Mindfulness training can help middle managers cope with the stress and emotional exhaustion commonly associated with their jobs, say researchers in a new study published in the Academy of Management Proceedings.
Titled ‘Overworked and Under-Resourced: A Mindfulness Intervention for Middle Manager Well-Being’, the study was carried out by an international team of researchers from Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore; the Hanken School of Economics, Finland; and Providence College, Virginia Commonwealth University and Pepperdine University in the US.
Middle managers are leaders who serve as an important connection between senior executives and frontline employees, yet are often ‘sandwiched’ between these two groups, experiencing demands and pressures from both sides. As a result, high stress levels and subsequent burnout are par for the course among middle managers.
To determine if mindfulness training – an increasingly popular intervention for workplace stress – can help improve the well-being of middle managers, the researchers carried out a randomised intervention study with 130 middle managers across four large organisations in Finland. Participants were randomly assigned to either an adapted eight-week programme in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – a widely used technique – or to a waitlisted control group.
Compared to the waitlisted group, middle managers who completed the mindfulness training programme reported substantial reductions in their levels of stress and emotional exhaustion, which are precursors to burnout, the researchers found.
Participants also reported increased levels of psychological detachment, suggesting that mindfulness training may improve well-being by helping employees maintain a distance from challenging or upsetting work events. “Work detachment has been found to be an important facilitator of recovery, and recovery from work is important in avoiding chronic stress and burnout,” says Associate Professor Jochen Reb of SMU’s Lee Kong Chian School of Business and director of the Mindfulness Initiative @ SMU, who co-authored the research. More in-depth studies, however, are required to confirm this.
The current findings show that a relatively short mindfulness training programme can benefit middle management leaders, and potentially other categories of employees as well, write the researchers.
“Because of the design of the study – a field experiment using a mindfulness training programme conducted over a realistic time span in a real-world setting – the practical applicability of this research is particularly strong and clear,” says Professor Reb. “The direct recommendation coming out of this research is that organisations should offer mindfulness training programs, such as MBSR, for their middle managers to prevent them from suffering from chronic stress and burnout, which can impose huge costs on individuals, organisations and society.”
The researchers now intend to expand their study to other countries, and are also interested in exploring the impact of mindfulness interventions tailored to the workplace, such as Mindfulness-Based Strategic Awareness Training, on other qualities that are important in the workplace, such as decision making and leadership, says Professor Reb.