People want to feel a greater sense of purpose at work, and that starts by being mindful of what they’re doing. We asked Chade-Meng Tan, known as Meng and “Jolly Good Fellow,” how he guides Google employees to be mindful and compassionate. During his first eight years at Google, Meng worked in engineering, then led Personal Growth: a program that helps employees explore their emotional, physical and mental beings. He authored Search Inside Yourself (SIY), with the aim to help transform the workplace for people across the world. Today, he enlightens minds, opens hearts and tries to create the conditions for world peace. Here, Meng shares tips to creating a healthier, happier and more compassionate workplace.

Q: Where did the job title Jolly Good Fellow come from?

A: When I joined Google in 2000, my job title was software engineer. In Google, we called the highest ranking engineer a Google Fellow. One day I made a joke saying, "Why be a Google Fellow when I can be a Jolly Good Fellow?", and everyone laughed. My philosophy is that if everyone laughs, "that's the right thing to do." So I printed my business cards with “Jolly Good Fellow (Which nobody can deny)."

Q: Let’s talk about your work at Google. If you could instantly change how people work, what would you change first?

A: I would love to see a world in which every workplace emphasizes being as much as doing. At work, we’re judged on what we do, but who we are and what we bring to the table are just as important. Balancing being and doing involves taking care of the well-being of employees and cultivating an environment where employees can have meaningful relationships.

Chade-Meng Tan aka Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow”

"Goodness is a competitive advantage in business."
—Chade-Meng Tan, aka Google’s "Jolly Good Fellow"

Q: How does modern technology contradict the being at work?

A: The currency of information is attention. "Attention is needed to consume information, therefore, overabundance of information leads to poverty of attention because attention is very finite. Some people wonder why they have an attention deficit. It’s because they’re consuming information without realizing that they’re "paying a price for that information, and that price is your attention." If you know that your attention is a valuable commodity, you’ll be more disciplined about what you choose to dedicate your attention to. I don’t think you need to detox technology. You simply need to know that you’re paying a price: your attention. Attention deficit affects how you treat others and form relationships at work.

Q: What’s the biggest challenge for companies in creating a compassionate workplace?

A: It’s hard for managers to see the long-term value of investing in compassion in the workplace. There are some short-term benefits: For example, if a salesperson is kind to customers, they’ll likely want to interact with him again. But the true consequence of compassion is shown through its opportunity cost. If I’m the best sales manager but treat my salespeople like dirt, they might sell 10% more, but after a year, they’ll all quit. The direct cost of not having compassion is turnover and spending time and resources on replacing staff. The indirect cost is that if I had treated them well, they would be happy and motivated and sell 35% more. That opportunity cost is 25% of sales.

Research also shows that compassion is a competitive advantage. Happy workers tend to be more creative. As this type of research becomes widespread, managers will have more incentive to breed compassion in the workplace.

Q: What’s the key to less stress and greater happiness?

A: It’s a combination of three things: inner peace, inner joy and compassion. Inner peace is the ability to calm the mind on demand. It’s the peace that lets you calm your mind and move on when a customer’s shouting at you. Inner joy comes from inner peace and it is a source of joy independent sense and ego pleasures. Regardless of whether you have chocolate or whether people like you, you’re happy. Even better than that is compassion. Compassion is the sense of caring for yourself and the world. The most effective leaders are humble and ambitious for greater good because of compassion. Global compassion is the trigger for world peace. But compassion isn’t sustainable unless it’s built on inner joy, and inner joy can’t exist without inner peace. The combination of all three is life-changing.

Chade-Meng Tan aka Google’s “Jolly Good Fellow” mindful meditation

Q: How long does it take to experience the benefits of mindfulness?

A: Some studies say 15 minutes, and others say 140 minutes. I believe it takes one breath. Pay full attention to the in breath and the out breath. You’ll notice you’re calmer because you activate your relaxation response, and your blood pressure and heart rate go down. When you worry, your mind is in the future, and when you have regret, your mind is in the past. If you’re fully in the present for one breath, you’re free from worry and regret. So choose a time every day, perhaps right before sleep, and focus on one breath fully.

The second thing you can do to be a happier person is to wish happiness for other people. Every hour, choose two people to wish happiness on. Once I gave this as an assignment in a speech, and two days later I received an email from someone in the audience who said she hated going to work every day. When she wished happiness for two people every hour, she was the happiest she’d been in seven years.

What is mindfulness?
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