Employees who take their work home with them-either physically or mentally-more often feel tired and grumpy when they're off the clock, according to a study in October's Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (Vol. 10, No. 3).
The study suggests that, alternatively, leaving your work at work may help provide needed psychological recovery time, say researchers Sabine Sonnentag, PhD, a professor of work and organizational psychology at the University of Konstanz in Germany, and former student Ute-Vera Bayer.
Sonnentag and Bayer surveyed 87 employees working in consulting, in distribution services and at pharmaceutical and computer software companies-more than a quarter of them in supervisory positions. Over three working days, the workers reported on their workload, work hours, on-the-job time pressure and well-being when at home. For example, at bedtime they indicated whether "upon returning home from work, I was rather irritated" or "I got angry easily."
The researchers found that the greater people's workload, time pressure and work hours, the more they struggled to psychologically detach themselves from work.
At the same time, workers experiencing such high demands need even more evening recovery, but were less likely to get it, the researchers note. That could pose a Catch-22 because separating oneself from work may be important to long-term work success, says Sonnentag.
"Thinking about work constantly may make it difficult to stay productive in the long run," explains Sonnentag. "There must be time to 'switch off' and then to return to work refreshed."
Sonnentag suggests people get their minds off work by refraining from long workdays and engaging in such post-work activities as a hobby, sports or meeting with friends. In fact, those surveyed reported feeling better and less fatigued on days they engaged in physical activity.
But Sonnentag also notes that thinking about work isn't always bad: Reflecting on successes and accomplishments at work could even be a mood booster.
To further investigate the psychology of work attachment and detachment, she's now working on a follow-up study examining the effect of psychological detachment from work on employees the subsequent morning, as well as the long-term consequences of low psychological detachment from work.
-M. Dittmann Tracey