How expectations influence workplace well-being interventions

How expectations influence workplace well-being interventions

In today’s fast-paced work environments, the quest for inner peace can feel like an elusive dream. In 2021, 62 per cent of health-care workers reported having burnout, while 70 per cent reported depressive symptoms and 29 per cent suffered from post-traumatic symptoms.

Outside of health care, a staggering 80 per cent of American workers say they experience stress at work. Findings indicate stress plays a role in approximately 60 per cent of instances of absenteeism among employees.

The detrimental effects of poor well-being are evident. When employees are unwell, their job performance decreases, they report higher turnover rates and they’re more at risk of burnout.

To combat declining employee mental health, many organizations have turned to mindfulness training to reduce stress. This ancient practice holds promise to reshape the way we live and work.

The benefits of mindfulness

In modern applications of mindfulness, the concept refers to non-judgmental awareness that’s oriented toward staying in the present.

By practising mindfulness, individuals can cultivate a sense of inner calm by reducing negative emotions and enhancing vitality and resilience, making them better equipped to navigate the challenges of the modern workplace.

Mindfulness enhances awareness, allowing individuals to be fully present in the moment, liberated from the burdens of past regrets and future worries. Past studies have found that becoming more present can increase how engaged people feel at work and even increase their job performance.

While mindfulness is enticing, it can be remarkably elusive — especially because in a world addicted to busyness, meditation is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Mindfulness exercises can include techniques such as breathing awareness and meditation.

Mindfulness and psychological capital

Our research examined how different types of interventions aimed at improving well-being can enhance psychological capital — a concept encompassing self-efficacy, hope, resilience and optimism.

While most mindfulness intervention studies tend to focus on the efficacy of training on desirable outcomes, we wanted to know how the expectations and beliefs participants held about training might influence its effectiveness in increasing psychological capital.

Expectancy theory argues that motivation is higher when we desire a certain outcome and believe we can obtain a particular result. Could it be, for example, that those who believed more strongly in the power of mindfulness to reduce stress might benefit more from it?

In our study, hospital employees were randomly allocated to one of three groups: mindfulness, Pilates or a control group that was enrolled in neither and placed on a waitlist.

The mindfulness group learned different types of meditation techniques such as breath awareness and loving-kindness meditation. The Pilates group learned exercises that strengthened their core. Those in the control group received no training, but were able to enrol in the mindfulness or Pilates group afterward.

By comparing the experiences of participants in each group, we analyzed how the training each participant received, and the expectations they held, interacted to affect their psychological capital.

Expectations matter

Our research found that increases in psychological capital had as much to do with an individual’s underlying expectations as the training group they were assigned to.

Regardless of the type of training that individuals received, the factors that predicted an increase in psychological capital were individuals who believed: a) their well-being was suffering and b) the training would enhance their well-being.

Our findings show that people can become more mindful and increase their psychological capital regardless of the training condition, especially those who start with very low levels of self-efficacy, hope, resilience and optimism.

In other words, believing that you need the wellness activities you engage in and that they will be beneficial matters just as much as the actual activities themselves.

Alternatives for mindfulness skeptics

It is essential to recognize that meditation, like exercise, does not resonate with everyone, despite its benefits. One study, for example, found that mindfulness-based practices don’t work for psychologically vulnerable populations.

This research highlights a critical point: the effectiveness of wellness interventions can vary significantly from person to person.

A group of women and men standing with outstretched arms and eyes closed
Both Pilates and traditional mindfulness training can boost mindfulness to support health and well-being.

For those who don’t find mindfulness practices appealing, they should be delighted by our findings because they show that diverse wellness interventions — and in this case, both Pilates and traditional mindfulness training — can boost mindfulness to support health and well-being.

Organizational takeaways

From an organizational standpoint, our study underscores how important recognizing and addressing individual differences in motivation and expectation are when crafting wellness interventions for employees.

We offer three practical implications for organizations interested in supporting well-being to consider:

  1. Do not underestimate the value of understanding what employees need. Taking the time to understand what employees need, desire and are motivated by can predict the effectiveness of wellness offerings.

  2. Educate and promote. Educating employees on the benefits of well-being intervention trainings can enhance their expectations and, accordingly, increase the likelihood they will benefit from it.

  3. There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. By offering a wide array of wellness programs that genuinely resonate with the interests of employees, organizations can increase the likelihood of engagement and positive outcomes. The possibilities are boundless.

For individuals interested in investing in their own well-being, our results suggest that choosing wellness activities that you are genuinely motivated to engage in towards goals that are truly meaningful to you are likely to yield better returns.

Past research has found that doing healthy activities just because you think you should can actually be detrimental. In that spirit, to take care of your well-being, look to what you love and invest your time and energy in that.

The post “How expectations influence workplace well-being interventions” by Mehak Bharti, Assistant Professor, Toronto Metropolitan University was published on 06/05/2024 by