Getting Away from Work at Home

May 25, 2008 by Ken Nowack

“He enjoys true leisure who has time to improve his soul’s estate.”

Henry David Thoreau

Our own research suggests that 40% to 60% of all employees express a moderately high level of stress on the job.  Our work and non-work lives are very permeable with most of us taking work stress home and home stress to our job1.

How many of you in committed relationships have really two partners: 1) Your significant other and 2) Their computer or mobile phone?  Today, it is increasingly difficult to “get away” whether at home, during our weekends or even on a holiday.

All of this adds up to increased risk for a variety of adverse psychological and physical health outcomes. It is generally accepted that “recovery activities” (psychological detachment, relaxation, and challenging off-the-job experiences providing opportunities for learning and success) might help energy, mood and performance the following day.

A recent study by Sonnentag and colleagues at the University of Konstanz focusing on 166 public administration employees tested what techniques are actually associated with job-stress recovery2.  Their results from daily survey data analyzed over the course of one week revealed the following:

  • Inability to detach psychologically from work (refraining from working on job tasks or cognitively thinking about issues, problems or challenges) was associated with significantly higher fatigue and negative affect (anxiety, anger, distress) the next day
  • Active relaxation activities during the evening was only significantly associated with morning serenity (a state of feeling calm, relaxed and at ease)
  • Involvement with challenging off-job experiences providing opportunities for learning and success during the evening was significantly associated with positive activation the next morning (a state of high positive feelings and high arousal such as feeling active, strong, and confident)
  • Getting adequate quality and quantity of sleep the night before demonstrated significant associations with morning serenity and positive affect and less fatigue

As Sonnentag points out, these results might sound like a lot of effort to tell us what we already know.  But taken together, they really suggest that most of us need to do a better job of separating behaviorally and cognitively the concept of “leaving the office.”

Her study thought does point out that if you want to avoid fatigue and negative affect you  need to separate mentally from work but if your goal is to achieve greater relaxation and positive affect in the morning it’s best to engage in activities at night that you find interesting, challenging and exciting.  And sleep quality/quantity was the strongest predictor of all outcomes so getting our zzzz’s at night really makes sense.

Wise companies should take a look at this study if they truly value the employees they hire and want to keep maximally productive.  Organizations today are asking more from all of us with less resources being made available–a quick formula for not being able to switch off from work.

Guess I will take a break and get back to work in my home office to clean up a few things left over from my work day….Be well….

[tags]insomnia, sleep, fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, fatigue countermeasures, recovery experiences, relaxation, psychological detachment, anxiety, positive affect, fatigue, negative affect, stress, health, job burnout, kenneth nowack, ken nowack, Envisia Learning[/tags]

  1. Nowack, K. (2006). Optimising Employee Resilience: Coaching to Help Individuals Modify Lifestyle. Stress News, International Journal of Stress Management, Volume 18, 9-12 []
  2. Sonntag, S., Binnewies, & Moja, E. (2008).  Did you have a nice evening? A day-level study on recovery experiences, sleep and affect.  Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 674-684 []

Kenneth Nowack, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist (PSY13758) and President & Chief Research Officer/Co-Founder of Envisia Learning, is a member of the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations, and is a guest lecturer at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Ken also serves as the Associate Editor of Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. His recent book Clueless: Coaching People Who Just Don’t Get It is available for free for a limited time by signing up for free blog updates (Learn more at our website)

Posted in Engagement, Wellness

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