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Practicing mindfulness can reduce the emotional ups and downs of your workday

Reduced emotional exhaustion and better job satisfaction are other benefits to a mindfulness practice, which is easily accessible through apps, according to new research from the University of Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Have you ever come into your office in a great mood, ready for a productive day, only to have your attitude flip to dread when you open your inbox or are asked to join a meeting last minute?

This shift in emotional state over time that captures people’s reactivity to emotion-inducing events is an example of what psychologists refer to as affect spin.

Because your day-to-day work and experiences in your workplace play a role in how you feel, affect spin has costs for both you as an employee and your organization. Studies have linked affect spin to a reduction in goal progress, voluntary work behavior and creativity as well as an increased crossover into work-family conflicts.

New research suggests that mindfulness is a simple solution to reducing affect spin and increasing employee well-being.

Joyce Bono

W.A. McGriff, III Professor Joyce Bono

“The reason mindfulness is such an important tool for dealing with work stressors is that is has many benefits, with little downside,” said Joyce Bono, W.A. McGriff, III Professor at the University of Florida and study co-author. “Mindfulness exercises teach people how to put distance between themselves and what is happening around them. Doing these exercises helps employees recognize that they can’t always control what happens at work, but they can control how they react.”

As Bono and her co-authors found in their study, a mindfulness app is an easy-to-use and effective tool for helping people practice mindfulness.

“Mindfulness meditation is hard for most people, so the beauty of a mindfulness app is that there are built in exercises to help you,” Bono said. “Doing those exercises not only reduces spinning emotions, but it helps with healthier breathing pattern and reduced stress.”

Using the Headspace app, Bono and her co-authors recruited participants who work as teachers, engineers, clerks, journalists and other various roles to participate in a month-long study. Half of the participants were asked to engage in mindfulness exercises ranging from 10-20 minutes a day. After engaging in the app’s short instructional videos and guided meditation practices, study participants continued to use the app for a month. All participants, those who were introduced to mindfulness practices and those who were not (referred to as the waitlist group), were surveyed about their attitudes twice weekly, four times a day.  

Compared to those on the waitlist, participants who received mindfulness training reported more stable emotions at work. They had fewer fluctuations in their emotions and were also less exhausted and happier with their jobs.

Based on these findings, Bono and her co-authors recommend that organizations and managers consider mindfulness interventions to help their employees reduce affect spin and increase employee well-being. While mindfulness interventions can range from in-person training programs to employee-driven initiatives, the authors note that the app-based program used in their study has practical advantages.

“Organizations have to be careful not to mandate mindfulness practices, because there is no evidence that mindfulness practices are beneficial if they are forced,” said Bono. “But organizations can encourage the use of mindfulness-based tools, similar to those we used in this study, and can provide voluntary mindfulness training for employees. If they do this, they can expect to have a workforce that is generally happier and healthier, and ultimately more productive, in part because they experience more stable emotions.”

The paper, “Stop the Spin: The Role of Mindfulness Practices in Reducing Affect Spin” is published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology and is an Editor’s Choice selection by the journal.

While conducting this research study, Maastricht University professor and mindfulness at work expert Ute R. Hülsheger visited the University of Florida for several weeks. During her international visit, Hülsheger, University of North Carolina – Wilmington professor Tao Yang and Bono hosted a workshop with current management Ph.D. students about mindfulness and how to study it at work.

Study authors:

Ute R. Hülsheger – Maastricht University

Tao Yang – University of North Carolina – Wilmington Cameron School of Business

Joyce Bono – University of Florida Warrington College of Business

Zen Goh – Monash University

Remus Ilies – Bocconi University