UFH PhD candidate's award-winning research on the role of mindfulness in navigating mental health challenges for public service employees published in Journal of Public Administration

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An award-winning research paper by University of Fort Hare (UFH) Industrial Psychology PhD candidate, Ms Zikhona Dlaza that sheds light on the role of mindfulness in navigating mental health challenges for public service employees has been published in the Journal of Public Administration - a quarterly journal issued on behalf of the South African Association of Public Administration and Management (SAAPAM). 

Titled: “Beauty for ashes” – The role of mindfulness in assisting public service employees undergoing life and career challenges, the study conducted in collaboration with UFH Business Management academic, Prof Willie Chinyamurindi, aims to raise consciousness regarding solutions for mental health challenges encountered by individuals within the public sector.

The study was presented at the SAAPAM 22nd annual conference last year where it won the Best Paper Award under the Good Governance and Ethics category.

For this study, the researchers used unstructured interviews with 15 participants who were selected using a snowball sampling approach (Creswell, 2014). According to the researchers, the common thread was a referral based on knowledge of someone who has undergone a career or life challenge.

Using unstructured interviews, acknowledging the sensitive topic, the researchers made concerted efforts to ensure participants felt comfortable as they shared their life stories, avoiding reliance on predetermined sets of questions.

The participants recounted their engagement with mindfulness as playing a useful role, offering individuals the chance to not only deepen self-awareness but also discover untapped potential. Intriguingly, mindfulness didn't offer a straightforward solution to life or career challenges; rather, it served as a platform for heightened awareness and self-reflection.

One participant quoted in the paper stated the following: “Meditation allowed me a space to reflect on those things that are most important to me. Through the science of silence, I could hear the inner me loudly. After months of trying out something I was resistant to initially, I found benefit and help to face my challenge.”

The research adopted an interpretivistic paradigm to understand lived experience and how individuals make sense of this, and it uncovered two key findings. Firstly, it found that mindfulness allowed individuals to gain insight into their personal experiences considering the challenges they encountered in their lives or careers. Secondlymindfulness was a useful tool and technique for individuals to know themselves better and frame a way towards healing, comfort, and solace.

Based on the narrative analyses conducted, the researchers identified three main narratives. The first one is the need to speak up and out about the challenge of mental health within the public service. Secondly, which is one of the two key findings that mindfulness plays a pivotal role in enabling individuals to gain insight into their personal experiences when confronted with life or career challenges. Thirdly, various mindfulness activities, such as individual meditation, prayer, seeking spiritual guidance, and engaging in physical exercise were identified as the most commonly employed practices. "As a result of these activities, participants had a sense of self-discovery and were able to manage challenges in their lives or careers."

In conclusion, the researchers indicate that the findings of this study point to the need to consider how mindfulness, or the awareness of it, can assist in framing a resolution to the deadlock and crisis working individuals face. The authors further recommend that the public administration terrain and government incorporate mindfulness when designing employee wellness programmes.

Read the published article here: https://www.ufh.ac.za/sites/default/files/Beauty%20for%20Ashes.pdf