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Tackling workplace stress

PhD candidate wins SSHRC scholarship to study mindfulness


By Susan White

A PhD candidate in the Faculty of Business Administration has secured a prestigious doctoral scholarship from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Megan Walsh has won a Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship valued at $105,000. Ms. Walsh, who is supervised by Dr. Kara Arnold, will research how mindfulness training can reduce business leaders’ stress and improve their performance.

SSHRC is a federal research funding agency and the premier supporter of social sciences and humanities research in Canada.

“Being recognized by SSHRC through this scholarship is incredible for me as a PhD candidate,” said Ms. Walsh. “Not only does it mean that I can focus even more intently on my research but it also feels great to be recognized in such a tough competition across Canada. It is reassuring to know that my research is worth this type of investment, and this award will give me the support to make my work the best it can be.”

Ms. Walsh’s work tackles workplace stress. These are stressful times in the workplace, especially for business leaders, she says, with stress adversely impacting leaders’ abilities to make effective decisions, support their employees and compete internationally.

Her project, Thriving Leaders: A Multi-method Analysis of Leaders’ Resilience to Stress, aims to show how mindfulness training, commonly described as focusing attention and awareness on the present moment, allows business leaders to thrive under stressful conditions.

“On the research side, my work will take a preventative approach to help organizational leaders thrive in their inherently stressful roles.” ― Megan Walsh

Ms. Walsh predicts that leaders will have lower stress levels, increased personal and organizational performance and enhanced emotional well-being after completing mindfulness training.

“My project will have contributions for research and practice,” she said. “On the research side, my work will take a preventative approach to help organizational leaders thrive in their inherently stressful roles.”

Ms. Walsh is responding to recent calls for more research into this area. While leadership roles are increasingly stressful, she says, studies have yet to adequately show how mindfulness can be “a positive, trainable resource for leaders.”

“From a practical perspective,” she added, “I will show that implementing relatively short mindfulness training programs for leaders can have positive impacts on individual and organizational levels. My overall goal is to show that promoting mindful leadership is helpful for businesses in terms of promoting resilience in leadership positions.”

This research has the potential to not only improve the performance of leaders but also of employees, organizations and the Canadian economy.

For an example of Ms. Walsh’s previous work, see her article, Leadership Styles, Emotion Regulation, and Burnout, co-authored with Dr. Arnold, Dr. Catherine Connelly and Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (April 2015).

Dr. Connelly is an associate professor of human resources and management and Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in organizational behaviour at DeGroote School of Business and Dr. Martin Ginis is a professor of kinesiology, both at McMaster University.

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