Why Worrying About Work Can Ruin Your Leisure Time

In this third part of my series of articles on recovery from work, you will learn:

– Why thinking or worrying about work away from work is bad for you,
– Why watching T.V or relaxing on the sofa (i.e. low-effort activities) might not be the best thing for your recovery from work.

Worry & Rumination

Thinking about work during leisure time can be just as bad for recovery as working at home.

Recall the definition of successful psychological detachment:

a) not being involved in job-related tasks during off-job time, and

b) not thinking about job-related issues (Sonnentag and Fritz, 2007).

Not being physically involved in job-related tasks is one thing.

Thinking about them is a totally different issue.

Think of it this way:

In the workplace, you are “activated” to complete work-related tasks. At home, you should be recovering from work.

However, if you think about work while being at home, you’re experiencing prolonged activation. That is, your mind and body are “activated” to complete job-related tasks – even though you might be at home!

Thinking (e.g. worrying or ruminating) about work-related issues during off-job time impedes successful recovery and can have significant adverse effects on health and well-being.

For instance, one study showed that high job stress employees showed elevated heart rate and blood pressure after work (Vrijkotte et al., 2000).

By worrying or ruminating, the stress response experienced at work is experienced also during off-job time. It’s as if you’ve never left the workplace!

Such thinking or worrying has been termed Perseverative Cognition (PC).

Here’s how Brosschot et al. (2006) defines PC:

“PC is the repeated or chronic activation of the cognitive representation of one or more psychological stressors and the sustained activation of stress-related emotional and physiological response systems.”

For this reason, no recovery occurs as the individual has not disengaged mentally from work (i.e. has not psychologically detached) and the negative activation of job stressors (i.e. negative states such as anxiety or anger) experienced in the workplace will continue to increase strain levels.

When low-effort activities fail

In a previous post, I talked a bit about what constitutes a great resource-replenishing activity.

According to Sonnentag (2001), resource-replenishing activities include:

– Social activities (e.g. meeting up with friends),
– Low-effort activities (e.g. watching TV),
– Physical exercise.

I also mentioned that some research (e.g. Sonnentag. 2001) found that low-effort activities were a positive predictor of well-being at bedtime in teachers.

Low effort activities include watching T.V, chilling on the sofa, sitting around and doing nothing, or even taking a bath.

But now that you know about how poisonous of a role worry and rumination can play in your recovery, it has to be said that low-effort activities aren’t always the best type of recovery experiences.

These activities might seem relaxing at first, but if you’re thinking and worrying about work then you’re not really relaxing or recovering from work.

If you’ve had a particularly stressful workday (e.g. as a result of severe hassles or negative social interactions), proper recovery and psychological detachment can be made difficult. 

This is also in part due to the fact that you are more likely to dwell on these negative experiences while engaging in low-effort activities.

In such cases, avoid low-effort activities if you want to maximise successful recovery from work.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter so you don’t miss out on the rest of the posts in this “recovery from work” series. 

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How to Fully Recover From Work

 

In this second part of my series of articles on recovery from work, you will learn:

– Why adequate and successful recovery from work is important,
– What the best recovery experiences are,
– What the underlying attributes of these experiences are,

– Why psychological detachment is crucial to long-term health and well-being.

Why is recovery so important?

According to researchers Meijman and Mulder (1998), recovery from work refers to the process of reducing or eliminating physical and psychological strain symptoms that have been caused by job demands and stressors.

At work, certain functional systems are called upon to get the job done.

For instance, if you are a researcher who reads a lot at work, your main work-related functional system is “reading”.

If you are a flight attendant, your main work-related functional system is “customer service.” 

Interestingly, even thinking about work can tax your work-related functional system.

Meijman and Mulder suggest that recovery may be achieved by allowing for functional systems called upon at work to return to their pre-stressor state/levels.

In order for recovery to occur, one must engage in suitable recovery experiences.

Researchers Sonnentag and Natter (2004) describes these as experiences that help one recovery from job stress; activities that an individual pursues to help restore his/her resources.

These experiences are ones that do not call upon work-related functional systems in any way.

These experiences allow for full recovery during leisure time.

The best recovery experiences

For this reason, it is important to realise which activities are resource-depleting and which are resource-replenishing.

Which are the best recovery experiences that are resource-replenishing?

According to Sonnentag (2001), resource-replenishing activities include:

– Social activities (e.g. meeting up with friends),
– Low-effort activities (e.g. watching TV),
– Physical exercise.

In fact, Sonnentag (2001) found that low-effort activities were a positive predictor of well-being at bedtime in teachers.

The best recovery experiences however are ones that have a few or even all of the following underlying attributes: psychological detachment, relaxation, control, and mastery.

However, the most important attribute underlying the best recovery experiences is believed to be psychological detachment.

Psychological Detachment

Detachment is said to be an individual’s sense of being away from the workplace. Though being physically away from work might be important for recovery, it may not be enough.

This experience goes beyond pure physical distance from one’s workplace.

As a result, Sonnentag and Bayer (2005) introduced the concept psychological detachment which focuses on the following:

a) not being involved in job-related tasks during off-job time, and

b) not thinking about job-related issues (Sonnentag and Fritz, 2007).

Psychological detachment from work is an important element in successful recovery.  

Researchers Sonnentag and Fritz (2007) found that employees who psychologically detach from work report higher levels of well-being.

Even more recent research has found that psychological detachment predicted lowered emotional exhaustion, low need for recovery, and high work engagement (Siltaloppi et al., 2009).

Such detachment is particularly important in stressful job conditions.

For these reasons, adequate recovery from work is important as it protects the health and well-being of workers in the long-run.

In fact, people who do not recover properly report more health complaints and higher levels of burnout (Elfering et al., 2002).

***

During my revision for my exams, I read and wrote all the time.

Thanks to this research, I was able to avoid burnout by recovering properly.

During my recovery, I would refrain from taxing my “reading” and “writing” functional systems. 

For me personally, the best recovery experiences were going to gym (or for a cycle), cooking, and socialising. 

This research has tremendously beneficial practical implications.

I hope this research will help you as much as it helped me.

Stay tuned for next week’s post where you will learn:

– Why thinking or worrying about work away from work is bad for you,
– Why watching T.V or relaxing on the sofa (i.e. low-effort activities) might not be the best thing for your recovery from work.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter so you don’t miss out on the rest of the posts in this “recovery from work” series. 

How and Why Work Depletes You

Work in modern organisations is very demanding.

Employees face high levels of workload often accompanied by high cognitive and emotional demands. In order for employees to successfully meet these job demands, they have to stay healthy.

They need to be in optimal physical and psychological states in order maintain high levels of energy, focus and engagement over time.

Research in organisational psychology has identified that recovery from work during leisure time is an important mechanism that explains how employees can stay energetic, engaged, healthy, even when facing high job demands.

The research on leisure time and recovery are based on two broad conceptualizations of recovery processes and personal resources: the Effort-Resource Model (Meijman and Mulder, 1998) and the Conservations of Resources Theory (Hobfoll, 1998).

In this first part of my series of articles on recovery from work, we will learn the very valuable lessons from both these theories. 

Effort-Resource Model

The Effort-Resource Model holds that stressful experiences at work result in load reactions (e.g. physiological and emotional and psychological fatigue).

According to the ERM, certain functional systems are called upon at work to tackle various job-related activities.

For instance, if you are a researcher who reads a lot at work, your main work-related functional system is “reading”.

If you are a flight attendant, your main work-related functional system is “customer service.” 

However, during off-job leisure time, these functional systems must recover to their pre-stressor state through adequate recovery.

For adequate recovery to occur, these functional systems must no longer be called upon during this time.

If this recovery does not occur, no recovery of the work-related functional systems will occur and the person will need to therefore need to exert more effort to achieve optimal job performance in the workplace.

That is, you will have to use compensatory resources to complete job tasks that would under normal conditions and circumstances not be too taxing.

By using your compensatory resources, you risk running yourself into the ground.

You risk emotional exhaustion, metal fatigue, and burnout.

Conservations of Resources Theory

Another recovery theory is the Conservations of Resource Theory in which one’s resources are conceptualised in economic terms.

According to CRT, one will strive to protect, retain, and obtain positive resources such as energy and positive mood.

Job stress threatens these resources and may harm your health and well-being.

In order for adequate recovery to occur, one must gain new resources and restore threatened or lost resources.

According to CRT, recovery therefore occurs by:

a) refraining from work demands and avoiding activities that call upon job-related functional systems, and

b) gaining new internal resources (e.g. positive mood and energy) to help restore threatened or lost resources.

***

 

Stay tuned for next week’s post where you will learn:

– Why adequate and successful recovery from work is important,
– What the best recovery experiences are,
– What the underlying attributes of these experiences are,

– Why psychological detachment is crucial to long-term health and well-being.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter so you don’t miss out on the rest of the posts in this “recovery from work” series.

What Mountaineers Can Teach Us About The Meaning Of Life

Ah the question that plagues us all (sometimes).

What is the meaning of life?

A life devoid of meaning is a scary one to live through.

Everybody desires to live a life that is purposeful and full of meaning.

That’s because having meaning in your life is an extremely important determinant of your well-being.

In order to feel well both psychologically and physically, people need to feel they have a purpose in their life (Emmons, 1996).

As economist George Loewenstein writes in his book Exotic Preferences:

“Without meaning, psychologists and philosophers argue, even the most prosperous existence isn’t worth living. (…) The capacity to find meaning can attenuate even the most severe hardships (Taylor, 1983).”

Not only does meaning give us a sense of fulfilment, but it gives us a unique mission that compels us to do whatever we think we were put on this earth to do.

Finding your own personal meaning in life might require a breadth of experience but above all it takes time.

If you already know what you’re destined to be doing or are still just honing in on what that might be, let’s look at what mountaineers can teach us about the meaning of life.

You never know – it might strike you as profoundly insightful.

14500970601_18a724b1c8_k.jpg
Rémi Bastier via Flickr

Why focus on mountaineers though?

“(…) Many people also don’t have a good understanding of what they want out of life and what they value.

One commonly vaunted benefit of mountaineering and wilderness travel is that it offers a new perspective on life. The cost of such perspective, however, tends to be high.

Simple discomfort rarely produces new insights into life, or a greater appreciation of it; that typically requires a near-death experience.

Reminiscent of the Joni Mitchell song, ‘You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone’, it requires an impending loss of one’s life to appreciate what one is about to lose.”

-George Loewenstein

What Mountaineers Can Teach Us About The Meaning Of Life

“Beck Weathers (1998), who in 1996 was abandoned overnight in a blizzard on Mount Everest and lost his hands and much of his face, reports that ‘I traded my hands for my family and my future, and it is a bargain I readily accept”.

In his paper, George draws upon the reflections and thought processes Beck Weathers had during his near-death experience.

Beck put it this way:

“I saw my own future and I didn’t like it … The relentless pursuit of success and goals and ambition without balance was pushing out of my life that which was most precious to me …

In the final analysis that which matters, really the only thing that matters, are the people you hold in your heart and the people who hold you in theirs.”

 In their most dire moments, during their near-death experiences – what was it that these mountaineers valued most in their lives? Here’s George:

“Almost invariably, they involve an enhanced appreciation of human relationships and a demotion of professional and material ambitions.

Perhaps most people actually recognize the importance of family, and plan to spend time with them in the future, but are distracted from doing so by the immediate lure of career ambitions, mountains, or golf.

The effect of almost losing your life is to make you realize that if you don’t spend time with your family now you may not have a chance to do so in the future.

Today may in fact be your last opportunity to go out to dinner with your spouse, call your parents, or take your child to the zoo.”

How do you explain these epiphanies?

According to researchers O’Donoghue and Rabin, the near-death experiences of mountaineers can be easily explained by the concept of delay discounting, which is the process of devaluing of future outcomes.

That is, people will always choose to indulge in smaller-sooner rewards at the expense of larger-later rewards.

For instance, you might give in to the pleasures of smoking (i.e. smaller-sooner, immediate reward) and discount the value of maintaining future long-term health (i.e. larger-later, delayed reward).

You might indulge your sweet tooth at the expense of having a slim physique. You might linger on Facebook instead of studying for an exam.

You might be thinking ‘okay, but how does this relate to delay discounting?’

When we consider mountaineers, they place too much emphasis on the “immediate lure of career ambitions, mountains” and discount the value of future outcomes like spending precious time with family and friends.

The mountaineers who were lucky enough to have survived their near-death experiences endured through moments where they may have realised that they might not have a future at all.

In such dire moments, all they had was the now where they overvalued certain immediate pleasures.

What might those pleasures have been? The idea of spending time with their loved ones.

Do these “life-changing” epiphanies last?

What’s saddening however, is how short-lived these epiphanies and new perspectives last.

In his research paper, George Loewenstein mentions the realisations and resolutions of Mike Stroud, the first man to ever perform an unassisted crossing of Antartica.

Here’s George on Mike Stroud:

“During the worst moments of his Antarctic bid, Mike Stroud lamented his detachment from his children and vowed, on his return, to become a model father and to cease his quest for ‘firsts’.

In the epilogue to his book, however, he reports that he never quite got around to building the doll house that he had resolved to construct for his daughter and that, within weeks of his return to daily life, the wanderlust had him in its grip once again.”

They lose sight of what’s “important” yet again.

Upon returning home after a treacherous mountaineering experience, they lose themselves in the pursuit of things that are, in the grander scheme of things, quite insignificant.

 Such is human nature to overvalue immediate rewards and discount future outcomes.

Closing Thoughts

People can spend their entire life searching for meaning.

Research on mountaineers who were confronted by their own mortality during near-death experiences suggests that it is the people in your life who bring meaning to your life.

It is the time-spent with your family and friends, the shared memories and the inside jokes that all amount to a broader picture of happiness and meaning.

That isn’t to say that this is a definitive answer as to what the meaning of life is.

Meaning is relative and meaning is unique to each person.

Ultimately, the meaning of life is whatever meaning you wish to assign to it.

P.S. Thanks for reading. If you liked this, feel free to sign up to my free weekly newsletter for more psychological insights into everyday life.