MORE THAN A FLAVOUR OF THE MONTH?

“Being present here and now”:

looking at mindfulness

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Scientific interpretation

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.

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

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.

WHAT DO WE MEAN BY: Mindfulness?

The term mindfulness is used for both

  1. a state of mind[1] that refers to the awareness created when we bring our attention, in a deliberate way, into the present moment, without judgment; and
  2. a meditation practice[2]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.

Complete reference

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.

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.

WHAT DO THE RESULTS OF 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.

1. Aspects of psychological health

Interpretation 

The results are relatively beneficial regarding:

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:

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

Interpretation

 The results were relatively beneficial regarding:

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

Interpretation

Results were relatively beneficial regarding:

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 FOR EMPLOYERS

Mindfulness-based interventions include formal and informal activities.

Type of activity

Example of an organizational
approach

 Example of an individual practice

Result

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.

  • Offer your employees meditation sessions at work during the lunch hour.

 

  • Offer your employees yoga or tai chi courses at work before office hours.
  • 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.
  • Your employee’s attention is focused on the rhythm of their breath.

 

  • Your employee’s attention is focused on their body in motion.

Informal

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

 

  • Offer your employees training in active listening.

 

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

 

  • 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

RECOMMENDATION 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.

 

GLOBAL-WATCH SUPPLEMENT

Avenues for reflection
In this age of 24/7 connectivity and constant stimulation, the practice of mindfulness needs to be taken seriously.
This kind of intervention may be more easily accepted within more mature organizations or those that are used to offering health and well-being initiatives, and less in other organizational cultures. However, if your employees are in stressful work contexts, you could choose to evolve your organizational culture so that this type of healing activity is more and more accepted as it is needed.

Avenues for action
Group mindfulness practice may encourage individuals to practise it each day. The group approach sends a social and organizational signal of acceptability.
A communication to managers and employees explaining the benefits of mindfulness will enable a smooth integration of these actions into your strategy.

Link with the Global-Watch intervention framework
This kind of activity happens at the moving to action stage and can apply to both managers and employees. It is important to firmly state its relevance in your overall strategy. 

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.

References

[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 and from 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

Pierre Breton
Author: Pierre Breton

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