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Research Library

Heart Rate Variability (HRV) Training Leads to Improvements in Measures of Employee Mental and Physical Health During COVID‑19 Pandemic, With Implications for Theory Building and HRD

    • Published: 2022
    • Erin S. L. Cunningham Ritter
    • Dissertation, Doctor of Philosophy, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado, Spring 2022.
    • Download the complete paper, click here.


Data indicated that work-related stress could cost organizations financially, with losses associated with decreased productivity, healthcare costs and organizational dysfunction. Excessive stress in the workplace can cause significant costs to the employee as measured by declines in psychological and physiological health. Stress induced health symptoms and corresponding costs to the organization may be exacerbated by the COVID-19 Pandemic. These disruptions can affect organizational functioning as well the system’s ability to dynamically respond to opportunities, challenges and organizational goals all of which can further increase employee stress and associated health outcomes. Human resource development professionals are in a position to offer interventions to help employees and organizational systems adjust to these new demands. Heart rate variability (HRV) training as a workplace wellness intervention to reduce stress for impacted employees has emerged as a promising line of research and applied work, with data supporting improved physical/mental health, learning and development and organizational outcomes.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of a HRV training intervention on measures of employee health and organizational outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic. Empirical data collection for this inquiry was operationalized with a quantitative, between-groups, experimental research design to test the effects of a HRV self-regulation training on participants who were randomly assigned to active treatment groups and non-participant groups (wait-list control). Participants were assessed on psychological and physiological health and organizational outcomes by analyzing results of the POQA-R4 survey. The study population (N = 147) consisted of employees at a large, multi-national, independent public company in the multi-utilities industry. Data analyses concluded that three of this study’s five hypotheses were upheld. Hypotheses related to emotional stress (moderate effect size), physical stress (moderate effect size) and emotional vitality (borderline moderate effect size) were upheld. The findings associated with mental and physical stress were consistent with previous literature, while organizational results were more ambiguous.

Based on these findings, recommendations for future research, application, theory building and implications for HRD were offered. Specific recommendations included further refinement of conceptual/theoretical frames, measurement variables and assessment tools. Recommendations for practice focused on providing evidenced based wellness interventions (such as HRV self-regulation training), and reinforcing the organizational culture to support a range of wellness needs and to strengthen social systems, which serve as protective and mediating factors in times of stress. These recommendations may position HRD professionals as agile and dynamic leaders who implement organizational wellness to both support business objectives while reinforcing a culture of care.