Work Conditions Affect Mindfulness at Work
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“Mindfulness is being focused on the present moment. That means you’re not worrying about what’s going to happen tomorrow, or dwelling on what happened in yesterday’s meeting. This shift enables you to take a step back and make better decisions. It also enhances creativity, focus, and productivity.” – Ashley Stahl
Work is very important for our health and well-being. We spend approximately 25% of our adult lives at work. How we spend that time is immensely important for our psychological and physical health. Indeed, the work environment has even become an important part of our social lives, with friendships and leisure time activities often attached to the people we work with. But, more than half of employees in the U.S. and nearly 2/3 worldwide are unhappy at work. This is partially due to work-related stress which is epidemic in the western workplace. Almost two thirds of workers reporting high levels of stress at work. This stress can result in impaired health and can result in burnout; producing fatigue, cynicism, and professional inefficacy.
To help overcome unhappiness, stress, and burnout, mindfulness practices have been implemented in the workplace. Indeed, mindfulness practices have been shown to markedly reduce the physiological and psychological responses to stress. As a result, it has become very trendy for business to incorporate meditation into the workday to help improve employee well-being, health, and productivity. These programs attempt to increase the employees’ mindfulness at work. But, employees can be mindful at work without training. It is not known, however, what factors promote mindfulness at work and which impair it. There is actually very little systematic research on the effects of the work environment on the individual’s mindfulness.
In today’s Research News article “How can mindfulness be promoted? Workload and recovery experiences as antecedents of daily fluctuations in mindfulness.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5969091/ ), Hülsheger and colleagues recruited adult full-time workers and measured them for quantitative workload, sleep quality, mindfulness, fatigue, and psychological detachment. They completed the measurements 3 times, during work, after work, and before going to sleep, each day for five days.
They found that the measurement varied considerably from day to day. With this variation they found that the higher the workload the greater the fatigue and psychological detachment and the lower the mindfulness during work and the lower the sleep quality during the subsequent night. In turn, poor sleep quality was associated with greater psychological detachment, fatigue, and workload, and the lower the mindfulness during the subsequent day’s work.
A path analysis to determine mediation was performed and revealed that workload was associated with fatigue which in turn was associated with lower mindfulness. In addition, the previous nights sleep quality was associated with higher levels of mindfulness on the next day. Hence, there’s a reciprocal relationship between mindfulness with sleep quality with high mindfulness associated with high sleep quality which, in turn, is associated with higher mindfulness the next day. This relationship can be disrupted by high workload which is associated with fatigue and lower subsequent mindfulness.
These results suggest that low workload and high sleep quality are important to high levels of mindfulness during work which, in turn leads to many benefits for the job and the employee. Keeping workload at a reasonable level should improve both sleep quality and mindfulness which should, in turn, promote better work.
So, maintain workloads at reasonable levels, reduce fatigue and improve mindfulness and sleep quality, resulting in the employee performing better at work.
“Mindfulness is not about living life in slow motion. It’s about enhancing focus and awareness both in work and in life. It’s about stripping away distractions and staying on track with individual, as well as organizational, goals.” – Rasmus Hougaard
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Ute R. Hülsheger, Alicia Walkowiak, Marie S. Thommes. How can mindfulness be promoted? Workload and recovery experiences as antecedents of daily fluctuations in mindfulness. J Occup Organ Psychol. 2018 Jun; 91(2): 261–284. Published online 2018 Mar 4. doi: 10.1111/joop.12206
While previous work on mindfulness has focused predominantly on the benefits of mindfulness and of mindfulness interventions, the present article addresses the question of how natural experiences of mindfulness can be promoted in the context of work. Accordingly, this article sheds light on day‐to‐day fluctuations in workload and recovery experiences (psychological detachment and sleep quality) as antecedents of state mindfulness. Furthermore, this study extends extant research that has documented beneficial effects of mindfulness on subsequent recovery experiences by arguing that the relationship between mindfulness and recovery experiences is reciprocal rather than unidirectional. Using an experience‐sampling design across five workdays and involving three daily measurement occasions, we found that sleep quality and workload were related to subsequent levels of mindfulness. While not displaying a significant direct relationship with mindfulness, psychological detachment was indirectly related to mindfulness via sleep quality. Fatigue was identified as an important mechanism explaining these relationships. Furthermore, findings confirmed that the relationship between mindfulness and recovery experiences is reciprocal rather than unidirectional. Taken together, this study contributes to an enriched understanding of the role of mindfulness in organizations by shedding light on factors that precede the experience of mindfulness and by pointing to the existence of gain spirals associated with recovery experiences and mindfulness.