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“Mindfulness” Techniques Achieve Long-Lasting Results at Hectic Call Center

Tuesday, March 1, 2016, Cleveland Workplace stress harms employees’ physical and mental health and hurts employers’ bottom lines. But a Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute study found that mindfulness-based techniques, including meditation, can lower stress levels in a demanding work environment and lead to happier, more engaged employees.

In a one-year, randomized study, wellness researchers introduced an online stress management program at a busy corporate call center. After eight weeks of intervention, participating employees reported feeling more energy and less stress and anxiety, which can lead to depression. Many said they were sleeping better and had lost weight. Positive psychological changes were still evident a year later.

“What we found is that when employers make a real commitment to building resiliency in their workforce, the benefits are sustainable,” said Jennifer Hunter, the director of Wellness, Employer Services, at Cleveland Clinic.

Hunter, a cognitive behavior therapist and one of the study’s five authors, finds it significant that the positive change appears to be lasting, meaning the employees learned new, permanent skills.
A full year after the stress reduction program, participants reported:

  • a 31 percent decrease in stress levels
  • a 28 percent increase in vitality, a measure of how energized a person feels throughout the workday

The study is being published this week in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The study sought to determine whether a low-cost, broadly appealing stress reduction program would work in an emotionally demanding workplace. A call center near Cleveland fit the criteria. Many of its roughly 900 employees are debt collectors, who call people who are late paying their credit card bills. Initially, researchers found stress levels that exceeded those experienced by nurses, services workers and most other American workers.

Wellness specialists introduced meditation techniques based on the concept of mindfulness, a form of self-awareness sometimes defined as grounding oneself in the moment. Mindfulness has been proven to quiet the body’s stress response and to make challenges appear less threatening, Hunter said.

The 161 study participants were randomly divided into four groups, including a control group that did not receive treatment. Members of the other three groups were given online access to a Cleveland Clinic-designed relaxation program – Stress Free Now – as well as a compact disc that guided them through the program. They were asked to practice the relaxation techniques at least four times a week.

One group of participants followed the program on their own. The two others were divided into teams that met in weekly sessions, some guided by a clinical expert. For all three groups, stress levels plunged. Virtually all participants reported feeling less anxious and less emotionally exhausted, though group interaction enhanced results significantly.

  • Those who met in teams displayed the highest participation rates; between 80 and 90 percent of group members completed the eight-week program
  • For those not grouped with peers, completion rates fell to about 40 percent, which is more typical for an online program

Researchers surmise that peer support and group discussions helped employees to customize the program to fit their needs, and to stick with it.

“With group support, people make it their own. They personalize it,” Hunter said. “We heard from people all the time, ‘I didn’t realize how stressed everyone else was.’”

Michael Roizen, M.D., the Chief Wellness Officer at Cleveland Clinic, said the study shows that employers can help workers to address a major cause of dissatisfaction and illness – stress – and achieve lasting results.

“Unmanaged stress is the largest cause of chronic disease in the world,” Roizen said. “Stress is associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer and dementia. These data show that while you cannot always eliminate the events that cause you to feel stress, you can always manage your response.”

Read more about how Cleveland Clinic’s Stress Free Now Program can improve the health and resilience of your employees

About Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S.News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. More than 3,000 full-time salaried physicians and researchers and 11,000 nurses represent 120 medical specialties and subspecialties. The Cleveland Clinic health system includes a main campus near downtown Cleveland, eight community hospitals, more than 90 northern Ohio outpatient locations, including 18 full-service family health centers, Cleveland Clinic Florida, the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, Cleveland Clinic Canada, and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi. In 2014, there were 5.9 million outpatient visits throughout the Cleveland Clinic health system and 152,500 hospital admissions. Patients came for treatment from every state and 147 countries. Visit us at Follow us at

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