Benefits of mindfulness at work

Last week, we attended the EAWOP Congress, the 16th Congress of the European Association of Work and Organizational Psychology. During the congress, an Innovation Award was given to Ute Hülseger from Maastricht University for her work on the role of mindfulness for employee health and well-being. We attended her keynote speech.

Ute Hülseger and her colleagues Hugo J. E. M. AlbertsAlina Feinholdt, and Jonas W. B. Lang from Maastricht University in the Netherlands were interested in the effect mindfulness had on emotional exhaustion and job satisfaction.

Being mindful involves being aware of inner experiences without judging them and focusing on the present. Some people are more mindful than others by nature, but mindfulness can be trained by meditation practice.

One idea is that mindfulness reduces emotional exhaustion at work because it makes individuals perceive events in a receptive, non-judgmental and more objective way. As stress mainly stems from our judging the event and not so much from the event itself, mindfulness might thus reduce the levels of perceived stress. Another idea is that it enhances job satisfaction because it promotes self-determined behaviours by reducing habitual and automated functioning. Thus, it allows individuals to be in touch with their basic needs and values and realise them in their work.

The researchers also wanted to look at another mechanism often seen at work: surface acting, i.e. expressing an emotion (usually a positive one) that is different from the emotion one feels (usually a negative one). Thus, employees often fake an emotional state. For example, salespersons have to stay friendly when faced with an angry customer who offends them. Surface acting is positively related to emotional exhaustion and negatively related to job satisfaction.

Ute Hülseger and her colleagues conducted two diary studies in which they had participants report their mindfulness, levels of surface acting, job satisfaction and emotional exhaustion. The second study additionally comprised mindfulness training for study participants. The key findings were (1) that mindfulness at work increases job satisfaction and decreases emotional exhaustion and (2) that an increase in mindfulness leads to less surface acting, higher levels of job satisfaction and lower levels of emotional exhaustion.

The original article was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and there is an outline of the two studies on the Occupational Digest blog.

After the talk, there was time for questions from the audience. Someone pointed out that the effects of mindfulness seemed to be overly positive and asked whether there were also downsides of increased levels of mindfulness. Ute Hülseger replied that to her knowledge, there were none when looking at the results from an employee’s point of view. However, when taking the employer’s perspective, there are some potential downsides of mindfulness because with an increasing level of mindfulness, apparently some employees decide to quit their jobs!

However, the beneficial effects of mindfulness might overrule its negative side effects. We have written something on this before, for example in our posts “Track your happiness” or “How meditation can improve the quality of life”. And if you want to learn how to be mindful, there are more than enough programmes out there. For example, in January we reported on Andy Puddicombe’s website “Headspace” where you can find many little tools that can help you improve your mindfulness without requiring a lot of time or effort. Go ahead and try it out!

Creativity or: the world is a construction kit

Last week, we learned that in order to make kids learn, we need to address their curiosity and creativity. How can we do this? Give kids – and not only them, but also adults – the opportunity to just play and create things that might look crazy and even useless at first glance.Today’s post is not so much about scientific research. It is more about a kind of field experiment Jay Silver conducted. His idea was that that sometimes your hands know and your intuition knows. But sometimes what you know gets in the way of what could be. Thus, he simply had people try out whatever came to their mind. And people, including himself, created objects like a brush that played sounds while working with it, a mushroom organ or game controllers made of play-dough. In a TED Talk, he presents a few of these inventions.

The interesting thing is that even though one might not have been able to find a purpose for the objects he and others had created, they managed to sell them. After a while, he saw videos of people doing really crazy things, apparently inspired by his inventions. And all of a sudden, some of the inventions turned into something useful. For example, disabled people used them as auxiliary devices which they normally would not be able to afford. Professional musicians used some of the inventions. And so on!

Thus, Jay Silver sees the world as our construction kit that gives you many ways of expressing yourself. His idea of a perfect world is one that is being created by seven billion pairs of hands, each of them following their passion. So go ahead and just take some time to try something out. Whatever comes to your mind. You think it’s crazy? Good!

Improving learning at schools

Nowadays, everybody is talking about the information society and the importance of lifelong learning. But how can people keep learning throughout their entire lives when we are lacking the basis, when they have never had a proper school education? In many countries in the world, dropout rates at school are alarmingly high. What goes wrong here and what can we learn from it, even if we are not at school anymore?

In a very entertaining TED Talk, Ken Robinson, a professor of education, explains what education is supposed to focus on when setting up programmes: (1) children are diverse and different and should therefore be taught a broad curriculum. (2) Educators should try to spark the light of their natural curiosity, which will make them really want to learn. Good teachers are essential for this, and they should be teaching in a culture of learning and not so much of testing. (3) Awaken and develop the powers of creativity because humans are a creative species and create their whole lives.
Most of our readers are likely to be out of school already. Some might have kids. They might want to take Ken Robinson’s advice to heart: treat your kids individually, find out what their strengths and interests are and help them pursue them. Address their curiosity and let them be creative. And what can you take from this for yourself? Pretty much the same. Find out where your strengths and interests are and set your learning goals in these areas.

And what else does it take to successfully keep learning and to achieve your learning goals? Grit. Angela Lee Duckworth, a psychologist from the University ofPennsylvania, looked at what predicts high school dropout vs. success, and she found that it was not IQ, family income or other factors, but that it was what she calls grit: the passion and perseverance to pursue a goal over a long time. We have reported on this before. Recently, she gave another TED Talk on her research.
She ends her talk with the words: we need to be gritty to get our kids grittier. We’ve come full circle: why not treat our children as individuals, address their creativity and let them be creative so that they develop a love of learning and the passion and perseverance to pursue their learning goals?

The switch in your brain

Three weeks ago, we learned that our brain is more than a bag of chemicals. This means that different chemicals affect our brain functions in different ways, depending on where in the brain they are active. The conclusion was that if we want to understand the brain, we need to look at specific regions and circuits and the way they interact rather than at the brain as a whole. More evidence for this view comes from neurosurgery.


In a TED Talk, Andres Lozano, chair of neurosurgery at the University of Toronto, explains how very specific interventions in patients’ brains can lead to astonishing effects. When introducing the topic, he explains that different parts of the brain do different things and brain functions are localised within circuits. For example, there are parts of the brain that control movement, vision, appetite, body image, happiness/sadness, love/hate, avarice/generosity/empathy, judgement and empathy, or memory and cognition. When you are healthy and things work well, all these circuits work well. But every once in a while, neurons in these circuits are misfiring or are inactive and not working as they should. The way the dysfunction manifests itself depends on where in the circuits it is located. Thus, it could for example lead to motor or cognitive impairment. In order to bring these regions of the brain back to normal functioning, Andres Lozano and his colleagues use what he calls deep brain stimulation, meaning that they place electrodes in the brain exactly in the spots where the dysfunction is located. The electrode is linked to a pacemaker that can be controlled by a remote control so that the amount of electrical stimulation can be adjusted. In his talk, he shows absolutely incredible videos of people being treated with deep brain stimulation.



His conclusion is that as we know several brain circuits and the functions they control, we can access them and modulate their activity (motor, cognitive, or mood). He thinks that the method will have a lot more indications than the ones he presented and that in the future we will (hopefully) be able to help patients with many different diseases.

What can we learn from this? To me, it was just absolutely fascinating to see the effects of the deep brain stimulation. Impossible to describe with words only. These results show that we are beginning to understand some of the mechanisms of this incredible and fascinating organ, our brain. We will keep you updated with the latest research in this field!

Rapport från SIOP

Världens största arbetspsykologiska konferens, SIOP gick av stapeln här om veckan i Houston. cut-e var på plats. Med sina 21 parallella sessioner under 3 dagar är det ett idealiskt tillfälle att sätta örat mot rälsen och träffa forskare och praktiker som driver utvecklingen inom fältet. Så, vad pratas det om?

Big data
Ingen kan ha undgått Big data som buzz-word de senaste åren. Fenomenet handlar om att göra förutsägelser och styra verksamheten genom analys av stora mängder lagrad digital information. Lätt att ta till sig tankegångarna för oss arbetspsykologer som är vana vid beslut baserade på statistisk analys av en stor mängd datapunkter. En ökad medvetenhet om kraften i big data i takt med att mängden lagrad information ökar exponentiellt i samhället är förstås oerhört intressant som ögonöppnare för vår bransch och ligger i linje med det uppsving de flesta större testleverantörer upplever just nu. Eller som rubriken i Harvard Business Review’s novembernummer upplyser oss om: ”Data Scientist – The Sexiest Job of the 21:st Century”. På Siop fanns förstås temat representerat av flera stora företag som styrt upp allsköns aspekter av verksamheten.  Allt från kalibrering av urvalsprocesser till hur Google mixtrat med lunchserveringen för att lura i sina computer geeks mer sallad.

Sociala medier
Som överallt annars var sociala medier ett ämne som fyllde bänkraderna. Vid analys av organisationer som använder sociala medier för att attrahera kandidater framgår att det är långt ifrån självklart hur kommunikation via dessa kanaler fungerar. Information via sociala medier uppfattas tex i större utsträckning som åsikter medan information på hemsidor uppfattas som mer faktisk. Undersökningar pekar också på att kandidater i första hand föredrar hemsidor framför sociala medier i samband med jobbsökande. Råd som lades fram var att organisationer bör tänka igenom noga vilken målgrupp som rekryteras via vilken kanal.

Majoriteten av presenterade studier på området var av mer deskriptiv art, utan tydlig teoretiskt underbyggd hypotesprövande ansats.  Alltså typiskt för ett tidigt stadium i ett gryende forskningsområde. Definitivt ett område där tekniken har kommit längre än forskningen och där vi kommer få se mycket mer forskning kring de närmsta åren.

Beslutsfattande är ett forskningsområde som äntligen börjar ta plats på SIOP. Trots massiv litteratur – och även nobelpris till Daniel Kahneman – har ämnet förvånadsvärt nog hållit låg profil inom arbetspsykologin. Denna gång representerades fältet bland annat av Reeshad Dalal, som pratade om overconfidence, dvs människors tendens att vara säkrare på sina beslut än de egentligen har grund för. Det är inte så lite det felar: Beslut som fattas med 90 % säkerhet är korrekta till ca 50 %! En smula problematiskt är dessutom att det inte hjälper att vara medveten om sin överkonfidens; effekten kvarstår ändå. Vad ska man då göra för att begå färre misstag? En metod är att be om input från andra, en djävulens advokat, eller någon annan person som är neutral i frågan. Fler hjärnor fattar i regel bättre beslut än en.

Salas summerade kortfattat vad vi vet om teamwork och konstaterade att effektivt teamwork spelar stor roll inom organisationer. Viktiga faktorer bakom effektivt teamwork kan sammanfattas med tumregeln ”7 C”  – Cooperation, Coordination, Communication, Cognition (gemensam förståelse), Coaching (genom ledarskap), Conflict (hantering) och Conditions (normer och support from organisationen). Lyckligtvis är ju detta saker vi vet att vi kan påverka.

Personlighetstest och fusk
Den sk faking-problematiken har diskuterats så länge som det har funnits personlighetstest. Och ja – diskussionen lever vidare. Att försköna sina svar på personlighetstest för att öka chansen att få jobbet, kallar vissa forskare för ”faking”.  Andra forskare föredrar att kalla det för ”response distorsion”, eftersom det finns såväl medvetna som omedvetna orsaker till att arbetssökande får ”bättre” resultat än icke-arbetssökande. Det är inte bara benämningen av effekten som skiljer mellan forskare, utan även synen på om det spelar någon roll. Och vad ska man i så fall göra åt det? Mycket forskning ägnas åt statistiska korrigeringar av resultat i efterhand, men olika modeller för korrigering leder till olika resultat, vilket ställer frågetecken kring hur korrigerade resultat ska tolkas. Niel Christiansen påpekade att han hellre ser att forskning fokuserar på utveckling av test som inte är lika känsliga för response distorsion; det är bättre att minska effekten redan från början än att korrigera för den i efterhand. Såväl Niel som Paul Sackett lyfte fram att forskning inom forced choice-baserade personlighetstest tycks vara lovande för att kunna minska effekterna.

Skrivet av: Mats Englund, Manager Research & Development på cut-e Nordic