Research Round-Up: Psychological Flexibility in the Workplace

Psychological flexibility, the general goal of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), has been proven by a convincing body of evidence to be associated with a range of favorable outcomes in the workplace setting, particularly regarding worker’s well-being and effectiveness. Studies have repeatedly shown that ACT interventions yield significant improvements in general mental health, and have shown potential for improving work performance indicators such as potential for innovation, and numbers of sick days. Findings consistently show that ACT interventions significantly increase people’s psychological flexibility.

In recent years, research has examined links between psychological flexibility and employees’ mental health and work-related functioning, and the effectiveness of ACT-based interventions with working populations has been evaluated. In their book, The Mindful and Effective Employee: An Acceptance and Commitment Therapy Training Manual for Improving Well-Being and Performance, authors Paul Flaxman, Frank Bond and Fredrik Livheim provide a research that shows the effectiveness and importance of the their approach to worksite interventions to promote psychological flexibility.

A growing number of studies have found significant relationships between psychological flexibility and various employee and organizational outcomes:

  • Bond and Bunce (2003) conducted a longitudinal study to assess the influence of psychological flexibility on the mental health and work performance of over four hundred customer service workers within a financial services organization in the UK. Results indicated that psychological flexibility longitudinally predicted both mental health and work performance. The beneficial effects of psychological flexibility were observed even after controlling for other potentially influential individual and work characteristics, including job control, negative affectivity, and locus of control (See also Donaldson-Feilder & Bond, 2004).
  • The same study tested the hypothesis that psychological flexibility would interact with job control to influence employee well-being and performance. Job control is defined as the perceived ability to exert influence over one’s work environment in order to make it more rewarding and less threatening. Bond and Bunce’s (2003) study showed that employees with higher levels of psychological flexibility gained the most benefits from having higher control over their work.
  • Bond and Flaxman (2006) investigated the degree to which psychological flexibility and job control predicted employees’ ability to learn new skills at work. They found that psychological flexibility was found to enhance the beneficial effects of job control.
  • Links between psychological flexibility, job control and employee well-being were further examined in an organizational change intervention (Bond et al., 2008). Workers who had higher levels of psychological flexibility perceived greater levels of job control as a result of the intervention, and this enhanced perception of control led to improvements in absence rates and general mental health.
  • Mitmansgruber, Beck, and Schüssler (2008) investigated the benefits of psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and values-based action among various other working populations beyond financial services workers as in the studies mentioned above. Psychological flexibility among paramedics working for the Austrian Red Cross explained 39 percent of the variance in their psychological well-being, and 11 percent of the variance in their life satisfaction.
  • McCracken and Yang (2008) found psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and values-based action to be a powerful set of predictors of stress and general life functioning among a group of ninety-eight rehabilitation workers from various occupations, including nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, physicians, and speech and language therapists in Singapore. Psychological flexibility, mindfulness, and values-based action explained between 13 percent and 61 percent of variance on a range of indicators of mental health and social functioning.
  •  Vilardaga et al. (2001) examined the extent to which psychological flexibility, a measure of cognitive fusion, and self-rated success at pursuing personally chosen work values predicted levels of burnout. In support of the ACT model, psychological inflexibility, fusion, and less successful pursuit of values-directed action were all significant predictors of employee burnout. These predictive effects were found after the researchers had accounted for the effects of a range of potentially influential work-related factors, including job control, coworker and supervisory support, workload, salary, and tenure.


Bond, F. W., & Bunce, D. (2003). The role of acceptance and job control in mental health, job satisfaction, and work performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 88, 1057–1067.

Donaldson-Feilder, E., & Bond, F. W. (2004). Psychological acceptance and emotional intelligence in relation to workplace well-being. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 34, 187–203.

Bond, F. W., & Flaxman, P. E. (2006). The ability of psychological flexibility and job control to predict learning, job performance, and mental health. Journal of Organizational Behavior Management, 26, 113–130.

Bond, F. W., Flaxman, P. E., & Bunce, D. (2008). The influence of psychological flexibility on work redesign: Mediated moderation of a work reorganization intervention. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 645–654.

Mitmansgruber, H., Beck, T. N., & Schüssler, G. (2008). “Mindful helpers”: Experiential avoidance, meta-emotions, and emotion regulation in paramedics. Journal of Research in Personality, 42, 1358–1363.

McCracken, L. M., & Yang, S-Y. (2008). A contextual cognitive-behavioral analysis of rehabilitation workers’ health and well-being: Influences of accept

Vilardaga, R., Luoma, J. B., Hayes, S. C., Pistorello, J., Levin, M. E., Hildebrandt, M. J., et al. (2011). Burnout among the addiction counseling workforce: The differential roles of mindfulness and values-based processes and work-site factors. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 40, 323–335.

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