ACT in the workplace randomised controlled trial study

Background to the study

Mindfulness interventions in the workplace have gained interest over the past two decades, aiming to reduce stress, improve mental health, and potentially enhance job performance. Most research focuses on mindfulness training programs like MBSR, involving mindfulness meditation practice.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) has also become popular, targeting mindful self-regulation. While evidence generally supports their effectiveness, there are challenges in the workplace mindfulness literature.

Generalising findings to workplace settings is a challenge. Claims of enhanced job performance lack robust evidence, often relying on trait mindfulness measures and lab experiments. It’s important to study their effects in real-world conditions.

ACT-based training is gaining prominence, but excluded from many reviews. Comparative research is needed to understand differences in effects on mindfulness, well-being, and work functioning. Limited evidence supports mindfulness interventions’ impact on job performance. Studies fail to link performance outcomes to targeted self-regulation and stress-buffering processes. Using work-related measures would advance research.

Longitudinal trials in workplace settings pose methodological challenges. Evaluations mainly focus on short-term assessments, lacking sustainability information. Extending evaluations over several months is recommended.

Study methods

This study compared mindfulness training (MT) and ACT programs in a healthcare organisation. Both programs are delivered in a shortened format and assessed the effects on mindful self-regulation, stress, well-being, and productivity over six months.

Participants were randomly assigned to a 4-session MT program (n = 63), a 4-session ACT program (n = 67), or a waiting list control group (n = 69). The study measures were administered on five occasions over a 6-month period.

Findings

The results indicated that both MT and ACT reduced perceived stress and improved mindfulness and sleep quality compared to the control group. ACT was better in helping employees align their behaviour with personal values.

In summary

The positive impact on stress can be understood through the transactional model of stress, as attending MT or ACT may have enhanced participants’ intrapersonal resources and confidence in coping with work and life demands. This aligns with the appraisal-based interpretation of the perceived stress scale (PSS), which assesses confidence in handling difficulties. The results also support the integration of mindfulness with contemporary workplace functioning models like job demands-resources theory.

Additionally, both MT and ACT were found to improve sleep quality, which is crucial for mental health and work productivity. These findings align with the metacognitive model of insomnia, suggesting that these programs address cognitive hyperarousal associated with sleep problems. They promote meta-awareness and a less reactive stance towards sleep-related thoughts, reducing excessive entanglement with troubling scenarios.

Overall, this study provides robust evidence for the effectiveness of MT and ACT as worksite stress management interventions, supporting their implementation in real-world settings to reduce stress and improve sleep quality among employees.

Christodoulou, V., Flaxman, P., Morris, E. M. J. & Oliver, J. E. (2024). Comparison of mindfulness training and acceptance and commitment therapy in a workplace setting: Results from a randomised controlled trial. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, pp. 1-17.

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