Faculty & Research -The benefits of mindfulness at the workplace

The benefits of mindfulness at the workplace

The case study describes the impact of the article “Helping People by Being in the Present Increases Prosocial Behavior”, which demonstrates the positive impact of mindfulness interventions at the workplace and was co-authored by Laura J. Noval, Associate Professor at Rennes School of Business.

The article received extensive global media attention, as detailed below. In turn, the media coverage received in France resulted in a collaboration between Rennes SB and Workwise, a company specialized in mindfulness training, to deliver a successful workshop for faculty and professional staff at Rennes SB, exploring the practical benefits and implementation of mindfulness.

Underpinning research

This research article tested whether mindfulness, a state characterized by focused, nonjudgmental awareness of the present moment, increases prosocial behaviour in the workplace or work-related contexts.

In the past decade, corporate mindfulness training programs have exploded in popularity. According to a national survey of large corporations by Fidelity Investments and the National Business Group on Health (2019), 60% of organizations offered yoga or meditation courses to their employees in the US. In France, this movement is also flourishing not only in modern start-ups but also in big multinational organizations, such as L’Oréal, EDF, Siemens ou Sodexo. Although the initial objective of these programs was to improve the well-being of employees and executives, scholars are increasingly finding that the benefits of mindfulness exceed the prevention of stress and other psychological risks.

Short meditation interventions

In this vein, our research showed that mindfulness – induced by short meditation interventions – can help employees and executives to take the perspective of others and be more empathetic, two qualities that have been previously found to be more important for career success than intelligence. To demonstrate this, we conducted the following five studies:

Study 1a was a longitudinal field experiment at a US insurance company. Compared to workers under waitlist control, employees who were assigned to a daily mindfulness training reported more helping behaviours over a five day period both in quantitative surveys and qualitative daily diaries (conducted by Lindsey Cameron and Gretchen Spreitzer in the US)

Study 1b, conducted in a large consulting company in India, extends these findings with a field experiment in which co-workers rated the prosocial behaviour of teammates in a round robin design (conducted by Samah Shaffakat in India).

Moving from devoting time to devoting money, in Study 2a and 2b we find that individuals randomly assigned to engage in a focused breathing meditation were more financially generous (conducted by Laura Noval and Andrew Hafenbrack in Europe).

To understand the mechanisms of mindfulness’ effects on prosocial behaviour, Study 3 found support for empathy and moderate support for perspective taking as mediators. This study also examined the effects of induced state mindfulness via two different mindfulness inductions, focused breathing and loving kindness meditation (conducted by Chen Zhang in online experiments).

Our results demonstrated secular state mindfulness can make people more other-oriented and helpful. This benefit holds even in workplace contexts, where being helpful toward others might face constraints but is nevertheless of great importance.

References to the research

Hafenbrack, A.C., Cameron, L. D., Spreitzer, G. M., Zhang, C., Noval, L. J., & Shaffakat, S. (2020). Helping people by being in the present: Mindfulness increases prosocial behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 159, 21-38.

Details of the impact

The paper resulted in a significant amount of media attention in the US, the UK and France, as summarized below.

USA coverage:
– MedicalXpress, Mindfulness at work: A little bit goes a long way
– Michigan Ross Faculty News, Mindfulness at Work Increases Generosity
– Qrius, Mindfulness at Work, It Works
– World Economic Forum, These are the benefits of practicing mindfulness in the office
– Vice, ‘Mindfulness’ Isn’t the Answer to Our Completely Hellish Workplaces
– Yoga Journal, Is Corporate Mindfulness Training Just Zen Washing?
– The Daily Pennsylvanian, Seven minutes of mindfulness a day can improve mental health, Wharton study finds
– Foster School of Business Research Briefs, Mindfulness meditation makes us more generous, helpful and compassionate
– Inc.com, New Wharton Study: 7 Minutes a Day of Meditation Is Enough to Stop People From Behaving Like Jerks;
– Knowledge @ Wharton, Mindfulness at Work: A Little Bit Goes a Long Way

UK coverage:
– Imperial Business Knowledge, Seven minutes of mindfulness makes you a better colleague;
– AACSB BizEd, More Benefits from Mindfulness
– Association of MBAs, Mindfulness can make you a nicer person
– Changeboard, Perspectives: Why seven minutes of mindfulness a day can make you a better colleague

– InfoSocialRH (France), La méditation est un outil de développement social qui bénéficie aux organisations
– INSEAD Knowledge, How a Few Minutes of Meditation Makes You a Nicer Co-Worker
– Les Echos, Pourquoi les entreprises devraient offrir des cours de méditation à tous leurs salariés

This research article was also prominently displayed in a Harvard Business Review article (Research: When Mindfulness Does — and Doesn’t — Help at Work),which intends to serve as a valuable resource teaching mindfulness in MBA programs.

After the tribune published by Les Echos in September 2022 in France, several companies, including Awaris, Compagnon Kairos and Workwise, contacted Laura Noval, the author of the article at Rennes SB. These contacts resulted in a training delivered by Workwise for the annual Rennes SB Faculty Day on December 12th, 2022.

This workshop combined scholarly research on the topic delivered by Laura Noval as well as a practical training to include mindfulness at work, delivered by Damien Desnos, a certified mindfulness instructor and leader at the company Workwise (himself trained at the University of Medicine of San Diego, California). The workshop was delivered to several faculty members (teaching and research profiles) as well as administrative staff of the Business School.

As confirmed by several of the participants of the workshop, the topic was not only academically interesting, but also allowed them to derive practical conclusions and ideas for their own personal development at work, and to be included for teaching at Rennes SB. In fact, several of the techniques learnt through this workshop are taught in some courses that tackle these topics, such as Mindful Decision Making (Bachelor Program), Interpersonal Communication Skills (MSc in International Negotiation) and Leadership through Personal Development (iMBA program) between 2022 and 2023. Students of these courses confirm the benefits of mindfulness-related practice not only for personal well-being at work, but also for improvement in their interpersonal workplace relationships.

Sources to corroborate the impact

Damien Desnos, Workwise instructor and operations director, who delivered the workshop at Rennes SB explains: “After an excellent article by Laura Noval at “Echos” on the topic of meditation in the corporate world lien) , I wanted to be in touch with her for two main reasons:

1. Exchange knowledge on the topic, given that I am also an expert on the field as an operations director of WORKWISE.
2. Propose her to intervene at Rennes School of Business as mindfulness instructor. Given her expertise on the topic, I thought we could offer a workshop at her organization introducing meditation as a means for stress reduction improvement the management and recognition of emotions.

Laura received the ideas with enthusiasm, and I had the opportunity to offer a 2-hour workshop for several professors and staff members at Rennes School of Business, who seemed to derive great benefit from the experience.”

Some of the participants in the workshop (both academic and professional staff): Dr. Julia Roloff, Dr. Dirk Schneckenberg, Dr. Dieter Vanwalleghem, Dr. Ljupka Naumovska, Jean-Marie Petit.

Dr Céline Azémar, Academic Dean, and Dr Laura J. Noval, Associate Professor at Rennes SB – who organized and coordinated the workshop.

Research Centre: Rethinking tomorrow’s organisations (RTO)
Period when the impact occurred: 2021-2022