“By working faithfully eight hours a day you may eventually get to be boss and work twelve hours a day.”
Robert Frost

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?

A few years ago the 2013 Mobile Consumer Habits study revealed some fascinating habits of smartphone users, including that three in four Americans (72%) are within five feet of their device most of the time. In fact, according to a new study, about 9% of people have used their mobile device during sex, from checking text messages to answering phone calls.

Other surprising places people are using smartphones include at church or a place of worship (19%), on a dinner date (33%) and in the shower (12%). About 55% of survey participants admitted to texting while driving.

Today, it is increasingly difficult to “get away” whether at home, during our weekends or even on a holiday particularly with our technology so close at hand (or in bed).

In a recent study by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), 60% of executives, managers and other professionals who use a smartphone for business reported working between 13.5 and 18.5 hours a day, while only 29% of those who do not use a smartphone to enable flexibility are connected with work that many hours on average. Also, 89% of both smartphone-carrying and non-smartphone-carrying respondents said that they attended to personal tasks during work hours.

Detach to Refresh

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.

An important study by Sabine 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 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….

  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. 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)

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