Posted 06.13.2018 | by AMRA

Work-related stress contributes to a variety of health ailments including anxiety, depression, heart disease, and adult-onset diabetes. Up to 8% of U.S. health care costs are attributable to work-related stress. Mindfulness-based Interventions (MBIs) can reduce stress, but finding qualified teachers, allocating meeting spaces, and arranging for employees to attend sessions can be challenging. Consequently, it remains difficult to scale-up MBIs to meet the needs of larger corporations.

Bostock et al. (Journal of Occupational Health Psychology) conducted a randomized, controlled study of whether a mindfulness app, as a lower-cost alternative to in-person training, could reduce work-related stress among corporate employees.

The researchers randomly assigned 238 office workers (average age = 35 years; 59% female) from two United Kingdom Fortune 500 companies to a mindfulness group or a wait-list control. Mindfulness participants were provided access to an app called Headspace, containing several short introductory mindfulness videos and 45 guided mindfulness meditation sessions lasting 10-20 minutes. Sessions offer sequential, graduated instruction on key aspects of mindfulness practice.

Participants were instructed to listen to one session per day for 45 days. They were assessed on psychological measures, job strain, perceived workplace social support, and blood pressure at baseline, post-intervention, and 2 months after the intervention had ended.

The employees completed an average of 17 of the 45 meditation sessions: 13% completed 0 sessions, 74% completed at least 6 sessions, 68% completed at least 10 sessions, 23% completed at least 25 sessions, and 2% completed all 45 sessions.

The mindfulness group showed significantly greater improvement on wellbeing (partial η2=.04), mood (η2=.04), depression (η2=.03), anxiety (η2=.005), job strain (η2=.04), and perceived workplace social support (η2=.07). Further analysis of job strain showed that perceived job control improved even though perceived job demands remained the same. The mindfulness group also showed a trend towards lower systolic blood pressure (η2=.002).

Improvements in wellbeing (η2=.05), mood (η2=.06), depression (η2=.06), and anxiety (η2=.15) were significantly associated with the number of meditation sessions participants completed. Only employees who completed more than 10 meditations during the 45 days significantly improved. Employees in the mindfulness group maintained their improvement on wellbeing, job strain, and depression at 2 months post-intervention.

The results show that using a meditation app at least 10 times over the course of a month-and-a-half can improve wellbeing and perceived job control in healthy office-workers. These effects were dose-dependent and persisted up to 2 months after the intervention. The study is limited by the absence of an active control group, and the brevity of its follow-up period.

Reference:

Bostock, S., Crosswell, A. D., Prather, A. A., & Steptoe, A. (2018). Mindfulness on-the-go: Effects of a mindfulness meditation app on work stress and well-being. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology.

[Link to abstract]