Research Brief: Mindfulness meditation impairs motivation in the workplace

August 7, 2018
People around a desk working.

Scientific studies have shown that mindfulness meditation can help ease stress, reduce anxiety and improve sleep and job satisfaction. This type of meditation is growing increasingly popular. In fact, one in seven people in the U.S. reports taking part in a mindfulness practice on their own or through their work. However, new research conducted by the Carlson School of Management and Católica-Lisbon School of Business & Economics, found that mindfulness meditation did not affect a person’s quality of work for better or worse, but it did impact their motivation.

The research conducted by the Carlson School’s Kathleen Vohs, Distinguished McKnight University Professor and Land O’ Lakes Chair in Marketing; and co-author Professor Andrew Hafenbrack, assistant professor at Católica Lisbon, was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. It was the result of 15 experiments where participants were randomly assigned to either meditate for up to 15 minutes (e.g., guided, focused breathing or body scan meditation recordings) or do a neutral comparison task (e.g., writing about recent activities or reading the news). Then, before being assigned a task, participants were asked how motivated they were to complete it and how much time they felt like spending on it.

“The results were clear,” said Vohs. “Compared to others, people who had just meditated reported being demotivated.”

Researchers discovered that the demotivation participants felt impacted how they performed on the tasks given to them. As a result, researchers found mindfulness had no effect on the quality of participants’ work.

“This finding offers a new perspective,” said Vohs. “Previous studies have shown that meditation increases mental focus, meaning they should have performed better on the tasks given to them. Instead, our research shows it contributes to lower levels of motivation and appears to cancel out any benefit.”

Vohs and Hafenbrack also found that mindfulness did not impair performance, which was surprising especially given that it weakened participants’ resolve.

“In that study, we found that mindfulness gave people a break from thinking about the stressful things in their lives and that helped them focus better on the task at hand thereafter,” said Hafenbrack. “Because of that, performance should have improved - but being demotivated seemed to cancel out that benefit.”

“Our results may serve as a cautionary tale for organizations that consider mindfulness interventions primarily to get more productivity out of their employees,” said Vohs. “Mindfulness makes people feel better but also seems to discourage them from wanting to tackle that which needs getting done.”

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About the Carlson School of Management:
Located on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis, the Carlson School of Management exemplifies a commitment to excellence through a focus on experiential learning and international education, and by maintaining strong ties with the Minneapolis/Saint Paul business community. Through its undergraduate and graduate programs, the Carlson School offers access to world-renowned faculty members and an alumni network of 55,000 people. To learn more about the Carlson School of Management go to carlsonschool.umn.edu.

 

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