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Mindfulness at Work: A New Approach to Improving Individual and Organizational Performance

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Abstract

In recent years the concept of mindfulness has become increasingly popular, and with good reason. A growing body of research indicates that mindfulness provides a number of physical, psychological, and even performance benefits. As a result, some organizations have started offering mindfulness programs to their employees. But despite growing interest, mindfulness has received little attention from the industrial–organizational community. In this article, we provide an overview of what mindfulness is, where the concept came from, how it has been utilized and studied to date, and what its application in the work setting is. We also propose new directions for researchers and practitioners.
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Mindfulness at Work: A New Approach to Improving Individual and Organizational
Performance
Patrick K. Hyland, R. Andrew Lee and Maura J. Mills
Industrial and Organizational Psychology / Volume 8 / Issue 04 / December 2015, pp 576 - 602
DOI: 10.1017/iop.2015.41, Published online: 15 July 2015
Link to this article: http://journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S1754942615000413
How to cite this article:
Patrick K. Hyland, R. Andrew Lee and Maura J. Mills (2015). Mindfulness at Work: A New Approach
to Improving Individual and Organizational Performance. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8,
pp 576-602 doi:10.1017/iop.2015.41
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Industrial and Organizational Psychology,8(4), pp 576–602 December 2015.
Copyright © 2015 Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. doi:10.1017/iop.2015.41
Focal Article
Mindfulness at Work: A New Approach to
Improving Individual and Organizational
Performance
Patrick K. Hyland
Sirota Consulting, Purchase, New York
R. Andrew Lee
The Potential Project, Danbury, Connecticut
Maura J. Mills
Hofstra University
In recent years the concept of mindfulness has become increasingly popular, and
with good reason. A growing body of research indicates that mindfulness provides a
number of physical, psychological, and even performance benets. As a result, some
organizationshavestartedoeringmindfulnessprogramstotheiremployees.Butde-
spite growing interest, mindfulness has received little attention from the industrial–
organizational community. In this article, we provide an overview of what mindful-
ness is, where the concept came from, how it has been utilized and studied to date,
andwhatitsapplicationintheworksettingis.Wealsoproposenewdirectionsfor
researchers and practitioners.
In recent years the concept of mindfulness has become increasingly popu-
lar among various audiences, including organizational leaders, employees,
consultants, coaches, and psychologists. PsycINFO includes over 2,000 arti-
cles, books, and dissertations addressing mindfulness (Glomb, Duy, Bono,
&Yang,2012), and Amazon.com has over 2,000 books on mindfulness.
One probable reason for this popularity is a growing body of research
showing that mindfulness provides a number of physical and psychological
benets. For decades now, clinical psychologists and medical doctors have
used mindfulness techniques to help people cope with a range of illnesses,
Patrick K. Hyland, Sirota Consulting, Purchase, New York; R. Andrew Lee, The Po-
tential Project, Danbury, Connecticut; Maura J. Mills, Department of Psychology, Hofstra
University.
Note that all authors contributed equally, and names are listed alphabetically.
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Patrick K. Hyland,
Sirota Consulting, 4 Manhattanville Road, Suite 101, Purchase, NY 10577. E-mail:
phyland@sirota.com
576
   577
including depression, anxiety, and chronic pain (Baer, 2003). In recent years,
researchers have started exploring the workplace benets of mindfulness,
nding that mindfulness may improve everything from social relationships,
resiliency, and task performance (Glomb et al., 2012) to task commitment,
enjoyment, and memory (Levy, Wobbrock, Kaszniak, & Ostergren, 2012).
As a result, many organizations and corporations have started oer-
ing mindfulness programs to their workforce. Companies including Aetna
(Wolever et al., 2012), General Mills (Gelles, 2012), and Google (Kelly, 2012)
have established mindfulness training programs in order to enhance em-
ployee well-being and eectiveness. The U.S. Army has implemented the
Mindfulness-Based Mental Fitness program, with positive results (Jha, Stan-
ley, Kiyonaga, Wong, & Gelfand, 2010). Harvard Business School, Drucker
Graduate School of Management, Stern School of Business at New York Uni-
versity, and Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley,
represent just some of the graduate schools that have implemented formal
mindfulness programs to support their students’ success.
Mindfulness is also generating a great deal of new research interest. The
number of research publications on mindfulness has increased exponentially
in recent years, from 52 articles in 2003 to 549 in 2013 (Black, 2014). Cur-
rently the National Institutes of Health is funding 81 studies on mindfulness,
representing a total investment of $100.2 million (Harrington, 2014).
Despite growing interest in business, government, and academia,
mindfulness has received comparably little attention from the industrial
organizational (I-O) community. For example, only two articles on mind-
fulness (by the same author, U. R. Hülsheger) have appeared in the Jour-
nal of Applied Psychology (Hülsheger, Alberts, Feinholdt, & Lang, 2013;
Hülsheger et al., 2014). Considering a growing body of literature indicates
that mindfulness oers a wide range of potential benets at work, this is
unfortunate.
Our goal for this article is to provide I-O researchers and practitioners
with an overview of what mindfulness is, where the concept came from, and
how it has been utilized and studied to date in various clinical and organiza-
tional settings. Specically, in this article we will
discuss the origins of mindfulness, trace its evolution, and describe how
has been dened and conceptualized;
review research to date, highlighting the antecedents, correlates, and
consequences of mindfulness;
show how mindfulness can benet employees and organizations;
discuss mindfulness interventions and how they can be utilized within
organizations; and
propose new directions for researchers and practitioners.
578  .   .
Ourhopeisthatafterreadingthisfocalarticleandtheresponsearticlesit
generates, members of our I-O community will have a more comprehensive
understanding of what we know—and what we still need to learn—about
mindfulness at work.
The Emergence of Mindfulness in the Workplace
MindfulnessasitiscurrentlypracticedandtaughtinsecularWesternculture
is closely related to traditional Buddhist mind training methods. In Bud-
dhist practice, mindfulness is the act of seeing things as they truly are in the
present moment (Gunaratana, 2011). Although we may think that we nat-
urally experience our surroundings as they are, this is rarely the case. Most
of the time our perception is limited by our attention span; fragmented by
continuous distractions; distorted by our biases, assumptions, and expec-
tations; and regularly hijacked by our emotional reactivity. Mindfulness is
the capacity to perceive our world clearly, without adulteration or manipu-
lation. Yet the Buddhist conceptualization of mindfulness is not simply an
attentional process. It also has an attitudinal component, whereby mindful-
ness is imbued with an attitude of open-minded curiosity and an intention
of kindness and compassion (Gunaratana, 2011).
Buddhist practice holds that a clear, stable, and focused mind is an es-
sential requirement for eective mental training and purication, which will
eventually lead to the cessation of the suering caused by ignorance and self-
delusion (Bodhi, 1994). However, it is worth noting that Buddhism is not
the only religion that promotes contemplative practices. Meditative practices
predate Buddhism by perhaps thousands of years, and they were well estab-
lished in northern India at the time of the Buddha, around 400 BCE (Lopez,
2001). Many spiritual traditions include a variety of contemplative practices
to aid in spiritual development. For example, in the Christian tradition, con-
templative prayer has been practiced and taught for centuries, starting with
the desert fathers and mothers of Egypt and continuing through the Middle
Ages to modern times. Various contemplative practices also exist in both Is-
lam and Hinduism. In fact, most religions have practices involving stillness,
movement, chanting or singing, and visualization (Center for Contemplative
Mind in Society website; Plante, 2010).
Secular mindfulness training is a relatively recent development. The cur-
rent boom in the research and practice of secular mindfulness can began
with the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn (see Kabat-Zinn, 1982; Kabat-Zinn, Lip-
worth, & Burney, 1985). Kabat-Zinn was a postdoctoral medical student at
the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a longtime meditator
who had personally experienced the benets of mindfulness practices. It was
during a meditation retreat that he came upon the idea to develop a program
   579
that makes the benets of mindfulness practice accessible to a broader, non-
Buddhist audience (Kabat-Zinn, 2011).
Kabat-Zinn developed a program at the University of Massachusetts
Medical School designed to benet the hospital’s most challenged pa-
tients: those who suered from chronic pain and illness, to whom the
hospital’s medical sta had little to oer. The program that Kabat-Zinn
and his colleagues developed and rened became known as Mindful-
ness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR. Over the last 35 years, MBSR
hasbeensuccessfulinhelpingparticipantsseesignicantreductionsin
pain, stress, anxiety, and other symptoms and conditions. Since then, over
600 people have been trained to teach MBSR globally, and over 20,000
people have taken the program at the UMass Center for Mindfulness
alone (http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/stress-reduction/). MBSR is an 8-
week program that meets once a week for 2.5 hours, with an additional full-
day class between the sixth and seventh weekly classes. In addition, there is
the expectation that participants spend about 45 minutes a day in mindful-
ness practice. The success of MBSR led to the development of a number of
clinically oriented mindfulness-based programs and approaches including
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT; Segal, Williams, & Teasdale,
2002), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (Linehan, 1993), and Acceptance and
Commitment Therapy (Hayes, 2012), all of which have research supporting
their eectiveness. Since then, a number of mindfulness-based programs and
protocols have also been developed to address specic conditions includ-
ing substance abuse (Bowen, Chawla, & Marlatt, 2011)andeatingdisorders
(Kristeller, 2003).
Mindfulness Training in the Workplace
Until recently, mindfulness training in the workplace consisted mostly of
lightly customized MBSR programs. In the last decade, however, work-
place training has emerged as a separate eld from the broader eld
of MBSR-based secular mindfulness training, Today, several larger orga-
nizations and numerous smaller rms specialize in oering workplace
mindfulness training, including AppropriateResponse,theInstitutefor
Mindful Leadership, The Potential Project, and the Search Inside Yourself
Leadership Institute.
The format and content of workplace mindfulness programs has been
adapted from the MBSR model to be more conducive to the workplace. For
example, courses have been designed so that employees take less time away
from their work tasks. Individual classes are generally shorter than the MBSR
standard of 2.5 hours, often lasting 60 to 90 minutes. Expectations for daily
practice are also reduced from the MBSR standard of 45 minutes to 10 to
15 minutes. There is a broad range in the length of courses, ranging from
580  .   .
5 to 12 weeks, although another approach to make courses more accessible
is to oer them as one-time, multiday retreats. This is especially helpful in
gaining the participation of senior executives. In addition, mindfulness pro-
grams are now also accessible online, both in real time and asynchronously,
enabling employees to save on travel time by participating directly from
their desks.
Initial research has suggested that both shortened and online programs
are associated with positive work-related benets (see Klatt, Buckworth, &
Malarkey, 2008; Wolever et al., 2012). However, it is worth noting that con-
cernshavealsoarisenregardingsuchabbreviatedprograms.Specically,
as Langer and Moldoveanu (2000) noted, mindfulness is intended to be a
process—by its very nature requiring time and patience—so if shortened in-
terventions water down that key component of mindfulness and paint the
pictureofa“quickx,”themessagemaybelost,andparticipantsmaynot
reap all of the potential benets. As mindfulness research and workplace ap-
plication move forward, it is crucial that these concerns be balanced against
the legitimate need for more time-sensitive, accessible, and cost-ecient in-
terventions.
Researching Mindfulness: Definitions and Theoretical Underpinnings
As the practice of mindfulness has become more popular in recent decades,
research on mindfulness has increased exponentially. But scholars have faced
challenges translating the concept into a clearly operationalized construct.
For example, mindfulness has been dened various ways by teachers, prac-
titioners, and researchers. Thich Nhat Hanh (1976), a widely read Bud-
dhist monk, denes mindfulness as “keeping ones consciousness alive to the
present reality” (p. 11). MBSR founder Jon Kabat-Zinn (2005) denes mind-
fulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present
moment, and nonjudgmentally” (p. 4). Cognitive psychologist Elainor Rosch
(2007) states that mindfulness is “a simple mental factor that can be present
or absent in a moment of consciousness. It means to adhere, in that moment,
to the object of consciousness with a clear mental focus” (p. 259). Consider-
ing the wide range of denitions, Grossman (2008) noted that “mindfulness
is a dicult concept to dene, let alone operationalize” (p. 405).
Although denitions vary, most conceptualizations of mindfulness have
three common elements. First, mindfulness is present-focused conscious-
ness (Dane, 2011).Atthecoreofmostdenitionsofmindfulnessisafo-
cus on the “here and now” (Herndon, 2008, p. 32), which requires “giv-
ing full attention to the present” (Thondup, 1996, p. 48). If you are ru-
minating about the past or focused on the future, you are not exhibiting
mindfulness (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Second, mindfulness involves paying
close attention to both internal and external phenomena (Brown & Ryan,
   581
2003;Dane,2011;Glombetal.,2012). These include internal stimuli, such
as thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations, as well as external stimuli,
including sights, sounds, smells, and events, occurring in one’s physical and
social environment (Glomb et al., 2012; Kabat-Zinn, 2005). Third, mindful-
ness involves paying attention to stimuli in an open and accepting way, “with-
out imposing judgments, memories, or other self-relevant cognitive manip-
ulations on them” (Glomb et al., 2012, p. 119). Brown, Ryan, and Creswell’s
(2007) denition of mindfulness—one of the denitions most commonly
cited by researchers and academics—captures these three elements. They
state that mindfulness is “a receptive attention to and awareness of present
moment events and experiences” (p. 212).
Most scholars have dened mindfulness as an individual, state-level
variable that enhances cognitive, psychological, and physiological function-
ing in various ways. The most commonly cited benet is self-regulation
(Glomb et al., 2012): Mindfulness prevents an individual from thinking or
behaving in mechanical or mindless ways by disrupting the automaticity of
mental processes (Chaiken, 1980). Mindfulness allows an individual to dis-
engage from automatic thought patterns, engrained brain states, emotional
lters, and cognitive schemas and “experience what is instead of a commen-
tary or story about what is” (Shapiro, Carlson, Astin, & Freedman, 2006,
p. 379, italics in original). Bond, Hayes, and Barnes-Holmes (2006)argue
that in a state of mindfulness, one has more psychological exibility (Hayes,
Strosahl, Bunting, Twohig, & Wilson, 2004)andcanmakechoicesthatare
inuencedmorebypersonalvaluesandgoalsthanbyprivatefearsorenvi-
ronmental demands.
Based on a growing body of research showing that some individuals are
more mindful than are others, mindfulness has also been described as a dis-
positional or trait-like quality (Baer & Lykins, 2011). Studies have found
that dispositional mindfulness is positively related to a number of other
benecial individual dierence variables, including emotional intelligence,
self-compassion, openness to experience, and psychological well-being (see
Brown et al., 2007, for a review). In addition, mindfulness has also been de-
scribed as a set of skills that can be learned through practices like medita-
tion and therapeutic interventions like acceptance and commitment ther-
apy (Hayes, Strosahl, & Wilson, 1999), dialectic behavior therapy (Linehan,
1993), MBCT (Segal et al., 2002), and MBSR (Kabat-Zinn, 1982,1990). As
discussed in the following section, these practices and therapies have been
shown to produce a number of benets.
Before concluding this review of the conceptual foundations of mind-
fulness, it is important to consider one additional line of research. Through-
out this section, we have focused on denitions of mindfulness that em-
phasize an open, receptive quality of mind that is free from judgment and
582  .   .
analysis. It is important to note, however, that an alternative denition has
been posited by Langer (1989b), who dened mindfulness as an “active
information processing” mode (p. 138). Although there are some similarities
between Langer’s conceptualization of mindfulness and those described ear-
lier, there are a number of fundamental dierences. For example, Langer em-
phasizes that mindfulness requires categorizing, judging, and problem solv-
ing, activities that are inconsistent with concepts like acceptance and non-
judging. Aware of such dierences, Langer (1989a) cautioned against mak-
ing comparisons between her conceptualization of mindfulness and those
inuenced by Buddhist thinking. With that in mind, her line of research and
approach to mindfulness will not be discussed in the rest of this article. (For a
discussion of the similarities and distinctions between these two approaches
to mindfulness, see Brown & Ryan, 2003;Brownetal.,2007; Langer 1989a;
Langer & Moldoveanu, 2002).
Research Methods
Various research methodologies have been used in the study of mindful-
ness, ranging from survey designs to experimental studies, cross-sectional
as well as longitudinal. In survey and experimental research, two of the most
popular psychometric measures of mindfulness are the Freiburg Mindful-
ness Inventory (FMI; Buchheld, Grossman, & Walach, 2001)andtheMind-
fulness Attention and Awareness Scale (MAAS; Brown & Ryan, 2003). The
FMI has both a long form (30 items) and a short form (14 items), and the
FMI is able to discriminate between experienced meditators versus others,
although Belzer et al. (2013) suggested that it might be improved for use
in the meditation-naïve samples. Both forms of the FMI have consistently
been found to be psychometrically sound. The MAAS has 15 items, and it
too has been found to be psychometrically sound and to successfully dis-
tinguish those with various levels of experience with mindfulness. How-
ever, it has been criticized (Walach, Buchheld, Buttenmuller, Kleinknecht,
& Schmidt, 2006) for placing too much focus on the attention and aware-
ness aspects of mindfulness to the exclusion of other components (e.g., ac-
ceptance, present focus, nonjudgmental state). Other mindfulness surveys
have included the Toronto Mindfulness Scale (Lau et al., 2006)andthe
Kentucky Inventory of Mindfulness Scale (Baer, Smith, & Allen, 2004), al-
though neither has seen the relative popularity that the FMI and MAAS
have enjoyed.
However,surveyingisnotthesolemethodologythathasbeenem-
ployed in mindfulness research. Hülsheger and colleagues (2013)conducted
a two-study research design, in the rst phase using the MAAS and other
relevant surveys (e.g., job satisfaction, emotional exhaustion) in collabora-
tion with a 5-day diary study methodology during which 219 employees
   583
completed surveys at two time points each day (immediately at the end of
the work day and prior to retiring to bed at night). Hülsheger et al.’s second
phase was an experimental study in which participants were randomly as-
signed to a control group or to a self-training mindfulness (MBSR) program
thatspanned2weeks(10workdays).Zeidan,Johnson,Diamond,David,
and Goolkasian (2010), however, used a slightly dierent methodology, uti-
lizing a quasi-experimental design to examine the ecacy of meditation
training in university students. Finally and perhaps most rigorously, Jensen
Vangkilde, Frokjaer, and Hasselbalch (2012) used a blinded experimental de-
sign in which they assigned meditation novices to a mindfulness (MBSR)
group, a nonmindfulness stress reduction group, or a control group, with
the latter group further split into nonincentivized and incentivized groups
to manipulate attentional performance. In addition to self-report scales,
Jensen et al. (2012)alsousedsalivacortisolsamplesasaphysiologicalin-
dicator of stress. Arguably the most physiologically sophisticated methodol-
ogy for studying mindfulness is the usage of functional magnetic resonance
imaging (fMRI) to investigate how mindfulness can alter brain functioning.
Such techniques have been used in a variety of studies to be discussed later,
including Farb et al. (2010); Modinos, Ormel, and Aleman (2010); and Kil-
patrick et al. (2011).
As previously mentioned, a majority of mindfulness studies involve
some type of training or intervention. Although a wide variety of mindful-
ness interventions have been attempted, the two most popular are MBCT
(Segal et al., 2002) and MBSR (Kabat-Zinn, 1982). Segal and colleagues
(2002) MBCT trainings utilize well-supported cognitive behavioral therapy
techniques typically with the primary intention of positively impacting a pa-
tient who may suer from depression. With this in mind, MBCT works from
the premise that many individuals at risk for depression tend to think them-
selves into a negative spiral of thoughts, ruminating in a way that can prompt
a depressive episode. The focus of MBCT, then, is to preventor interrupt this
potentialspiralbyencouragingtheindividualtofocusonthemomentina
nonjudgmental way and to let it pass without further thought or concern
(Felder, Dimidjian, & Segal, 2012).
Kabat-Zinn’s (1982) 8-week-long MBSR training program was devel-
oped by Kabat-Zinn and his colleagues at the University of Massachusetts’
Stress Reduction Clinic. Much research has been conducted on this particu-
lar mindfulness program, and it has consistently been shown to be eective
as initially developed as well as several variants of it (Chaskalson, 2011). It
involves training participants in several mindfulness practices. One foun-
dational practice involves cultivating a focused attention on the sensations
of one’s breathing while allowing thoughts, emotions, and physical sensa-
tionstocomeintoawarenessandthenpassaway.Thegoalisnottoignore
584  .   .
thoughts or events but instead to let them come, accept them as they are,
and let them pass without analyzing, judging, or ruminating on them. This
practice cultivates the capacity of participants to become more fully aware of
everyday events as well as their reactions to them without becoming overly
attached to, identied with, or plagued by them. MBSR has been utilized in
full (8-week) form (e.g., Brown & Ryan, 2003; McCraty, 2003)aswellasin
shortened installments (e.g., Farb et al., 2010).
Although MBCT and MBSR dier slightly in focus, both are clini-
cally oriented programs typically hosted in group sessions wherein mind-
fulness skills are taught over an (ideally) extended period of time, typically 8
weeks, and students are requested to meditate for approximately 45 minutes
perday.InbothMBCTandMBSR,thethreemostfundamentalexercisesare
the sitting meditation, hatha yoga postures, and the body scan. As described
by Jensen and colleagues (2012),thebodyscanrequirespractitionerstoclose
their eyes, preferably while lying down, and to carefully and progressively fo-
cus on each area of the body, noticing any sensations that are present from
moment to moment from a nonjudgmental viewpoint.
The practices utilized by MBCT and MBSR can also be practiced during
intensive training retreats, during which they may be practiced for 10 hours
or more each day (Forte, Brown, & Dysart, 1987). However, researchers have
also been exploring the ecacy of brief mindfulness trainings. For exam-
ple, Zeidan and colleagues (2010) demonstrated the ecacy of an interven-
tion that exposed participants to mindfulness training for 20 minutes per
day over a period of 4 days. In addition, Hafenbrack, Kinias, and Barsade
(2014) demonstrated that a single 15-minute mindfulness intervention has
a signicant eect on participants’ problem-solving skills. However, Jha and
colleagues’ (2010) ndings expressed some concern in this regard, indicat-
ing that mindfulness training time may aect its ecacy, with longer train-
ing programs yielding more successful and sustainable results than shorter
trainings.
Related to this is the concern that, due to realistic application concerns
within the workplace and its strict time limitations, some mindfulness train-
ing programs enacted within organizations may not be optimally ecacious.
That is, as mindfulness training programs are increasingly adopted within
organizational environments, it is likely that the empirically supported train-
ing programs will be severely curtailed in order to meet the time constraints
of organizations. A similar concern is that the increasing popularity of such
trainings may increase the possibility that untrained or inexperienced con-
sultants or organizational personnel will attempt to lead mindfulness train-
ings. Without properly trained facilitators, such trainings are unlikely to
yield the same level of eectiveness on important individual and organiza-
tional outcomes (Chaskalson, 2011).
   585
Effects of Mindfulness
The eects of mindfulness have been shown to be enduring and wide reach-
ing. Mindfulness training programs have evidenced sustained enhancement
in a variety of domains, including physical, psychological, cognitive, and
conative realms.
The health benets of mindfulness are often thought to be primarily
limited to stress reduction. Although mindfulness practice has in fact been
showntoreducehighstresslevels(Woleveretal.,2012), which themselves
havebeenshowntobeassociatedwithcompromisedsleepandincreased
health risks, the physical health benets of mindfulness meditation are far
more wide reaching (Williams, 2006). For instance, decreased blood pressure
(both systolic and diastolic) has been found to be associated with mindful-
ness practice in a variety of experimental, controlled studies, including those
specically examining participants with hypertension (McCraty, 2003)and
self-reported high stress levels (Nyklíˇ
cek, Mommersteeg, Van Beugen, Ra-
makers, & Van Boxtel, 2013). High-stress participants have also been found
to benet from mindfulness meditation to the extent that it can improve not
only their blood pressure but also their breathing rate and heart rhythm as
comparedwithacontrolgroup(Woleveretal.,2012).
Davidson and colleagues (2003) further found that mindfulness medi-
tation practices both improved energy levels and enhanced the immune sys-
tems of employees in high-stress jobs. Malarkey and colleagues (Malarkey,
Jarjoura, & Klatt, 2013) recently found that mindfulness practice can also
lead to decreased c-reactive protein levels (associated with inammation)
among obese individuals, and they further suggested that the eect may
be even stronger among nonobese participants. Finally, in a review, Chiesa
and Serretti (2010) noted a variety of other physical benets that have been
shown to result from mindfulness meditation practice, including decreased
chronic pain and a reduction of symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple
sclerosis, bromyalgia, psoriasis, and even HIV.
But benets are not limited to the physical realm. A substantial propor-
tion of the most frequently supported benets of mindfulness meditation are
psychological and aective in nature. On a broad level, mindfulness practice
has been repeatedly evidenced to decrease global psychological distress (Mc-
Craty, 2003;Williams,2006) and improve overall mental health (Chu, 2010).
In fact, perhaps the most commonly cited psychological benet of mind-
fulnesspracticeisreducedstress.Suchandinghasbeenconsistentacross
job types, mindfulness trainings, and employee stress levels (e.g., Chu, 2010;
Davidson et al., 2003;Foureur,Besley,Burton,Yu,&Crisp,2013; Galantino,
Baime, Maguire, Szapary, & Farrar, 2005; McCraty, 2003;Roeseretal.,2013).
Mindfulness practice has also been linked with decreased anxiety (Davidson
et al., 2003; Orzech, Shapiro, Brown, & McKay, 2009;Roeseretal.,2013), as
586  .   .
well as decreased instances of depressive symptoms (Farb et al., 2010;Mc-
Craty, 2003;Roeseretal.,2013). In fact, Kuyken and colleagues (2008)found
that an 8-week MBCT program was more eective at reducing long-term
depression than were antidepressant drugs.
The psychological benets of mindfulness meditation can also be seen
in less extreme instances. Even for individuals without clinical depres-
sion, mindfulness practice has been consistently shown to improve mood
and aect. For instance, Davidson and colleagues (2003) found increased
mood and happiness among employees in a high-stress job who com-
pleted a mindfulness meditation program. These ndings were echoed in
a study by Galantino and colleagues (2005) among healthcare profession-
als. Orzech and colleagues (2009) similarly found enhanced subjective well-
being among participants in a month-long mindfulness training program,
and McCraty (2003) found that participants reported an overall increase in
emotional health and a more positive outlook on life after only a brief mind-
fulness intervention.
Three other studies went a step further, oering three more specic
and distinct operationalizations of mindfulnesss impact on emotion/mood.
Williams (2006) found that mindfulness practice led to positive attitudinal
change as well as positive modications in resulting behaviors, in addition to
a decrease in the extent to which the negative impact of daily hassles aected
the mindfulness-trained individuals. Notably, these positive shifts were even
more evident at the 3-month follow-up period than they were immediately
after the mindfulness training. More recently, some researchers have taken
the methodology to a more scientic level, using fMRI technology to fur-
ther tease out mindfulness’s impact on emotion. Using this technique, Modi-
nos and colleagues (2010) found that mindfulness meditation aected par-
ticipants’ reappraisal of emotional stimuli, whereby it decreased the extent
to which they experienced negative emotional responses. Similarly, Farb
and colleagues (2010) found that individuals who participated in an 8-week
mindfulness training program reacted dierently (as seen on fMRI) to sad-
ness provocation versus a control group, such that the mindfulness-trained
group were not as negatively aected by negative-emotion-inducing stimuli,
thereby further conrming Modinos and colleagues’ ndings.
Other benets of mindfulness training have been identied. For in-
stance, as compared with control groups, mindfulness trainings have been
shown to reduce the extent to which employees experience emotional ex-
haustion in their jobs (Hülsheger et al., 2013), particularly when those jobs
are in known high-stress elds (Galantino et al., 2005). Other research
(Chu, 2010) has found that increased mindfulness meditation experience
is associated with higher levels of emotional intelligence, the four compo-
nents of which are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and
   587
relationship management. Baer (2003) likewise found that mindfulness
meditation might improve one’s relationships with others as a result of re-
duced reactivity. Interestingly, although not surprisingly, it appears that such
emotional and caring characteristics are also extended not only to others
butalsototheself,asOrzechandcolleagues(2009) found that intensive
mindfulness training was associated with enhanced self-compassion from
pretraining to the 1-month follow-up period.
Such psychological benets of mindfulness have cognitive roots, and re-
search has consistently found that mindfulness meditation practice signi-
cantly and positively impacts brain activity as well as the density of neural
gray matter in the dorsal portions of the prefrontal cortex, the area of the
brain responsible for key functional capabilities such as learning, memory,
aective processing, emotion regulation, perspective taking, and facilitating
adaptive responses to stress (Davidson et al., 2003;Hölzeletal.,2011;Modi-
nos et al., 2010). Jha, Krompinger, and Baime (2007)alsofoundthatsuch
meditation increases activity in the anterior cingulate cortex region of the
brain, an area responsible for self-regulation of attention.
Indeed, substantial research has supported Jha et al.’s (2007) nding that
meditation resulted in signicantly increased attention and awareness in a
meditation group as compared with a control group. Specically, Jha et al.
(2007) found that attention-related behavioral responses such as spatial ori-
enting and spatial navigation abilities were improved, as was the ability to
be selectively attentive, a skill necessary in spatial navigation in order to
avoid becoming disoriented or lost. Chambers, Lo, and Allen (2008) simi-
larly found signicant improvements in working memory performance and
sustained attention in participants in an intensive 10-day mindfulness medi-
tation retreat as compared with individuals in a control group. More recently,
Kilpatrick et al. (2011) used fMRI methodology in nding that 8 weeks of
MBSR training is associated with a more consistent attentional focus, en-
hanced reective awareness of sensory experience, and improved sensory
processing. Zeidan et al. (2010) similarly found that even brief mindfulness
training improved participants’ visual-spatial processing and their perfor-
mance on cognitive tasks necessitating sustained attention.
Zeidan et al. (2010)alsofoundthatsuchtrainingscouldalsoimprove
participants’ overall executive functioning, including positive eects on the
performanceofcognitivetasksrequiringexecutiveprocessingeciency,as
well as positively impacting participants’ working memory capacity. Such a
nding has been repeatedly evidenced by multiple studies, including that of
Jha et al. (2010), which in addition to their aforementioned ndings also
found that working memory capacity increased for the experimental groups
thatreceivedmindfulnesstraining.Roeseretal.(2013) similarly found that
a 36-hour mindfulness training program disbursed over 8 weeks increased
588  .   .
focused attention and working memory capacity in a sample of teachers.
Anicha,Ode,Moeller,andRobinson(2012) also echoed these ndings, in-
dicating that mindfulness practice was positively associated with enhanced
perceptual abilities in working memory and cognitive control exibility.
As may be deduced from mindfulnesss impact on cognitive function-
ing, substantial recent research has also suggested that mindfulness practice
should also be viewed as something that can readily contribute to business
success. Teper and Inzlicht (2014) suggest that mindfulness practice aects
how one reacts to constructive criticism or feedback, such that people may
be more attuned to evaluating and accepting the feedback with less concern
for enacting self-protective psychological mechanisms that may erroneously
reject negative feedback or focus too much on positive feedback, and in the
process also rejecting recommendations for improvement. This decreased
emotional reactivity also transfers into the protection that mindfulness of-
fers against eeting emotional highs that may lead to rapid or impulsive de-
cision making in business dealings. Fiol and O’Connor (2003)suggestthat
mindfulness practice may lead to better decision making such that individu-
als practicing mindfulness will be more likely to (a) understand the value of
information for current circumstances and (b) interpret unexpected results
as relevant rather than dismiss them, even when they do not fall in line with
current or past (familiar) practices or ndings. As such, mindful employees
maybemorereadilyabletolookpastthetemptationofthestatusquoand/or
immediate rewards in favor of the long-term picture, a characteristic key to
enduring success and growth. This is further supported by Hayes (2004),
who found that mindfulness practice led to increased psychological exi-
bility; Shapiro et al. (2006), who found that mindfulness practice led to an
improvedabilitytoperceiveeventsobjectively;andHafenbracketal.(2014),
who found that even a single period of mindfulness practice improved the
ability to resist cognitive bias.
Moreover, Chaskalson (2011) further suggested that mindfulness is also
likely to positively impact a variety of other notable workplace outcomes,
including creativity, innovation, resilience, work engagement, productivity,
communication skills, reduced conict, absenteeism, and turnover. Many
of Chaskalson’s suggestions have been empirically supported. For instance,
Howell and Buro (2011) found that mindfulness practice is predictive of
achievement as mediated by enhanced achievement-related self-regulatory
abilities. Levy and colleagues (Levy et al., 2012) further found that mind-
fulness meditation enhanced task endurance and dedication and decreased
multitaskingascomparedwithbothageneralrelaxationgroupaswellasa
control group. In addition, they found that participants in the former group
reported less negative task-related emotions than did participants in the lat-
tertwogroups.Seligman(2006)conductedastudywithalargeinsurance
   589
company, nding that employees practicing mindfulness had better sales
performance than did those who did not practice. Interestingly, Seligman
noted that the worst performing employees were those who were pessimistic.
He further suggested that humans have a natural tendency to be pessimistic,
although this can be altered through mindfulness training that discourages
ruminative thinking.
Furthermore, beyond the performance-relevant outcomes as discussed
above, mindfulness practice can also have job-relevant outcomes that are of
particular import to the employees themselves. For instance, Hülsheger et al.
(2013) found that mindfulness practice promotes job satisfaction and aids in
the prevention of burnout from emotional exhaustion, a nding echoed by
others (Krasner et al., 2009; Oman, Richards, Hedberg, & Thoresen, 2008;
Roeser et al., 2013). Others have further found that mindfulness training
impacts empathy for others (clients, patients) as well as for oneself (occupa-
tional self-compassion; Roeser et al., 2013), in addition to enhancing both
patient-centered care and caregiving self-ecacy among health care profes-
sionals in particular (Allen, Bromley, Kuyken, & Sonnenberg, 2009;Krasner
et al., 2009;Omanetal.,2008). Such enhanced emotional self-awareness re-
sulting from mindfulness (Creswell, Way, Eisenberger, & Lieberman, 2007)
is particularly notable in regard to the workplace. Specically, McCall, Lom-
bardo, and Morrison (1988) noted that lack of emotional self-control has
been suggested as being a key obstacle toward leadership success, thereby
making mindfulness practice even more relevant in relation to workplace—
and specically leadership—achievement and success.
Mindfulness Applications for Organizational Effectiveness
Considering these ndings, there are many compelling reasons to consider
implementing mindfulness programs in the workplace. Here we highlight
four.
Managing Employee Stress
The prevalence of chronic stress in our culture makes it a serious public
health issue. Sixty-seven percent of Americans report experiencing emo-
tional symptoms of stress, and 72% report experiencing physical symptoms
(American Psychological Association, 2014). Over the last 30 years, self-
reported levels of stress have increased 18% for women and 25% for men
(Cohen & Janicki-Deverts, 2012).
Managing stress in the workplace is a similarly serious issue. Forty per-
cent of workers report that their jobs are “very or extremely stressful,” and
26% of workers say that they are “often or very often stressed at work”
(National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1999). Reducing
stress is not only a benet to individuals, it also has a signicant impact
590  .   .
on organizational eectiveness. It is estimated that workplace stress costs
American business up to $150 billion a year (Sauter, Murphy, & Hurrell,
1990). These costs come in the form of increased health care costs, increased
absences, and decreased productivity and performance.
The eects of mindfulness training on employee health and wellness
have been well documented. Most prominent among them is a signicant
decrease in experienced stress levels. In fact, many of the other health bene-
ts resulting from mindfulness training either may be the direct result of, or
may be signicantly enhanced by, decreased stress. For organizations look-
ing to reduce workforce stress and build resilience, mindfulness training may
help.
Improving High Potential Development
The development of future leaders is a top concern for business. U.S. orga-
nizations spent an estimated $24 billion on leadership development in 2013
(Bersin, 2014), which constitutes 35% of the total training spend. Yet the re-
sults of this expenditure have been less than satisfactory, with 75% of CEOs
citing leadership development as a top concern and only 15% expressing sat-
isfaction with their high potential practices (Corporate Leadership Council,
2005). In fact, it is estimated that 40% of high potential promotions end in
failure.
What can mindfulness training do to enhance high potential develop-
ment? The single biggest factor in derailment is a lack of self-awareness
(Hogan, Hogan, & Kaiser, 2010). According to McCall (1998)andothers,
high potential leaders accumulate a track record of success, which may lead
them to become overcondent in their own abilities and less open to others
feedback.Awarenessofselfandothersisaninherentelementofmindful-
ness, so an increase in mindfulness will correspond to an increase in self-
awareness. Therefore, it stands to reason that mindfulness training could
haveasignicantimpactonthesuccessofhighpotentialemployeesandthe
eectiveness of organizational high potential processes (see Lee, 2012).
Enhancing Engagement, Reducing Burnout
Engagement is dened as the extent to which employees are intellectually,
emotionally, and behaviorally invested in their jobs (Kahn, 1990). Employee
engagement has been linked to greater employee satisfaction, lower turnover
intention, and an increase in organizational citizenship behaviors (Saks,
2006). Mindfulness has been linked to both decreased emotional exhaustion
(Hülsheger et al., 2013) and increased employee engagement (Leroy, Anseel,
Dimitrova, & Sels, 2013). Dane and Brummel (2014) also found that mind-
fulness was related to both increased performance and decreased turnover
intention. In addition, a review of 10 studies on MBSR training for health
   591
care professionals found consistent evidence of decreases in emotional ex-
haustion and symptoms of burnout and increases in mood, positive aect,
and satisfaction (Irving, Dobkin, & Park, 2009). By implementing mindful-
ness programs, organizations may be able to increase employee engagement
and commitment, especially for high-stress and high-burnout jobs.
Helping Employees Cope With Organizational Change
With organizational change becoming increasingly common in today’s
workplace,itisnotablethatagrowingbodyofresearchshowsthatchange
eorts often fail because of employee resistance (Beer, Eisenstat, & Spector,
1990; Burke & Biggart, 1997;Porras&Roberston,1983). Based on various
ndings, mindfulness may help employees cope with organizational change
in various ways. For example, Bond and Bunce (2003)foundthatemploy-
ees with higher levels of acceptance—a key component of mindfulness—had
higher levels of job control at work. Mindfulness could reduce the stress as-
sociated with the loss of job control that often happens during organizational
change.Inaddition,Brown,Ryan,Creswell,andNiemiec(2008)foundthat
higher levels of mindfulness are associated with lower levels of ego-defensive
reactivity under threat. This suggests that mindful employees may be less
self-focused and reactive during a change eort. Researchers have also noted
that mindfulness encourages objectivity—the quality of seeking to possess
the “full facts” in a manner similar to an objective scientist seeking accurate
information (Brown et al., 2007;Rahula,1974;Smith&Novak,2004). Such a
stance toward reality encourages a deferral of judgment until a careful exam-
ination of facts has been made (Nyaniponika, 1973). This way of evaluating
events may oer numerous benets during times of change. Flexible, objec-
tive, mindful employees may be more open to new ways of doing things and
may be more observant and attentive while learning new behaviors. They
may also be more accurate and objective, rather than reactive or pessimistic,
in assessing the potential benets of organizational change eorts.
Mindfulness Training in Organizations
For practitioners seeking to implement a mindfulness program in their or-
ganization, a number of options exist. Mindfulness training for workplace
audiences can take many forms. One way is delivery of the MBSR program
itself in the workplace. MBSR consists of three elements. However, as dis-
cussed earlier, the time demands of this program make it impractical for
delivery in organizations. Therefore, mindfulness training for workplace ap-
plications has been adapted in several ways. First, weekly classes are gener-
ally shorter, lasting anywhere from 1 to 2 hours. Second, expectations for
daily mindfulness practice are also shorter, ranging from 10 to 20 minutes
daily. Other adaptations to workplace audiences include oering training as
592  .   .
a one-shot osite event. This has been used eectively with senior leadership
audiences by the Institute of Mindful Leadership and for general audiences
by the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute. Mindfulness training is
also available online through both prerecordedcourses and live virtual class-
rooms, such as the programs oered by eMindful.
All of these programs described above have data supporting their eec-
tiveness, including peer-reviewed studies. Yet as mindfulness training sup-
pliers and modalities continue to multiply, it will become increasingly im-
portant for practitioners to evaluate the ecacy of any mindfulness training
program before deploying it organizationally.
Current Questions and New Directions
Mindfulness is clearly a promising new construct. Given the mounting ev-
idence highlighting the numerous benets of mindfulness, more coaches,
practitioners, and researchers are looking for ways to incorporate mindful-
ness into their interventions, experiments, and eld studies. Nevertheless, a
number of practical, empirical, and ethical concerns remain. Here we high-
light four questions that have emerged and deserve further attention.
How Can We Best Conceptualize and Measure Mindfulness?
As noted earlier, mindfulness has been dened a number of dierent ways
by researchers, clinicians, and practitioners. It has been conceptualized as a
trait,astate,andalearnableskillandhasbeenmeasuredusinginstruments
that focus on everything from mindlessness (e.g., Brown & Ryan, 2003)to
exibility (e.g., Bodner & Langer, 2001). Although some may argue that there
are more similarities than dierences across the current denitions and mea-
sures of mindfulness, even small dierences can lead to construct validity
concerns. For example, in a quasi-experiment with meditation practitioners,
Brown, Kasser, Ryan, Alex Linley, and Orzech (2009)usedboththeFMIand
the MAAS to measure mindfulness and its relationship with nancial desire
discrepancy, a correlate of subjective well-being. They found that only the
FMI predicted a reduction in nancial desire discrepancy.
In light of such ndings, researchers should evaluate, both qualitatively
and quantitatively, the content, structure, and psychometric properties of the
various mindfulness measures that currently exist, with the hopes of iden-
tifying or developing one primary instrument. In addition, more research
should be conducted to explore and extend mindfulnesss nomological net-
work, identifying additional antecedents, correlates, and consequences that
are associated with the construct. Doing so would not only facilitate individ-
ual studies on mindfulness and its eects but would also allow for an even-
tual meta-analysis on the construct and its relationships, a valuable endeavor
that would be unrealistic with the current inconsistent operationalizations
   593
of mindfulness but that could shed substantial light on the construct and its
utility in the workplace.
How Does Mindfulness in the Workplace Impact Employee Behavior and
Performance?
Although a number of studies have investigated the general benets of mind-
fulness for individual health, well-being, and emotional balance (see above),
fewer have explored the specic performance results that mindfulness pro-
duces in a workplace setting. Based on the few studies that have been con-
ducted, there is good reason to believe that mindful employees are more en-
gaged, productive, and eective. For example, Krishnakumar and Robinson
(2015) recently found that part-time employees with higher levels of dis-
positional mindfulness were less Machiavellian, were less prone to hostile
feelings in the workplace, and engaged in fewer counterproductive work be-
haviors. As noted earlier, Dane and Brummel (2014) discovered a positive
relationship between workplace mindfulness and job performance among
restaurant servers working in a fast-paced service environment. Similarly,
Reb, Narayanan, and Chaturvedi (2012) found that mindful supervisors had
a positive impact on their employees’ well-being and performance. Finally,
Bond and Bunce (2003) found that employees’ willingness to accept their
thoughts and emotions predicted better mental health and work perfor-
mance a year later. The results to date are promising, but more research is
needed to explore the impact of mindfulness on a wide range of workplace
outcomes, including creativity, innovation, teamwork, learning, reactions to
change, turnover, and performance.
It is also worth noting that despite these initial promising results, some
researchers recently expressed concerns that mindfulness training may ac-
tually yield unintended results for the organization that do not actually fall
in line with organizational goals. Specically, Glomb et al. (2012)notedthat
mindfulness training might decrease the automaticity with which employ-
ees do their work. Although this is benecial in some situations requiring
increased conscientiousness (e.g., high-risk decisions), in more mundane
work tasks it may have the result of slowing down employee production.
Ericson, Kjonstad, and Barstad (2014) issued a similar caution, suggesting
that as mindfulness encourages employees to act in line with their values
and interests, they may elicit behaviors that are not in the best interest of
organizational performance. For instance, mindfulness may help employees
realize that they should not overburden themselves with extra work duties,
should have a more relaxed approach to work, and/or should spend more
time with their family as opposed to their work responsibilities. Therefore,
it is possible that mindfulness may not facilitate bottom-line organizational
performanceintheshortterm.Overall,asDaneandBrummel(2014)noted,
594  .   .
it is also important to understand the impact that mindfulness has on em-
ployees working in variety of work environments, industries, and settings. By
determining the boundary conditions of this new construct, researchers and
practitioners will have a better understanding of when and how mindfulness
canenhanceperformanceatworkversuswhenitmaynot.
Is Mindfulness Good for Everyone?
As noted above, mindfulness has been shown to produce a number of psy-
chological, physiological, and performance-related benets. However, it is
not known whether mindfulness benets some people more than others—
that is, whether individual dierence variables impact the ecacy of mind-
fulness interventions. Future studies should seek to understand how mind-
fulness training interacts with various individual dierence variables, in-
cluding personality traits, dispositions, and mental models. For example, it is
conceivable that mindfulness training may benet people with certain per-
sonality proles (e.g., those with elevated neuroticism or conscientiousness
levels) more than others. It is also conceivable that the practice of mind-
fulness may not benet certain individuals (in fact, it may even frustrate
or upset some). By identifying and exploring possible interactions between
mindfulness and other individual dierence variables, researchers and prac-
titioners will have a better understanding of when, and with whom, to utilize
mindfulness training and interventions.
In a similar vein, it is possible that cultural dierences may impact
the success of mindfulness programs when implemented internationally or
with employees who hail from international backgrounds. Supportive of this
consideration is the fact that Christopher et al. (Christopher, Charoensuk,
Gilbert, Neary, & Pearce, 2009; Christopher, Christopher, & Charoensuk,
2009) found that Eastern (Thai) and Western (American) conceptualiza-
tions of mindfulness may have important dierences. The authors suggest
that this may be a result of the Buddhist versus secular associations with the
construct in each culture, respectively. It is further important to note that
this dierence has implications for how mindfulness trainees from various
cultures and/or countries would react to mindfulness interventions. In to-
day’s increasingly globalized workplace, this is an important consideration to
take into account prior to designing or implementing a mindfulness training
program, particularly in an organization with international oces and/or
expatriates working in a culture other than their own.
Is It Appropriate to Introduce Mindfulness Into the Workplace?
In recent years, a small but growing number of mindfulness practitioners and
researchers have started questioning the ethics of implementing mindfulness
programs in corporate environments. Various concerns have been raised.
   595
For example, some scholars and practitioners lament the secularization and
commoditization of a spiritual practice that—in Buddhist tradition—is in-
tended to do more than reduce stress or increase productivity. In a recent
Hungton Post article, Ron Purser, a professor of Management at San Fran-
ciscoStateUniversity,andDavidLoy,aZenteacher,write,“Ratherthan
applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations
from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually be-
ing refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can ac-
tually reinforce those roots” (Purser & Loy, 2013). Others have argued that
mindfulnessprogramscouldbeusedasameanstopacifydisgruntledem-
ployees, maintain the status quo, and ultimately manage and manipulate the
workforce (see Carette & King, 2004). Although there are clearly a num-
ber of potential benets associated with the practice of mindfulness, I-O re-
searchers and practitioners should consider these concerns and identify and
explore any potential negative consequences of implementing mindfulness
programs at work.
Conclusion
Through this focal article, we have attempted to raise awareness about a
promising new construct and its potential application in the workplace. Over
the past 2 decades, an increasing number of scholars and practitioners have
explored various ways that mindfulness can benet people both at work and
in their personal lives. A growing body of research shows that mindfulness
can decrease stress, increase mental and physical health and cognitive func-
tioning, and improve performance and well-being. As a result, a number of
organizations have started to implement mindfulness programs for their em-
ployees. But more work is needed to clarify construct denitions and assess-
ments; explore a broader set of antecedents, consequences, mediators, and
moderators; and develop and evaluate the impact of mindfulness interven-
tions and programs in work settings. Our hope is that this article—along with
our colleagues’ responses—sparks new interest and ideas about mindfulness
at work.
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... At the same time, it can be claimed that in a dynamic work environment, workplace mindfulness has a positive relationship with employee performance and a negative relationship with customers' rejection behavior (Dane & Brummel, 2013). Hyland et al., (2005) concluded that mindfulness had an important role in the workplace. Authors also argue that organizational pressure and support that is the organizational environment, is among the factors that affect employee mindfulness. ...
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