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Running Head: STRESS AND MINDFULNESS CORRELATION

The Correlation between Mindfulness and Stress among Call Center Agents Joshua L. Samarista University of the Philippines Manila

Author Note Correspondence concerning this paper should be addressed to Joshua L. Samarista, Department of Arts and Communication, Rizal Hall, College of Arts and Sciences, University of the Philippines, Manila. Phone: (02) 899 7124, Mobile: +63 905 352 1999, Email: joshua_samarista@yahoo.com

STRESS AND MINDFULNESS CORRELATION

Abstract In the context of call center organizations, mindfulness and stress play a very big role in employee participation. With this information, this research studied the relationship between the mindfulness and stress levels of a call center agent. Data were gathered through survey questionnaires and were analyzed at the nominal level. Research findings suggest that there is a significant relationship between stress and mindfulness, though it also reported that the relationship is weak. Hopefully, these findings will lead the way for a deeper understanding of the variables and help develop and/or improve the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs here in the Philippines. Keywords: mindfulness, stress, call center, call center agents

STRESS AND MINDFULNESS CORRELATION

The Correlation between Mindfulness and Stress among Call Center Agents For call center agents, it is very important that they are mindful of what they are doing while working. Considering that their duties might become routine, call center agents should be able to handle the stresses brought by the nature and the demands of their work. Will their being mindful affect their perception of stress? Or will stress be the one determining the agents being mindful? This research attempts to discover the relationship between stress and mindfulness among call center agents. The Nature of Stress According to Adams (1980), stress is a necessary and positive force. He explains that we cannot work effectively or even maintain good health and a sense of well-being without a fair amount of it; in other words, if we have insufficient stress in our lives, we may rust out (p. 1). However, let us not forget that stress also becomes a major problem if we are exposed to too much work and disruptions (Adams, 1980). There are also three models which we can use as basis for the definition of stress (Cassidy, 1999). The first is the stimulus model; this model assumes that stress is something that is outside the person; for example, role conflict1 (French & Caplan, 1972) affects the physiological and psychological strain of regular employees (see Figure 1). In the call center context, we can say that demands from callers, technical glitches, and deadlines can be considered sources of stress, or stressors. The second model, the response model, assumes that stress is something the person experiences. In this model: we are inferring an abstract experience called stress from observing symptoms such as irritability, lack of energy, sleeplessness, headaches,

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digestive problems, and so on. These inferences may be from observing symptoms in others or ourselves. This approach really addresses the consequences of the demands, or attempts to deal with the demands (Cassidy, 1999, p. 7). The third and final model is the transaction model. This assumes that stress is the transaction between the person and his/her environment. It puts together the first two models to create a process model that offers a holistic and contextual perspective. It is the most accepted approach today since experiencing stress will involve demands from our environment, our emotional, cognitive, behavioral, physiological responses to them, and an outcome in terms of psychological and physiological adaptations (Cassidy, 1999). In this research, we shall use the transactional model. In the context of call centers, stress refers to the environmental (i.e., outside the person) demands upon the agent and his/her response to those demands. The Meaning of Mindfulness Mindfulness is only an attribute of consciousness, and it is believed to promote well-being (Brown & Ryan, 2003). Germer et al. (2005) defines mindfulness as the skill that focuses all our attention on the task at hand. When we are mindful, our attention is not entangled in the past or future, and we are not judging or rejecting what is occurring at the moment. We are present (Germer et al., 1999, p. 5). Being mindful is not getting caught up in distracting ideas and judgments about the events occurring in the moment, but it is a way of relating to all our experiences so that our sense of well-being increases and a way of recognizing what is happening in the moment (Germer et al., 2005).

STRESS AND MINDFULNESS CORRELATION

We shall refer to mindfulness in this research as the ability of the call center agent to focus his/her attention on the task at hand. Taking into account the nature of their work, especially the night shift workers, it must be hard for them to stay focused and attentive. Related Scholarship In a study conducted by Chang et al. (2004) about stress reduction, they found that the practice of mindfulness meditation have helped the participants to reduce their perception of stress and experience a positive state of mind. The researchers also noted that the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) intervention2 was helpful in achieving positive results (Chang et al., 2004). In the call center context, Narayanan and Moynihan (2006) studied how mindfulness of an employee affects his/her burnout tendencies. They argued that individuals with high levels of mindfulness view their work demands in a more positive light and that these people are less likely to view those demands as sources of stress. The results of their research show strong support for their first hypothesis: Mindfulness will be negatively related to emotional exhaustion. This only shows that being mindful means less perception of stress. Two other studies also confirm this negative relationship between mindfulness and stress (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Splevins et al., 2009). Brown and Ryans research even reported that increase in mindfulness can predict a decline in mood disturbance and stress. Method Respondents A sample of 120 call center employees (47 females, 73 males) were chosen from the whole MOTIF Intelligent Outsourcing Company employee pool using the stratified

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random sampling scheme and were asked to answer the survey. Of all the respondents, 97 were call center agents, and 23 were supervisors. Ninety respondents had shifts during the night, and only 30 had them during the day. Instrument The survey questionnaire was composed of three parts: first, the International Stress Management Association (ISMA) Stress Questionnaire; second, the Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS); and lastly, an 8-item multiple-choice questionnaire. Each part is detailed in the succeeding paragraphs. The ISMA Stress Questionnaire. This questionnaire is from The International Stress Management Association in the United Kingdom. It aims to give a quick diagnosis regarding a persons likeliness to experience stress (e.g., ill mental health, migraine, high blood pressure, etc.). However, it also acknowledges that there is no one stress test that can give a person a complete diagnosis of his/her stress levels. It is composed of 25 situations in which the respondent may answer yes or no; with yes equivalent to a point and no equivalent to none. A score from 0-4 indicates that the respondent has low stress level; a score from 5-13 indicates moderate stress level; and a score from 14-25 indicates high stress level. The MAAS. The Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale was created by Brown and Ryan and was presented in their journal, The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in Psychological Well-Being (2003). This scale assesses individual differences in the frequency of states of mindfulness over time. It focuses on the presence and absence of attention to and awareness of what is occurring in the present (Brown & Ryan, 2003). The questionnaire is composed of 15 situational items

STRESS AND MINDFULNESS CORRELATION

to be answered in a 6-point Likert scale (1 = almost always or low dispositional mindfulness and 6 = almost never or high dispositional mindfulness). The respondents score will be computed by getting the mean of all the scores. A mean ranging from 12.33 reflects low level of dispositional mindfulness; a mean ranging from 2.34-3.37 reflects moderate level of dispositional mindfulness; and a mean ranging from 3.68-6 reflects a high level of dispositional mindfulness. For this instruments validity score, Brown and Ryan (2003) concluded that the scale is tapping a distinct construct (p. 832). Demographics. This 8-item multiple-choice questionnaire was used to gather information about the demographics of the respondents. Aside from the usual information (e.g., sex and year of birth), it also include the respondents position in the company, working shift, nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol intake, and frequency of sexual intercourse. All information gathered was measured as nominal measurements. Procedure Before administering the research proper, a consent form was given to the Human Resources Department head. For the research administration, 150 questionnaires were left in the companys office in Eastwood, Libis, in Quezon City to be piloted by the recruitment head in the Human Resources Department. The questionnaires were with the company for 4 working days (March 8 11, 2011) and were fetched after. Out of the 150 questionnaires, only 132 were returned and only 120 were considered valid. As for the data analysis, the information gathered was tabulated using Microsoft Excel. Given an alpha level of .05, the chi-square test for independence (Yates Correction Factor and not Pearsons since at least one cell in the contingency

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table contained less than 5 units) was used for the variables and for the variables correlation with the demographics. For variables that were found to be dependent on each other, a Cramers V test was employed to determine the strength of the relationship between the variables using also the same alpha. As for the probability value, an online calculator3 from the Vassar College in New York was used. Results The analyses of data reported that there were statistically significant relationships between stress and mindfulness, x2 (4, N = 120) = 26.86, p < .0001; stress and caffeine intake, x2 (10, N = 120) = 19.61, p = .0332; stress and sexual intercourse frequency, x2 (8, N = 120) = 16.39, p = .0372; mindfulness and job position, x2 (2, N = 120) = 8.11, p = .0173; mindfulness and working shift, x2 (2, N = 120) = 6.39, p = .041. The analyses also reported a number of non-significant relationships (see Table 1 for the complete scores). However, these relationships were all found weak, if not very weak. Discussion This research was conducted to determine if there is a relationship between stress and mindfulness among call center agents. The statistical data presented in the preceding paragraph provide enough evidence that in the considered context, there is a weak significant relationship between stress and mindfulness. The findings of this research affirm past studies that there is a relationship between a persons well-being, specifically stress levels, and his/her ability to be mindful of the task at hand (Brown & Ryan, 2003; Chang et al., 2004; Splevins et al., 2009; Narayanan & Moynihan, 2006). Based on the respondents scores (see Figure 2), I can deduce that the relationship is negative. As what Narayanan and Moynihan (2006)

STRESS AND MINDFULNESS CORRELATION

hypothesized, Mindfulness will be negatively related to emotional exhaustion (p. 3), and emotional exhaustion being related to stress, I also argue that however weak the relationship might be, there is a negative relationship between stress and mindfulness. However, the judgments I made are only based on my findings and the findings of the other researches mentioned. It is also important to note the restrictions of this research. First, the answers of the respondents may have been influenced by their working situations (e.g., workload, boredom, etc.). They might have answered the survey mindlessly because of personal conflicts. Second, the number of respondents working night shift are three times the number of those working day shift. These may imply that the findings might only be applicable to those who work at night; however, since probabilistic sampling was used, I assure that every employee had the equal chance of being chosen as a sample. Finally, the information gathered by this research was examined only at the nominal level of measurement. It may present significant findings, but though it is accurate in its own right, a more accurate and clear description of the relationships mentioned may be made by studying data at the interval-ratio level of measurement. Hopefully, future researchers will be able to provide a deeper understanding of the relationship between stress levels and dispositional mindfulness by gathering data that can be tested at the interval-ratio level of measurement. May this research be a useful material for future researches and be supplemental for the development of a Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program here in the country.

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References Adams, J. D. (Ed.). (1980). Understanding and Managing Stress: A Book of Readings. San Diego: Pfeiffer & Company. Brown, K. W., & Ryan, R. M. (2003). The Benefits of Being Present: Mindfulness and Its Role in Psychological Well-Being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 84, 822-848. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.84.4.822 Cassidy, T. (1999). Stress, Cognition, and Health. London: Routledge Chang, V. Y., Palesh, O., Caldwell, R., Glasgow, N., Abramson, M., Luskin, F., Koopman, C. (2004). The effects of a mindfulness-based stress reduction program on stress, mindfulness self-efficacy, and positive states of mind. Stress and Health, 20, 141-147. doi: 10.1002/smi.1011 French, J. R. P., Jr., & Caplan, R. D. (1972). Organizational Stress and Individual Strain. In Adams, J. D. (Ed.), Understanding and Managing Stress: A Book of Readings (pp. 45-80). San Diego: Pfeiffer & Company. Germer, C. K., Siegel, R. D., & Fulton, P. R. (Eds.). (2005). Mindfulness and Psychotherapy. New York: The Guilford Press. Narayanan, J., & Moynihan, L. (2006). Mindfulness at Work: The Beneficial Effects on Job Burnout in Call Centers. London Business School: London. Splevins, K., Smith, A., & Simpson, J. (2009). Do improvements in emotional distress correlate with becoming more mindful? A study of older adults. Aging & Mental Health, 13, 328-335. doi: 10.1080/13607860802459807

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Footnotes
1

Role Conflict is the situation wherein an employee is asked to comply with

completely opposing demands (French & Caplan, 1972).


2

The MBSR intervention is a program enable its participants to close the loop

between their actions and their thoughts and emotions (Narayanan & Moynihan, 2006).
3

This online calculator can be accessed from the website

http://faculty.vassar.edu/lowry/tabs.html.

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Table 1 Relationship Scores ( = .05)


Relationship between Stress Stress Stress Stress Stress Stress Stress Stress Stress Mindfulness Sex Job Position Work Shift Age Nicotine Intake Caffeine Intake Alcohol Intake Sexual Intercourse Frequency Mindfulness Mindfulness Mindfulness Mindfulness Mindfulness Mindfulness Mindfulness Mindfulness Sex Job Position Work Shift Age Nicotine Intake Caffeine Intake Alcohol Intake Sexual Intercourse Frequency 1.13 (not dependent) 8.11 (dependent) 6.39 (dependent) 7.57 (not dependent) 14.08 (not dependent) 18.28 (not dependent) 7.71 (not dependent) 10.61 (not dependent) 0.260 (weak) 0.231 (weak) 0.5681 (not significant) 0.0173 (significant) 0.041 (significant) 0.1087 (not significant) 0.1694 (not significant) 0.0505 (not significant) 0.4621 (not significant) 0.2248 (not significant) X (remark) 26.86 (dependent) 3.04 (not dependent) 2.26 (not dependent) 2.54 (not dependent) 2.91 (not dependent) 16.20 (not dependent) 19.61 (dependent) 13.21 (not dependent) 16.39 (dependent) 0.261 (weak) 0.286 (weak)
2

V (remark) 0.335 (weak)

P value (remark) <0.0001 (significant) 0.2184 (not significant) 0.3234 (not significant) 0.2804 (not significant) 0.5725 (not significant) 0.0941 (not significant) 0.0332 (significant) 0.105 (not significant) 0.0372 (significant)

Note. This table shows the Chi-Square, and, if necessary, the Cramers V scores of all the relationships. Remarks were also shown to distinguish significant from nonsignificant relationships.

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Figure 1. The Effects of Role Conflict on Psychological and Physiological Strain (French & Caplan, 1972). Job stress, particularly role conflict, produces different kinds of individual strain; but these strain effects still vary depending on the personality of the individual and the kind of relationships he/she has with other people.

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Figure 2. The scores of each respondent on dispositional mindfulness and stress levels (N = 120).