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To the Editor:
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, positive interventions in the workplace to optimize employee wellbeing and favorable work outcomes were growing globally.1 Positive interventions can be broadly defined as evidence-based interventions that focus on positive topics, functions, mechanisms, and outcomes in order to promote wellbeing and optimal functioning rather than alleviate mental disorders and fix weakness.2 Reviewing 22 studies of positive interventions in the workplace, Donaldson et al,1 identified five types of intervention (psychological capital, job crafting, strengths, gratitude, and wellbeing interventions) and found that these interventions have a small positive effect on desirable work outcomes (eg, performance, job specific wellbeing, and work engagement). However, most of these interventions use an in-person individual or group format,1 which is not permissible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although Donaldson et al1 found no significant impact of delivery method (group, individual, or online) on increasing desirable work outcomes, Knight et al,3 found that group interventions were the most effective, above and beyond individual, and online interventions, in building work engagement. However, in-person individual or group interventions are not permissible during the pandemic and are scalable post pandemic. Thus, there is a need to identify and evaluate effective online workplace positive interventions to restore employee wellbeing and positive work experiences during and post pandemic. The present letter introduces an emerging yoga-based online positive intervention, Inner Engineering Online (IEO), and reports findings from a pilot study that explores its effect on employee wellbeing and constructive work experiences.
POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY AND YOGA
Surprisingly, positive interventions have overlooked the benefits of yoga, which shares much in common with positive psychology.4,5 Both have goals of achieving optimal wellbeing and functioning, enriching meaning in life, and seeking person growth.5 This oversight could result from the fact that, oddly, modern research of yoga has focused on alleviating “deficit-based” physical and mental pathologies rather than promoting “asset-based” optimal wellbeing and functioning.5,6 Hendriks et al,5 call for more research focusing on the positive outcomes of yoga to remediate this gap in knowledge.
INNER ENGINEERING ONLINE (IEO)
Drawing on the ancient classical science of yoga, IEO is a multi-component program that consists of seven self-paced online sessions (about 90-minute per session) to be completed within 4-weeks. The program is available in seven languages. Yoga literately means “union” and encompasses the science and “technology” of inner wellbeing.6,7 The “Inner Engineering” methodology incorporates all major paths of yoga—“jnana” (intellect), “karma” (action), “bhakti” (love and devotion), and “kriya” (energy).7
The seven thematic online sessions8 engage participants in “jnana” yoga through an intellectual, phenomenological, and dialectic investigation of the source and nature of human experiences. Self-awareness and self-regulation skills are further enhanced through expressive and reflective writing at the end of each lesson. Home practice involves mentally reviewing these class aspects daily. At the end of each online session, participants experience guided meditations that address different areas of wellbeing—health, love, success, and peace.
During the program, participants learn a system of postures called “Upa Yoga” (“sub-yoga” or “pre-yoga”) that “activates the joints, muscles, and energy system, bringing ease to the whole system.”9 They are later initiated into the yoga of sound (AUM chanting). Shobitha and Agarwal10 found that AUM chanting brings physiological relaxation and mental alertness. Daily practices (about 30 minutes) include directional movements of the arms, knee rotation, squatting, neck practices, yoga namaskar, sit and review class aspects, and AUM chanting for a minimum of 40 days.
A SMALL PILOT STUDY OF IEO
In North America, IEO was offered as a small pilot workplace program at a Fortune 500 company in 2018. Since then, several other technology firms have followed suit.11 Upadhyay et al,11 found that the IEO program significantly reduced stress and cynicism among IT professionals who adhered to recommended practices. The increasing adoption of IEO in the workplace necessitates documentation of its impact not only on relieving employee distress and disorders11 but also on employee wellbeing, positive work experiences, and optimal functioning. This Institutional Review Board approved pilot study explores the effect of IEO on employee wellbeing (mindfulness, joy, vitality, restfulness, and wholeness) and positive work outcomes (inclusiveness, meaningful work, psychological capital, and work engagement).
These wellbeing and work outcomes are defined and measured as follows. Mindfulness refers to awareness that arises from “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”12 It is measured by the five-item Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS).13 Joy is one of the key positive emotions that builds personal resources physically, intellectually, and socially14 and is measured by the six-item joy subscale of the Dispositional Positive Emotion Scales (six-item).15 Vitality refers to “the state of feeling alive and alert--to having energy available to the Self” and is measured by the six-item Subjective Vitality Scale.16 Ryan and Deci17 consider vitality as an aspect of eudemonic wellbeing and suggest that “ being vital and energetic is part of what it means to be fully functioning and psychologically well.” Restfulness is the restorative quality of sleep and measured by reduction in sleep problems by using the four-item estimation of sleep problems.18 Wholeness involves a sense of authenticity and integrity and is measured by the four-item self subscale of the sources of spirituality.19 Inclusiveness involves awareness that one's effectiveness is enhanced through connection and receptivity to others and is measured by the three-item Transcendence Relatedness subscale of the Integrated Spiritual Intelligence scale.20 Meaningful work is measured by three items from the Meaningfulness of Work subscale of the Spiritual Climate scale.21 Psychological Capital consists of four components (self-efficacy, hope, optimism, and resilience) and is measured by the 12-item psychological capital global scale.22 Work engagement consists of three main components (vigor, absorption, and dedication) and is measured by the nine-item Utrecht Work Engagement.23
IEO ENHANCES EMPLOYEE WELLBEING AND POSITIVE WORK EXPERIENCES
With informed consent, 42 employees participated in the pre-program survey. However, only 16 of them completed the post-program survey. Figure 1 presents the univariate scatter plots24 of key outcomes at pre and post-test. Overall, employees experience an increase in wellbeing and favorable work outcomes (the median difference between pre and post measures is positive). Furthermore, the Wilcoxon Signed Rank test results, using exact two-sided P-value, confirm that median scores of mindfulness (P = 0.036), vitality (P = 0.015), a sense of meaningful work (P = 0.006), psychological capital (P = 0.003), and work engagement (P = 0.021) significantly increased from pre to post-test. However, the increase in median scores of joy (P = 0.053), restfulness (P = 0.145), wholeness (P = 0.103), and inclusiveness (P = 0.055) was not statistically significant. Overall, IEO had a significant positive effect on employee wellbeing (mindfulness and vitality) and positive organizational behavior (meaningful work, psychological capital, and work engagement).
IN EMPLOYEES’ OWN WORDS
The pilot study also collected employees’ own narrative on how they experience the impact of IEO, if any. Their narrative corroborates quantitative findings. Employees feel empowered and more “in control” of their personal and work life after completing IEO training. Highlights of the narrative are as follows:
“I am more focused and aware of activities and others. I control the things I can while not worrying or trying to control the things that I don’t have control over.”
“It's largely opened my mind. I find myself reminding myself that my emotions and my life situation are in my own hands, which enables me to dismiss much of the previous hurt and instead focus on solutions.”
“I took on additional tasks that added to my workload but was able to maintain my composure.”
Employees have become more aware. They are more capable of reducing unproductive rumination and responding more consciously rather than reacting compulsively to internal or external stimuli. Here are some examples in employees’ own words:
“It has made me more present, conscious, and responsible. I will sometimes stop in my tracks and think about what is going on and how I should react.”
“Good in that I have new awareness and tools to deal with life and stress and I have been calmer and patient with people as a result. Bad because I am frustrated with myself that I am not dedicating the time I know I should to these new tools to make my life even better.”
Finally, one respondent was less dreadful of work by transforming work into meditation:
“I have dreaded going to work less. I have been trying to treat each day as a long meditation, reminding myself that each moment is unique and inevitable and ephemeral whenever I feel stressed or am doing something I don’t prefer to be doing.”
IMPLICATION FOR THE COVID PANDEMIC
Although the pilot study was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, its findings present important and relevant implications. Since the pandemic disrupted all aspects of life, providing employees with psychological resources to maintain their wellbeing and positive experience of work is as essential as providing them with job resources. The pilot findings suggest that IEO is a potential tool to help employees build psychological resources. The wellbeing and work experience of healthcare professionals are particularly vulnerable during the pandemic.25 As a result, free, online, and accessible tools to maintain and restore their wellbeing and positive work experiences are crucial. Recognizing this need and the lack of relevant resources, IEO was offered at no cost to healthcare professionals globally during the pandemic.
In conclusion, the pilot study provides preliminary evidence for IEO to serve as a positive intervention in the workplace. IEO provides the tools to promote employee wellbeing (mindfulness and vitality) and positive work outcomes (meaningful work, psychological capital, and work engagement). Nonetheless, further research employing rigorous methods that study employees during or post-pandemic is required to showcase the full potential of IEO as a positive intervention in the workplace.
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