Blog #51 – Mindfulness – Part 4
In recent posts, we have highlighted the potential usefulness of mindfulness as it relates to cultivating well-being. These benefits can be seen across a range of different settings. Last time, we highlighted research findings indicating positive results with school-going adolescents; today, we will showcase the impact of mindfulness in a very different kind of setting – the workplace.
We focused on well-being in the workplace earlier in this series, and noted at that time that a range of different mental health issues have become prevalent in places of work and without positive intervention of some kind will most likely continue to do so. Increased awareness around this issue has seen many industries and individual businesses introduce a range of well-being related strategies at work, with a view towards turning the tide and making the workplace less detrimental to the mental and physical well-being of those who work there. Indeed, the ultimate goal is not merely to make the average workplace “less detrimental” to employees, but to actually make it a positive environment, one in which individuals can thrive and therefore maximise their potential. It is this idea that points to the “win-win” benefits of business paying heed to worker well-being. It is not merely that seeking to create positive working environments is better for employees, but – as highlighted by researchers such as Sonya Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener (and elaborated on in Blog #34) – doing so can also aid the bottom line, as happier workers are more effective workers, demonstrating, for example, superior problem-solving skills and greater levels of engagement in their day-to-day duties.
So, it is clear that a greater emphasis on well-being in the workplace can benefit both an individual business and those who work there. Industries that have come to recognise this have gone out of their way to introduce and test a range of well-being-related interventions and activities, with a view towards achieving these goals, and mindfulness is one such approach which has been adopted and used across a range of different types of business.
Writing in Annual Review of Psychology last year, J. David Creswell offered an overview of the current state of play in mindfulness research, reviewing existing evidence under a number of different headings, addressing its effectiveness in the workplace in the context of its use in “new settings and populations”, thus highlighting how mindfulness interventions at work have yet to become commonplace, but are generating increasing interest.
Creswell notes that interest in mindfulness “has increased exponentially over the past three decades”, with this surge owed in large part to scientific reports on potential benefits across a range of outcomes (e.g., mental, physical, cognitive, and interpersonal), and the media coverage of such findings creating awareness and curiosity among the wider public, with this in turn partly accounting for how mindfulness has gradually come to the attention of the business community.
Creswell notes that initial studies have shown that group- or internet-based mindfulness interventions may help to reduce workplace stress and increase job satisfaction among workers, but he also sounds a note of caution, emphasising that some advocates for mindfulness can be more enthusiastic about its benefits than the evidence necessarily indicates at this point, suggesting that a level of “fanaticism” may inform such perspectives. He also sounds a note of caution around the pace at which mindfulness programmes are now being introduced in schools and workplaces, making the point that this is happening in the absence of a body of rigorous randomised controlled trials, without which, he maintains, we simply do not know enough about how mindfulness works, who is best placed to benefit, and what risks might be associated with these interventions. We will focus more on this point next time, but for now we need to merely be aware of this view.
One of the sources Creswell relied upon for his comments on mindfulness in the workplace was a 2016 article published in Journal of Management. Darren Good and Christopher Liddy were the lead authors of this paper, which is billed as “an integrative review” of the area. They note how first and foremost mindfulness influences individual attention, with this the foundation for whatever effects flow from there, noting potential impacts on the functional domains of cognition, emotion, behaviour, and physiology. It is these functional domains that then, in turn, impact on the key workplace outcomes of interest – performance on the job, relationships with those around you, and physical and psychological well-being.
Examining existing research, they report mindfulness can impact positively on a range of performance categories, noting an influence on ethical and prosocial behaviour, greater safety-related behaviours, and general job and task-related conduct. However, while they note the promising findings to date, they stress the need for more work to be done to deepen our understanding.
With regard to relationships in the workplace, they note that mindfulness can make a good impression here too. Again, there are no definitive answers on what processes are occurring, but they point to improved communication quality between colleagues (i.e., better listening and less judgement), and a tendency for those who have been exposed to mindfulness programmes to exhibit greater empathy and compassion for those around them.
They define employee well-being as relating to “the overall quality of an employee’s experience and functioning at work”, and state that this incorporates psychological, physical, and behavioural aspects. Arising from this, they note that it is “not surprising” that well-being outcomes are a major point of interest for mindfulness researchers and also “a major driver of its integration into corporate life”, given the link that has been detected between well-being and performance.
They go on to refer to studies highlighting a range of positive outcomes, including reduced levels of burnout, perceived stress, work-family conflict, and negative moods, along with greater sleep quality and increased job satisfaction.
It seems clear that mindfulness has something to offer to the general population in different settings. However, as alluded to above, some notes of caution have been sounded. This is the area we will explore next time.
Dr. Mark Barry
Mark Barry was awarded a PhD by University College Cork in 2015 for his research into adolescent well-being. He has lectured psychology at UCC since 2013 and is also a freelance writer.