Q&A with the authors of The Mindful & Effective Employee

Frank W. Bond, PhD, and Paul E. Flaxman, PhD are authors of The Mindful & Effective Employee, which offers a detailed description of how ACT can be delivered in the workplace, not only to improve employees’ mental health, but also to enhance behavioral effectiveness and quality of life.

Why did you write this book?

The book reflects the culmination of our training and research that stretches back some 15 years—right back to the development of Frank’s pioneering ideas on the utility of applying and evaluating ACT interventions in the workplace. Over the years, we have published summaries of our workplace training protocols in various chapters, and our research findings in various CBT and occupational health journal articles, but hadn’t yet had the time to write a more substantial piece on the types of ACT strategies we have seen working well with groups of employees. Also, we have now reached a point where the evidence-base is convincing enough for us to disseminate in a more comprehensive account of the training itself.

We have also been excited by the excellent ACT work being done in Sweden, particularly the work of Fredrik Livheim and his colleagues, who are finding ways to deliver ACT interventions to increasing numbers of the Swedish working population. Their work has ensured that ACT-based training has reached (and helped) several hundred participants in a relatively short space of time. We were delighted to be able to include details of this pioneering work in the book.

Another strong motivation for writing this book is that we remain deeply concerned by the shocking prevalence rates of mental ill-health found among the workforces of most (if not all) industrialized nations. We summarise some of the estimates in the opening chapter of the book. High levels of employee distress are not only a problem for the individuals concerned,  but also costly for employing organisations who pay the price of having a workforce that is not functioning as well it could, and in terms of absenteeism and turnover. We believe that improving psychological health among working-age adults is one of the most pressing issues of the modern age, and we have found that ACT is one of the most effective approaches for this purpose.

What key messages are you trying to get across to practitioners?

First, we hope we have shown that it pays to keep things simple! It is all too easy to overwhelm busy employees with such interventions. To this end, we describe in the book some of the simple organising frameworks we have found useful when communicating ACT’s processes—such as the ‘two skills framework’ that organises some of our training; the ‘two pieces of paper technique’ that communicates the overarching rationale for the program; and the trusty and reliable ‘passengers on the bus’ metaphor. We also hope to have communicated the extreme importance of the trainer’s stance and style when delivering ACT-based training. From the very first interactions, the most effective trainers will be noticing and using opportunities to highlight and reinforce psychologically-flexible responding, and will be modelling psychological flexibility in everything they say and do. In addition, although we present in the book a generic skills-training protocol, we were also keen to highlight other innovative ways in which ACT and RFT are being applied in organisations. This includes showcasing the ACT-inspired work of our fellow workplace practitioners from around the globe, and also reflecting on the future role of ACT in initiatives such as leadership development and reducing the impact of emotional labor on employees’ psychological functioning.

What new research is included that will be of interest to the ACT community?

In the research review chapter, we were pleased to have the opportunity to update our previous reviews of the evidence supporting the use of ACT in workplace settings. We have included the most recent studies conducted by our own teams, and also the research of other teams showing the utility of promoting employees’ psychological flexibility among a range of different occupational groups. Some exciting new areas of research include: the application of ACT processes and strategies in customer service roles; the use of ACT to reduce and prevent work-related burnout; and exploring the link between psychological flexibility and the quality of employees’ leisure time experiences. Much of this work is ongoing and we anticipate further research findings appearing in the public domain very soon.

Frank W. Bond, PhD, is professor of psychology and director of the Institute of Management Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. His research and consulting work focuses on the psychological and organizational processes that underpin peak performance and well-being in the workplace.

Paul E. Flaxman, PhD, is senior lecturer in psychology at City University London. He specializes in adapting acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) to help improve employees’ mental health and performance. Evaluations of Paul’s ACT interventions have been published in numerous scientific papers and books, and he has been invited to present his research at conferences around the globe. Paul recently directed two major projects focused on delivering ACT and other mindfulness-based interventions to public sector workers across the United Kingdom.

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