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.


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