Acceptability, Feasibility, and Efficacy of a Workplace Mindfulness Program for Public Sector Employees: a Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial with Informant Reports

Abstract

Mindfulness training appears to reduce stress and distress, but little is known about whether it results in changes that can be observed by colleagues, family, or friends or its appropriateness as a workplace stress management intervention for a large and distributed public sector workforce. This study evaluated a pilot 5-week Mindfulness at Work Program (MaWP) for acceptability, feasibility, and efficacy in relation to stress and related mental health and productivity problems for public sector employees. A parallel group randomized controlled trial compared the MaWP intervention (n = 20) with an information-only control (n = 100). Exploratory qualitative and quantitative methods were used to assess changes observed by informants (n = 63). Results suggest a high degree of acceptability, although location and inflexible work schedules presented feasibility obstacles. Compared with the control, the primary outcome of mindfulness improved for MaWP participants (d = 0.57, p < 0.001), as did perceived stress (d = 0.97, p < 0.001), psychological distress (d = 0.61, p < 0.001), health-related quality of life (d = 0.51, p = 0.002), and social functioning (d = 0.08, p = 0.019). All secondary outcomes were at least partly mediated by changes in mindfulness. The intervention thus appears to have potential merit as a workplace intervention for public sector employees across a range of outcomes. Obtaining informant observations was feasible and while qualitative analyses indicated positive changes that supported self-reported outcomes, quantitative analyses returned ambiguous results. A seven-item scale adapted from a popular self-report mindfulness scale for use by informants showed promise, but further work is needed to establish validity, reliability, and scalability of this method of assessing observable changes following mindfulness training.

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Acknowledgments

This project was conducted at the Menzies Institute for Medical Research.

The primary author received support through the Groom Kennedy Lawyers Scholarship in Medical Research.

The study team gratefully acknowledges Pamela Lovell (Mindful Intent Pty Ltd) and Carl Cazaly (Tasmanian State Service Management Office) for facilitating this research as well as all participants and informants who completed surveys.

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Correspondence to Kristy Sanderson.

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Conflicts of Interest

Pamela Lovell (Director of Mindful Intent Pty Ltd) designed and delivered the MaWP. This author was not involved in study design, data collection, analysis, or interpretation. The remaining authors declare no potential conflicts of interest.

Ethics Approval

All procedures were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Tasmania’s Social Sciences Human Research Ethics Committee, which approved the study on April 2, 2015, with ID number H0014746. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Bartlett, L., Lovell, P., Otahal, P. et al. Acceptability, Feasibility, and Efficacy of a Workplace Mindfulness Program for Public Sector Employees: a Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial with Informant Reports. Mindfulness 8, 639–654 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-016-0643-4

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Keywords

  • Mindfulness
  • Workplace
  • Stress
  • Mental health
  • Informants