July Mindfulness and Workplace Wellness Research Round-Up

BL00 - Mindfulness and Workplace Wellness Research Round-Up

By The Mindful Leader Team

This month, we learn about new research that uses ultrasound to trigger a meditative brain state as well as the positive benefits of meditation for old and young populations alike. Then, we shift to the findings of two workplace wellness studies, one centered entirely on the needs and priorities of younger millennial and Gen Z workers and the other looking at how C-suite executives can better support employee health and well-being. For our last article, we’ll see how a specific mindfulness-based training program might aid in the decision-making of elite fighter pilots during critical situations. We have summarized the main ideas and key takeaways below with links to the full articles.

New Research Explores How Millennials and Gen Z Are Driving a New Definition of Workplace Wellness

A new survey published by the University of Georgetown in partnership with Bank of America adds to the growing data indicating that younger workers want change in the workplace, especially concerning wellness. In this survey, 1,032 working-age Gen Z and millennials (collectively aged 24–35) offered their honest opinions on workplace benefits, priorities, and values. In line with other similar surveys, these younger workers cited paid time off and flexible work schedules as the biggest factors impacting their choice of employer (and possible desire to switch employers), at 65% and 58%, respectively. Only one in four respondents felt that their workplace had substantial policies and structures in place to support work-life balance. Notably, those who did rate their workplace wellness programs as good or very good tended to also report having flexible work schedules. Overall, younger workers seem to be struggling financially and are worried about retirement.

Key Points:

  • Eight of the top 10 most desired wellness workplace benefits were different types of paid time off and flexible work benefits. These seem to be the most important priorities among millennial and Gen Z workers.
  • The majority of young workers (68%) do not feel strongly tied to their work or that it is a major part of their identity or personal fulfillment. Over half (54%) plan to switch to another job or career field in the next year. 
  • Different demographic groups appear to have different priorities and different rates of participation in workplace benefits programs.

Read the full article at Georgetown University.

The C-suite's role in well-being

Among both employees and C-level executives, mental health is struggling, often because of work. However, according to new survey data from Deloitte and Workplace Intelligence, an independent research firm, there’s a significant disconnect between employee and employer perceptions regarding how well the C-suite is supporting the wellness of workers. Out of the 2,100 employees and C-level executives surveyed across the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Australia, only 56% of employees feel their company’s executives care about them, yet 91% of executives believe their employees feel that their leaders care about their health and well-being. Most C-suite executives (95%) think they should be responsible for employees’ well-being and 94% agree that leaders should be health-savvy. Despite that, a majority (68%) admit they are not currently taking enough action to protect and support employee health. Once again, there’s a strong disconnect with 81% of the C-suite describing themselves as health savvy but only 31% of employees agreeing that their executive leaders are health savvy.

Key Points:

  • For both employees and C-level executives, improving individual well-being is a top priority, at 75% and 89% respectively – and for most, this is even more important than advancing their career.
  • C-suite executives can start by implementing more well-being benefits and being more transparent about their own personal well-being. Even though 73% of executives feel they are transparent, only 22% of employees agree. 
  • Younger Gen Z and millennial executives seem to be leading the way forward; they’re significantly more likely than older executives to report prioritizing well-being and work-life balance both personally and for their workers.

Read the full article on Deloitte.

Effects of mindfulness training on decision-making in critical and high-demand situations: A pilot study in combat aviation

A new study published in Safety Science suggests that a mindfulness-based training program called attentional regulation optimization (ARO) may be beneficial for the safety and performance of elite populations operating in a highly-demanding context. Specifically, this study looked at the effect of ARO on the mindfulness and decision-making skills of fighter pilots in a critical flight situation (one that would lead to ejection). Half of the pilots received six weeks of an ARO training program while the other half received no additional training. Mindfulness skills were then measured using the FFMQ-15 scale before testing decision-making skills during scenarios in a full flight simulator. The researchers measured five different values corresponding to the decision-making process: reaction time after the first failure,  correctness of the first action, emergency procedure score, ejection procedure score, and quality of ejection.

Key Points:

  • The ARO program did not significantly improve mindfulness skills or impact the downstream effects of decision-making (emergency procedure score, ejection procedure score, and quality of ejection).
  • However, ARO training significantly shortened reaction time during complex failures, which means the fighter pilots responded with the necessary critical action quicker. ARO training also positively improved the correctness of the first action.
  • While this was an extremely small and specific sample group (15 fighter pilots), the results suggest future avenues of research to explore how ARO can benefit elite groups operating in critical situations.

Read the full article on Safety Science.

Researchers explore the use of ultrasound to achieve mindfulness    

There’s a new research project underway at the Science Enhanced Mindfulness Lab (SEMA) at the University of Arizona to explore using low-intensity ultrasound-guided brain stimulation to facilitate and enhance meditation. In this Q&A interview, assistant professor Jay Sanguinetti and graduate student Brian Lord explain some of the motivations behind the research as well as how it’s going. As Sanguinetti explains, the lab was co-founded when he and his colleague Shinzen Young began to wonder if it might be possible to use neurotechnology, and brain stimulation more specifically, to help people experience a meditative state and/or the benefits of meditation. In terms of the technology, what they’re doing is applying ultrasound, which is essentially like a bullet-shaped beam of acoustic energy, to specific, targeted regions of the brain to see how it affects people as they meditate. Applying ultrasound to different regions results in different effects. For instance, targeting the right prefrontal cortex leads participants to report feeling happier whereas applying ultrasound to the default mode network causes participants to enter a more meditative-like state where their mood and emotions don’t change. Accordingly, it’s the default mode network these researchers are targeting in their meditation studies. 

Key Points:

  • Experienced meditators distinctly feel and notice the effects of ultrasound and comment that it enhances their meditation practice positively. 
  • For those with little to no prior meditation experience, the ultrasound seems to be nudging their brains in the direction of meditation with some reporting that they start to feel less attached to their thoughts.
  • SEMA is about to publish their study showing that it’s possible to modulate the meditation network with ultrasound, but up next, the goal is to see if that can be combined with a meditation protocol.

Read the full article at The University of Arizona.

The power of stillness to reduce stress and slow ageing    

It’s not just anecdotal – science continues to empirically confirm the positive benefits of meditation, namely improved mental and physical health, reduced risk of Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease, and lower levels of stress. Some of the most recent evidence involving meditation’s effect on the ageing process comes from a six-year-long study, MEDIT-AGING, led by Gaël Chételat and funded by the EU. As part of the study, they ran a three-year-long trial in which 137 participants aged 65 years and older received either meditation training, foreign language training, or no training. Throughout the course of the trial, health data was collected using questionnaires, brain scans, sleep quality assessments, and cognitive tests. Similarly, another study led by Ivana Burić at the University of Amsterdam used a similar approach to look at how meditation affects the health of university students. 

Key Points:

  • Even though learning a new language involves cognitive mental training, it was only those in the meditation group that experienced a significant improvement in attentiveness and emotional regulation. After the study, participants also reported strong qualitative benefits from the meditation, saying it changed their lives, relationships with others, and led to better self-understanding and self-acceptance.
  • In Burić’s study, practicing mindfulness was associated with better mental and physical health and emotional regulation and less stress.
  • Both scientists are hopeful that the growing body of scientific research can help encourage policymakers to offer mindfulness as an accessible option to those struggling with mental or chronic health conditions in schools, workplaces, and universities.

Read the full article on Horizon.

1 comment

Jan Schlaier

Terrific contribution to overall employee wellness

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