The accelerating pace of technology-driven changes in our lives creates increasing pressure on employees who are already juggling multiple work and family demands.

“Associated with this, many people suffer from psychological symptoms, including burnout and sleep problems,” said Ute R. Hülsheger, associate professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. “For organizations this means absenteeism due to sick leave, reduced performance, et cetera.”

Coping with a changing workplace

Employee resistance to change can have serious organizational effects, causing those change efforts, and sometimes the companies undertaking them, to fail. Meanwhile, a developing body of work on the subject of mindfulness offers the potential for creating systems and tools that will help employees cope with this changing workplace. 

In her symposium at the 2016 SIOP Conference, Hülsheger defines mindfulness as “a state of consciousness that is characterized by attentiveness to and awareness of moment-to-moment experiences in an accepting and nonjudgmental way.” Trait mindfulness is a consistent manner of interacting mindfully.

Hülsheger says the good news is that, although people vary naturally in their levels of trait mindfulness, “it can also be trained, and clinical psychologists have done tremendous work in developing and evaluating these interventions; these interventions are readily available for individuals, practitioners, and researchers.”

Why mindfulness?

The potential benefits of workplace mindfulness intervention have created a lot of interest and debate in the I-O psychology community. A December 2015 IOP Journal article, “Mindfulness at Work: A New Approach to Improving Individual and Organizational Performance,” by Patrick K. Hyland, R. Andrew Lee, and Maura J. Mills, drew 20 commentaries. Much of the conversation is about defining the field of inquiry and creating measurable, relevant constructs.

Hülsheger became interested in mindfulness because of her study of emotional labor, the need to manage one’s emotions in order to complete job duties.  

“Through conversations with a colleague of mine who is a clinical psychologist and mindfulness trainer I realized that mindfulness and mindfulness-based interventions may be a good way to facilitate emotion and affect regulation at work.” she said

She helped assemble five presentations for the recent symposium, “Promoting Mindfulness@Work: Effects on Performance, Health and Relational Outcomes.” Each of them looked at mindfulness through a different lens.

The role of the work environment

One study in that presentation, by Hülsheger and Alicia Walkowiak, focused on the role of the work environment in promoting mindfulness. The authors express a key takeaway from the symposium in their discussion of the work environment.

“The extent to which employees experience mindfulness during work does not only reflect an individual’s (genetic) disposition to be mindful nor is it the unique result of mindfulness-based training. Rather, results suggest that work circumstances such as time pressure and workload influence employees ability to be mindful during work. Taken together, these findings show that organizations seeking to promote mindfulness among their workforce can do more than offering mindfulness-based training programs ’

The inference is that organizations navigating through change can manage the work environment in ways to help employees respond mindfully. But Hülsheger maintains there is still much to be learned about performance-related outcomes for mindfulness interventions and about tailoring those interventions for specific circumstances. 

She will be working to further develop the field in a new study for which she received a 2016 SIOP Small Grant award: “Mindfulness@Work: Promoting Work-Related Well-Being by Cultivating Equanimity.