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Workplace errors, mindfulness and personality : relating cognitive failures at work to mindfulness and to the Big Five factors
conference contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by RE Hicks, Karen Klockner
Errors at work are not uncommon whether in local or regional organisations or multinational organisations. There is wide interest in how we can reduce such errors, blunders and memory lapses, known as cognitive failures. These cognitive failures when they become excessive or apply in safety critical contexts can cause considerable personal and organisational damage, even damage well beyond national borders in some organisations. Some studies suggest workplace errors have a personality base; and growing research suggests that mindfulness (or mindlessness) is also related to workplace errors generally. Further research is needed to help identify relationships between workplace errors, personality and mindfulness as a basis for further action in the workplace aimed at reducing workplace errors. One questionnaire that examines workplace errors (or ‘cognitive failures‘) is that of Broadbent et al. (1982). The four facets (memory, distractions, blunders, and names) are combined to yield a total score for cognitive failures. Few studies have examined how workplace errors as assessed by the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire are related to mindfulness or separately to personality variables. This is surprising given the emphasis on mindfulness today in many training programs and the need to reduce accidents and costly blunders in the workplace. Our study examined this gap in our knowledge in a sample of 92 employees from a variety of organisations, using the Cognitive Failures Questionnaire, the Mindful Attention Awareness Scale (MAAS) and the Big Five International Personality Item Pool 50-item questionnaire (IPIP). First, mindfulness was expected to be strongly correlated (negatively) with cognitive failures generally (total score) and with each of the four facets. Results confirmed earlier studies linking workplace errors with lower levels of mindfulness and also in addition showed that mindfulness was related to each of the facets: memory, blunders, distractions and (memory for) names. Second, personality attributes were expected to be related to cognitive failures also. The findings showed that lower psychological or emotional wellbeing (neuroticism) was strongly and directly related to each of the cognitive failures facets and to the total cognitive failures scores. The other four personality factors (openness, agreeableness, extraversion, conscientiousness) were not related significantly to cognitive failures or the facets of cognitive failure, though extraversion was related negatively and significantly to making blunders, one of the facets- that is, the more extraverted the fewer blunders. These results on personality characteristics demonstrate neuroticism/mental health and well-being as important correlates of cognitive failures with limited contribution of personality factors apart from the N factor. Overall, Mindfulness, and neuroticism among the personality factors, are highly related to cognitive failures. To the extent that mindfulness (strongly) and neuroticism (somewhat) are state-like skill-based factors, they can be changed in people through interventions. Implications for organisational action include support for developing and implementing specific training interventions that are related also to the differing cultural contexts in which many organisations operate.