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Effects of a mindfulness app on employee stress in an Australian public sector workforce: randomized controlled trial


Bartlett, L and Martin, AJ and Kilpatrick, M and Otahal, P and Sanderson, Kristy and Neil, AL, Effects of a mindfulness app on employee stress in an Australian public sector workforce: randomized controlled trial, JMIR mHealth and uHealth, 10, (2) pp. e30272. ISSN 2291-5222 (2022) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright Statement

©Larissa Bartlett, Angela J Martin, Michelle Kilpatrick, Petr Otahal, Kristy Sanderson, Amanda L Neil. Originally published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth (, 10.02.2022. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work, first published in JMIR mHealth and uHealth, is properly cited. The complete bibliographic information, a link to the original publication on, as well as this copyright and license information must be included.

DOI: doi:10.2196/30272


Background: Workplace-based mindfulness programs have good evidence for improving employee stress and mental health outcomes, but less is known about their effects on productivity and citizenship behaviors. Most of the available evidence is derived from studies of mindfulness programs that use class-based approaches. Mindfulness apps can increase access to training, but whether self-directed app use is sufficient to realize benefits equivalent to class-based mindfulness programs is unknown.

Objective: We assessed the effectiveness of a mindfulness app, both with and without supporting classes, for reducing employees’ perceived stress. Changes in mindfulness, mental health, quality of life, perceptions of job demand, control and support, productivity indicators, organizational citizenship, and mindful behaviors at work were also investigated.

Methods: Tasmanian State Service employees were invited by the Tasmanian Training Consortium to a 3-arm randomized controlled trial investigating the effects of a mindfulness app on stress. The app used in the Smiling Mind Workplace Program formed the basis of the intervention. The app includes lessons, activities, and guided meditations, and is supported by 4 instructional emails delivered over 8 weeks. Engagement with the app for 10-20 minutes, 5 days a week, was recommended. Reported data were collected at baseline (time point 0), 3 months from baseline (time point 1 [T1]), and at 6-month follow-up (time point 2). At time point 0, participants could nominate a work-based observer to answer surveys about participants’ behaviors. Eligible participants (n=211) were randomly assigned to self-guided app use plus four 1-hour classes (app+classes: 70/211, 33.2%), self-guided app use (app-only: 71/211, 33.6%), or waitlist control (WLC; 70/211, 33.2%). Linear mixed effects models were used to assess changes in the active groups compared with the WLC at T1 and for a head-to-head comparison of the app+classes and app-only groups at follow-up.

Results: App use time was considerably lower than recommended (app+classes: 120/343 minutes; app-only: 45/343 minutes). Compared with the WLC at T1, no significant change in perceived stress was observed in either active group. However, the app+classes group reported lower psychological distress (β=−1.77, SE 0.75; P=.02; Cohen d=–0.21) and higher mindfulness (β=.31, SE 0.12; P=.01; Cohen d=0.19). These effects were retained in the app+classes group at 6 months. No significant changes were observed for the app-only group or for other outcomes. There were no significant changes in observer measures at T1, but by time point 2, the app+classes participants were more noticeably mindful and altruistic at work than app-only participants.

Conclusions: Including classes in the training protocol appears to have motivated engagement and led to benefits, whereas self-guided app use did not realize any significant results. Effect sizes were smaller and less consistent than meta-estimates for class-based mindfulness training.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:mindfulness, stress, apps, smartphone app, employee, workplace, performance, mobile phone, depression, anxiety, m-health, smart-phone application, dose response
Research Division:Psychology
Research Group:Applied and developmental psychology
Research Field:Industrial and organisational psychology (incl. human factors)
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Evaluation of health and support services
Objective Field:Evaluation of health outcomes
UTAS Author:Bartlett, L (Mrs Larissa Bartlett)
UTAS Author:Martin, AJ (Professor Angela Martin)
UTAS Author:Kilpatrick, M (Dr Michelle Kilpatrick)
UTAS Author:Otahal, P (Mr Petr Otahal)
UTAS Author:Sanderson, Kristy (Associate Professor Kristy Sanderson)
UTAS Author:Neil, AL (Associate Professor Amanda Neil)
ID Code:149781
Year Published:2022
Web of Science® Times Cited:2
Deposited By:Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre
Deposited On:2022-04-12
Last Modified:2022-09-19
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