “How would you like to use the power of intention in your life?”
Next, they share their writings and sometimes view a slide show related to the topic. The session ends with more meditation related to the topic at hand.
The results, based on surveys, have been positive so far. Participants have reported increases in focus and decreases in stress.
“From what we’ve seen anecdotally, a myriad of feedback, they’re engaging with their team in a way that’s more productive and solving problems faster, and there are instances of people coming to technical breakthroughs,” Van Driel said.
While the benefits are difficult to monetize and quantify, it’s important to have something to show for if corporate support for the program is to continue.
“We pretty much have to prove results to do this,” Van Driel said. “At the end of the day, the executives want to know how we’re impacting the bottom line.”