Posted 04.25.2016 | by AMRA

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Jobs can be a major source of stress. Mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) can reduce stress, but employers may be reluctant to offer them due to time and cost concerns. Web-based MBIs may help to address such concerns, but research suggests participant engagement in online programs tends to be low. Allexandre, et al. [Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine] randomly assigned employees to a web-based MBI with and without group and clinical expert support in an effort to discover how to best improve web-based MBI engagement and outcomes for workers.

The researchers recruited 161 predominantly Caucasian (77%), female (83%) (average age = 40) debt collectors, customer service representatives, and fraud representatives from a pool of 900 employees working at a corporate call center in Ohio. These employees reported greater levels of stress and exhaustion than average American workers.

The employees were randomly assigned to one of four experimental conditions: 1) a web-based MBI, 2) a web-based MBI with group support, 3) a web-based MBI with both group and clinician support, and 4) a wait-list control. All three intervention conditions ran for 8 weeks and participants had access to both weekly online and weekly CD/MP3-delivered mindfulness lectures and guided meditations including a body scan, sitting, and lovingkindness meditation.

Group support consisted of small-to-medium sized practice-and-discussion groups which met weekly for one hour. All groups were employee-led, but the groups with clinician support met on three occasions with a licensed social worker or counselor who did not serve as a “mindfulness teacher” but discussed topics such as letting go, acceptance, non-judging, and compassion from a cognitive-behavioral perspective.

Participants were assessed on self-report measures of emotional wellbeing, vitality, stress, burnout, exhaustion, professional efficiency, and mindfulness (the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale) at baseline, 8 and 16 weeks, and one-year follow-up. Company performance ratings were also analyzed.

Sixty-three percent of participants completed their self-report measures at 8 weeks, and 50% at 16 weeks, with no difference in completion rates between groups. At one-year follow-up, 19% of those without support groups completed the measures, while over 40% of those with group support did. Participants preferred using the CDs and MP3s to using the web-based modules: about half of the participants never logged on to the online resource.

Participants with group support were twice as likely to log on and three times as likely to engage in home practice. At 16 weeks, 64% of the participants with group support still meditated, compared to only 25% of those without group support.

Participants in all the intervention groups improved significantly by eight weeks on all measures of wellbeing. Changes in measures of professional efficiency and productivity were not shown. Participants with group support improved more (average Cohen’s d = 0.8) than those without (d = 0.4). Participants with group support expressed significantly higher program satisfaction and saw their stress and exhaustion levels decline to that of the average U.S. worker. Most improvements were maintained at 16 weeks, and improvements in stress, vitality, emotional wellbeing and role functioning remained significant at one year, mostly for the participants with group support.

The wait-list controls improved on only one variable—stress—and their stress improvement was significantly less than that of the treatment groups. Clinician support did not further improve outcomes and the groups without a clinician actually tended towards better outcomes.

The study supports the efficacy of a web-based MBI offered in the workplace to improve several domains of employee wellbeing. These benefits did not extend to employee productivity and efficiency. Adding practice-and-support groups significantly improved engagement with mindfulness practice and wellbeing outcomes, but adding limited, part-time support from a clinician did not extend extra benefit.

Reference:

Allexandre, D., Bernstein, A. M., Walker, E., Hunter, J., Roizen, M. F., & Morledge, T. J. (2016). A web-based mindfulness stress management program in a corporate call center: A randomized clinical trial to evaluate the added benefit of onsite group support. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 58(3), 254.

[Link to abstract]