By Melissa J. Anderson (New York City)
According to a new article published in the academic journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, work-related stress can follow you home, impacting your emotional and physical health, as well as impairing your ability to do a good job when you’re actually in the office. But, the author says, you can avoid these negative effects of workplace stress by switching off.
“In the fast-paced 24/7 economy, many people are constantly busy and find it increasingly difficult to unwind and relax,” writes Sabine Sonnentag of the University of Mannheim. “Being continuously occupied with job-related issues without mentally disengaging from time to time might seem necessary for employees in many organizations, but it can have negative side effects.”
According to Sonnentag, detaching means turning off your Blackberry, not logging into your email, and forgetting about conflicts with coworkers. This can be difficult for high achievers, but, many studies suggest you’ll be happier and better at your job if you learn to silence the work worry-wart inside your mind. Here are three reasons to let go of work this weekend.
1. Feel Better
First of all, Sonnentag suggests, switching off after work means “higher levels of psychological well-being,” including being more satisfied with your life, less emotional exhaustion, and decreased psychological strain.
And it’s not just in the long term. The effects are visible day to day. She writes:
“Beyond research demonstrating that employees who detach from work are generally better off in terms of well-being, studies comparing employees’ affect on days during which they feel high levels of detachment versus days during which they feel low levels of detachment have shown that employees’ affective states are more favorable on high-detachment days.”
After-work detachment just makes you an all-around more pleasant person. Your coworkers will thank you.
2. Sleep Better
For years, Huffington Post founder Arianna Huffington has been on a personal crusade to encourage women to get more sleep. In 2010, she wrote with Glamour‘s Cindi Leive, “If you ask us, the next feminist issue is sleep. And in order for women to get ahead in this country, we’re all going to have to lie down and take a nap.”
Well, according to Sonnentag’s paper, learning to switch off can help you sleep better – not just because detached people have more time to sleep, she writes, but because they just feel generally better when they’re going to bed. She writes, “For instance, a diary study with well-educated professionals demonstrated that participants felt more content and cheerful and less fatigued and depleted at bedtime when they experienced greater detachment from work in the evening.”
And she continues, even if you don’t sleep as many hours, you’ll feel better rested in the morning.
“A study with public-service employees showed that the benefits of psychological detachment during the evening last until the next morning: The more employees detached from work, the less tired and the less irritated they were the next morning, even when hours of sleep and subjective quality of sleep were statistically controlled for.”
Switching off the night before means a better morning.
3. Manage Work and Stress Better
Finally, Sonnentag suggests, switching off from work when you leave means you’ll approach work more proactively when you’re there. “A study in which weekly surveys were collected over the course of four workweeks revealed that when employees detached from their job during the weekend, they felt more refreshed at the beginning of the next workweek and showed more proactive work behavior throughout the week”
Detaching in the evenings and on weekends can also help you better manage stress you’re back in the office. For example, she writes, “…psychological detachment can buffer the negative association between experiencing workplace bullying (i.e., being harassed or offended by coworkers or supervisors) and symptoms of psychological strain (e.g., difficulty sleeping, depressive symptoms).”
Of course, letting go isn’t as easy as it sounds. Some jobs require you to be on call 24/7. And some workplace cultures encourage face time to the detriment of employees’ busy lives and family responsibilities. In these cases, Sonnentag suggests, employers should recognize they’ll get more from well-rested, alert, happy employees when they encourage them to switch off.
“Organizations could further support their employees’ detachment from work during off-hours by clearly communicating that employees are encouraged to switch off from work while at home. Company policies should explicitly spell out that 24/7 employee avail-ability is not necessarily what defines a committed and highly performing workforce.”
Finally, she writes, switching off isn’t for everyone – some people feel incredibly fulfilled by work. If that’s the case, then carry on. But for most of us, creating mental space from work is just as important as physical space. When you leave the office this weekend, leave your work behind too.