UBC's mindfulness programs help staff and faculty's emotional well-being

At UBC, there are currently two programs available to staff and faculty that focus on mindfulness — the 30-Day Online Mindfulness Challenge and the Mindfulness@Work Six-Week Program

To date, 375 staff and faculty participated in the online challenge and 185 in the in-person program, which also provides data for research at the Sauder School of Business. 

A large majority of participants reported that the online challenge has improved their stress management, time management, focus and communication skills. The in-person program has also increased the number of participants who rated their skills as high or very high by 40 to 50 per cent. Similar results can be found nationally. 

According to Miranda Massie, UBC's health promotions coordinator, these programs focus on “the practical ways to apply mindfulness at work” and “addressing stress and productivity management.”

Mindfulness is the current buzzword for human resource offices everywhere, but what exactly does it mean?

“The main definition is the cognitive element, which is about paying attention to the present moment,” said Adam Kay, a UBC PhD researcher. “There’s also a second [related but less used] aspect to it, which is an open attitude.” 

First offered in February 2016, the 30-Day Online Mindfulness Challenge revolves around Mindwell-U’s “Take 5” technique, which is taking five deep breaths in a row. According to Kay, the breathing exercise is a “small dosage of mindfulness.” 

“[It] temporarily induces people into a more calm and quiet place,” he said. For those new to mindfulness, it's an accessible entry point.

Built-in text message and email reminders keep participants on top of their mindfulness. They are asked to log the number of “Take 5” breathing exercises that they did and reflect on how they feel every day.

For a more in-depth experience, the Mindfulness@Work Six-Week program, which has been offered since 2014, includes 13 hours of in-person training, a full-day retreat and 15-30 minutes of daily homework. According to the website, it is “modelled off [an evidence-based training program called] Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction,” but has been modified to fit the workplace. Since it is closely tied to their work, participants can get their fee of $100 reimbursed by the professional development funding. 

However, they do have to pay for the $25 fee of the online challenge themselves, which is still less than the original $100 price thanks to an agreement between UBC and Mindwell-U. “It also serves as a subsidy so more people can participate in the challenge,” said Massie. 

Why are these mindfulness programs helping staff and faculty?

“There are two mechanisms to which mindfulness creates wellbeing,” said Kay. “The first one is metacognition, which is the ability to step back and look at yourself as a third person. This can help make emotionally explosive situations less personal.”

“Since [wellbeing is] affected by our emotional nature, the second mechanism is emotion regulation. It delays the arrival of emotions and shortens their duration. It greatly reduces our negative emotions, our neuroticism and our reactivity, and increases our positive emotions.”

Both Massie and Kay noted that fewer men than women engaged in their program. Massie hopes that the online challenge’s delivering method will attract more male participants. 

“Men are consistently less willing to undergo mindfulness training than women,” said Kay, who noted that this was despite the benefits and supporting data.

He attributed this discrepancy to “the feminine undertone of mindfulness that does not fit the male stereotype of being active and aggressive.” The current solution is to link mindfulness to better performance outcome.

Massie noted that mindfulness is just one part of the larger set of programs that aim at promoting individual well-being for staff and faculty at UBC. “[However], we are excited that the programs are evidence-based and we are open to more research collaborations in the future.”