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The Use of Mindfulness in a Traumatic VUCA World

  • Matrix College of Counselling and Psychotherapy


This article suggests that VUCA conditions may be traumatic, and one of the causes of increasing numbers of mental health issues throughout the world. One of the ways in which organizations are addressing this issue is through the introduction of Mindfulness techniques. The article presents the data from an evaluative study of a pilot Mindfulness programme in a mental health trust in the UK. The qualitative evidence shows the specific and detailed ways in which Mindfulness can help to develop creative responses to these conditions. Finally, it does examine some of the ethical issues of introducing Mindfulness into organizations. It concludes that Mindfulness programs, even when divorced from its ethical roots in Buddhism, can enable individuals to manage themselves and take a larger perspective on their work and lives.
The Use of Mindfulness in a Traumatic VUCA
Bronwen Rees
‘The universal truths that were developed thousands of years ago are as timeless and true and
profound as ever but there is a new evolution happening and the question is how we arrive at
Mindfulness and wisdom in the context of our contemporary age’
‘. . . because of the unparalled connectivity, science and the insight that we have. . . [that’s] why
you’re seeing the popularity of things like Mindfulness at a place like Google. Quite simply. . .we
have an evidence-based form of mental conditioning that promotes well-being, calmness, clarity,
insight, innovation, compassion. There’s lots of science now that irrefutably says this is beneficial
on multiple fronts.’ (Rich Fernandez, Formerly Senior People Development Lead at Google,
interview with author, 2013)
The characteristics of this world, according to Johansen and Euchner (2013) are
It’s volatile, it’s unstructured, it’s complex and it’s ambiguous. ... By definition, in a VUCA
world, if you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention. Confusion is part of the game. And
actually being frightened is part of the game too. But you cannot stay frightened, or you will
freeze and lose the game. You’ve got to have readiness and that requires lots of practice. You
have to figure out how to engage with that confusion, engage with that fear, and flip that into an
opportunity. . . . The ultimate dilemma is to take the VUCA world and change it from a
threatening thing, which it certainly is, into a world that is not only threatening but also laden
with opportunity.
This is a far cry from the vision of the well-ordered organization that had
developed by the end of the millennium Such an organization was dominated by
performancemanagement systems, wherein everyone knew their job minute by
minute. However, these have evolved into the current conditions which resemble
more those of on-going trauma situations. Within these conditions, the ancient
practice of Mindfulness is becoming popular as a technique or tool for leading and
for self-managing. It is currently used in the public sector such as Google and
London Transport, and in the health service where it has become in some places
an underlying method for both clinical and organizational interventions.
Whilst there is much evidence to back up the efficacy of Mindfulness for
individuals in aggregated quantitative data, there is little evidence to illuminate the
actual processes and workings of Mindfulness within the organizational context.
Knowledge of these processes would help refine the type and scope of
interventions necessary in different contexts. This article shows how the
conditions of VUCA can be compared with those of trauma, which if not
acknowledged can have a damaging physiological, emotional and spiritual impact.
It describes how Mindfulness practices override these consequences through the
process of slowing down the physiological responses and providing space for
more creative responses. It then uses secondary data analysis of an evaluative
project on Mindfulness in the mental health sector to present qualitative accounts
of how Mindfulness supports employee self-management within these particular
conditions of a VUCA environment— illuminating why and how these techniques
are successful. The article concludes by discussing the ethical issues of
introducing Mindfulness into organizations as part of the management agenda.
1 The Relationship Between VUCA, Trauma and Mindfulness
Origins of a VUCA World
The notion of VUCA was introduced by the US Army War College to describe the
more volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, multilateral world that resulted
from the end of the Cold War (Kinsinger and Walch 2012). The acronym itself
was not created until the late 1990s, and it was not until the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001, that the notion really took hold. VUCA was subsequently
adopted by strategic business leaders to describe the chaotic, turbulent, and rapidly
changing business environment. The financial crisis of 2008–2009, for example,
rendered many business models obsolete, as organizations throughout the world
were plunged into turbulent environments similar to those faced by the military.
At the same time, technological developments such as social media exploded, and
whilst the world’s population continued to simultaneously grow and age, global
disasters disrupted lives, economies, and businesses. One of the most alarming
characteristics of this period was the exponential growth of mental health issues.
For example, in 2013 one in four adults in the UK was diagnosed with a recogniz-
able mental health illness.
These conditions are taxing even the most able of leaders who may find their skills
growing obsolete as quickly as their organizations change in this volatile,
unpredictable landscape. Leadership agility and adaptability are now required
skills if organizations are to succeed in this VUCA world. As Horney, Pasmore,
and O’Shea (2010) note, to succeed, ‘leaders must make continuous shifts in
people, process, technology, and structure. This requires flexibility and quickness
in deci- sion making.’ (Horney et al. 2010).
Whilst much of the literature of the VUCA world is aimed at the opportunities that
leaders may take, little attention is paid to the long-term consequences of working
in such conditions for employees. The business world can feel literally like a
battlefield and in this respect can be considered to resemble the on-going
conditions of trauma.
2 The Relationship of VUCA to Trauma
Trauma studies have had a checkered history. Herman (1992) notes that in the last
century, knowledge of the effects of trauma twice surfaced in public
consciousness, and then were lost again. In the first instance, the study of
‘hysteria’ emerged with the work of Freud who noticed a connection between
psychiatric history, and sexually molested women—though he later suggested that
this was mere fantasy that resulted in the study going underground. The second
major emergence of trauma was after the First and Second World Wars, with
‘shell shock’ in World War I and ‘combat fatigue’ or ‘combat neurosis’ in World
War II. Whilst the effects of long-term violence was recognized, it was still
considered at this time to be a weakness on behalf of the soldier.
Not until the problems of Vietnam veterans came into focus, did the reality of
violence, and its long-term effects if not treated, become acknowledged. In 1980,
the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD entered the formal psychi-
atric tradition through its inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual (Bloom
1997). If the consequences of experiencing trauma events are not acknowledged
and released, then the person is liable to suffer on-going mental, physical and
emotional suffering—and above all to feel isolated and further locked into a
trauma cycle (Rees and Smith 2008). A traumatic situation is one in which the life
of a system is under threat. The natural physiological response to life-threatening
experience shared by animals and humans is the fight or flight mechanism. This
mechanism is not a planned, deliberately thought-out reaction, but a rapid-fire,
automatic, total body response. It goes through various stages and, under natural
conditions in the animal world, it provides a life-saving, or pain- saving
Let us take the example of an antelope feeding on the plains of Africa (Sills 2003).
In this state, the antelope is said to be in the ideal state. If it is threatened by
danger, such as a lion, then its body moves into an active alert state. If this danger
increases, then the fight or flight response kicks in. The antelope’s sympathetic
nervous system will surge: it becomes flooded with chemicals which override the
immune and cognitive system. This is the mobilization response. The antelope
flees. If it escapes, a further flood of endorphins may arise, and it will slow down
and resume its grazing. If the danger increases, the parasympathetic nervous
system comes into action and takes over from the sympathetic nervous system,
and other neuro-hormones are released. The antelope will suddenly collapse and
become immobilized. Now both nervous systems are surging, and the energy from
the sympathetic nervous system, which cannot be expressed in flight literally
implodes inwards, and keeps cycling. Either at this point the lion will go away
thinking its prey is dead, or if it is eaten, then the antelope is spared the pain of
death as it is frozen. If the antelope is not eaten, then, the antelope will get up
again, and buck to and fro, as it releases the increased hormones from its system. It
clears the cycling energies by action, shifting from a frozen state to an expression
of its defensive energies. The antelope has survived, come successfully out of
shock, and discharged the imploding energies.
Human beings have the same response but are often not as successful in
processing traumatic experience as other mammals. This is due to the complexity
of the nervous system and the thinking mind coming in too quickly, shutting down
the physiological responses, and leaving the effects unprocessed. This means that
the human will still retain the effects of the event in its system, and can be in a
continuous, lowered state of anxiety, which can be easily triggered. The
consequences of this can be on-going mental health issues that may arise as stress,
addiction, depression.
Johansen mentions the fight and flight response as being a necessary part of the
VUCA conditions. However, this is often not acknowledged for the employees,
but rather as a problem for leadership. In fact, there is an additional layer of threat
for employees since they are subject to pressures from management, and the
customer or task. Very often they may well have accountability and not
responsibility. Thus performance management systems demand that certain tasks
are carried out within rigid, yet unreal conditions. This puts the employee in a
trauma situation as their livelihood (thus survival) may depend on an impossible
situation. Given the highly individualized nature of the work environment, the
employee will feel isolated and threatened, and unable to find any support—
another condition of stress.
The individual will feel increasingly alienated from a clear focus and picture of
reality, and may mistakenly perceive danger even when it is not present, leading to
overreaction, or frozenness. He or she is unable to view the ‘bigger picture’ and
stand back from the situation to find a creative response to the conditions. A
trauma cycle has set in.
The ancient Buddhist practice of Mindfulness, however, coming from a deep
understanding of the relationship between body and mind, can help slow down the
bodily processes to help release the chemicals from the body, and allow space for
a more spacious response to arise. If learnt, then it may be possible that increased
Mindfulness can transform the VUCA conditions into those of opportunity. As
several commentators have noted, when this happens then:
Volatility can lead to vision
Uncertainty leads to understanding
Complexity leads to clarity
Ambiguity lead to agility
3 The Buddhist Origins of Mindfulness
The origins of Mindfulness lie in the very early Pali canon texts, and were based
upon the teachings of the Buddha, around 500 BC. The most fundamental text
relating to Mindfulness is the ‘The Foundations of Mindfulness’ (Nanoli and
Bodhi 1995). The four foundations of Mindfulness are the Mindfulness of the
body, Mindfulness of emotions, Mindfulness of thoughts, and Mindfulness of the
nature of reality.
According to a Buddhist view of reality, everything is in a state of flux—even the
human being. The Buddhist understanding of ‘personality’ is based upon the
notion of an ‘arising process’. In this way, Buddhism considers the ‘self’ to be an
open system, taking in nourishment or toxins from the environment and recycling
it through the body. The human being is a set of ‘heaps’ called the five skandhas—
form, sensation, perception, mental formations, consciousness—which are said to
arise virtually at the same time. Through meditation, the Buddhist practitioner
learns to distinguish these different ‘heaps’ as they arise, and can thus gain
freedom from a fixed state of habitual responses to the environment.
This process is true not only of individuals, but also of organizations. Scaled up to
organizational level, Senge and his colleagues (2004) point to the dangers of
limiting management to fixed habits: ‘As long as our thinking is governed by habit
—notably by industrial, “machine age” concepts such as control, predictabil- ity,
standardization, and “faster is better”— we will continue to recreate institutions as
they have been, despite their disharmony with the larger world, and the need of all
living systems to evolve.’ (Senge et al. 2004, p. 9)
4 The Basics of Mindfulness Practice and Its Relationship to Trauma
A simple mindful practice means that effort is applied to examining thoughts,
emotions and actions as they arise. For this the practitioner learns to slow down
the constant responses to external input as mediated through the senses, and turn
their attention inwards to the more subtle body and mind processes. Often the
breath is used as an object of concentration as it enters and leaves the body.
This inner examination leads the practitioner to understand the extremely subtle
relationships between these different processes. Thus, body and mind processes,
such as breathing, or blood flow, which in evolutionary terms have become uncon-
scious, become the object of attention and thus available for conscious attention if
necessary. Another way of putting this, is that the practitioner is learning how to
control and master the physiological processes that occur between the brain and
the nervous system (Haule 2011). Over time, the practitioner will become aware of
the constant flowing of the arising processes, and advanced practitioners may
control bodily processes such as the breath for long periods of time. They are able
to reach altered states of consciousness by balancing the relationship between the
parasym- pathetic and sympathetic aspects of the nervous system. This has been
can be described as ‘tuning the autonomic nervous system’ (Haule 2011).
We saw earlier how trauma cycles set in when the trauma from the life-
threatening event is not released, and how if this continues, it becomes a way of
life, ultimately leading to mental health problems such as PTSD, addiction,
depres- sion—and is characterized by an individual being in constant fight and
flight and unable to perceive reality accurately.
As we have seen, an advanced practitioner has mastery over the function of the
nervous system, but even a limited practice, can help an individual release trauma
from their system, and prevent a further escalation of the situation. Thus Mindful-
ness can be used to address the pathological consequences of trauma, and also to
serve as a daily practice for preventing this arising. Its efficacy can be seen in the
number of different trainings used in different contexts either as a depth psycho-
therapy practice (as taught in the Karuna Institute in Devon, the first Mindfulness-
based psychotherapy) or as a simple 8-week course for help in dealing with the
overwhelming conditions in which humanity finds itself.
5 The Origins of Mindfulness Practice in the West and Its Use in
Buddhism came first to the UK at around the turn of the century, introduced with
all the cultural and religious accretions, so was of interest only for the esoteric
few. The influx of eastern Buddhist teachers, such as Tibetan lamas like Tarthang
Tulku or the Vietnamese Thicht Nath Hanh had a profound influence on the
uptake of Buddhist practices. In the 60s and 70s, Eastern and Western pioneers set
up their own movements or Buddhist groups.
The explicit development of Mindfulness, decontextualized from its Buddhist
origins, which forms the basis of much of its manifestation in businesses, was
pioneered through the work of Jon Kabat Zin, and others (e.g. Kabat Zinn 1990,
1994). The number of citations of scientific chapters using the term ‘Mindfulness’
increased exponentially, from 2 in 1982, to 48 in 2007 (Didonna 2009).
Over the past decade there has been a proliferation or research on Mindfulness
techniques and its role in supporting different aspects of organizational life. For
example, Mindfulness has been discussed in the area of adaptive learning, and has
been seen as crucial to pro-actively establishing a flexible range of behaviors (Fiol
and O’Connor 2003; Levinthal and Rerup 2006) or clarifying where
‘organizational Mindfulness’ and ‘mindful organizing’ are most important (Vogus
and Sutcliffe 2012). Dane and Brummel (2014) find support for a positive
relationship between workplace Mindfulness and job performance. Weick has
pushed the idea in another direction by linking it with wisdom and the ability to
focus attention on present details, without being dependent on categories, codes, or
encoding processes (so called ‘non-conceptual Mindfulness’; Weick and Putnam
2006; Weick and Sutcliffe 2006). In 2013, the book ‘Inner Peace–Global Impact’
with numerous articles on the use of mindful practices in business was
successfully launched to over 200 practitioners at the Academy of Management
(Schulyer 2012).
6 The Study
Using data from an evaluative report of a pilot project carried out in a large Mental
Health trust in the UK, this study outlines how Mindfulness enabled employees to
cope with the VUCA conditions.
6.1 Background: The Rationale
At the time (2013) the Trust was facing acute public sector cuts and increasing
demand with a governmental challenge to improve quality of patient care. In
response to this challenge the new management team and the turnaround board
thought to do this through the introduction of Mindfulness to the Trust employees.
Thus, in 2012, Dr. Attilla Vegh, then Chief Executive Officer, commissioned a
pilot Mindfulness program within the Trust. The idea was first of all to test the
delivery and openness at a small scale and to evaluate its potential efficacy if
rolled out throughout the entire Trust.
Mindfulness was offered as a development opportunity to staff as a ‘work tool’
rather than a therapeutic intervention. Of two generic programs often offered
within the NHS and other organizations, Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction
developed by the Jon Kabat Zinn Center for Mindfulness at the University of
Massachusetts Medical School (Kabat Zinn 1990, 1994), and Mindfulness-based
Cognitive Therapy developed by Zindel Segal, Mark Williams and John Teasdale
in Oxford, the latter was chosen, as the outcomes desired were wider than ‘stress
relief’. It consisted of an 8-week program of 2 hours per week in groups with
additional practice to be done at home following the Williams textbook (Williams
and Penman 2011).
6.2 Recruitment Process
Around 75 applications were received for the 34 available places. Consideration
was given to group dynamics, ensuring that line managers were not attending with
direct reports and vice versa, and there was a good mix of departments and job
This article draws upon the qualitative responses of the participants to the program
derived from:
1.Open-ended qualitative questionnaire administered by hand to all participants at
the end of their sessions
2.30 minutes discussion with participants
3.Focus group with self-selecting participants taking place 6 weeks after the end
of the course.
7 Findings and Analysis
The responses have been clustered according to which of the VUCA conditions
were best described by the participants, and how Mindfulness helped turn the
conditions into those of growth rather than limitations.
7.1 Working with Volatility Leading to Vision
Volatility describes the highly stressed and unpredictable situations that employers
and employees need to meet. In order for this to be transformed to vision, this
would require individuals to find a way of standing back from the situation, and
creating space for a measured response so that situations do not become more
enflamed and creative responses can be found. Mindfulness in this instance is used
to control the emotional response before it triggers the situation further. This way,
the trauma response that may be triggered can be slowed down, and the individual
would return to a steady state and find an alternative, creative response. The
following reflections show how the participants succeeded in doing this.
Last week when I returned from a home visit, I was informed by the team secretary that due to a
new member of our team only working Tues/Thurs, she had un-booked my clinic space so that
this staff member could use the space instead (I only work 3 days myself). In the past this would
have been like showing a red rag to a bull. Instead I took a mindful pause, walked out of her
office and did not say anything. A complete change in behavior and thinking process for me. No
damage to the working relationship!
Yesterday a colleague was under a lot of stress and was expressing her unhappiness about a
situation in the main office. A close professional colleague was being bad mouthed and I was
finding the situation uncomfortable. Rather than be consumed with negative thoughts, I took
myself out of the office and went for a mindful walk around the car park for 5 min. I came back
into the office more prepared to manage the situation that was transpiring. I found myself more
able to support the colleague who was stressed and I also thought of her in my befriending
exercise last night—leading to a better working relationship today.
I am able to focus on my responsibilities and see the bigger picture more clearly. I am less likely
to take on others problems as my own. My work life balance has improved (mentally). I feel I
have more control and power in the work environment—at least over myself and how I chose to
respond to situations—both difficulties and successes.
Yes, I work with a colleague who can sometimes be difficult to deal with as she has a bit of a
short fuse and does sometimes say inappropriate things. I have learnt how to be calmer around
her and therefore I do not feel so agitated towards her. This has improved our working
relationship together. recent years pressure to do very solution-focused assessments with rigid time restraints have
become the norm. In being more relaxed in just accepting of my own problems I have been able
to do this with service users and contrary to my expectations I have found that my assessments do
not last longer and I feel that they are more effective and also therapeutic (I work in A and E
assessing people in mental health crisis).
7.2 Working with Uncertainty Leading to Understanding
Within the mental health trust, uncertainty is the order of the day. Not only is there
the usual uncertainty that arises from having to meet exacting managerial
standards, but the patients themselves daily present different challenges. Each of
these demands a new or different response to aid them in their recovery. In the
VUCA world, it is said that uncertainty can lead to understanding, and the
following comments reveal how participants have learnt how to understand
themselves and the situation, taking the danger of overwhelm away.
I have felt more accepting of myself and able to contain doubts and uncertainties so that I can be
more present during clinical meetings with service users and see things more as they are rather
than colored by how I might expect them to be. I have experienced more satisfaction, interest and
curiosity in my work.
I have noticed I can listen to others and better hear and understand what they are saying.
Colleagues have remarked on this also.
My relationship with my work has improved as through the Mindfulness I have realized that I
have a choice about how I approach work. For some months I have been unhappy at work which
has led to negative spiral of unhelpful thoughts. The Mindfulness has helped me approach this
difficulty and to be able to deal with work more positively. This has had a direct impact on work
relationships with colleagues in the shared office space and with staff that I line manage. I now
feel that I am regaining being able to lead with hope.
7.3 Working with Complexity Leading to Clarity
This environment is characterized by complexity; complexity of roles, complexity
of clients, complexity of relationships. This can lead to overwhelm, and inability
to prioritize. Some of the comments showed just how much Mindfulness created
the space for the right action for both the individual, and hence the situation to be
chosen. Participants also commented how Mindfulness helped them create more
focus, and hence create the necessary simplicity for themselves. The following
comments show how the Mindful practice has helped clear the emotional over-
whelm, and aid participants in getting more focus to their work.
Anticipating that a call to a patient, GP or colleague is likely to be complex—I used short
Mindfulness exercises beforehand and felt a lot calmer, less anxious, more able to actively listen
and not pre-judge.
Taking the three minutes of Mindfulness break away from my job gave me a new focus when I
returned to situations.
I have more focus, less panic at referrals piling-up.
Responding to email I’ve been able to deal with them more effectively by approaching rather than
avoiding them.
Since practicing the exercises on a regular basis and choosing to see my thoughts as mental
processes, I am far less stressed. I am approaching work more pragmatically and I am no longer
dreading coming into work.
Not trying to multi-task quite so much, so able to complete tasks better and realizing that being
able to complete a task myself is more satisfying.
I attend to tasks singly and similar to the beginning of the week, feeling panicky and stressed
thinking about all the tasks ahead, but now I reflect at the end of the week on all I have completed
and feel reassured.
I am less prone to avoid/procrastinate when there are specific pieces of work that need to be done,
especially when it comes to writing reports etc. I am more mindful of my difficulties at times in
focusing my concentration (partly because of anxiety of what I should be doing) and thereby I
think I’m becoming (slowly) more efficient in my new role.
I prioritize my workload much more efficiently and spend much less time worrying about or
attending to things I don’t need to.
7.4 Working with Ambiguity Leading to Agility
Because of the very challenging nature of the environment, keeping to certain
roles or job titles is often difficult, and may suppress what could be a common
sense response. Employees can feel caught between two rocks—of managerial
demands and with the human suffering that is presented before them. This can lead
to extreme stress and dysfunction, but many of the respondents showed that
Mindful- ness helped them create a bigger perspective from which to make
decisions and take action, and therefore to create a greater variety of responses and
I feel a lot less stressed by difficult situations at work and can therefore deal with them better. I
am also enjoying work and the interactions with colleagues more. But mainly it has helped me to
think more clearly at work.
I feel I now view my colleagues as more equal, not so much as a ‘job title’ but more as human
beings working on the same team for the same result’. . . Also—because the Trust has
acknowledged our need for mental health support—having the course at all helped me to feel
more of a person at work and not just an employee. I assume much less about what my colleagues
think or do now—I ask more. I also feel less stressed when people ask me to do things—not
seeing it as such an imposition on my time. I say ‘no’ more, when appropriate, and I give more
realistic timeframes to people for completing a task when I agree to do it.
I work in a very stressful environment and I have become more conscious about how this impacts
my physical state—the important of listening to my internal cues taking breaks etc. It has also
improved my ‘situational awareness’ of where I work so that I do not act on auto pilot and am
more compassionate to others. At times I had found, (prior to the course) that I could ignore
patients who I was not working with or had any responsibility for, and something which when I
first started working, I would never have done. During the Mindfulness course I became more
aware of those around me rather than just rushing in blinkered.
Overall, even after just 8 weeks, participants reported that their lives had improved
significantly, and most were continuing the practice even beyond the program.
Employees of the trust met the on-going VUCA conditions both in the working
environment, and with the clients with and for whom they work. Trauma is not
merely an individual phenomenon; it is social and is transmitted through
emotional relationship. In order to protect from trauma, people will shut down
emotionally leading to lack of empathy and care, and creates a vicious cycle (Rees
and Smith 2008). As we have seen, in conditions of trauma, the emotional and
rational neural pathways are bypassed, and people move into automatic pilot. The
VUCA world is characterized by these life-threatening situations, where the
organization is itself under threat.
From the responses in the discussion groups, the focus group, and the
questionnaires, these conditions were described, but all of them demonstrated
multiple instances where even a short training of Mindfulness, supported them in
breaking this cycle by creating spaces to recognize and connect with their
emotions, and to take the space to reflect on what was happening. It enabled them
to take the necessary steps to understand that the problems that they were facing
were collec- tive, and to find ways of communicating with colleagues, even those
who had not done the training, that did not enflame the situation further.
Many of them cited how they gained broader awareness and more focus which
enabled them to set more realistic goals and not to become stressed if they were
unable to meet them. Thus they were not driven automatically by the situation but
were able to take stock and react more appropriately. It gave them broader aware-
ness and greater focus, and at an individual level, enhanced well-being and
increas- ing job satisfaction and motivation. Many reported having a bigger
perspective, and being able to take in far more of the conditions and react with
greater choice. For all of these, employees showed the ability to change the
conditions from to that of vision, understanding, clarity and agility. Even within an
8-week programme, participants made significant progress in learning
Mindfulness and using it to benefit both their individual and organisational lives.
9 The Ethics of Mindfulness
From my own experience of both introducing Mindfulness into organizations and
evaluating the above project, I have been aware of the potential dangers of the
misuse of Mindfulness in organizations. With the exponential expansion of its use,
it does run the danger, when divorced from its ethical framework, of becoming co-
opted into the corporate agenda. Purser and Loy (2013) suggest that one of the
problems with Mindfulness, is that the basic question, ‘Why is there so much
stress in organizations?’ is avoided and conclude that: ‘To become a genuine force
for positive personal and social transformation, it must reclaim an ethical
framework and aspire to more lofty purposes that take into account the well-being
of all living beings.’ Purser and Milillo (2015) argue that ‘a denatured
Mindfulness divorced from its soteriological context reduces it to a self-help
technique that is easily misappropriated for reproducing corporate and institutional
power, employee paci- fication, and maintenance of toxic organizational cultures’.
In my own early work of introducing Mindfulness into organizations, my team of
meditation practitioners were well aware of the potentially radical nature of the
work. Indeed our hypothesis was that Mindfulness could help break through power
relations (Rees 2012). Our response was to create a process called ‘ethical inquiry’
in which the Mindfulness program was supported by collective Mindfulness-based
action research groups. This problem to a degree was encountered in this environ-
ment too, but helped by the fact that the CEO himself took part in the Mindfulness
programs. However, the evidence here from this program certainly showed that
the work did not co-opt people into unethical behavior, but rather offered the tools
for self-empowerment. Furthermore, the cross-role nature of the groups meant that
work problems were shared, and this proved very valuable so that employees did
not feel isolated, and were able to share their experiences of working in VUCA
environments. The power of Mindfulness is such that it potentially gives the
employee the tools for reducing their own physiological responses, and creating
choices in their own lives—whether that is a choice to leave the organization.
What employees chose to do after following a course of Mindfulness meditation
was a question of their responsibility—and the Mindfulness program provided
them with the tools to make choices about this.
10 Conclusion
This article has shown how Mindfulness programs, even when divorced from their
ethical roots, can enable individuals—whatever their role or position in an organi-
zation, to manage themselves and the chaos they encounter to take a larger
perspective on their work and lives. Given the inherent nature of the Mindfulness
approach, this could only enhance their own lives, and the choices they make
within it. By its very nature, scaled up to the organization—it would seem that
Mindful- ness provides both individual and organizational support for meeting the
potential trauma of the VUCA conditions, and turning its threatening nature into
one of collective spontaneity and creativity.
Reflective Questions
1.Some reflective questions that we have explored in this account, but which
would require further research in different contexts would be:
2.How could Mindfulness be implemented across an entire organization?
3.What might be the ethical implications if this were imposed from the leadership
without them partaking?
4.How could we ensure the soundness of the delivery of Mindfulness?
5.Are employees likely to leave the organization after developing their own
practice of Mindfulness?
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Bronwen Rees was formerly Director of the Centre for Transformational Management at Anglia
Ruskin University, Cambridge where she lead a team of researchers and practitioners introducing
meditational approaches into business and education and created the journal Interconnections.
She is also interested in the cross-over between new science and mindful practice, and how this
can lead to the creation of sustainable organisations. She now runs her own consultancy,
Incubatio, which devises mindfulness-based programmes and evaluations for organizations. In
addition, she works as a mindfulness-based psychotherapist with a busy practice in Cambridge
and Suffolk, and is Programme Lead and Tutor for Matrix College. She often leads retreats and
workshops both in the UK and internationally and has published widely. She gives talks on her
integrative work, including the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, the Canadian Bloom Sustainability
conference, and an interview with the BBC World Service. Web page:
# Springer International Publishing AG 2017 193 S.S. Nandram, P.K. Bindlish (eds.), Managing
VUCA Through Integrative Self-Management, Management for Professionals, DOI 10.1007/978-
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Full-text available
In recent years, research on mindfulness has burgeoned across several lines of scholarship. Nevertheless, very little empirical research has investigated mindfulness from a workplace perspective. In the study reported here, we address this oversight by examining workplace mindfulness – the degree to which individuals are mindful in their work setting. We hypothesize that, in a dynamic work environment, workplace mindfulness is positively related to job performance and negatively related to turnover intention, and that these relationships account for variance beyond the effects of constructs occupying a similar conceptual space – namely, the constituent dimensions of work engagement (vigor, dedication, and absorption). Testing these claims in a dynamic service industry context, we find support for a positive relationship between workplace mindfulness and job performance that holds even when accounting for all three work engagement dimensions. We also find support for a negative relationship between workplace mindfulness and turnover intention, though this relationship becomes insignificant when accounting for the dimensions of work engagement. We consider the theoretical and practical implications of these findings and highlight a number of avenues for conducting research on mindfulness in the workplace.
Full-text available
Operational police officers often work in traumatic situations. Whilst training and support is provided to officers in these areas in the UK, and some debriefing and counselling is provided, this is not fully effective in addressing the so-called ‘attitudinal’ problem of the police. We believe that one of the reasons for this is that police training does not adequately address the effects of working in traumatic conditions, and certainly does not take into account new work in the area of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which shows that trauma, and its vicarious effects, is not necessarily a mental disorder (though its symptoms may manifest as such) but is caused by physiological and emotional changes in the body. Further, studies on the social nature of trauma indicate that it is often the isolated conditions of trauma victims that can increase PTSD. Drawing on secondary data from one of the authors' work on spirituality in the police force, we explore the connections between the physiological and emotional aspects of trauma and the conditions in which police in the UK work. We suggest that police officers' reports of the work they do, and the way in which they learn to live with it, keeps them in an ongoing cycle of retraumatisation. We suggest that we need to take into account the physiological, social as well as psychological (or attitudinal) aspects of working in traumatic conditions if we are to provide adequate training support for police officers, so that they are not left isolated in this cycle. This has potentially far-reaching implications for the training of police officers.
Over the last two decades, Eastern psychology has provided fertile ground for therapists, as a cornerstone, a component, or an adjunct of their work. In particular, research studies are identifying the Buddhist practice of mindfulness-a non-judgmental self-observation that promotes personal awareness-as a basis for effective interventions for a variety of disorders. The Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness is a clearly written, theory-to-practice guide to this powerful therapeutic approach (and related concepts in meditation, acceptance, and compassion) and its potential for treating a range of frequently encountered psychological problems. Key features of the Handbook: A neurobiological review of how mindfulness works. Strategies for engaging patients in practicing mindfulness. Tools and techniques for assessing mindfulness. Interventions for high-profile conditions, including depression, anxiety, trauma Special chapters on using mindfulness in oncology and chronic pain. Interventions specific to children and elders, Unique applications to inpatient settings. Issues in professional training. Appendix of exercises. The Clinical Handbook of Mindfulness includes the contributions of some of the most important authors and researchers in the field of mindfulness-based interventions. It will have wide appeal among clinicians, researchers, and scholars in mental health, and its potential for application makes it an excellent reference for students and trainees. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009. All rights reserved.
Economic and sociological theories explaining bandwagon behaviors, along with cognitive and behavioral theories of decision making, do not fully address the process whereby decision makers choose whether or not to jump on bandwagons. In this article we model the interactions between mindfulness as a decision-maker characteristic and the decision-making context, and we show the impact of those interactions on managers' ability to discriminate in the face of bandwagons. We illustrate the framework by applying it to recent integration and disintegration bandwagon behaviors in the U.S. health care market.
Recent scholarship on mindfulness has narrowly focused on attention enhancement, present-moment awareness, and its stress reduction effects. Moreover, current operational definitions of mindfulness in the literature differ considerably from those derived from classic Buddhist canonical sources. This article revisits the meaning, function, and purpose of Buddhist mindfulness by proposing a triadic model of “right mindfulness.” A Buddhist-based conceptualization of right mindfulness provides both a theoretical and ethical corrective to the decontextualized individual-level construct of mindfulness that has informed the organizational theory and practitioner literature. We argue that a denatured mindfulness divorced from its soteriological context reduces it to a self-help technique that is easily misappropriated for reproducing corporate and institutional power, employee pacification, and maintenance of toxic organizational cultures.
Economic and sociological theories explaining bandwagon behaviors, along with cognitive and behavioral theories of decision making, do not fully address the process whereby decision makers choose whether or not to jump on bandwagons. In this article we model the interactions between mindfulness as a decision-maker characteristic and the decision-making context, and we show the impact of those interactions on managers' ability to discriminate in the face of bandwagons. We illustrate the framework by applying it to recent integration and disintegration bandwagon behaviors in the U.S. health care market.