What started as an effort to help colleagues cope amidst the pandemic sprouted into something much bigger: a nationwide mindfulness program within the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Now called the Mindful EPA, the mindfulness program was launched in July 2021 to give EPA employees a tool to more effectively relate to stress and other challenges in their lives.
The Beginnings of a Workplace Mindfulness Program
As most of the world entered lockdown in early 2020, workers all over the nation faced similar challenges: readjusting to working from home, uncertainty about what was coming next, and fearing for their own well-being. Levels of stress, anxiety, and depression rose to an all-time high, and employees of the EPA were no exception.
Adding to pandemic-related stress, many EPA employees felt marginalized due to the administrative constraints that prevented them from addressing climate change to the fullest. For those whose passion it is to protect our environment, the limits on pursuing their life’s work were demoralizing. That’s when Dr. Lena Adams Kim, Senior Communications Consultant with the EPA, saw an opportunity to help her colleagues cope.
Introducing Another Way to Cope With Stress
As a graduate of Mindfulness Exercises’ Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training Certification program, Dr. Kim already had experience teaching the science-based principles and techniques of mindfulness to others.
In addition to working at the EPA, she volunteered as a mindfulness trainer at a local hospice. She had seen first hand how mindfulness could bring relief to hospice patients and families, and imagined it could also help her fellow colleagues at the EPA.
With the help of EPA colleagues who shared her passion for mindfulness, and the support of her mindfulness teacher Sean Fargo, it took Dr. Kim just a few months to create Mindful EPA. It was no easy feat, requiring much thought-out strategy and long nights of work. But here’s how it unfolded, step-by-step.
Beginning With the Science of Stress
Getting approval to do anything within a government agency often takes weeks, months or even years. So when Dr. Kim first inquired about sharing mindfulness with her team, she was delighted to receive immediate approval. It seemed stress, anxiety, and burnout could be felt even through virtual screens, so anything that might introduce a greater sense of ease was welcomed.
Dr. Kim began by integrating short snippets of mindfulness practices into her virtual meetings. Soon after, colleagues started approaching her about bringing mindfulness to their events and programs. In an organization full of scientists, Dr. Kim knew it would be important to help her colleagues understand the basic neuroscience of stress. Appealing to their data-oriented minds help spark interest in her sessions.
Mindfulness is well known for its proven effects on reducing stress and anxiety, but Dr. Kim didn’t stop there. She also helped her colleagues identify benefits of mindfulness they may not have thought of much, such as improved relationships with ourselves and others.
I like to get people thinking that it's not always about relaxation. It's about becoming a better person by being more present. By being present with yourself, by noticing the breath, you become a more present person with other people — whether it’s your colleagues or your family.
- Dr. Lena Adams Kim -
Mindful EPA is Born
As Dr. Kim held more virtual mindfulness sessions, employees within the EPA started inviting other colleagues to join. Attendance at the mindfulness sessions grew organically and leaders throughout the agency took note.
A few months into Dr. Kim’s efforts, national leaders at the EPA became more curious about mindfulness and how the office was using it. After hearing Dr. Kim’s presentation on the benefits and practices of mindfulness, they agreed it would be a beneficial offering for the agency nationwide.
Dr. Kim was soon offered the temporary role of developing a mindfulness program at the EPA headquarters. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA) already had a mindfulness program in place called Mindful NOAA. To keep things consistent, Dr. Kim decided to name the EPA’s new program Mindful EPA.
Turning to Colleagues for Support
As she brought little bites of mindfulness into her virtual meetings, Dr. Kim was excited to learn there were existing mindfulness enthusiasts throughout the agency already. Those who had been meditating or practicing mindfulness on their own, reached out to ask how they could help.
So when Dr. Kim got the go-ahead for the nationwide program, she already had a network of fellow practitioners she could turn to for support. These colleagues became her Mindful EPA Council. She credits these self-selected ambassadors as one of the main reasons the Mindful EPA program turned into such a success.
Employees who volunteered to be part of the Mindful EPA Council did it because they were excited about the possibilities of how this could transform lives — not because a supervisor assigned them or told them to do it. “Even if leadership changes, the program will be going strong because it started at the grassroots level,” said Dr. Kim.
Starting Small With Mindful Snacks
Given the virtual nature of things at the time, Dr. Kim began by integrating mindfulness, not with in-person break-room sessions, but in an accessible, online venue. One of the most successful tools was called Mindful Snacks. These short 15-minute online mindfulness sessions were held every Tuesday and Thursday morning, and open to any and all EPA employees who wanted to attend.
From the start, Dr. Kim tracked metrics to better understand the outcomes of these sessions. According to surveys collected from the Mindful Snacks participants, 99% said:
Several months later at a nationwide employee meeting, senior leadership encouraged employees to use Mindful EPA and the Mindful Snacks sessions as a health and wellness tool. At that moment, Dr. Kim knew that mindfulness was at the EPA to stay. No longer just a temporary role, she currently serves as the Director of Mindful EPA.
How to Bring Mindfulness to Your Organization
Originally a collective of mindful practitioners and enthusiasts, several from Dr. Kim’s Mindful EPA Council are now training to become certified mindfulness meditation teachers, to help improve employee wellness outcomes.
The Mindfulness Exercises Mindfulness Meditation Teacher Training program offers internationally-recognized accreditation, which gives employees the credentials they need to approach senior leadership with confidence.
A unique, online and self-paced program means it’s easy to get certified on your own time, outside of work hours, without having to take time off or travel to expensive destinations.
The comprehensive curriculum offers a balance of pre-recorded sessions, 2-hours/week of live personal mentorship from lead instructor Sean Fargo, and 2 hours/week of live, mentored practice teaching sessions.
Attend once-monthly Zoom workshops with mindfulness teachers from around the world, like Sharon Salzberg, Gabor Maté, Dr. Jud Brewer and David Treleaven. Plus, access past workshops whenever you’d like.
This program gave Dr. Kim the credibility and confidence she needed to journey from brief mindful moments offered at the start of her online meetings, to the robust nationwide program the Mindful EPA is today.
To learn more about how you too, can bring mindfulness to your organization or workplace we’ve put together a practical guide. Check it out here.