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"At any given moment during the workweek, there's a high possibility that employees at Silicon Valley tech companies are trying to disconnect from the very same products they have developed. Whether it's via deep breathing, meditation or a quiet moment to reflect, companies like Google, Twitter and Medium encourage the use of mindfulness techniques as a way to trade digital clutter and stress for greater clarity and purpose.
But away from the spotlight, one of the sector's oldest companies is quietly making plans to expand its program to a greater level than ever before.
After two years of running an under-the-radar program at two locations in California and Oregon – initiated by a manager in its engineering department, no less – Intel is moving to make a nine-week mindfulness program available to its workforce of over 100,000 employees in 63 countries across the globe. "There's going to be a quantum leap," said Lindsay Van Driel, the Hillsboro, Oregon-based manager who co-founded Awake@Intel with Portland leadership consultant Anakha Coman. Using a train-the-trainer model, the program will be rolled out over the next six months to its first office locations. An employee is currently being trained in India, and others in China, Chile, Costa Rica and Ireland have expressed interest. Van Driel is adamant about making sure that Awake@Intel grows slowly so that the course is implemented in a way that stays true to its original intention. "The right teachers [who will all be employees] will have to emerge as leaders before we can offer it there," said Van Driel, who is also a certified meditation and yoga instructor. "It's not something that anyone can teach. It has to be lived and embodied." All sessions will be held with teachers and students in the same room. Though Van Driel did consult with Chade-Meng Tan, the Google engineer who co-wrote the company's Search Inside Yourself course on mindfulness and emotional intelligence with meditation teacher Mirabai Bush and San Francisco Zen Center priest Norman Fischer, she and Coman created a program that met the needs of a company mainly comprised of scientists and engineers, and one that cultivated the Intel values of innovation, candor, possibility thinking, risk taking and moving quickly and decisively. The curriculum was developed in three months. Before the first weekly session, each participant identifies what he or she is most interested in improving. During the first month, the class learns to quiet their minds. They set intentions and explore the components of emotional intelligence. For the last part of the course, participants are exposed to mindful listening, delve into Brené Brown's ideas on the influence that vulnerability has on innovation, then discuss Otto Scharmer's concept of collective mindfulness. Each week, participants share their experiences and insight utilizing what they've learned over the course of the past week – for example, talking about how they moved from compulsion to choice. "People get more authentically related to each other – beyond competency levels and their roles. So real ideas are heard and received, and people are much more generative together. The corporate mask that people put on when they walk through the door comes down," Coman said. Evaluation results have been notable among the 1,500 employees who have participated in 19 sessions to date. On average, participants responding to pre- and post- self-evaluation questionnaires report a two-point decrease (on a 10-point scale) in experiencing stress and feeling overwhelmed, a three-point increase in overall happiness and wellbeing, and a two-point increase in having new ideas and insights, mental clarity, creativity, the ability to focus, the quality of relationships at work and the level of engagement in meetings, projects and collaboration efforts. Since the program is voluntary, it seems that employees aspiring to be mindful would surely be derailed by colleagues. But there's still value, according to Coman. If one person can maintain presence in a conflict it won't escalate, and it can help others to stay calm, she said. How did a top tech company make the decision to invest in such a large program without a clear numerical return on investment? Van Driel said that she focused on presenting scientific studies showing the health benefits of meditation, as well as the effect of the program on workers' ability to relate better to each other and improve team performance. The company has not determined the amount of money it will put into the program at this time. "If we show people pages and pages of our feedback, there's nothing that anyone can say that takes away the validity of that experience," she said. "If I have an engineer that says 'I can solve a technical problem in two less weeks [after applying what was learned during the class]', you can monetize it anywhere."