Can Mindfulness Help With Burnout?

A new study investigates the effects of mindfulness-based interventions on employee’s wellbeing across different workplace environments.

Jessica Janze
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A new study, published in an open access journal, PLOS ONE, investigates the effect of mindfulness-based programs on employees’ mental health. The results of the systemic review, which examined employees across different occupational sectors, found promising results indicating positive effects on burnout reduction and increased psychological functioning.

“Mindfulness interventions in the workplace target workplace functioning: reducing stress and improving decision-making, productivity, resilience, interpersonal communication, organizational relationships, perspective-taking, and self-care,” writes Janssen, the lead author and part of the Occupation & Health Research Group at HAN University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.

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Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), the most prominent, group-orientated mindfulness-based program, is well validated for its clinical applications, specifically with regard to treating depression and reducing stress. The 8-week program, initially established in a hospital setting to treat patients with chronic pain and a range of conditions considered hard to treat, has started to gain attention with healthy people and non-clinical populations such as students and professionals.

Demanding work environments, burnout, and psychological stress are increasing. Utilizing mindfulness-based programs’ effects on stress reduction could have positive outcomes in the work environment, where Americans are spending more time today than they ever have in the past.

The most common group of professionals targeted for MBSR programs are healthcare providers, and these programs have shown promise in reducing stress, increasing personal well-being, and enhancing compassion when dealing with others. Jenssen writes:

“Employees and managers in a healthcare setting are regularly confronted with stress in the form of physical and mental suffering as well as strong emotions (their own or those of their patients). Adequate stress management can improve the health of these professionals and the quality of care they provide to patients.”

In the Netherlands, where the current study was conducted, teachers are reported to have the highest burnout rate, and this accumulated stress is a significant cause of disease, disability, and loss of engagement. Utilizing stress reduction methods in workplace environments could be a practical way to prevent burnout and enhance workplace engagement. However, research in this field is in its infancy, and few studies have focused on the effects these programs may have across various occupational environments.

The current study serves as the first review of the mental health effects on employees in various sectors. The aim was to investigate findings across industries to explore whether mindfulness-based programs do indeed contribute to employee wellbeing.

After conducting a systemic search of the literature, 23 studies were assessed. Inclusion criteria included a study population of employees or managers in workplace settings who received at least four thirty-minute mindfulness-based sessions operationalized as “moment to moment awareness to be cultivated with a nonjudgmental attitude; teaching of formal meditation techniques; and stressing the importance of daily and systematic practice.”

Almost thirty-five psychological outcomes were identified in the review, while some of them overlap (stress and occupational stress), many of them varied across studies. The results included mindfulness skills, understood as the “mediating factor for individual outcomes such as stress reduction, relaxation, and empathy;” burn out, composed of emotional exhaustion, personal accomplishment, and depersonalization; and stress level. Eight studies reported finding “a significant reduction in stress level after the intervention in the treatment group compared to the control group.”

This study highlights important outcomes achieved through mindfulness-based programs. With the ever-present challenge of establishing a healthy work-life balance, mindfulness-based programs offer a realistic option for promoting wellbeing. Janssen adds:

“There is a great need for useful, practical workplace interventions that could reduce stress and enhance work engagement.”

While mindfulness-based research is in its infancy, this study shows promise. More studies are needed to achieve a comprehensive understanding. The authors caution, “The absence of empirical evidence on potentially harmful effects of MBSR does not mean it is good for everyone in every situation; instead, potentially harmful effects should be thoroughly evaluated in future work.” As research in this field increases, we are sure to see the mindfulness-based principles adapted for new environments. The workplace, which plays a leading role in most adult’s lives, is a place ripe for ongoing exploration on this topic.

The authors conclude:

“Given the low number of studies and relatively low methodological quality, it is clear that research on the effects of mindfulness on employees remains a relatively uncharted area. The strongest outcomes were decreased levels of emotional exhaustion (a dimension of burnout), stress, psychological distress, depression, anxiety, and occupational stress.”

 

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Janssen, M., Heerkens, Y., Kuijer, W., Van Der Heijden, B., & Engels, J. (2018). Effects of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction on employees’ mental health: A systematic review. PloS one13(1), e0191332. (Link)

7 COMMENTS

  1. what we need to reduce burnout is not more psychological interventions but a full and proper fight back from workers to ensure the mass sickness of jobs that harm people in myriad ways is challenged and changed – everything else is simply a way of getting us to accept our lot – had mindfulness and all the rest of the therapy industry been around when children were stuck up chimneys and thrust down mines we would never have had the fight back we had giving us an 8 hour work day that is in desperate need of being reduced dramatically again – how can wellbeing be achieved while working the average full time job – its just about impossible – this is an idea worth fighting for https://b.3cdn.net/nefoundation/f49406d81b9ed9c977_p1m6ibgje.pdf and a basic income to compliment it

  2. Mindfulness is not a therapy but a practice of being aware and living in the Present Moment. If it helps people deal with the issues that they struggle with in their lives, and if it is beneficial that’s great. But it is not a therapy. However, like so many other things it can be therapeutic for individuals who practice it. But therapy is not its primary function.

      • Forcing someone to engage in “mindfulness” is ironic in the extreme. The origins of mindfulness are in Buddhism and Hinduism, where the purpose is to establish individual spiritual freedom from the “wheel of life.” Forcing someone to meditate would completely contradict the intention of the whole enterprise. Anyone who tries to force someone to be “mindful” doesn’t understand the concept. Idiocy!

  3. Sounds wonderful, but by focusing on the burned out employee (as if it they are lacking the resilience or robustness to deal with workplace stress) it diverts attention away from the myriad of organisational factors that contribute if not cause people’s worries and distress at work. The organisation doesn’t need fixing, only the individual. Sounds familiar?

  4. The UMass Stress Reduction Program which Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD pioneered is a wonderful program. It is broken down into 6 week course, homework and classes. I took it twice with Fernando de Torrijos as my teacher working inpatient unit and in community center. Nothing like a Spanish accent to help relax you! Progressive muscle relaxation, communication skills, and just being in one’s body. I still make copies of the course for my clients, families and friends. This program like DBT is a packaged program, ideas taken from years of Buddhist practice plus some Western psychology. Anytime an employer does something to enhance the well-being of their employees helps with burnout. Take care of the workers and they will be more loyal and productive people. Less reactivity is a great byproduct of this as well.