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Contemplating Mindfulness at Work: An Integrative Review

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Mindfulness research activity is surging within organizational science. Emerging evidence across multiple fields suggests that mindfulness is fundamentally connected to many aspects of workplace functioning, but this knowledge base has not been systematically integrated to date. This review coalesces the burgeoning body of mindfulness scholarship into a framework to guide mainstream management research investigating a broad range of constructs. The framework identifies how mindfulness influences attention, with downstream effects on functional domains of cognition, emotion, behavior, and physiology. Ultimately these domains impact key workplace outcomes, including performance, relationships, and well-being. Consideration of the evidence on mindfulness at work stimulates important questions and challenges key assumptions within management science, generating an agenda for future research.
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Journal of Management
Vol. XX No. X, Month XXXX 1 –29
DOI: 10.1177/0149206315617003
© The Author(s) 2015
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Contemplating Mindfulness at Work:
An Integrative Review
Darren J. Good
Pepperdine University
Christopher J. Lyddy
Case Western Reserve University
Theresa M. Glomb
University of Minnesota
Joyce E. Bono
University of Florida
Kirk Warren Brown
Virginia Commonwealth University
Michelle K. Duffy
University of Minnesota
Ruth A. Baer
University of Kentucky
Judson A. Brewer
University of Massachusetts Medical School
Sara W. Lazar
Harvard Medical School
Mindfulness research activity is surging within organizational science. Emerging evidence
across multiple fields suggests that mindfulness is fundamentally connected to many aspects of
617003JOMXXX10.1177/0149206315617003Journal of ManagementContemplating Mindfulness at Work
research-article2015
Acknowledgments: The first two authors contributed equally. The authors would like to thank J. Craig Wallace and
the anonymous reviewers for providing insightful comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank the fol-
lowing individuals: Corinne Coen, Erik Dane, Jochen Reb, and John Paul Stephens. We thank Sagree Sharma for
her efforts on the graphical design. Darren Good gratefully acknowledges support from the Julian Virtue Profes-
sorship endowment.
Corresponding author: Darren J. Good, Graziadio School of Business, Pepperdine University 6100 Center Drive,
Los Angeles, CA 90045, USA.
E-mail: darren.good@pepperdine.edu
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2 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
workplace functioning, but this knowledge base has not been systematically integrated to date.
This review coalesces the burgeoning body of mindfulness scholarship into a framework to
guide mainstream management research investigating a broad range of constructs. The frame-
work identifies how mindfulness influences attention, with downstream effects on functional
domains of cognition, emotion, behavior, and physiology. Ultimately, these domains impact key
workplace outcomes, including performance, relationships, and well-being. Consideration of
the evidence on mindfulness at work stimulates important questions and challenges key assump-
tions within management science, generating an agenda for future research.
Keywords: positive organizational behavior; affect/emotions; decision making; identity
Interest in mindfulness, defined in basic terms as present-centered attention and aware-
ness (Brown & Ryan, 2003), is surging. Organizations such as Google, Aetna, Mayo Clinic,
and the U.S. Army use mindfulness training to improve workplace functioning (Jha et al.,
2015; Tan, 2012; West et al., 2014; Wolever et al., 2012). Thirteen percent of U.S. workers
report engaging in mindfulness-enhancing practices (Olano et al., 2015), and at the time of
this writing, there are over 4,000 scholarly articles on the topic (Black, 2015).
The reason for this interest is simple and compelling—mindfulness appears to have
broadly positive impacts on human functioning (Brown, Ryan, & Creswell, 2007). Research
in such disciplines as psychology, neuroscience, and medicine provides a wealth of evidence
that mindfulness affects attention, cognition, emotions, behavior, and physiology in positive
ways. A small but growing body of work in the management area also suggests that mindful-
ness is linked to better workplace functioning (Glomb, Duffy, Bono, & Yang, 2011). The
mindfulness literature is rapidly evolving, spread across disciplines and journals, technically
complex, and tends to be oriented toward demonstrating positive effects, all of which points
to the importance of a critical and systematic review of mindfulness and its potential impact
on the field of management.
Our goal in this article is to integrate the broader literature on mindfulness with the aim of
generating new research by management scholars and new insights for organizational leaders.
We organize this article as follows: We begin by defining mindfulness, then review and sum-
marize the research literature outside of management, with a focus on identifying the funda-
mental ways in which mindfulness appears to influence human functioning. Next, we turn our
focus to three core workplace outcome areas: performance, interpersonal relationships, and
well-being, in which we review nascent mindfulness research in management, suggest how
mindfulness research outside of management can be applied to each topic, and lay out next
steps for research. We conclude with a discussion of central themes and questions relevant to
management, issues that we believe must be researched, debated, and perhaps resolved before
the effects of mindfulness on workers, work processes, and organizations can be fully under-
stood and applied. Figure 1 summarizes the content and flow of the article.
What Is Mindfulness?
Background and definition. Mindfulness has been a central aspect of Buddhist mental
training for centuries. Mindfulness training began to draw attention in the late 1970s as a
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 3
therapeutic tool to help medical patients manage chronic illness (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Two
decades later, Weick and Roberts (1993), inspired by Langer and colleagues’ research (e.g.,
Langer, 1989), introduced mindfulness into the management literature, but their conception
of mindfulness as cognitive flexibility and attention to novelty is largely distinct from Bud-
dhist conceptions.
Classical Buddhist accounts of mindfulness highlight clear-minded attention to and
awareness of what is perceived in the present (Quaglia, Brown, Lindsay, Creswell, &
Goodman, 2015). The terms attention and awareness are important to understanding
Figure 1
Integrative Framework Relating Mindfulness to Workplace Outcomes
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4 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
mindfulness as their integration helps to distinguish mindfulness from related states. Attention
by itself may be focused, but only when coupled with meta-awareness—an apprehension of
the current state of the mind that monitors that focused attentiveness—does it become mind-
ful (Dreyfus, 2011).
Because the concept of mindfulness as we discuss it here emerged from Buddhist philoso-
phy and because it is an internal state that is difficult to observe and describe, a consensual
definition of the phenomenon has been elusive. In this review, we theorize that in simple
terms, mindfulness is a “receptive attention to and awareness of present events and experi-
ence” (Brown et al., 2007: 212; Quaglia, Brown, et al., 2015). This definition reflects a com-
mon classical understanding of mindfulness but leaves considerable ambiguity for
understanding how mindfulness intersects with workplace functioning.
One way to understand mindfulness at work is to contrast the conceptual processing that
is central to organizational life (Walsh, 1995) with the experiential processing (Brown et al.,
2007; Teasdale, 1999) that is a hallmark of mindfulness. In a conceptual processing mode,
thought tends to dominate attention. As we encounter stimuli throughout the day, thought
rapidly operates to evaluate and interpret what is perceived. When thought is turned inward
to operate upon itself—termed metacognition—a common expression of this mode of pro-
cessing is to dwell on mental content in an attempt to understand, work through, or resolve
what occupies the mind, especially when it has personal importance; that is, self-concern is
a reference point in interpreting what has, is, or will occur. In addition, conceptual processing
is often recurrent or repetitive, taking forms such as worry or rumination (Watkins, 2008). In
sum, conceptual processing involves interpreting stimuli in a way that is abstract, evaluative,
and biased toward self-concerns (Leary, 2004; Watkins, 2008).
In contrast, mindfulness involves experiential processing (Brown et al., 2007; Teasdale,
1999), which involves attention to the internal (e.g., thought, emotion) or external stimulus
itself in a registering of the facts observed. Experiential processing permits the individual to
attend to a stimulus as it is, without immediate attempts to derive meaning from it, which are
often of a habitual nature. In experiential processing, common psychological content—men-
tal images, self-talk, emotions, impulses to act, and so on—can be observed as part of the
ongoing stream of consciousness. This mode of processing has been referred to as “decenter-
ing,” as it involves attending to experiences within a wider context of awareness (e.g., to
view thoughts as just thoughts); stimuli and resulting reactions to them are observed rather
than habitually interpreted with positive or negative implications for the self (Brown et al.,
2007). For example, in moment-to-moment contact with a threatening stimulus, such as an
angry or abusive boss, the internal experience of fear, anger, or other reactions is observed in
its cognitive, emotional, somatic, and conative manifestations (e.g., awareness of one’s inter-
pretations of the outburst, of fear arising, of the heart racing, and of a desire to appease).
Awareness of and attention to these reactions affords a degree of mental distance or disen-
gagement from self-relevant evaluations. With the capacity to witness events, thoughts, and
emotions as they play out comes an ability to attend to occurrences as concrete phenomena
rather than interpreting them in ways biased by personal memories, learned associations, or
future projections (e.g., “Here we go again. He is overly emotional and overreacts to every-
thing. I wonder what I did today to set him off. I might as well leave because this is just going
to escalate.”). Importantly, mindfulness is not antithetical to evaluation or judgment. Rather,
in the state of alert attentiveness that characterizes mindfulness, evaluations, judgments, and
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 5
associated memories can be closely attended to by a mind that is aware of what is happening
moment to moment.
Operationalization. In the research literature, two basic approaches are used for
assessing mindfulness: self-report questionnaires and engagement in mindfulness prac-
tices (Davidson, 2010). Self-report measures include trait measures (e.g., the Five Fac-
tor Mindfulness Questionnaire; Baer, Smith, Hopkins, Krietemeyer, & Toney, 2006; the
Mindful Attention Awareness Scale; Brown & Ryan, 2003) and state measures (e.g., Lau
et al., 2006). Mindfulness practices include those that focus attention (e.g., to a ready per-
ceptual object like the breath) and those that permit open monitoring of various sensory
stimuli (e.g., as can be done in mindful movement; Lutz, Slagter, Dunne, & Davidson,
2008). These practices are often bundled into training programs, such as the well-validated
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR; Kabat-Zinn, 2003), which includes
lecture, discussion, and practice and has been adapted for the workplace (e.g., Hülsheger,
Alberts, Feinholdt, & Lang, 2013). Such workplace interventions tend to be shorter (a
few hours to six weeks), but they include similar mindfulness training exercises, such as
mindful eating or scanning the body to notice various sensations that might be present. The
focus of mindfulness training programs is on developing awareness of thoughts, emotions,
and physiological reactions via daily practices. In the literature, programs that train in
these practices as well as experiences with the practices themselves (e.g., lifetime medita-
tion hours) are used as proxies for mindfulness.
Throughout this article, we refer to the mindfulness operationalization used by authors in
reference to specific studies (e.g., trait mindfulness or mindfulness training), but when dis-
cussing results in aggregate, we use the term mindful individuals to describe those higher in
self-reported mindfulness, participating in mindfulness practices and training, and with high
levels of lifetime meditation practice; we use the term mindfulness when referring to the
cognitive phenomenon itself.
Impact of Mindfulness on Human Functioning
To fully understand how mindfulness might affect individuals, teams, and organizations,
it is important to first consider its basic effects on major domains of human functioning,
including attention, cognition, emotion, behavior, and physiology (see Figure 1).1 Emerging
research shows that enhanced functioning in these domains may mediate diverse workplace
outcomes (e.g., Mrazek, Franklin, Phillips, Baird, & Schooler, 2013; Quaglia, Goodman, &
Brown, 2015), and therefore we review them in detail.
Attention
Mindfulness is theorized to affect human functioning primarily through attention, which
then alters other domains of basic functioning (see Figure 1). Mindfulness has been shown to
improve three qualities of attention—stability, control, and efficiency. Mindfulness can support
attentional stability. The human mind is estimated to wander roughly half of our waking hours
(Killingsworth & Gilbert, 2010), but mindfulness can stabilize attention in the present
(Smallwood & Schooler, 2015). Dispositional mindfulness (Mrazek, Smallwood, & Schooler,
2012) and mindfulness training ranging from a few (Mrazek et al., 2013) to thousands of hours
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(Brewer et al., 2011) have been associated with reduced mind wandering. Individuals who
completed mindfulness training were shown to remain vigilant longer on both visual (MacLean
et al., 2010) and audio (listening) tasks (Lutz et al., 2009). Experienced meditators also show
reduced activation in the neural network indicative of mind wandering (Brewer et al., 2011) and
brain activity patterns consistent with sustained attention (Pagnoni, 2012). Increased attentional
stability may stem from noticing mind wandering and returning to present-moment focus, a
core feature of mindfulness (Hasenkamp, Wilson-Mendenhall, Duncan, & Barsalou, 2012).
Attentional control refers to appropriately directing attention amid competing demands
(Ocasio, 2011). Evidence suggests that mindfulness supports attentional control by reducing
habitual allocation of attention (Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2011) and reducing attention to dis-
tracting information. Studies have found meditators to be less distractible (Tang et al., 2007),
even when distractions are emotional in nature (Allen et al., 2012). Neurological evidence sup-
ports these findings, as brain wave activity suggests more effective identification of and disen-
gagement from distractions among long-term meditators (Cahn, Delorme, & Polich, 2013).
Mindfulness also supports attentional efficiency, the economical use of cognitive resources
(Neubauer & Fink, 2009; Slagter et al., 2007). When mindfulness increases attentional control
and lessens attention to off-task thoughts or activities, attention becomes more efficient.
Research shows that meditators spend fewer attentional resources processing distractions
(Cahn & Polich, 2009) and do not overinvest attention to an initial stimulus, which enables
faster detection of subsequent stimuli (Slagter et al., 2007). Expert meditators report that atten-
tion takes less effort (Tang, Hölzel, & Posner, 2015), and fMRI scans show that they use fewer
resources in brain areas linked to executive attention (Kozasa et al., 2012; Lutz et al., 2009).
In summary, mindfulness has been associated with improved attentional stability (sustain-
ing attention on a current target with less mind wandering), better control of attention (select-
ing appropriate targets from among a field of potential targets), and attentional efficiency
(economical use and allocation of attentional resources). These qualities of attention are
theorized to influence cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and physiological domains of func-
tioning (see Figure 1).
Cognition
There is considerable research linking mindfulness and attentional qualities to cognitive
performance (e.g., Smallwood & Schooler, 2015), including cognitive capacity and cognitive
flexibility. Although general mental ability is typically viewed as a stable individual difference
(Kane & Engle, 2002), working memory and fluid intelligence are more malleable aspects of
cognitive capacity. Working memory acts as a short-term buffer for holding and processing
information that links attention and higher-order cognition (Baddeley, 1992). A series of inter-
vention studies conducted in diverse populations (e.g., soldiers, students, teachers) suggests
that mindfulness increases working memory capacity (e.g., Roeser et al., 2013). Dispositional
mindfulness has also been associated with working memory capacity even after controlling
for general intelligence (Ruocco & Direkoglu, 2013). Both brief (Tang et al., 2007) and life-
long (Gard et al., 2014) mindfulness training also may benefit fluid intelligence, the ability to
process and respond to novel information by assessing patterns and relationships.
Mindfulness has also been associated with flexible cognition, which supports adaptation
via the generation of novel perspectives and responses (Walsh, 1995). Meditation experience
has been linked to creativity and divergent and convergent thinking (Colzato, Ozturk, &
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Hommel, 2012), and both trait mindfulness and mindfulness training have predicted better
insight problem solving (Ostafin & Kassman, 2012). Ding et al. (2015) found that partici-
pants randomly assigned to a brief mindfulness training were more likely to search for new
perspectives when stuck on a problem, and their neural patterns suggested the cognitive flex-
ibility was due to greater attentional control. Considered as a whole, these results suggest that
mindfulness increases cognitive capacity and flexibility, at least in part via its effects on
attention.
Emotion
Emotions are the result of evaluative reactions to observed stimuli that serve to catalyze
behavior (Frijda, 1988). Mindfulness appears to influence emotions via attention, which
influences selection of stimuli for observation, and alters how they are evaluated and
appraised, ultimately shaping downstream emotional reactions (Killingsworth & Gilbert,
2010; Wadlinger & Isaacowitz, 2011). Mindfulness may alter the lifecycle of emotional reac-
tions as well as the overall valence of emotional experience (Desbordes et al., 2014).
Emotional reactions exhibit a lifecycle (Davidson, 1998), and mindfulness appears to
shorten that cycle, reducing the time to reach peak emotional arousal and return to baseline.
In two studies, mindfulness sped recovery from negative emotions after both a mood induc-
tion (Keng, Robins, Smoski, Dagenbach, & Leary, 2013) and public speaking (Brown,
Weinstein, & Creswell, 2012). Mindfulness training has also produced a shorter time to peak
arousal in a sample of patients with social anxiety (Goldin & Gross, 2010).
Related to this, mindfulness also appears to influence reactivity to emotional stimuli.
Dispositionally mindful individuals have shown reduced negative affect after stressors
(Arch & Craske, 2010), a finding consistent with studies showing less threat-related neural
activation among mindful individuals who viewed faces expressing negative emotions
(e.g., fear, anger; Creswell, Way, Eisenberger, & Lieberman, 2007). Most studies examine
responses to negative emotional stimuli, but neurological studies of trait mindfulness and
both long-term and novice meditators suggest mindfulness also dampens emotional reac-
tions to positive stimuli (Brown, Goodman, & Inzlicht, 2013; Desbordes et al., 2012;
Taylor et al., 2011).
Reduced reactivity to emotional stimuli may be explained by shifts in emotional appraisal
fostered by mindfulness. Stimuli are habitually evaluated as positive or negative for the self
(Frijda, 1988), but mindful-experiential processing may promote more neutral evaluations,
in which experiences are viewed without habitual self-reference. As mindful individuals
more objectively observe their experiences, a decoupling of the brain networks underlying
sensory processing and narrative self-processing appears to occur, providing a degree of
psychological distance (Farb et al., 2007; Hülsheger et al., 2014).
Mindfulness has been implicated not only in emotional reactivity but also general emo-
tional tone. Emotional tone or valence refers to the overall positivity or negativity of emo-
tions, and the attentional presence that characterizes mindfulness may inhibit habitual
mental “time travel” into the perceived past and future that can lead to negative emotions
(e.g., regret about past experiences, anxiety about anticipated futures). Indeed, a recent
meta-analysis showed that mindfulness trainings are associated with less negative and more
positive emotional tone (Eberth & Sedlmeier, 2012), which may be important to day-to-day
workplace climate.
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Behavior
Glomb et al. (2011) argue that mindfulness confers superior self-regulation of behavior
that shapes workplace functioning. The shared conceptual space between mindfulness and
self-regulation is not surprising given that attention to ongoing events and experiences under-
lies multiple theories of motivation and self-regulation, including self-determination theory
(Deci & Ryan, 1985) and control theory (Carver & Scheier, 1982).
A key mechanism linking mindfulness to superior self-regulation of behavior is reduced
automaticity, the effect of which is a mental gap between stimulus and behavioral response.
Automaticity is the ability to effortlessly engage in behaviors without conscious oversight of
their operational details and thus has adaptive benefits for information processing when, as
is often the case, cognitive capacity is constrained (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999). Yet it also
means that stimuli are rarely seen impartially; rather, they are viewed through the filters of
prior conditioning and habits. By fostering awareness of automatic operations and habitual
behaviors (i.e., experiential processing), mindfulness provides a degree of choicefulness over
whether to allow the automatic responses to run or to consciously regulate behavior in the
service of more adaptive outcomes.
Empirical research on health-related behavior illustrates the role of mindfulness in changing
behaviors with deeply ingrained, often automatized behavior, such as addiction. For example,
mindfulness practice has been shown to help individuals quit smoking by reducing cigarette
cravings (Westbrook et al., 2013) and by breaking the connection between craving and smoking
(Elwafi, Witkiewitz, Mallik, Thornhill, & Brewer, 2013). Exploring the neural correlates of this
training effect, Tang, Tang, and Posner (2013) found higher activations in brain regions associ-
ated with behavioral self-control, which coincided with reduced cigarette craving. Mindfulness
has been linked to other aspects of behavioral health as well, including reduced sexual and eat-
ing compulsions (Papies, Pronk, Keesman, & Barsalou, 2014). The processes involved here are
unclear, but mindful attention is thought to create a gap between stimulus (e.g., “I want a ciga-
rette”) and the habitual response (to smoke), which enables choicefulness and consequently,
more effective behavioral regulation (e.g., “I’ll go for a walk instead”).
Physiology
In addition to effects on cognition, emotion, and self-regulation of behavior, mindfulness
also has physiological impacts. Given our focus on work settings, we only briefly review this
line of research, though we believe it has potential for better understanding the role of mind-
fulness in organizational phenomena in the future.
One of the strongest empirical findings linking mindfulness to physiology is its role in the
stress response. Mindfulness is related to numerous neurobiological mechanisms involved in
stress regulation (Creswell & Lindsay, 2014), including dampened stress reactions (e.g., less
elevated cortisol) in response to a variety of cognitive and social threats and faster recovery
to baseline levels (Brown et al., 2012). These effects have been linked both to dispositional
mindfulness and mindfulness training and outcomes like improved sleep quality (Hülsheger
et al., 2014).
Mindfulness has also been associated with changes in the brain, referred to as neuroplas-
ticity, including structural transformations of brain tissue (e.g., shrinking the amygdala;
Hölzel et al., 2010) and functional transformations in patterns and regions of activation
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 9
(Brewer et al., 2011). Meta-analysis links mindfulness training to alterations in brain regions
associated with attention, memory, self, and emotion regulation (Fox et al., 2014). Indeed,
the brain structures of mindfulness practitioners are so distinct, they can be accurately identi-
fied via brain scan (Sato et al., 2012).
More broadly, mindfulness has been implicated in the aging process, with preliminary evi-
dence suggesting that mindfulness training may “slow, stall, or even reverse age-related brain
degeneration” (Luders, Cherbuin, & Kurth, 2015: 1). Those authors found that experienced
meditators showed fewer age-related degradations in neural tissue (Luders et al., 2015) and
slower declines in fluid intelligence (Gard et al., 2014). Mindfulness may also influence aging-
related cellular processes; it has been linked to disease resistance (Davidson et al., 2003), epi-
genetic expression corresponding to reduced inflammation and stress hormones (Kaliman
et al., 2014), and telomerase activity, a biomarker of DNA health (Schutte & Malouff, 2014).
Integration Into Workplace Research
These broad effects of mindfulness on the functional domains of attention, cognition,
emotion, behavior, and physiology appear to influence a wide variety of workplace outcomes
(e.g., Akinola, 2010; George, 2000; Lord, Diefendorff, Schmidt, & Hall, 2010; Ocasio, 1997;
Walsh, 1995). As depicted in Figure 1, we propose that these mechanisms influence three
clusters of outcomes: performance, relationships, and well-being. For each cluster, we: (a)
briefly review evidence from available studies of workplace populations, (b) leverage the
mindfulness literature outside of management to generate new insights, and (c) identify key
next steps that will further advance research on mindfulness within the cluster.
Workplace Outcomes: Performance
Accumulating evidence suggests the influence of mindfulness on a range of performance
categories, including job, task, citizenship behaviors, deviance, and safety performance (see
Figure 1). Trait mindfulness has been associated with job performance among restaurant serv-
ers (Dane & Brummel, 2014) and supervisors (Reb, Narayanan, & Chaturvedi, 2014). A link
between academic performance (overall GPA among MBA students) and trait mindfulness
was also found, but only for women (Shao & Skarlicki, 2009). Middle managers receiving
mindfulness training exhibited large improvements in supervisor-rated job performance com-
pared to their initial performance and to that of a control group (Shonin, Gordon, Dunn, Singh,
& Griffiths, 2014).
Similar results have been found among health care workers. For example, Beach et al.
(2013) found that higher clinician trait mindfulness was associated with more favorable
patient ratings of communication quality and overall satisfaction. Similarly, a mindfulness
intervention improved the family-friendliness of admissions treatment teams (Singh et al.,
2002). Finally, psychotherapists trained in mindfulness appeared to perform in ways that
benefited patient outcomes as the patients reported more favorable symptom outcomes, such
as reduced anxiety and hostility, relative to patients of control group therapists (Grepmair
et al., 2007).
Preliminary research has linked mindfulness to elements of performance—specifically,
ethical, prosocial, and deviant behavior. Reb, Narayanan, and Ho (2015) found that trait
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10 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
mindfulness was related to higher ethical and prosocial behavior and lower deviance.
Krishnakumar and Robinson (2015) also found a link between trait mindfulness and lower
counterproductive behaviors, an effect that was mediated by reduced hostile feelings.
Two studies suggest that mindfulness may also be linked to safety performance. In a study
of nuclear power plant employees (Zhang, Ding, Li, & Wu, 2013), a significant positive
association between trait mindfulness and self-reported safety was found among workers
responsible for complex tasks (control room operators). A follow-up study replicated this
finding, with the strongest association among more experienced and intelligent workers
(Zhang & Wu, 2014). In summary, the initial evidence supports a role for mindfulness on
work performance, but more experimental evidence is needed, and occupation, task charac-
teristics, and context may be important boundary conditions to explore.
Open Questions: How Might Mindfulness Influence Work Performance?
Despite emerging evidence, questions remain about how and why mindfulness predicts
work performance (see Figure 1). Empirical evidence suggests that mindfulness may influ-
ence performance in multiple ways, including: (a) improving performance levels, (b) reducing
performance variability, (c) buffering performance in disruptive or threatening contexts, and
(d) influencing goals, goal-directed behavior, and motivation.
Performance levels. Currently, a leading theory of mindfulness in relation to task per-
formance is Dane’s (2011) contingency theory, based on the assumption that mindfulness
widens attentional breadth (e.g., seeing more peripheral stimuli and being less focused on
a specific target). This quality makes it valuable for experts in novel contexts but detrimen-
tal for novices in routine contexts. Based on evidence reviewed earlier, we agree with his
general proposition that the value of mindfulness for performance is largely contingent on
attentional qualities; further, these qualities, described by Dane and in our framework, are
undoubtedly valuable in complex, dynamic environments.
However, the attentional qualities in our model (i.e., stability, control, and efficiency)
yield alternative predictions for how mindfulness affects performance and suggest the pos-
itive effects may be more generalized, even to routine contexts. Through effective control
and stability of attention to current, task-relevant information, individuals should generally
exhibit better task performance. For example, efficient attention implies reduced atten-
tional costs, suggesting that mindfulness allows for more stable and controlled attention in
routine contexts where individuals are prone to errors due to attention lapses. Mindfulness
may reduce errors by reducing such lapses (Smallwood & Schooler, 2015). Further, the
cognitive, emotional, physiological, and behavioral changes described in the framework
may be key mechanisms to promote performance. Fluid intelligence (Postlethwaite, 2011),
positive emotional tone (Miner & Glomb, 2010), and attenuated stress responses (Hunter
& Thatcher, 2007) have all been shown to enhance task and job performance in organiza-
tional settings.
Given the multiple pathways to performance, it is tempting to posit that mindfulness will
have global, positive effects on performance. However, much of the research on performance
has looked at effects without careful exploration of the mechanisms driving performance. Also
absent are questions about the task and contextual features that may significantly interact with
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 11
mindfulness in predicting performance. Future research should address not only the overall
relation between mindfulness and performance levels but propose contingency theories hypoth-
esizing how specific mechanisms may contribute to performance in specific contexts.
Performance variability. Mindfulness may also be key to understanding within-person
performance variability. There is growing appreciation of the importance of performance
variability, particularly catastrophic minimum performances labeled troughs (Dalal, Bhave,
& Fiset, 2014). Within-person variance has been found to account for 39% to 64% of perfor-
mance variation, influenced by attention, aging, negative and positive emotions, sleep, and
self-control (Dalal et al., 2014; Mullins, Cortina, Drake, & Dalal, 2014), which have been
associated with mindfulness. Stability of attention and superior regulation of behavior result-
ing from mindfulness may be important mechanisms in reducing troughs and performance
variability. An open and provocative question is whether mindfulness operates on both sides
of the variability equation by reducing both performance troughs as well as performance
peaks. Future research should examine the role of mindfulness in the interplay of perfor-
mance level and variability, especially in contexts in which high performance variability can
be readily captured.
Performance buffering. Mindfulness may also buffer workplace performance from a
variety of potentially disruptive factors that can appropriate attention. By stabilizing and con-
trolling attention and by augmenting cognitive capacity and flexibility, mindfulness may pro-
mote dexterity in responding to environmental turbulence and discontinuity. With increased
cognitive capacity, mindful workers will have expanded cognitive resources and may be
able to deploy them more effectively in distracting environs. For example, soldiers receiving
mindfulness training were shown to maintain greater attentional stability than controls dur-
ing intensive pre-deployment training (Jha et al., 2015).
Modern workplaces are commonly full of interruptions and distractions that can challenge
attentional control and harm occupational functioning (Jett & George, 2003). For example,
nurses face up to 14 interruptions an hour (Trbovich, Prakash, Stewart, Trip, & Savage,
2010); each is associated with a 12% increase in errors (Westbrook, Woods, Rob, Dunsmuir,
& Day, 2010). Interruptions leave a “residue” of attention (e.g., thinking about the prior
stimulus rather than the present one) that can hamper subsequent performance, but five min-
utes of mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce this residue on simple tasks (Kuo &
Yeh, 2015). Mindful individuals may be better able to disengage from thoughts and emotions
about the interrupting task or event (Long & Christian, 2015) and enable sustained engage-
ment with intended tasks.
Internal distractions might also be managed with mindfulness. For example, one com-
mon internal disruption is identity threat; stereotype research literature documents reduced
performance among individuals who fall within identity categories stereotypically linked
to poor performance (e.g., women are poor at math). A five-minute mindfulness induction
was shown to eliminate this math performance effect (Weger, Hooper, Meier, & Hopthrow,
2012). Emotional stressors at work can also inhibit performance. Through reduced re-
activity to and quicker recovery from emotional threats, Kirk, Downar, and Montague
(2011) found that mindfulness trainees buffered decrements in an emotionally charged
environment.
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12 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
Research in emotionally charged, distracting, or intense workplace contexts will be
needed to examine the buffering effects of mindfulness. Particularly illuminating would be
field experiments investigating the role of mindfulness interventions in buffering perfor-
mance during periods of emotional intensity (e.g., in the context of imminent layoffs), in
distracting performance environments (e.g., busy customer settings), and among employees
whose task performance depends on close attention, such as those responsible for detecting
rare signals (e.g., Hollenbeck, Ilgen, Tuttle, & Sego, 1995), or performing routine tasks
(Smallwood & Schooler, 2015).
Goals and motivation. The external research on mindfulness also suggests intriguing
questions about whether mindfulness detracts from or is conducive to goal pursuit. On one
hand, mindfulness implies a sense of non-striving and attention to present-moment events
(Williams, 2008); these properties may seem at odds with the future orientation of goal set-
ting and its associated outcomes. Yet, brain imaging research indicates that mindfulness
trainees are less impacted by extrinsic rewards (i.e., money; Kirk, Brown, & Downar, 2015)
that are often tied to workplace goal accomplishment, but these trainees showed no task per-
formance decrements relative to matched controls.
On the other hand, mindfulness may support goal pursuit through improved attentional
and motivational properties. Although mindfulness involves non-striving, it should not be
confused with passivity. Indeed, autonomous motivation—that is, the drive to pursue activi-
ties perceived as important, valued, or enjoyable—appears to be higher among mindful indi-
viduals (e.g., Brown & Ryan, 2003; Levesque & Brown, 2007). Autonomously motivated
action tends to be more satisfying, is persisted at longer, and shows greater success than
action that is extrinsically motivated (e.g., Ryan & Deci, 2000). In line with this, self-regula-
tion of behavior (e.g., smoking cessation) is improved with mindfulness, perhaps through
goal pursuit driven by more autonomous motivation.
People who are mindful may also respond less intensely to goal feedback. Given its role
in reducing emotional reactivity, mindfulness may lead to shorter and less intense emotional
reactions following positive feedback and success, which have been shown to increase goal
levels (Ilies & Judge, 2005). Yet, reduced reactivity may benefit mindful individuals when
goal feedback is negative; these individuals may be less likely to self-criticize because they
are less identified with self-relevant outcomes (Vago & Silbersweig, 2012). Mindful indi-
viduals may also be less likely to have past- or future-oriented emotional responses to goal
failure (e.g., guilt or embarrassment).
Precisely how mindfulness relates to aspects of the goal process is understudied, but
future research with goal paradigms could investigate the links between goal establish-
ment, pursuit, and attainment as a function of mindfulness. For example, goal paradigms
in lab experiments could examine the impact of brief mindfulness interventions on task
performance with manipulations of feedback valence (i.e., positive or negative) and degree
of self-relevance. Lab studies might also explore whether attentional and emotional reac-
tivity processes mediate such effects. Companion field experiments would be particularly
informative. Researchers could pair a goal-setting intervention with a mindfulness or
active control condition to detect whether and how mindfulness influences goal setting and
the influence of goal feedback on performance. A sales workforce setting may be particu-
larly appropriate to track the effects of mindfulness on reactions to goal attainment and to
feedback over time.
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 13
Workplace Outcomes: Relationships
Many core areas of organizational science and practice are inherently relational, including
leadership, teamwork, inter-firm partnerships and coordination, trust, psychological safety,
communication, conflict, and social networks. Relationships with supervisors and managers
are among the most important relationships we have at work (Dienesch & Liden, 1986), and
work in groups often depends on effective cooperation and coordination between members
(Mathieu, Heffner, Goodwin, Salas, & Cannon-Bowers, 2000).
Although mindfulness is an individual quality, initial evidence suggests that it affects
interpersonal behavior and quality of dyadic and workgroup relationships (see Figure 1). For
example, both dispositional mindfulness and mindfulness training among health care practi-
tioners relate to improved communication quality, including open listening with increased
awareness and less evaluative judgment of others (Beckman et al., 2012), as well as better
client-rated relationship quality (Beach et al., 2013). Reb and colleagues (2014) found that
leaders’ dispositional mindfulness was associated with more favorable subordinate attitudes
and behaviors via improved relationship quality. Through better self-regulation of undesir-
able responses to negative work events, dispositional mindfulness and mindfulness training
may improve relationships; in an initial pair of studies, both moderated reactions to injustice,
including reduced rumination, negative emotion, and retaliation (Long & Christian, 2015).
The broader literature outside of management settings, primarily from studies of intimate
partners, also provides evidence for the positive effects of mindfulness on relationship qual-
ity. Pathways through which mindfulness might improve relational functioning are diverse,
including greater attention to others, better communication, reduced conflict, reduced emo-
tional reactivity, and greater expression of other-directed emotions, such as compassion and
empathy. Trait mindfulness among intimate partners has been linked positively to relation-
ship quality (Quaglia, Goodman, et al., 2015; Wachs & Cordova, 2007) and stability
(Saavedra, Chapman, & Rogge, 2010). Likewise, couples who participated in mindfulness
training showed improvements, compared to controls, in relationship quality and function-
ing, including relationship satisfaction, relatedness, closeness, and acceptance of the partner
(Carson, Carson, Gil, & Baucom, 2004).
Mindfulness may improve relationships via sustained attention to interaction partners,
which improves communication and increases the capacity to communicate emotional
information (Wachs & Cordova, 2007). State mindfulness was associated with better com-
munication quality between intimate partners, as rated by experts (Barnes, Brown, Krusemark,
Campbell, & Rogge, 2007). In addition, individuals higher in trait mindfulness were better
able to maintain a positive tenor and had reduced emotional reactions during partner conflict
(Barnes et al., 2007); they have also exhibited less hostility (Saavedra et al., 2010) and anger
(Wachs & Cordova, 2007).
Mindfulness also may improve relationships through greater empathy and compassion.
Related research supports an association between trait mindfulness and empathy (Dekeyser,
Raes, Leijssen, Leysen, & Dewulf, 2008). In a novel study (Condon, Desbordes, Miller, &
DeSteno, 2013), participants randomly assigned to a mindfulness-based stress reduction
program exhibited greater compassion than controls. When a confederate—walking with
crutches and visibly suffering—entered a full waiting room, half of those who completed
mindfulness training offered their seats, compared to fewer than 20% of the wait-group
controls.
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14 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
In summary, attentional and emotional processes influenced by mindfulness, such as more
stable attention, reduced emotional reactivity, and more positive emotional tone, may be key
to understanding the beneficial effects for relationships. In addition to its effects on relation-
ships more generally, mindfulness may also affect workplace processes that rely on effective
working relationships; we focus on leadership and teamwork.
Leadership. Despite its importance to management, leadership has not been extensively
studied by mindfulness researchers. In existing work, the focus has not been directly on
the relationship between leaders and followers but rather on the beneficial role of individ-
ual mindfulness for leaders and their subordinates. Reb et al. (2014) found leaders’ trait
mindfulness was positively associated with employees’ work-life balance, job satisfaction,
citizenship behaviors, and job performance and negatively related to employee exhaustion
and deviance; psychological need satisfaction mediated many of these associations. Another
study (Liang et al., in press) found that dispositional mindfulness among supervisors reduced
the likelihood that hostility toward subordinates would be expressed as abuse; the authors
attributed this finding to supervisors’ increased attention to and awareness of their hostility
as well as superior self-regulatory capacity.
Teamwork. It has been clearly established in the management literature that social processes
play a central role in team performance (Mathieu et al., 2000), but the few published studies on
mindfulness and relational team processes are found outside the management literature, espe-
cially in health care. For example, Singh, Singh, Sabaawi, Myers, and Wahler (2006) imple-
mented a mindfulness-based mentoring intervention in multidisciplinary therapeutic treatment
teams. They observed process improvements in team meetings, including more active listening,
more patient-focused discussion and collaboration, and greater respect among team members;
these effects remained one year later. In another study using student groups without formal lead-
ers, teams benefited from randomization to a short mindfulness induction in showing increases
on measures of both cohesion and collective performance (Cleirigh & Greaney, 2014).
Another way that mindfulness may support relational team processes, such as cohesion, is
through better conflict management. As already noted, state mindfulness has been associated
with less aggressive communication during romantic partner conflicts (Barnes et al., 2007).
Mindfulness training may bolster perspective-taking (Krasner et al., 2009), which has been
found helpful for negotiation (Galinsky, Maddux, Gilin, & White, 2008) and may be benefi-
cial for resolving task conflict.
We speculate that mindfulness may also affect team functioning by modulating the emo-
tional tone of the team. Because, as already discussed, mindful individuals appear to be less
reactive to negative events and recover from negative emotions more quickly, they may
influence collective moods and reduce emotional contagion. During conflict, individuals
with high dispositional mindfulness exhibit more positive tenor, reduced emotional reactions
(Barnes et al., 2007), and less hostile behavior (Saavedra et al., 2010). Effective teamwork
may also benefit from controlled and stable attention, which serves as the basis for the effec-
tive coordination and shared mental models (Metiu & Rothbard, 2012).
Open Questions: How Might Mindfulness Affect Teamwork and Leadership?
Research in neuropsychology, cognitive psychology, medicine, and related disciplines has
laid the groundwork for developing and testing theory about how mindfulness might affect
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 15
relational processes, such as teamwork and leadership, but management scholars have not yet
seriously undertaken that challenge. Although there are myriad questions that could be
addressed, we focus on four central issues (see Figure 1).
Self-orientation versus other-orientation. Our review suggests that mindfulness leads
to increased other-orientation, facilitating the experience and expression of prosocial
behavior, but the ramifications of this change on workplace functioning are unknown.
The literature provides evidence that mindfulness leads individuals to process events and
occurrences in a less self-referential or ego-involved way, which fosters greater attentive-
ness to and care for others and a stronger focus on interpersonal concerns rather than self-
concerns. This could lead to more compassionate behavior but also potentially interfere
with decision making oriented to maximize profits, such as enacting layoffs. Yet, mindful
individuals need not lose motivation for self-gain or self-care. Reb and Narayanan’s (2014)
negotiation studies are illustrative, showing that negotiators randomized to short mindful-
ness interventions (a raisin eating exercise) were more successful in distributive nego-
tiations. These effects were speculatively attributed to mindful attention (e.g., increased
focus on task and partner cues, less distraction), which may have enabled greater self-gain.
Future research might explore underlying questions of whether contextual factors like
power or competition lessen the effect of mindfulness on concern for others or if mindful
concern for others trumps circumstances.
Climate: Safety, voice, and trust. One of the ways that mindfulness might influence team
and organizational functioning is by its effects on workplace climate. When high-quality
relationships, characterized by emotional carrying capacity, resilience to setbacks, and open-
ness to new ideas (Dutton & Heaphy, 2003), are developed, an environment of psychologi-
cal safety can emerge, enhancing employees’ use of “voice” (Fast, Burris, & Bartel, 2014).
In addition, as mindful leaders engage in nonjudgmental ways with employees, they may
induce trust (Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995) and psychological safety, both of which
encourage error correction and learning (Edmondson, 1999).
From the standpoint of employees, mindfulness may increase voice by creating separation
between events and outcomes and the self. Mindful employees may be less worried about
how organizational leaders will react to their ideas since acceptance or rejection of the idea
does not imply rejection of the person. Research associating mindfulness and climate aspects,
such as the expression of and reactions to voice behavior, would be insightful.
Shared mental models. How would mindfulness at the individual or team level influence
the team’s ability to develop and use shared mental models? Mental models are organized
knowledge structures—such as schemas—that facilitate recognition and remembering of
events and experiences and enable explanation and prediction (Mathieu et al., 2000). Effec-
tive team mental models have two properties: similarity (team members have similar knowl-
edge structures) and accuracy (mental schema accurately represent facts); they facilitate
teamwork and performance, especially in high-performance teams, such as flight crews and
medical teams (Mohammed, Ferzandi, & Hamilton, 2010). It is possible that the qualities
of attention affected by mindfulness would lead team members to be more aware of others’
tasks and characteristics, helping with the development of shared and accurate mental mod-
els. However, brain scans reveal reduced conceptual processing of events and experiences
for meditators (Pagnoni, Cekic, & Guo, 2008); mindfulness practices therefore make it less
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16 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
likely that an individual will tie experiences to the past or to team identities. Thus, mindful-
ness may both improve the development of shared mental models and reduce the extent to
which such models affect decisions and behavior.
This question could be addressed by a study examining the effects of mindfulness on the
development of individual mental models as well as the extent to which they were accurate
and similar to others in the team (per Lim & Klein, 2006). In addition to influencing the
content and structure of mental structures, mindfulness may also moderate the association
between team mental models and team cohesion and performance.
Mindful leadership training. As noted in our introduction, mindfulness training is popu-
lar in the business world as a component of leadership training. Anecdotally, participants
in such training report benefits like enhanced listening ability, ability to think strategically,
and increased innovation. Yet these anecdotes are not yet supported by empirical research.
What is needed is more rigorous experimental or quasi-experimental field research in which,
for example, leaders are randomly assigned to either routine corporate leadership training
or a mindful leadership training that are comparable in time and intensity. Pre- and post-
training assessments of both groups might include others’ (peers, bosses, etc.) observations
of emotional reactivity, attention to and compassion for others, or individual and team cre-
ativity. Changes in team or organizational climate should also be studied to detect whether
the effects of mindful leaders cascade throughout organizations. Moreover, these studies
should also examine precisely how mindfulness affects outcomes by linking it to cognitive,
emotional, and self-regulatory processes.
One such investigation that may be particularly fruitful is assessing whether mindfulness
benefits aspects of transformational leadership like individualized consideration, which
involves attention to individuals, listening openly, and mentoring (Judge & Piccolo, 2004).
The improvement in attention qualities conferred through mindfulness may give leaders
richer perception of followers’ needs. One way that leaders high on dispositional mindfulness
may build high-quality relationships is by attending to the needs of followers, thus providing
them with relational support that leads to employee flourishing (e.g., Colbert, Bono, &
Purvanova, in press). Related to this, Quaglia, Goodman, and Brown (in press) found that
trait mindfulness corresponded with greater attention control, which in turn predicted supe-
rior facial recognition. This research suggests that mindful leaders may be more attuned to
followers’ ongoing nonverbal communication and emotional states, enabling greater discern-
ment of individual differences and needs.
Workplace Outcomes: Well-Being
Employee well-being can be broadly defined as “the overall quality of an employee’s
experience and functioning at work” (Grant, Christianson, & Price, 2007: 52). It comprises
psychological, physical, and behavioral aspects and both hedonic (e.g., employee mood) and
eudemonic (e.g., resilience) facets (Ryan & Deci, 2001). Given this, it is not surprising that
well-being is a major outcome of interest among mindfulness researchers and a major driver
of its integration into corporate life. A growing body of evidence indicates that employee
well-being is associated with significant benefits to employee and organizational perfor-
mance via its effects on employee physical and psychological health, absenteeism, turnover,
and in-role performance (Danna & Griffin, 1999).
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 17
Results support a link between both self-reported mindfulness and the practice of mind-
fulness with well-being (see Figure 1). Meta-analytic evidence suggests mindfulness prac-
tices can have a strong impact on a range of well-being outcomes (Eberth & Sedlmeier,
2012). Among working samples, mindfulness and mindfulness-based practices have been
linked to reduced levels of reported burnout (Flook, Goldberg, Pinger, Bonus, & Davidson,
2013; Krasner et al., 2009), perceived stress (Roeser et al., 2013), work-family conflict
(Allen & Kiburz, 2012), and negative moods (Roche, Haar, & Luthans, 2014), along with
greater sleep quality (Hülsheger et al., 2014). Likewise, Hülsheger et al. (2013) examined
within- and between-person variation in mindfulness, finding that trait and state mindfulness
were positively related to job satisfaction, but trait mindfulness bore a stronger relation. A
second study randomly assigned employees to a self-directed mindfulness intervention,
which also yielded higher job satisfaction (Hülsheger et al., 2013). These relationships have
also been found in a diversity of occupations, including doctors (Krasner et al., 2009), sol-
diers (Jha et al., 2015), and teachers (Roeser et al., 2013).
While less frequently studied, mindfulness has also shown effects that are more aligned
with eudemonic outcomes. Specifically, mindfulness has been linked to the development of
self-compassion (Roeser et al., 2013), psychological capital, and resilience across a variety
of occupations, including managers and entrepreneurs (Roche et al., 2014), and in extreme
contexts, like live combat simulations (Jha, Stanley, Kiyonaga, Wong, & Gelfand, 2010).
Dispositional mindfulness has been related to engagement among restaurant servers (Dane &
Brummel, 2014), and mindfulness training predicted employee engagement among employ-
ees at the Mayo Clinic (West et al., 2014). Mediators of this link found among workplace
populations include greater authenticity (Leroy, Anseel, Dimitrova, & Sels, 2013), positive
emotions, hope, and optimism (Malinowski & Lim, 2015).
Open Questions: How Might Mindfulness Foster Workplace Well-Being?
Taken together, literature in the psychological and organizational domains suggests that
mindfulness can have significant influence on employee well-being, though much of this
work has been conducted in fields outside management. Although there is some evidence
regarding mindfulness and well-being at work, a number of questions remain. Key among
these questions is the mechanisms by which mindfulness influences workplace well-being
outcomes. Although there are a multitude of paths and variables researchers may wish to
consider, due to space constraints and the volume of work on mindfulness and well-being, in
the following, we highlight a few potential pathways in a discussion of one form of work-
place well-being: resilience (see Figure 1).
Resilience. Resilience captures the capacity to rebound from adversity, conflict, and fail-
ure and to develop as a result of these challenges (Luthans, Avolio, Avey, & Norman, 2007).
Resilient employees not only recover but also may grow in the face of adversity. Although
relatively new to the organizational literature, resilience is increasingly recognized as a form
of psychological capital at work.
As noted earlier, initial work suggests that mindfulness is linked to the development of
resilience in certain populations. Exactly how mindfulness fosters resilience is unclear, but
we argue that mindfulness may foster resilience through several potential channels. First,
mindfulness may allow one to observe potentially toxic workplace events while adopting a
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18 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
“decentered perspective” (Bishop et al., 2004) in response to these stressful external events
(i.e., layoffs, office politics, an abusive boss). As a result of this decentered perspective, per-
ceived stressors are experienced as less threatening. For example, an employee who wit-
nesses verbal aggression directed at coworkers typically experiences physiological reactivity
and psychological stress. However, experiencing these events with mindful attention could
decouple the automatic link between toxic experience and emotional and physiological reac-
tivity, leaving the employee less depleted. Flexible cognition about the event may allow
employees to reinterpret the situation. This may involve perception of stressors as challenges
that elicit growth—rather than as hindrances—which can be beneficial (e.g., Lepine,
Podsakoff, & Lepine, 2005). We assert that by decoupling the external experience (i.e., toxic
boss) from automatic physiological and psychological harm, mindfulness fosters the first
aspect of resilience—recovery from toxic events.
How might mindfulness foster the second aspect of resilience—growth in the face of
adversity? First, a wealth of research shows that exposure to an environmental threat without
being overcome by that threat can result in higher levels of well-being than if one had not
experienced the threat at all (Neff & Broady, 2011). In other words, experiencing but quickly
recovering from exposure to toxic workplace events may indeed make a worker stronger.
Second, mindful individuals tend to show greater response flexibility across stressful and
adverse situations. As individuals utilize a variety of coping habits successfully, confidence
may grow in one’s ability to deal with challenging workplace situations that can lead to
greater resilience. While our illustration has a fairly low base-rate (expressed anger), employ-
ees face numerous threats at work, ranging from coworker conflict to poor performance
evaluations. By decoupling habitual stimulus-response associations, mindfulness enables
faster recovery and more flexible thought about the event. This gives employees a greater
ability to choose from a variety of behavioral response options, thereby fostering confidence
and facilitating resilience.
Third, positive emotions are believed to play a crucial role in individuals’ ability to recover
physiologically from adverse events and to facilitate better emotion and behavior regulation
(Fredrickson, 2000). Given the role of mindfulness in emotional experience discussed earlier,
positive emotions may be more prevalent among mindful individuals, even in difficult situa-
tions. Future research might explore the question of whether mindfulness interventions
designed around specific workplace challenges decrease physiological and emotional reac-
tivity when exposed to adverse events and whether this decreased reactivity leads to alterna-
tive thoughts and emotions about and adaptive coping with the adverse event.
Future research should also examine the mechanisms by which mindfulness provides an
alternative way to negotiate stressful situations. One can cognitively appraise stressful work
situations, both those that are chronic (e.g., abusive supervision, unpleasant work environ-
ment) and acute (e.g., angry customer, intense workload, task failure), in ways that allow for
a “deautomatization” (Deikman, 1982) of the negative thoughts, emotions, and maladaptive
behaviors that are common companions of such events. By attenuating or neutralizing habit-
ual reactions to workplace events and, relatedly, by decoupling experiences from narrative
self-concern, mindfulness may help to buffer individuals from negative workplace experi-
ences. As a consequence, behavioral responses are likely to be more flexibly expressed.
One could argue that mindful presence in a stressful situation might evoke worse outcomes.
Individuals may habituate to unpleasant aspects of their work, but by freshly perceiving their
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 19
environments, mindful individuals may open themselves to a regular re-experience of unpleas-
antness. Yet, less automatized responses may allow for more situationally appropriate and
effective coping (e.g., Weinstein, Brown, & Ryan, 2009). Testing these competing possibilities
in future studies is important for understanding mindfulness and well-being in stressful work-
place contexts.
Research might also consider unintended consequences of reduced reactivity and increased
resilience at work. Blunting the harm of a workplace stressor like abusive supervision may
unwittingly promote acceptance of mistreatment, potentially interfering with adaptive
responses, such as proactively addressing supervisor conflicts and behavior, filing a griev-
ance, or changing jobs. So while mindfulness may leave individuals less affected by negative
work events, an open question is whether it coincides with passivity, allowing unhealthy
patterns to continue unchecked.
Advancing Management Theory, Research, and Practice
Our review raises a variety of issues to tussle with as management researchers and practi-
tioners seek to integrate the burgeoning mindfulness research from other disciplines. In this
final section, we showcase themes to help frame future debates and research on how mindful-
ness influences workplace functioning. Specifically, we examine (a) challenges to funda-
mental assumptions of management theory and (b) issues in advancing research and practice
in this domain.
Challenges to Assumptions of Management Theory
Being/doing. In his seminal book on mindfulness, Kabat-Zinn (2013: xvii) said, “Each of
us gets the same twenty-four hours a day . . . we fill up those hours with so much doing that
we scarcely have time for being” (italics added). Organizations typically compel members to
adopt a cognitive mode that supports doing; workers must plan for the future, interpret com-
plex environments, and set goals (Walsh, 1995)—they are focused on getting things done,
mindfully or not. Williams (2008) describes mindfulness as reflecting the other fundamen-
tal mode of human functioning: being. A reorienting toward being, rather than doing, may
represent a strikingly different mode of thought and action than is typical in organizational
functioning (e.g., Weick & Putnam, 2006). Being involves attending to the present with-
out striving (e.g., mindfulness), whereas doing involves cognitive operations that support
the goal-oriented behavior often driving organizational life (Cyert & March, 1963). These
modes are so distinct that mindfulness has been playfully called an “orthogonal rotation
in consciousness” (Kabat-Zinn, 2013: 426), while other theories suggest these modes can
be antagonistic (Dane, 2011) or antithetical (Williams, 2008). Combining these two modes
therefore may then involve transcending paradox (Smith & Lewis, 2011); for example, a
mindful manager must be present while planning for the future. When achieved, individuals
may no longer “do” work automatically without awareness but instead work mindfully by
simultaneously maintaining a sense of “being while doing.”
Identity and the self. Identity and self-concept are powerful organizing schemas in orga-
nizational science because they drive workplace attitudes and behavior (Ashforth, Harrison,
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20 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
& Corley, 2008). Organizational theories based on the self generally assume that individuals
hold narrative identities (e.g., I am a professor). These are constructed by stitching together
prior experiences into a coherent whole, shaping interpretation of reality (Weick, 1995).
The narrative self’s dominance in workplace functioning demands reexamination when
considering mindfulness. As individuals become mindful, they stabilize attention in the pres-
ent, leading to emergence of a so-called experiential self that witnesses present-moment
“thoughts, feelings, and body states without purpose or goal” (Farb et al., 2007, pp. 314-315).
Narrative and experiential processing coincides with activation in distinct neural networks,
underscoring their distinction (Vago & Silbersweig, 2012). Further, mindfulness practice
corresponds with deactivation in brain regions linked to self-referential narratives (Brewer &
Garrison, 2014), suggestive of reduced influence of the narrative self.
A crucial question for organizational science is how the experiential self might alter the
motivations and behaviors driven by narrative self-processing. Rather than the typical drives
for self-consistency or self-enhancement, the experiential self’s alternative nature may yield
greater comfort with change and acceptance of self, others, and events. This shift in the locus
of identity may elicit different workplace functioning. For example, during job transitions,
experiential processing may influence typical narrative self-based reactions to the transition,
such as stress or attachment to old aspects of identity. Shifting emphasis from the narrative
self to the experiential self may have profound implications for phenomena driven by narra-
tive identities, ranging from personality consistency (Crescentini & Capurso, 2015) and
identity work (Ibarra & Barbulescu, 2010) to sense-making (Weick, 1995), intergroup rela-
tions (Ashforth & Mael, 1989), and organizational identification processes and practices
(Ashforth et al., 2008).
Bounded rationality. An assumption of organizational science is that attention is limited.
Restrictions on human information processing capabilities bound the rationality of organiza-
tional decision making and behavior (Simon, 1971). Environmental factors like interruptions
and internal factors like mind wandering and attentional fatigue may influence individuals to
effectively settle for attentional capacity well below optimal levels.
Mindful individuals may better direct attention to their tasks with greater stability, control,
and efficiency, expanding their effective attentional capacity. This may allow them to better
process information and behave more rationally (e.g., Kirk et al., 2011). To illustrate this
idea, if individuals typically mind-wander up to 50% of their waking hours, but mindful
individuals do this significantly less, such that attention more frequently remains on task
(Smallwood & Schooler, 2015), then mindful individuals have greater effective attentional
capacity. Attention may always be scarce, but mindfulness may allow more responsible stew-
ardship of this precious cognitive resource.
Ultimately, this may invite reconsideration of theories based on bounded rationality, with
potential impacts on key areas of study like information processing, learning, strategy, rou-
tines, and decision making. For example, the effective, less habitual deployment of mindful
attention may allow individuals to not only deploy their present knowledge but also to
explore new possibilities; in so doing, they may exhibit greater learning ability (e.g., Kanfer
& Ackerman, 1989), creativity (Ostafin & Kassman, 2012), and ambidexterity (e.g., Gibson
& Birkinshaw, 2004; Good & Michel, 2013). Mindful attention may reduce satisficing and
heuristic processing, reducing the likelihood of decision biases. For example, Hafenbrack,
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 21
Kinias, and Barsade (2013) found both trait mindfulness and a brief mindfulness induction
were associated with fewer sunk-cost decision errors. Kirk et al. (2011) found expert medita-
tors were twice as likely to make economically rational decisions when conditions were very
unfair in an ultimatum game; they also showed distinct brain activity compared to controls
suggesting a decoupling of negative emotions (about unfairness) from behavior (accepting
payment).
Issues in Advancing Research and Practice
Methodological limitations. There are methodological issues to consider as we translate
research on mindfulness to workplace application. Much experimental evidence on mindful-
ness has emerged from laboratories with non-workplace samples, raising questions of gen-
eralizability. Although mindfulness, and in particular mindfulness in work settings, remains
an emerging area that would benefit from exploratory qualitative and cross-sectional work, it
is sufficiently mature to demand studies using more rigorous designs (Edmondson & McM-
anus, 2007). Organizational field studies, including quasi-experimental, longitudinal, and
active-controlled intervention studies, will propel this research forward and support greater
confidence in the effects of mindfulness. Studies should also include carefully considered
control variables. Research on workplace mindfulness typically lacks adequate measurement
of common individual differences (e.g., intelligence, attitudes, personality) that present alter-
native explanations for mindfulness’ effects. Nor do studies typically control for organiza-
tional context (e.g., role, task characteristics, team climate), which may moderate the relation
between the quality and practice of mindfulness and workplace outcomes.
Considerations for practical deployment. Mindfulness appears to have broad effects on
individual functioning that may make it an attractive management tool. Foremost is that
mindfulness may be a single lever for beneficially influencing many variables, enabling gen-
eral management of organizational functioning via a parsimonious intervention.
Mindfulness may also influence management practice through traditional strategies of
selection, training, and design. Trait mindfulness appears to be associated with numerous
positive psychosocial qualities, making it a potentially attractive assessment tool for certain
personnel decisions. It may be particularly important for selection into jobs that require such
important attributes as focused attention, self-regulation, and interpersonal sensitivity.
However, considerable predictive validity work must be done to support the use of mindful-
ness assessments in staffing and selection. Mindfulness training also offers promise in foster-
ing the development of key role attributes.
Mindfulness training programs are increasingly applied in work settings. Typically trun-
cated versions of well-validated programs (e.g., MBSR), these adaptations are made without
drawing on specific knowledge of how and why these programs work. A critical area for
future applied research is discovering how to optimally design and target mindfulness train-
ing at work for maximum efficacy and sustainability.
As mindfulness moves into organizations, research must be done that increases confi-
dence in causal inferences. This will likely involve unpacking and testing the impacts of
specific practices within specific contexts, both independently and in combination with each
other. Mindfulness training programs are often multifaceted, including experiential practices,
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22 Journal of Management / Month XXXX
didactic instruction, and social support. Little work has been done to identify the active ingre-
dients in these programs. If different components of mindfulness training have differential
effects, then organizations may tailor interventions based on program goals. The great prom-
ise of mindfulness for improving performance, relationships, and well-being at work may go
unrealized unless scholars adopt a more critical view of existing research and a more rigorous
approach to future research and practice.
Likewise, coupling mindfulness with other training may produce beneficial synergistic
effects. For example, among doctors, bundling mindfulness training with narrative medicine
resulted in positive changes in empathy, well-being, and ability to relate to patients (Krasner
et al., 2009). By facilitating changes in functional domains (e.g., attention, cognition), mind-
fulness training may help to lay groundwork that supports effectiveness of other training
programs in leadership, teamwork, and so on.
The practicality of mindfulness training may hinge on the “dose” required for effects.
Research on minimum effective doses is promising; just 5 minutes of training induced
changes in negotiation performance (Reb & Narayanan, 2014), and 15 minutes resulted in
better decision making (Hafenbrack et al., 2013), though such effects are undoubtedly
ephemeral. Brain changes have been found to occur rapidly, including more neural efficiency
with 3 hours of training (Moore, Gruber, Derose, & Malinowski, 2012) and structural changes
in 11 hours of training (Tang et al., 2010). Yet the sustainability of these effects and their
generalizability to the workplace is unknown and merits investigation.
In addition to selection and training, managers might consider how organizational context
influences mindfulness levels. Changes to work design and physical space might foster a
more mindful workforce. Modern workplaces can promote frenetic activity and nonstop
thinking that may interfere with presence of mind (e.g., Mazmanian, Orlikowski, & Yates,
2013). In contrast, traditional contexts for mindfulness practice, like retreat centers and mon-
asteries, have markedly different cultures, routines, aesthetics (e.g., natural beauty, simplic-
ity), and physical spaces to support mindful states. Organizations might consider adapting
design elements from contemplative contexts to support mindfulness.
Toward mindfulness as a root construct. Coalescing evidence across several scientific
fields indicates that mindfulness may benefit a spectrum of human functioning important to
organizations. A construct with such broad effects, those “critical to how and what one val-
ues, thinks, feels, and does in all social domains, including organizations,” has been called
a “root construct” (Albert, Ashforth, & Dutton, 2000: 14). Root constructs (e.g., motivation,
personality, identity) shape our basic understanding of human functioning at work. If evi-
dence continues to accumulate on the effects of mindfulness in organizational processes and
outcomes, we may one day think of mindfulness as a root construct in organizational science,
as it shapes human experiences in a wide variety of functional domains, including thought,
emotion, and action (Brown et al., 2007). For the time being, mindfulness stands as a con-
struct with both great possibilities and challenges worth investigating in further research.
Note
1. While attention is often considered an aspect of cognition, we separate these two because attention to a stimu-
lus typically precedes the information processing more typically connoted by the term cognition. While organization
science has typically subsumed both the perception and processing of information under cognition, cognitive and
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Good et al. / Contemplating Mindfulness at Work 23
neuropsychological evidence suggests that individual attention may vary in ways that significantly alter subsequent
information processing.
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