A colleague of mine was recently given feedback about their job performance and was informed that they “care too much”. Doesn’t really seem like much of a criticism; and if anything seems more like an indication of the low standards their workplace has for committment. Following this feedback my colleague went on a pre-planned long weekend and played with animals, visited good friends, ran a few road races and came back to work with a bit of perspective.
Is job involvement such a bad thing? Can there be such a thing as too much? A recentreview of the available information regarding job detachment- one’s ability to leave work at work and to mentally disengage with work while away from it- suggest that there are individual and institutional benefits for employees (and employers) who can successfully disengage from their work.
Individual benefits for the employee range from decreased psychological distress, less burnout, and greater job satisfaction once back at work. Institutional benefits for employers whose staff can become disengaged include increased worker proactive behavior – when a worker can forsee a challenge and preemptively engage in problem solving. Not surprisingly Sonnentag et al.’s review also highlights the u-shaped Yerkes-Dowdson phenomenon: too much disengagement and your likely to not care enough about work at all; too little and the benefits won’t translate.
A lot of disruptive companies will tout the 24/7 work ethic their employees have in their work. This ethic seems to translate into availability and commitment that other organizations can’t carry. Sonnentag’s findings suggest that not encouraging true breaks from work, wether it be overnight, over a weekend, or during a work day, will only hurt employee satisfaction, prodcutivity, and retention over the long haul. Is there anyway to have it both ways; an engaged and committed workforce that unplug fully so as to restore themselves in time for the next round?
Turns out there are some ways to cultivate this seemingly impossible contrast.
Not surprisingly culture matters; explicit messages about the expectations of employee off duty time and peer support for disconnection after hours can assist employees in setting more clear boundaries between work and play.
Absorbing activities can be fostered within the work enviroment or encouraged out of office. If you want to be sure your staff stops checking their emails or messages encourage them to engage in some physically or creatively demanding task on regular bases. A pick up game of basketball, a yoga class, an art collaborative can all be useful tools to signal the appropriateness of turning off periodically.
Once upon a time there was a debate about the burden vs. benefit of having workers who also juggled other roles (moonlighting, volunteer, parenting). Sonnentag’s review suggests that while work pressures can bleed over into other roles there is a value for the worker in assuming other roles as this may allow them to more clearly disconnect and return more engaged and effective.
If you are wondering how you might give yourself the psychological permission necessary to reap the benefits of job detachment for yourself you might try some strategies that have worked for others.
Disengage the smartphone. Putting it aside is not enough; find a space to place it far from view for at least an (awake) hour each day. Giving yourself the evening off is even better, as Sonnentag details in her review. And if you can’t disconnect every evening be sure to build in permissible off duty time slots into the week. Research shows your likely to be engaged and effective if you allow the downtime.
Immerse yourself in an engaging environment (Sonnentag calls it “fascination” inducing wherein effortless attention is possible). Wide open spaces or creatively rich environments facilitate detachment by drawing your attention to the present moment. It may be helpful to place cues in the areas where you are most likely to be drawn back into work mode that will help anchor your attention where you need it to be for a break.
A real trick? When you are feeling most pressured and overworked may be the most essential time to engage in these activities. If you are finding yourself over scheduled and drained it may pay unexpected dividends if you visit the museum or go for a hike in the midst of these times. The time away will recharge your focus in meaningful ways and may make it possible for you to execute priorities upon your return.
Seems like a good time to take my own advice and immerse myself into some long awaited Mad Men premier!
Sonnentag, S. (2012) Psychological detachment from work during leisure time: The benefits of mentally disengaging from work.Current Directions in Psychological Science, 21(2), p114-118.
Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Professor, Entrepreneur, and Diversity Columnist.
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Loretta L.C. Brady, Ph.D., APA-CP, 2011-2014