How Mindfulness Can Cool Employees with a Hot Temper

Mindfulness is a psychological state that occurs when a person is completely in-the-moment and experiences a heightened sense of focus and awareness. When people find themselves in this state, they are less likely to take things personally or react automatically without thinking. Organizations are becoming interested in mindfulness because it has been shown to help boost self-control (e.g. people might be less reactionary towards that trying co-worker) and because it leads to increased performance. In light of this, the authors of this study (Long & Christian, 2015) explored whether mindfulness helps employees thwart the desire to “get back” at others when they felt wronged. This is important because employee retaliation can be costly to an organization and detrimental to smooth functioning.

MINDFULNESS AT WORK: HOW DOES IT HELP?

When people experience an adverse event at work, their initial thought processes and feelings often frame that event as an injustice, potentially leading to a worsening or downward spiraling scenario. Mindfulness may help short circuit those negative mental and emotional reactions, reducing the ruminating effect and further negative emotions. Ruminating (or dwelling on) a negative event is a key mechanism that leads to wanting to get back at others. Mindfulness could help in several ways. It can assist an employee in detaching from a situation in order to be more objective, it can reduce negative thought processes focused on one’s self, and it can minimizing the chances of other automatic processes, like instant outbursts or dwelling on negative events.

RESULTS OF THE STUDY

In an initial study, the researchers conducted an experiment to provoke feelings of injustice and then facilitate mindfulness. Participants were given a difficult task which was followed by mindfulness or mind wandering exercises. After the task, either fair or unfair feedback was given which would determine whether they got a monetary reward. The participants then sat for a while, allowing them to ponder the event, and then had to fill out a form and an anonymous evaluation of the supervisor. A second study was conducted online using specific questionnaires to evaluate similar areas of interest as the first study, and in order ascertain if previous findings would be replicated.

The findings from both studies indeed suggest that mindfulness can act as a work-related regulatory factor. This means that should an employee perceive an act or event as unjust in some way, mindfulness can act as a buffer against the ruminative thoughts and negative emotions that are often linked to retaliation.

IMPLICATIONS FOR ORGANIZATIONS

Perceived injustice is often an inescapable part of working life and can result in retaliation that leads to unfortunate organizational consequences. These findings offer a way to reduce negative thoughts and retaliation by revealing mindfulness as one possible solution to the problem.

Unlike a naturally occurring character trait, mindfulness can be trained or encouraged through seminars and developmental coaching. This will also help promote a culture that values mindfulness as a go-to employee strategy or resource. Mindfulness training is useful for employees, managers and, entire organizations, as it offers an immediate intervention that can be effective before, during, and after events that have the potential to incite rumination and retaliation, like layoffs and performance appraisals.