The dark side of mindfulness (and how to get back to the light)
If being mindful means understanding our thoughts and emotions here and now, then when our thoughts and emotions are negative we get to feel them more, right? And, if this is the case within a work environment, that means that unhappy, unsatisfied employees will feel these emotions multiplied? A recent research supported that this can be the case, indeed. In a sample of 1700 employees, they found that for employees whose jobs frequently required them to display inauthentic emotions, greater levels of mindfulness consistently led to lower self-control and lower overall performance.
This is important, right? It is like being mindful surfaces the blunt truth, whether we like it or not- but, since the benefits of mindfulness at work are solidly backed up, we are called for to find new ways to face this truth. Some voices support that we could target our mindfulness training towards employees that have relatively low demands for faking emotions- excluding immediately all first line employees. Obviously, this doesn’t solve the problem, it just hides it under the table. First line employees are the ones under ultimate stress and they need new way to let some steam off and remain calm and balanced. Disqualifying them from mindfulness is like punishing them for the job they have chosen and condenming them to eternal stress and ultimate burnout.
The road to the truth is, as always, longer and more demanding. Mindfulness practices, according to the same researchers should focus on “deep acting — that is, the practice of actually changing how you feel to match the needs of your organization — can be an effective strategy for displaying the required emotions without negatively impacting job satisfaction and wellbeing. For example, nurses tasked with unpleasant and tiring work might focus on their patients’ experience and imagine the pain and fear their patients may be feeling, inspiring compassion instead of frustration.” This mindset is helpful for everyone, it turns negativity into meaning and it can contribute in lower burnout rates. From this perspective, the key to the new way of thinking is mindfulness itself: through training and culture, managers should invite their teams to face their true emotions and work on them until they are converted into aspiring thoughts. The purpose of humans- even at work- is to find meaning in everything. Let’s do it, then.