Workplace Mindfulness: Unforeseen Effects for Companies  

Employees meditating at the workplace

By Michaël Roux and Fidan Kurtaliqi

In today’s business environment characterised by uncertainty, intense competition, and an incessant pursuit of better performance, employees face escalating levels of stress. In response to these demands, some companies have turned to mindfulness, aiming to balance high performance expectations with employee well-being. This enables companies to uphold high expectations of their employees while safeguarding their well-being. Major corporations such as Google and Apple are leading the way and employing business coaches specialised in mindfulness techniques to help their workforce.  

However, the introduction of mindfulness practice in the workplace raises a number of questions. Firstly, mindfulness is traditionally an individual and spiritual practice, so it can seem out of place in an organisational setting. Secondly, its association with corporate practices like psychological empowerment, geared towards enhancing performance, adds complexity to its implementation. 

In light of these considerations, we embarked on research within two organizations that provided mindfulness training to their staff. Surveys were conducted with 48 staff (13 managers and 35 employees) who underwent this training. Through our investigation, we unveiled ambivalent side effects of these practices, including some which organisations had not foreseen when implementing mindfulness initiatives for their staff. 

Unexpected effects 

Our study shows that after participating in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) training, managers exhibited a heightened critical mind, making them more inclined to question organisational inconsistencies. They also displayed increased autonomy, taking greater control of their tasks. However, as they developed a heightened focus on self-awareness, were also more likely to decline performing tasks or attending meetings that didn’t align with their need for self-care and the setting of personal boundaries.  

Staff also reported being able to step back more from their work when analysing complex situations involving emotional states. We also observed a boost in confidence among managers who underwent mindfulness training. 

However, when mindfulness influences psychological empowerment, the effects produced may be at odds with the expectations and interests of companies. For instance, mindfulness makes individuals aware of the gaps between their personal values and those advocated by the company. They might also be more likely to have issues with hierarchy, particularly as they become more self-empowered and take more initiative. As a result, these individuals might decide to leave the company as the mindfulness process might amplify any pre-existing malaise. With the strengthening of freedom of mind also comes critical awareness. 

Moment of truth 

So, we need to ask ourselves: does mindfulness really have a place in the workplace? This is a legitimate question when we consider staff dissatisfaction and resignations within those organisations implementing mindfulness training. Although many employees stay with their company by default, it would be naïve to believe that activities such as team building necessarily helps to give meaning to their work.  

As the American sociologist Erving Goffman illustrated, we all play “social roles”. The company is no exception to this reality, and employees may simply stay put and pretend to be happy at work, because that’s what’s expected of them. 

In this way, the practise of mindfulness can represent a “moment of truth”. This is a double-edged sword: on the one hand, it helps align the company with the values of its employees and society, enhancing clarity and coherence. On the other hand, it challenges the very purpose of the organization if inconsistencies are found, potentially leading to greater complexities and difficulties.  

Constructive approach 

The practice of mindfulness in the workplace can lead to two opposing scenarios. The first, aligned with the spirit of mindfulness, would encourage the company to make profound changes to its managerial and organisational practices and to integrate the expectations of its employees, perhaps even calling into question its very raison d’être. This would necessarily involve considering employee concerns relating to their well-being or their values, in particular the impact of the company’s activity on society and the environment. The resulting effects could only be positive insofar as it would give meaning to their work, which could reduce the phenomenon of “silent resignation”. 

On the other hand, using mindfulness solely for the sake of appearances, without questioning current practices of a company, could trigger quite different outcomes. While psychological empowerment is inherently performance-oriented and clear in its intentions, the use of mindfulness, a subjective and individual-centred practice, poses greater risks for the company. 

Moreover, nowadays, companies will find it increasingly difficult to motivate their employees if their activities are in contradiction with climate issues and the values of their employees. The resistance from students against the presence of specific companies on their campuses, or the public outcry from YouTubers exposing questionable practices highlights a reality that companies can no longer afford to overlook: societal and organisational tensions demanding acknowledgment and response. In this context, mindfulness could become a constructive first step for the company, serving as a catalyst for constructive dialogue and empowering employees to voice their concern and drive positive change.

About the Authors 

Roux MichaëMichaël Roux is Associate Professor of Marketing, Deputy Director of the Grande École Programme, Audencia. His research focuses on strategy and international management. 

FidanFidan Kurtaliqi is Associate Professor of Marketing, Audencia. His research focuses on consumer behaviour, digital marketing and mobile applications. 

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