The wellness and wellbeing movement has been around for decades, and for the most part, their intentions are good. They want to help improve everyone’s wellbeing. It’s one of the reasons Positive Psychology has grown in popularity as well. However, the movement has also been hijacked by organisations that don’t have the wellbeing interests of their employees at heart. For companies like these, their intention is weaponizing mindfulness for ulterior motives.
Mindfulness and wellbeing initiatives in the workplace can be a benefit to employees, if done right. For example, having mentors at work who you can talk to about the issues you may have is good for our wellbeing, as it gives us a safe space to talk. Some companies have also started to make mindfulness and wellbeing apps available to their employees, apps like Woebot.
A systematic review and meta-analysis study conducted by Bartlett et al. (2019) has shown that mindfulness training delivered in the workplace can cultivate employee mindfulness. It can also reduce perceived stress, anxiety, and other psychological distress, and can also be beneficial for wellbeing and sleep quality. This is supported by a review by Allen et al. (2015) who found that mindfulness-based training can reduce employee stress and strain. Thus, mindfulness, much like wellness and wellbeing in the workplace, can have a positive effect if used correctly.
In 2016, 137 million sick days were taken in the UK, of which 15.8 million days were due to mental health issues, as reported by the BBC. Thus, companies and organisations are attempting to get more engaged with mindfulness, wellbeing, and wellness initiatives because simply put, their employees are their “human capital” and sick days costs them human productivity.
Weaponizing Mindfulness To Circumvent Responsibility
One of my partner’s pet peeves is wellness, wellbeing, and mindfulness in the workplace because, because, as they said:
It’s thrown at people as a cure-all and an excuse not to take action to address the reasons they’re stressed or unhappy and it encourages people to passively accept their situation rather than doing something about it
The problem is that mindfulness meditation is often about accepting the present, but it’s the present work environment that’s causing the issues, so accepting them won’t help. What’s really needed in this situation is for conditions to change, not you accepting the conditions as they are, and there lies the problem with most implementations of mindfulness. It costs more money to make positive changes rather than weaponizing mindfulness, so you’ll accept the situation you’re stuck in.
Rather than removing the source of stress, whether that’s unfeasible workloads, poor management or low morale, some employers encourage their staff to meditate: a quick fix that’s much cheaper, at least in the short term
After all, we can all benefit from an empathetic leader and boss in the workplace (Office Angels). I know I’ve ended up with a manager during my placement that was ridiculously bad in their role which was terrible for my wellbeing. I wasn’t able to do a single placement hour, which almost cost me my postgraduate degree. Instead of that manager owning what they did wrong, the company tried to pin the blame on me because I was just a placement volunteer. Bad managers are terrible for workplace wellbeing.
But it’s not just that, there are also downsides to mindfulness in the workplace. A series of experiments by Hafenbrack and Vohs (2018) found that an 8–15-minute session of meditation mindfulness often weakened task motivation, rather than improving it. Therefore, mindfulness may be able to help you with stress but at the same time, it can also demotivate you, resulting in there being no difference in overall work performance.
Also, there’s the issue that some mindfulness practices in the workplace are just awkward, rather than beneficial, and if you’re anything like me, they can also trigger a psychotic episode. For me, a lot of the mindfulness interventions are actually huge triggers for my anxiety induced-psychosis, which I’ve talked about in detail in my ‘Mindfulness And Its Downsides: My Anxiety Disorders Vs Mindfulness’ article, which you can read by clicking here.
If people are forced to do mindfulness that they find uncomfortable to participate in, then that’ll have negative consequences, rather than the planned positive ones. In fact, 25.6% of people in a study by Schlosser, Sparby, Vörös, Jones, and Marchant (2019) reported having unpleasant meditation-related experiences. With over a quarter of people having bad experiences, that figure can’t be ignored on how it’ll affect your employees and productivity.
However, there’s a difference between organisations trying to do something they think will help their employees and unintentionally weaponizing mindfulness and companies actively weaponizing mindfulness: Amazon.
Amazon’s Sycophantic Mindfulness Stunt
Although there are some companies that seek to embrace wellness, wellbeing, and mindfulness in the workplace for more noble reasons, there are organisations like Amazon that are using it solely for sycophantic PR point scoring. Amazon isn’t interested in tackling the mountain of issues that run rampant within their business. Issues solely caused by the way Amazon has decided to treat their employees. Amazon isn’t interested in changing its unreasonable work conditions and inhuman work targets.
Recently, Amazon has decided that they’ll introduce AmaZen kiosks rather than change the way they treat their employees. I first read about this over on God, with further credit to Alex Press who tweeted the below image of the AmaZen kiosks.
Image: Alex Press
Are we to believe that Amazon won’t penalise employees for missing their inhumane Amazon work targets, where workers have had to pee in bottles to stick to those targets, to spend time using an AmaZen box? Of course not. It’s highlight unlikely Amazon will somehow allow workers to find time in those overworked schedules (The Guardian) for a mindfulness break during work. Amazon has been mired in workers’ right issues for years, with former Amazon warehouse workers complaining of timed toilet breaks and punishments for talking (Channel 4 News) to employees being fired for asking for safer conditions during the pandemic (The Guardian).
If Amazon really wanted to help with their employee’s wellbeing they’d change their targets to something more realistic for a human being to complete.
This mindfulness AmaZen boxes look no different to a phone booth, but some might argue they’re basically upright coffins, which is the perfect metaphor for how Amazon will work you to death. I wonder if they’re soundproof, so you can scream in there instead? I’m sure that’s what Amazon employees would really use them for, that or so they can pee in bottles in private.
one of the largest companies in the world is offering its overworked employees a, well, box to sit in to watch mindfulness videos
This is nothing more than a PR stunt that not only hurts Amazon employees but the efforts of the mental health and wellness community at large who try to get true wellness incorporated into everyday life. Such improper use of wellness, wellbeing, and mindfulness undermines all the hard work of mental health organisations, like Time to Change, all over the world. Amazon has been allowed to get away with not even doing the bare minimum to provide a good working environment, and it needs to stop because this isn’t how you manage workplace stress and distress.
Or as my partner would say:
If you’re stressed at work, it’s your fault for not doing enough mindfulness
Simply put, the only real cure for work-related stress and poor mental health are improved work conditions. Anything else is like applying a Band-Aid to a broken leg.
Does your workplace engage in this kind of fake caring or are you working for a company that genuinely tries to support its employees? Let me know in the comments section below.
The Government Weaponizing Mindfulness
Friedli and Stearn (2015) conducted a study into the UK governments’ attempts to weaponizing mindfulness, wellbeing, and wellness to modify behaviour to what the government thinks are work acceptable attitudes, personality, and beliefs. In short, the government is stating that unemployment is the result of personal failure and psychological deficit, rather than as a result of social and economic inequalities. The result of this is state-contracted and state surveillance of psychosocial interventions.
This came to a head at a Streatham Jobcentre where a protest broke out against a pilot scheme that forced people claiming unemployment to attend mental health support (SWLondoner). The scheme meant there would be a mental health clinic in the Jobcentre itself, with fears that it’ll be linked to the government’s already callous sanction regime. For some reason, rather than giving more funding to the NHS mental health services, they would rather install mental health clinics in Jobcentres, which raises a lot of questions around confidentiality. Fortunately, due to public outcry, the scheme and the policy behind it were scrapped.
Have you experienced your government trying to weaponize mindfulness and wellbeing for reasons that aren’t in your best interests? If so, let us know in the comments section below.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with workplace wellbeing initiatives and weaponizing mindfulness in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
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Unwanted Life readers.
Allen, T. D., Eby, L. T., Conley, K. M., Williamson, R. L., Mancini, V. S., & Mitchell, M. E. (2015). What do we really know about the effects of mindfulness-based training in the workplace. Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 8(4), 652-661. Retrieved from https://dx.doi.org/10.1017/iop.2015.95 and https://www.researchgate.net/publication/289525931_What_Do_We_Really_Know_About_the_Effects_of_Mindfulness-Based_Training_in_the_Workplace.
Bartlett, L., Martin, A., Neil, A. L., Memish, K., Otahal, P., Kilpatrick, M., & Sanderson, K. (2019). A systematic review and meta-analysis of workplace mindfulness training randomized controlled trials. Journal of occupational health psychology, 24(1), 108-126. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1037/ocp0000146 and https://eprints.utas.edu.au/29794/1/OCP-2017-0855%20BARTLETT%20et%20al%20Accepted%20Manuscript.pdf.
Friedli, L. & Stearn, R. (2015). Positive affect as coercive strategy: conditionality, activation and the role of psychology in UK government workfare programmes. Medical Humanities, 41, 40-47. Retrieved from https://mh.bmj.com/content/41/1/40 and https://www.researchgate.net/publication/277893706_Positive_affect_as_coercive_strategy_Conditionality_activation_and_the_role_of_psychology_in_UK_government_workfare_programmes.
Hafenbrack, A. C., & Vohs, K. D. (2018). Mindfulness meditation impairs task motivation but not performance. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 147, 1-15. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.obhdp.2018.05.001 and https://carlsonschool.umn.edu/sites/carlsonschool.umn.edu/files/2019-04/hafenbrack_vohs_2018_obhdp_mindfulness_impairs_motivation_0.pdf.
Schlosser, M., Sparby, T., Vörös, S., Jones, R., & Marchant, N. L. (2019). Unpleasant meditation-related experiences in regular meditators: Prevalence, predictors, and conceptual considerations. PLoS One, 14(5), e0216643. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0216643 and https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0216643.