What if our workplaces could become havens of happiness?

We are currently living in an emotional tinderbox. This is one thing we, regardless of race, gender, political party, religion, etc., can all agree on. In these tumultuous times, in which many feel a lack of control, doesn’t it make sense to purposely reduce hostility, incivility and other aggressive behavior wherever we can? 

The workplace is one of the places where we have this power, utilizing the tools of mindfulness (and other types of training), to minimize negative feelings and aggressive behavior, not to mention initiating a cascade of other positive effects.

Recent research shows that mindfulness in the workplace weakens the link between feelings of anger and hostility and the overt expression of those feelings (Liang et al., 2017).  Four separate studies, in which a total of 729 workers were assessed, were conducted to ascertain “conceptual and empirical distinctions between dimensions of mindfulness (i.e., mindful awareness and mindful acceptance) and investigate their respective abilities to regulate workplace aggression.” The results of each of the four studies yielded similar outcomes: “mindfulness, an aspect of the self-control process, plays a key role in curbing workplace aggression.”

Unfortunately, workplace hostility is nothing new. In fact, it’s been steadily increasing. In 1998, a multi-year study of incivility in the workplace which included tens of thousands of workers worldwide found that 49 percent of employees reported being treated rudely at work at least once a month. This number rose to 55 percent in 2011 and 62 percent in 2016. (Porath, 2016)

One of the ways mindfulness reduces aggressive behavior is by counteracting rumination, the "compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one's distress, and on its possible causes and consequences, as opposed to its solutions" (Nolen-Hoeksema, 1998). It’s no surprise to learn that ruminating over certain thoughts increases anger and aggression in some individuals. Two different studies support the idea that mindfulness reduces rumination and, in turn, aggression (Borders et al., 2010).  

Improving employees’ psychological well-being through, in part, mindfulness training, brings a host of other benefits, in addition to mitigating workplace incivility and aggression. Better work performance and better physical health are just two of the most significant areas that come to mind.  And of course, we all know how our work life impacts our home life. Mindfulness training to address workplace aggression will naturally buffer the spillover of workplace aggression into home life.

We’re not Pollyannas. We recognize wholesale transformation of workplaces into nirvana is fantasy. However, as the quotable cleric philosopher Sydney Smith once said, “It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can only do little.” If mindfulness training can help move organizations one step closer to havens of happiness and goodwill, why not give it a try?

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Borders A., Earleywine M., Jajodia A. (2010). Could mindfulness decrease anger, hostility, and aggression by decreasing rumination? Aggressive Behavior.

Liang, L. H., Brown, D. J., Ferris, D. L., Hanig, S., Lian, H., & Keeping, L. M. (2017). The dimensions and mechanisms of mindfulness in regulating aggressive behaviors. Journal of Applied Psychology.

Nolen-Hoeksema, S.; S.A., Roberts J.E., Gotlib I.H. (1998). Neuroticism and ruminative response style as predictors of change in depressive symptomatology. Cognitive Therapy and Research. 1998

Porath C. (2016). The hidden toll of incivility. McKinsey Quarterly.


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