Posted 11.17.2015 | by AMRA

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Employee psychological distress negatively affects workplace productivity, absenteeism, and disability. Employers, therefore, have a financial stake in their employee’s levels of distress and emotional well-being. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) may have the potential to reduce job stress and improve employee psychological health in ways that benefit both employee and employer.

Huang et al. [PloS One] investigated the potential of a MBI to reduce emotional distress and job strain in a randomized controlled trial of factory employees with previously identified poor mental health.

The researchers screened almost 3,000 employees at two Taiwanese factories using self-report measures of psychological distress (anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance, relationship problems, and somatic concerns) and job strain (job demandingness and lack of personal control on the job), and then invited those workers with the highest distress and strain levels to participate in an 8-week MBI based on the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program.

A sample of 144 employees (59% male, predominantly college educated and “white-collar,” average age = 42) agreed to participate and were randomly assigned to either the MBI or a wait-list control. Participants were assessed on the original screening measures and on measures of prolonged fatigue and perceived stress (how unpredictable, uncontrollable, and overloaded they found their lives) at mid-intervention, post-intervention, and 4-week and 8-week follow-up.

The intervention groups met during paid work hours, and 78% of the participants successfully completed the program. At program’s end, MBI participants had significantly greater improvements over time in levels of psychological distress (6.3 vs. 1.4 mean change in scores), prolonged fatigue (9.6 vs. 2.0), and perceived stress (2.5 vs. 0.9) compared to controls. Those group differences persisted at 4-week and 8-week follow-up. The MBI did not significantly improve the participants’ sense of job control or job demandingness once age, gender, and education were included as covariates.

The findings demonstrate that psychologically distressed employees who participated in a MBI program offered during regular paid work hours showed reduced anxiety, depression, stress, and fatigue. Interestingly, improvement in psychological distress was uncoupled from any changes in their perceptions of job control and demands; meaning, the MBI helped employees deal more skillfully with their emotions even while reports of job demand remained unchanged. Future studies could benefit from employing active controls and tailoring MBSR content more specifically to workplace concerns.

Reference:

Huang, S. L., Li, R. H., Huang, F. Y., & Tang, F. C. (2015). The potential for mindfulness-based intervention in workplace mental health promotion: Results of a randomized controlled trial. PLoS ONE, 10(9), e0138089.

[Link to abstract]