When Socialising Fails

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

– Why socialising might not be the best thing for your recovery from work.

The best recovery experiences

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.

Sometimes though, low-effort activities might not be the best thing (read here).

But it turns out that socialising after work might not be the best thing for recovery.

Especially for people who work in customer service (e.g. flight attendants, teachers, or call centre employees).

When socialising fails

One study conducted by Sonnentag and Natter (2004) investigated recovery processes in flight attendants.

They investigated whether social activities during their leisure time was beneficial for their recovery from work.

In the study, it was found that engaging in social activities after work while staying at a hotel was linked to higher levels of depression in the flight attendants.

Now generally, social activities are beneficial for successful recovery (Sonnentag, 2001).

For flight attendants however, social activities during leisure time further draw on their resources.

Social activities after work further call upon work-related functional systems.

This is in line with the Effort-Resource Model mentioned in a previous post

It is well known that flight attendants travel the globe and spend a lot of their off-job time in hotels with their colleagues from work.

So they spend the majority of their leisure time with colleagues.

Oftentimes, colleagues aren’t always close enough people for you to be able to totally let loose and be yourself.

Even with colleagues, you have to posture a bit.

Only with close friends can you relax because you know that they have fully accepted you for who you are.

So if a flight attendant spends his/her 9-5pm catering to the needs of other people (i.e. passengers) and then goes on to spend his/her evening with colleagues – the functional system of “being nice” is constantly being used.

It does not recover.

This is quite common for people working in service-related professions (e.g. flight attendant, teacher, employee in a call centre).

Serviced-related employees face particularly high emotion work demands. In other words, their work requires emotional labour.

Kenneth Lu via Flickr

Here is a definition of emotional labor by Morris and Feldman (1996):

“Emotional labour is defined as effort, planning, and control needed to express organisational desired emotion during interpersonal interaction.”

In some way, emotional labour is “faking” emotion.

That is, flight attendants often have to portray themselves as happy people – even when they might not necessarily be feeling that way.

Interestingly, a high-degree of emotion work has been found to be related to poor well-being (Sonnentag and Fritz, 2015).

Sonnentag and Natter (2004) practical implications:

It is important that people find out which activities are most beneficial to them and which improve their well-being.

In the flight attendant experiment, it was also found that physical exercise demonstrated positive effects, regardless of the fact that their job is physical already. 

The researchers reasoned that going to the gym after work is a different type of physical activity compared to standing and walking in the aircraft while catering to passenger’s needs.

Thus, physical activities seem to be a very efficient way to regulate one’s well-being during off-job time.

Physical activities, even for short periods, has positive effects on well-being, particularly on vigour and low depression.

For flight attendants better find social activities that help them regain resources rather than further deplete them (spend time with close friends, call family etc).

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.


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