With 24/7 connectivity and the ability to work at any time detaching from work can be difficult. Our mental health can be affected when we’re ‘on’ all the time. It’s essential to develop strategies to switch off and leave work at the workplace. For this article, we look at some recent research out of the Netherlands that looks at the impact of detaching from work has on employee health and a second US study that investigates what makes a good work break.
The first study surveyed 368 health care professionals to find that we concentrate at higher levels when we completely detach from work each day. The study also finds that when we emotionally detach from work, we reduce feelings of exhaustion, depression, physical exhaustion and we sleep better. The second study looks at the types of work breaks including annual leave, weekends, evenings and breaks during work, and the factors that help and hinder detaching from work.
24/7 Connectivity is Bad for Our Health
Work demands, including long hours in our working day, pressures at work and the blurring of work and private time, are increasing. Work demands are increasing our stress levels and impacting on our health and mental health. Employees with high work demands tend to have trouble detaching from work during their personal time.
The mental and physical effort we use while at work requires recovery time detaching from work each day. If we don’t have sufficient recovery time, we begin the next work shift in a state of fatigue. Our leisure time, rest and sleep time significantly help us to recover from fatigue.
Where we have physically demanding jobs, we shouldn’t continue activities that are similar at home. Similarly, when the work we do is psychologically and emotionally demanding, it is important not to continue the drain on our emotions in our personal lives.
Where this can be a problem is when we take home with us the emotional burdens we experience at work. However, detaching from work where we leave the problems at work is not always so easy.
What are the Typical Types of Work Breaks?
There are four typical types of breaks that help employees detach from work: annual leave/vacations, weekends, evenings after work/days off after nightshift, and breaks while at work.
- Annual Leave/Vacations
Annual leave is a chance to recharge our batteries. Employers assume that by providing annual leave that their employees will return to work reinvigorated and re-energised and ready to jump back into work. But do they?
Research on employee recovery during annual leave finds that employee well-being and performance increases from just before to immediately after they take leave. Unfortunately, those positive effects seem to fade within a few weeks after returning to work. The positive impact of annual leave is often wiped out upon return to work because of all of the work that piles up while employees are away.
Having relaxing experiences (e.g., going for walks or reading books) during annual leave has employees feeling less emotionally drained and more engaged at work. However, thinking about the negative aspects of one’s job while on leave on not detaching from work, leads to burnout, more health complaints, and lower job performance.
The weekend is where most employees have time to recover from work and regain their energy. Employees who do not completely recover during the weekend are at an increased risk of depressive symptoms, fatigue, energy loss, and cardiovascular disease. But what makes a good weekend?
Employees who think about the positive aspects of their work have higher levels of well-being and job performance at work. Spending time in activities with loved ones increases positive mood and lowers exhaustion. Choosing relaxing activities improves our mood.
Detaching from work over the weekend increases happiness and serenity. Failing to detach from work or having to deal with financial or relationship problems on the weekend manifest into exhaustion, negative mood and lower performance at work the following week.
One way to assist employees in detaching from work is to train effective coping strategies to manage difficult problems that impact on our mental health. Tap into Safety uses MicroLearning to teach coping strategies to help employees relax, reduce stress, overcome anxious and depressed feelings. For more information, please contact us or try a free demo.
See our article, 3 Steps to a Mentally Healthy Workplace.
- Evenings Off/ Days Off After Nightshift
Employees in high-pressure jobs, who deal with demanding customers or who work overtime have increased feelings of fatigue and emotional exhaustion at the end of the working day or shift. How can they successfully unwind at the end of the workday?
Engaging in relaxing or low effort activities, socialising with others or engaging in physical activity increases our mood and well-being. It helps in recovery and to improve performance on the following workday or shift.
In contrast, when we take work home or use smart devices just before bedtime, we impact on the quality of our sleep. Low sleep quantity and quality is associated with weaker concentration, lower job satisfaction, work motivation, and task performance, as well as with increased absences from work and workplace injuries.
See our article, Depression Symptoms Rise When You Work Long Hours.
- Breaks While at Work
During the working day/shift, we have scheduled time off, such as lunch breaks. As well as that, employees take additional coffee breaks and comfort breaks.
There is some limited research that suggests that lunch breaks do not seem to increase employee well-being across the board. However, employees who relax, take a nap or exercise, report higher attentiveness and energy. Employees who engage in work activities, such as preparing work materials for the next meeting, during breaks experience more negative emotions later in the day.
But it’s the unscheduled break, such as surfing the internet, checking social media, taking personal calls, etc that sees the ire of many employers. The time spent not working results in less time to complete the same amount of work. Micro-breaks mostly through using technology is rapidly invading our workplaces. But is this a good or bad thing?
Research shows that employees may self interrupt to take breaks when they become stressed, bored or frustrated by a work task, and move to another activity to balance their emotional state. Some might need to have a break from work to restore their energy and to avoid lapses in attention. Taking micro-breaks seems to be a positive experience that improves productivity.
Work-life balance and detaching from work when we take a break helps to reduce feelings of exhaustion, depression and physical exhaustion. When we detach from work we sleep better. Low sleep quantity and quality is associated with weaker concentration, lower job satisfaction, work motivation, and task performance, as well as with increased absences from work and workplace injuries.
Annual leave sees positive impacts on well-being and productivity, but these effects last for a mere few weeks. Taking relaxing weekend breaks that encourage employees to not think about work increases their happiness and serenity. However, failing to detach from work or having to deal with financial or relationship problems on the weekend, manifests into exhaustion, negative mood and lower performance at work the following week.
On our evenings off after work, engaging in relaxing or low effort activities, socialising with others or engaging in physical activity increases our mood and well-being. Taking micro-breaks while at work seems to be a positive experience that restores energy, addresses attention lapses and improves productivity.
Providing employees with time away from work in which they can pursue opportunities for recovery from work demands should be a priority for employers. Organisations need to understand their role in encouraging their employees to leverage work breaks for recharging and unwinding. In doing so, they will benefit from a workforce that is healthy, energised, and ready to work.