Can meditation improve business outcomes?

Introduction

Modern society and the ways in which we navigate it are becoming increasingly complex and fast paced. Whilst science plays a role in helping us to predict, measure and respond to these conditions, there is growing emphasis on the need for individuals to consciously question and challenge expectations and assumptions in order to respond optimally.

To this end, the practice of “mindfulness” is a topic of increasing interest to Western companies and a widespread activity in Thailand. Indeed “in 2008, the Thai government announced a regulation that allowed government officers to take leave to practice meditation for a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 3 months with pay”. The question is: does mindfulness enhance employees’ ability to manage complexity/pace, or is it a passing fad?

Recent research conducted by Dr. Pawinee Petchsawang of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce in Bangkok and Dr. Gary McLean studied the connection between mindfulness meditation, workplace spirituality and work engagement.

Ultimately, they found organisations that promote mindfulness practice to their employees in the form of meditation courses have higher levels of workplace spirituality and work engagement than organisations which do not.

Aim

This study aimed to explore the relationship between mindfulness meditation, workplace spirituality and work engagement. The researchers defined mindfulness “as a state of inner consciousness in which one is aware of one’s thoughts and actions moment by moment”.

Method

The research team surveyed employees in eight different organisations and then compared responses between organisations that offered mindfulness meditation courses to their employees and those that did not.

Four organisations were randomly selected across education, industrial and public health service sectors in Bangkok, Thailand which provided mindfulness meditation courses to their employees through the Young Buddhist Association of Thailand in 2012-2013. Four comparable organisations (by type) that did not organise meditation courses were then chosen.

The questionnaire developed by the researchers focused on the three distinct areas of mindfulness meditation practice, workplace spirituality (defined on four dimensions: compassion, mindfulness, meaningful work and transcendence) and work engagement.

In total, 800 employees were selected to participate in this survey, with 563 employees actually completing the survey (248 from organisations that offered meditation courses, 315 from organisations that did not).

Findings

The research focused on exploring five hypotheses related to understanding the relationship between mindfulness meditation, workplace spirituality and work engagement.

In essence, the researchers posited that “Practicing meditation helps people understand themselves and others, which allows them to increase their own spirit and have greater empathy toward others, this is the main concept of workplace spirituality – living according to one’s own spirit or true self sustains happiness, including employees’ work engagement. Additionally, having good relationships with co-workers also helps promote engagement”. The findings are discussed below.

  1. Mindfulness meditation is positively related to workplace spirituality. Based on a sample size of 563, the average correlation between these two variables was 0.39, indicating a moderate positive relationship between mindfulness practices and a sense of meaning/inner peace.
  2. Mindfulness meditation is positively related to work engagement. These two variables were positively related with a correlation value of 0.33, indicating that the opportunity to gain perspective and empathy helps facilitate positive attitudes towards others at work and work itself.
  3. Workplace spirituality is positively related to work engagement. Workplace spirituality and work engagement had a strong positive relationship with a correlation of 0.69. This finding suggests a relationship between a sense of personal meaning and positive attitudes to others at work and work itself.
  4. Workplace spirituality mediates the relationship between mindfulness mediation and work engagement. When controlling for workplace spirituality, the researchers found that the relationship between mindfulness meditation and work engagement was reduced. Thus, workplace spirituality acts as the mediator between mindfulness and work engagement, suggesting that mindfulness activates a sense of perspective/empathy, this helps an employee to reconnect with a sense of purpose, and it is this purpose which enhances work engagement. This finding led the researchers to conclude that “practicing mindfulness meditation may help nourish workplace spirituality, which potentially promotes work engagement”.
  5. Levels of workplace spirituality and work engagement are higher in organisations that provide meditation courses than in those that do not. The researchers found that there were statistically different scores on workplace spirituality and work engagement between the two groups, with higher scores in organisations that provide meditation courses.
Implications

Reflecting on their findings and assuming relevance beyond Thailand, the researchers suggested that there were three key, practical implications for management practitioners:

  1. Mindfulness meditation is a useful individual development intervention. Mindfulness meditation can help an employee achieve better balance in mind and spirit, which may help the employee to better engage and perform in their work.
  2. Spiritual development programs, such as mindfulness meditation, can be effective ways for organisations to build workplace spirituality and enhance employee engagement. Spiritual development programs can increase compassion, improve concentration, help an employee be present at work and to find work meaningful. Meditation may be a particularly attractive method as it is not necessarily related to a faith or religion and therefore accessible to people from all cultures and religions. However, optimal outcomes from meditation programs require sufficient time and consistent practice. To that end, organisations should consider supporting employees to maintain their practice through initiatives such as follow-up programs, allocated meditation time-slots during the work day and dedicated meditation rooms in the workplace.
  3. Organisations need to consider the broader system to ensure full realisation of the benefits of workplace spirituality. Ensuring that roles have the characteristics of skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy and regular feedback is important to the attainment and ongoing maintenance of work engagement. In addition, alignment of individual goals to organisational goals and the ongoing monitoring of work engagement should be considered to maximise positive outcomes.

For more information about this article contact Andrew Vitaliti. To read this article go to Pawinee Petchsawang & Gary N. McLean (2017) “Workplace spirituality, mindfulness meditation, and work engagement”, Journal of Management, Spirituality & Religion, 14:3, 216-244, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14766086.2017.1291360.


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