MORE THAN A FLAVOUR OF THE MONTH?

“Being present here and now”: looking at mindfulness

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Légende: Recommendation of our expert

Expert adviser:

Alex BOURQUE,
lecturer and doctoral candidate,
Université de Sherbrooke

Authors:

France ST-HILAIRE, associate professor, Human Resource Management, Université de Sherbrooke Maude VILLENEUVE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Stéphanie BÉRUBÉ, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Rébecca LEFEBVRE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Marie-Hélène GILBERT, assistant professor, Université Laval
Michel PÉRUSSE, adjunct professor, Université de Sherbrooke

Mindfulness is increasingly taking hold in workplaces, but is it just a fad or is it a promising intervention strategy to promote your employees’ psychological health, well-being and performance?

To answer this question, we did an interpretation of Lomas and colleagues’ study, published in 2017, on mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace and their links with employees’ psychological health, well-being and performance.

What do we mean by : Mindfulness?

The term mindfulness is used for both:

  • a state of mind1 that refers to the awareness created when we bring our attention, in a deliberate way, into the present moment, without judgment; and
  • a meditation practice2 that refers to controlling our thoughts, our behaviours and our emotions with the goal of improving our cognitive control and increasing our well-being.

Mindfulness activities were originally used in the clinical field for treating patients’ chronic pain, stress and anxiety. Since the end of the 1990s, this type of strategy is generating more and more interest in organizations. Mindfulness interventions are now used in the workplace not only with employees experiencing stress or mental health issues, but also to promote their psychological health, well-­‐being and performance.

  1. Definition adapted from Kabat-°©‐Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness based interventions in context: Past, present, and future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10(2), 144–156. doi:10.1093/clipsy.bpg016
  2. Definition adapted from Lomas, T., Ivtzan, I., & Fu, C. (2015).A systematic review of the neurophysiology of mindfulness on EEG oscillations. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 57, 401–410. doi:10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.09.018 et de Walsh, R., & Shapiro, S. L. (2006). The meeting of meditative disciplines and western psychology: A mutually enriching dialogue. American Psychologist, 61(3), 227–239. doi:10.1037/0003-°©‐ 066X.61.3.227

What do the results if this study show?

DO MINDFULNESS-BASED INTERVENTIONS PROMOTE HEALTH AND PERFORMANCE?

Mindfulness-based interventions promote psychological health, and especially reduce early symptoms of health problems. If there are connections between mindfulness and improved employee well-­‐being and performance, these results must be interpreted with caution. It is difficult to compare studies, as this is an emerging field

METHOD

A systematic review* of empirical studies in an organizational context was conducted. These are the results of 153 studies of a total of 12,571 employees from various business sectors in a number of countries that were identified.

For this article, 21 studies were selected, as researchers considered them to be of high quality. These studies focused on the links between one or more mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace and between one or more dimensions associated with employees’ psychological health, well-being or performance

*A systematic review is a rigorous and critical examination of the scientific literature on an issue; empirical studies involve observing a phenomenon or testing a strategy.

1) Aspects of psychological health

The results are relatively beneficial regarding:

Interpretation

  • Anxiety reduction
    (4 out of 6 studies showed it)
An employee who has developed an attentive presence will observe his anxious thoughts with openness rather than dwelling on them.
  • Stress reduction
    (8 out of 10 studies showed it)

The state of relaxation created by meditative practices reduces the level of cortisol, the main stress hormone.

  • Distress and anger reduction
    (4 out of 4 studies showed it)

The approach is related to that of anxiety: that is, that the employee will be able to observe his anger and emotions related to his distress.

Results are less clear regarding:

Interpretation

  • Depression reduction
    (1 out of 4 studies showed it)

Some interventions targeted employees who are currently depressed, while others targeted employees who have recovered but are at risk of relapse.

  • Burnout reduction
    (1 out of 6 studies showed it)

Larger samples of participants would have allowed for establishing a clearer link.

Many studies have shown that these interventions had a more pronounced effect (although not significant) on emotional exhaustion, which is one of three aspects of burnout.

2) aspects of well-being

The results are relatively beneficial regarding:

Interpretation

  • Improvement of spiritual experience, work satisfaction, quality of professional life and subjective well-being
    (4 out of 7 studies showed it)

Mindfulness-based interventions can reduce mental rumination (constantly dwelling on the same idea).

Often practised in a group, mindfulness can give employees’ work meaning.

  • Improvement in physical health
    (4 out of 4 studies showed it)

Mindfulness-based interventions contribute to increasing physical activity, which promotes health and individual strength, and improves sleep quality and reduces pain.

3) aspects of employee performance

The results are relatively beneficial regarding:

Interpretation

  • Increase in the feeling of control over work and appropriate perception of work demands
    (1 out of 6 studies showed it)
Mindfulness-based interventions increase employees’ sense of control over their thoughts and their work.

Because studies must always be interpreted with caution
The method the researchers used is very rigorous. However, several studies included in this systematic review had limits that led us to present you only with the results of studies that the researchers considered to be high quality and whose results can be applied to your organizational contexts.

Actions employers can take

Mindfulness-based interventions include formal and informal activities.

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: FORMAL

To develop mindfulness through formal activities, one must focus one’s attention on something. When distractions arise, it is important to bring the mind back to the focus of attention, without judging.

Example of an organizational approach

  • Offer your employees meditation sessions at work during the lunch hour.
  • Offer your employees yoga or tai chi courses at work before office hours.

Example of an individual practice

  • Your employee takes a short break to meditate before chairing a meeting with colleagues.
  • Your employee takes a short break to do yoga or tai chi poses between two challenging tasks.

Result

  • Your employee’s attention is focused on the rhythm of their breath.
  • Your employee’s attention is focused on their body in motion.
TYPE of ACTIVITy : INFORMal

To develop mindfulness through informal activities, one must do daily tasks while being attentive to them, as they arise in the present moment.

Example of an organizational approach

  • Offer your employees training in active listening.

Example of an individual practice

  • Your employee listens to his colleague who is late on a task while demonstrating openness, without judging.

Result

  • Your employee is attentive to the discussion without being distracted by emails or phone calls.

Conclusion : Mindfulness is not a passing fad

Mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace can be beneficial.
  • Mindfulness-based interventions promote your employees’ psychological health
    Results from studies that researchers considered high quality show that mindfulness-based interventions in the workplace can be effective in improving your employees’ psychological health, and especially in reducing anxiety, stress, distress and anger.
  • Mindfulness-based interventions can promote your employees’ well-being and performance.
    Although this is an emerging field and more studies are needed, the results show that these interventions can promote your employees’ well-being – especially physical – and performance.

Recommendations from our expert

Mindfulness is an individual intervention strategy that rests on your employees’ willingness to devote themselves to it.
Leading these group activities encourages faithfulness to the practice and allows employees to use these techniques on their own.

Because mindfulness is an individual strategy, your organization needs to put in place organizational intervention strategies to impact the work environment and reduce sources of stress. Mindfulness is much more than a flavour of the month, but it is definitely not a cure-all.

TO CITE THIS GLOBAL-WATCH SCIENTIFIC INTERPRETATION

Bourque, A., St-Hilaire, F., Villeneuve, M., Bérubé, S., Lefebvre, R., Gilbert, M.-H., Pérusse, M. (2018). “Being present here and now”: looking at mindfulness. Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at www.global-watch.com

TO CITE THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY THE AUTHORS OF THE STUDY

Lomas, T., Medina, J. C., Ivtzan, I., Rupprecht, S., Hart, R., & Eiroa-Orosa, F. J. (2017). The impact of mindfulness on well-being and performance in the workplace: an inclusive systematic review of the empirical literature. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26(4), 492‑513.

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