Sub-theme 45: Critical Perspectives on Corporate Mindfulness and Workplace Spirituality

Ronald E. Purser
San Francisco State University, USA
Hugh Willmott
Cass Business School, City University London, & Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, UK
Massimo Tomassini
Roma Tre University & Sapienza University, Rome, Italy

Call for Papers

Who could argue with the virtue of becoming more 'mindful'? Only those, perhaps, who celebrate mindlessness. But might it be that 'mindfulness' is being embraced rather mindlessly, if not cynically? We agree with Bhikkhu Bodhi that mindfulness as a concept has become, as he put it, "so vague and elastic that it serves almost as a cipher into which one can read virtually anything we want". Corporations and government agencies have jumped on the mindfulness and well-being bandwagon. Is that because there is a deep appreciation of the spiritual traditions of mindfulness? Or might it be because a focus upon 'mindfulness' as a means of performance improvement, conveniently shifting the burden onto the individual employee? Notably, stress is framed as a personal problem, and mindfulness is offered as a necessary intervention to help employees work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments. It is prized as a way to relax, to reduce pressure, to let off steam – reduced to a technique for coping with and adapting to the stresses of corporate life. If so, it is fully deserving of Zizek's acidic observation that the Western Buddhist "meditative stance is arguably the most efficient way for us to fully participate in capitalist dynamics while retaining the appearance of mental sanity".

The booming popularity of the mindfulness movement has also turned it into a lucrative cottage industry. Consultants are marketing mindfulness training promising improvements in work efficiency, reductions in absenteeism, and enhancements in the "soft skills" crucial to career success. Corporate mindfulness proponents claim that mindfulness interventions are a "Trojan Horse" that will eventually reform even the most dysfunctional companies into kinder, more compassionate and sustainable organizations. Organizational and social change is predicated on methodological individualism, and a moral imperative that systemic and structural change is starts by "searching inside oneself".

The corporate mindfulness movement is caught in an ironic paradox: mindfulness training may offer employees some relief and personal benefits in the form of stress reduction and improved concentration while unthinkingly ignoring the externalization of macro-tensions and structural inequalities. This myopic use of mindfulness training, Kevin Healy noted, is creating "integrity bubbles", which "create glimpses of integrity – enough to enhance employee satisfaction and brand image – even as they undermine the achievement of integrity in the broader context".

We welcome contributions that offer critical perspectives on corporate mindfulness and workplace spirituality theories and practices. Contributions may explore and interrogate assumptions and applications of mindfulness, well-being and workplace spirituality, particularly in terms of whether such theories and practices are oriented toward cultural accommodation or more radical social transformation. Theoretical papers may explore the extent to which Eastern/Buddhist and Western/modern concepts and practices of mindfulness clash, converge, and influence each other.

Potential topics for submissions might include (but are not limited to):

  • Critical examinations of the corporate colonization and cultural appropriation of mindfulness
  • Explorations of western historical, cultural, ideological sources and other ‘social imaginaries’ that inform the context of corporate mindfulness, well-being, happiness and workplace spirituality
  • Analysis of the rhetorical strategies and modern discourses used in the process of altering, diminishing, obscuring, ignoring, decontextualizing and mystifying mindfulness' roots in spiritual traditions, such as Buddhism, as a means of selling spirituality, as well as tactics used for appealing to power and privilege
  • Investigations of the ethical and moral dimensions of mindfulness, as well as de-ethicized forms of mindfulness
  • Conceptualizing forms of socially engaged mindfulness programs that can offer a challenge, critique, and alternatives to modern corporate practices
  • Theorizing the relations between individual-level mindfulness and organizational/social change
  • The relevance of mindfulness for critical studies of organizing and alternative organizing practices


Ronald E. Purser is a Professor of Management at San Francisco State University, USA. His articles "Beyond McMindfulness" (Huffington Post) and "Mindfulness' Truthiness Problem" ( recently went viral. A long-time practitioner of Buddhism since the early 1980s, he is an ordained Dharma teacher in the Korean Zen Buddhist Taego order.
Hugh Willmott is a Professor of Management at the Cass Business School, City Univerity London, and Research Professor of Organization Studies at Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University, UK. He has acted as Associate Editor of 'Organization' and is currently Associate Editor of 'Academy of Management Review'. He co-founded the International Labour Process Conference and the Critical Managemnt Studies Conference. He has been a practitioner in the Kagju School of Tibetan Buddhism for forty years.
Massimo Tomassini teaches Organizational Learning at the Roma Tre University, Faculty of Education Science, Italy. He also teaches Mindfulness in Organizations in an advanced course within the Department of Psychology of the University of Rome La Sapienza. He holds a diploma of mindfulness counselor from Mindfulness Project, Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa, Pomaia, Pisa.