An article originally appearing in Employee Benefits News 4/25/16.
Resilience gained attention in the 1970s as psychologists and trauma researchers began to articulate the amazing ability of many people to bounce back following a devastating event, crisis or injury. Over time, researchers have identified the characteristics of resilient people, and have identified how to train people to develop skills to increase their resilience. Hence, resilience has evolved to reflect a coping style that allows someone to endure during difficult times and emerge more competent and skillful in dealing with challenges.
A growing body of evidence suggests that mindfulness is particularly important for developing resilience at work, through its effects on employee physical and psychological health, absenteeism, turnover, and in-role performance. Here are some of the findings:
In workplace samples, mindfulness has been linked to reduced levels of reported burnout, perceived stress, work-family conflict, and negative moods, along with better sleep quality.
In studies where employees were randomly assigned to a self-directed mindfulness intervention or a control group, those in the mindfulness intervention reported greater job satisfaction and less emotional exhaustion. Similar effects have been found in a range of occupations, including doctors, soldiers and teachers.
- Mindfulness has been linked to increased psychological capital and resilience in managers and entrepreneurs.
- Mindfulness training predicted employee engagement among employees at the Mayo Clinic.
- Additional studies have further shown that such engagement may be mediated by greater authenticity, positive emotions, hope and optimism.
Developing a formal mindfulness practice is thought to increase resilience in three ways:
- Flexible cognition. Practicing mindfulness may actually rewire our brain circuitry, improving our ability to think flexibly, more easily perceiving different perspectives and generating novel solutions to problems. This same skill may allow one to observe potentially toxic workplace events while adopting a “decentered perspective,” making perceived stressors appear less threatening. Imagine an employee witnesses verbal aggression directed at a fellow co-worker, which causes the employee to feel physiological reactivity and psychological stress. Experiencing the event with mindful attention could decouple this automatic link between the toxic experience and emotional reactivity, leaving them feeling less depleted. This reinterpretation of events actually starts to form new habits of thinking, which may involve perception of stressors as challenges that elicit growth, rather than as hindrances. In addition, application of mindfulness skills may elicit compassion for the fellow co-worker.
- Growth in the face of adversity. Research shows that exposure to a threat without being overcome by that threat can result in higher levels of well-being than not experiencing the threat at all. In other words, experiencing but quickly recovering from workplace stress may indeed make an employee stronger.So where does mindfulness fit in? Mindful individuals show an ability to perceive stressful and adverse situations from different angles, and demonstrate a willingness to behave more flexibly in response to them. As workers successfully experiment with new coping behaviors, they experience increased confidence and stronger self-efficacy, improving their ability to deal with many types of challenging situations and developing greater resilience.
- Positive thinking. Positive emotions play a crucial role in one’s ability to recover physically from adverse events, as well to facilitate better emotion and behavior self-regulation. Mindfulness not only enhances regulation of negative emotions, but also cultivates positive emotions. It’s not that resilient people don’t experience negative emotions like anyone else; they do. Resilient people, however, do not dwell on them. Rather, they have learned how to use their attention and other internal resources to notice and amplify pleasant experiences and meaningful events as well.
To summarize, mindfulness may improve employee resilience by training the mind to reinterpret stressors as less personally threatening, empowering workers to take new perspectives and try new behaviors, which may actually result in growth in the face of challenges, and cultivating positive thinking, which is especially important during hardships. A new wave of resilience research is supporting the idea that mindfulness practice may lead to improved workplace outcomes like job satisfaction, retention, and employee health.