Can mindfulness help people working in chaotic environments like restaurants, where one customer might ask for a fork while another wants more ice?

Our Mindful Mondays series provides ongoing coverage of the exploding field of mindfulness research. Our Mindful Mondays series provides ongoing coverage of the exploding field of mindfulness research.

That’s the question tackled in a new study published in the journal Human Relations. Erik Dane of Rice University and Bradley Brummel of the University of Tulsa surveyed 98 servers in restaurant chains in Southwest America to assess their level of mindfulness at work. For instance, they asked servers to rate how true this statement is: “When working as a server, I find it difficult to stay focused on what’s happening in the present.”

The researchers also measured their engagement, energy level, and dedication at work. And they asked the managers to rate the servers job performance.

What did they find?

Managers rated servers with higher mindfulness scores as having better job performance.

What’s more, workplace mindfulness contributed to job performance independently of how engaged servers are in their work. While workplace engagement and mindfulness are similar concepts—both likely direct attention to work-related tasks—the researchers think that workplace engagement likely enhances positive feelings, while mindfulness boosts cognitive resources and breadth of attention to help people juggle many events at once. 

Though past research has shown that mindfulness enhances performance on cognitive tasks, this study is the first to show that mindfulness boosts performance in a fast-paced, ever-changing work environment.

More research is needed to determine whether mindfulness itself causes better performance at work, or whether job performance and mindfulness are related due to some other factor—but this initial study is important in establishing that mindfulness and job performance are correlated. Eventually, the researchers think that scholars could develop trainings that increase workplace mindfulness, and in turn, elevate job performance.

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