New study suggests that a ‘blended’ eight-week mindfulness programme that adds Team Mindfulness Training (TMT) to a shortened version of the mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) course for individual mindfulness is just as effective as the standard MBSR course alone. It may even offer further benefit by increasing collective stress management skills.
Led by Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock, Co-director of the Centre for Excellence in Mindfulness Research (CEMR) at City, University of London, in collaboration with Dr Alison Carter, Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of Employment Studies (IES), the study bridges the gap between the well-established body of research supporting the benefits of individual mindfulness practice, epitomised by the eight-week MBSR course, and the burgeoning science on team and collective mindfulness. MBSR has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and pain. Collective mindfulness is strongly linked to organisational resilience.
The study was conducted in a high-stress military context: military officers in training in the British Army and in the Royal Navy, and was funded by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). A mixed method approach was used that consisted of two research phases.
Twenty-three junior officers-to-be from the British Army participated in a pre-pilot study which trialled the newly designed Team Mindfulness Training (TMT) intervention: half the time was dedicated to training participants in individual stress management skills using the MBSR curriculum, with the remainder focusing on training collective stress management skills using the principles of collective mindfulness.
A larger pilot study, in which 105 Royal Navy officer cadets took part, then compared the TMT intervention against the standard eight-week MBSR course. The effect of participating in either intervention group was measured by assessing individual resilience, collective mindfulness, and individual performance. While the two former measures were self-reported, the last was assessed using an objective computer-test of working memory, as a proxy for performance at work. All measures were taken at three time points: directly before, directly after and two months after the intervention. Participants also took part in semi-structured interviews.
The study found that participating in both intervention groups led to significantly increased individual resilience and working memory, with no significant difference between the two groups.
Whilst neither group showed statistically significant improvements in collective mindfulness over time, the TMT group experienced a near-significant collective mindfulness increase after participating in the training.
In addition, results from analyses of the interviews suggest that participants in the TMT group seem more able to report that they had learned to manage difficult work stress collectively. Most notably, however, only individuals from the TMT group (and none from the MBSR group) indicated they were able to apply their newly learned MBSR skills to stressful work challenges. This suggests that a collectively mindful team atmosphere supported the application of individual stress management skills when it really mattered.
The authors suggest that the study opens up ground for follow-up research that may help address recently reported counterintuitive effects of individually-focused workplace mindfulness, such as lower work motivation after brief periods of mindful meditation.
They also stress that this study brings back the prosocial orientation to mindfulness practice that may have been eclipsed by the more recent mindfulness-as-self-help movement. This prosocial aspiration is a core tenet of mindfulness traditions: to generate transformative capacity to overcome stress and suffering in oneself as well as for all.
First author of the study, Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock, says:
Our intervention considers mindfulness as a team sport. Combining individual with collective mindfulness makes mindfulness training more powerful. And offering mindfulness practices to organisations that stretch beyond individually-focused meditation helps extend the transformative potential of mindfulness for organisations.
Dr Alison Carter, Principal Investigator of the study and co-author of its publication, adds:
This work shifts the needle from self-focused mindfulness towards creating a mindful culture in workplaces. This is both helpful and practical because when people at work look out for each other, then stress at work becomes a collective responsibility rather than something that needs to be shouldered by individuals in isolation of others. And we know that managing stress collectively is more effective than managing stress alone.
The study is published in the open access journal, Frontiers in Psychology.
Notes to editors
To speak to Dr Jutta Tobias Mortlock contact Shamim Quadir, Senior Communications Officer, School of Health Sciences. Tel: +44(0) 207 040 8782 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. To Speak to Dr Alison Carter email: email@example.com
Read the research article
The empirical field research for this study was funded by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence, under the Strategic Edge Through People (SETP)2040 programme, reference number TIN 2.068 Task 7 Leveraging Workplace Mindfulness for Transformative Change, contract number DSTLX-1000069524.
About City, University of London
City, University of London is a global higher education institution committed to academic excellence, with a focus on business and the professions and an enviable central London location.
City’s academic range is broadly-based with world-leading strengths in business; law; health sciences; mathematics; computer science; engineering; social sciences; and the arts including journalism and music.
City has around 20,000 students (46% at postgraduate level) from more than 160 countries and staff from over 75 countries.
In the last REF, City doubled the proportion of its total academic staff producing world-leading or internationally excellent research.
More than 140,000 former students from over 180 countries are members of the City Alumni Network.
The University’s history dates from 1894, with the foundation of the Northampton Institute on what is now the main part of City’s campus. In 1966, City was granted University status by Royal Charter and the Lord Mayor of London became its Chancellor. In September 2016, City joined the University of London and HRH the Princess Royal became City’s Chancellor.
The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) is an independent, apolitical, international centre of research and consultancy in public employment policy and HR management. It works closely with employers in all sectors, government departments, agencies, professional bodies and associations. IES is a focus of knowledge and practical experience in employment and training policy, the operation of labour markets, and HR planning and development. IES is a not-for-profit organisation. www.employment-studies.co.uk
Frontiers in Psychology
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Extending the Transformative Potential of Mindfulness Through Team Mindfulness Training, Integrating Individual With Collective Mindfulness, in a High-Stress Military Setting
Article Publication Date