Improve your work by not working

Author: Kate Cross

Okay, so we’re not advocating slacking off. Our collective bosses likely wouldn’t approve. But for those fortunate enough to still have jobs, there is merit in considering how our pursuits outside of official work hours are affecting our careers.


The value of daily recovery


Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology at the Erasmus University Rotterdam, Arnold Bakker has researched many facets of work-related behaviour, including the interplay between work and non-work life.


“Research,” he says, “has shown that non-work activities and experiences may influence energy, work engagement and performance in several ways”. 


“The most important impact is probably that of daily recovery activities and experiences during non-work time.”


But what exactly are these activities and experiences he speaks of? Which ones help the workday and, importantly, which ones don’t? 


Activities that help


Unsurprisingly the impact certain activities have on our wellbeing are a good indicator of how useful they’ll be to the workday.


“If employees engage in evening leisure activities that foster relaxation, psychological detachment, and mastery, they feel more energetic during the next morning, and are more engaged at work during the day,” explains Professor Bakker.


He says that non-work activities “that work particularly well” are sports and exercise, including walking; hobbies; and social activities, such as dinner with friends or seeing a movie.  


Activities that hinder


If you love binge-watching your favourite eps during your downtime, be aware that, according to Professor Bakker, “watching TV is not very helpful for recovery, unless it is combined with more active non-work activity”.


Similarly, filling your non-work hours with work is a bit of a no-no.


“People who spent more time on working during off-job time did not replenish their energetic resources, became tired, and started the next workday with less energy,” according to Professor Bakker. 


If you are one of those people who needs more convincing not to work when you’re ‘off the clock’, according to research cited in Leisure Studies back in 2009, “failure to successfully unwind and switch-off from work has been associated with a number of health-related problems”, including sleep disturbance, dysphoria and cardiovascular disease.


Turning attention to the recovery effect of household chores, such as grocery shopping, cooking and paying bills, results, according to Professor Bakker, “are mixed”.


“More generally we see that when people really like what they do during off-job time, then its (positive) recovery effect is strongest.”


Regardless of the economic landscape, downtime matters


With COVID-19 making a mess of countless industries and livelihoods, leisure time mightn’t seem a reasonable priority to those who managed to remain in the workforce.


But, according to Professor Bakker, it should be.


“If people do not take care of themselves through self-management, who else will?” he says.


Indeed, Positive Psychologist Timothy Sharp says “research shows … that we can’t really function or be productive effectively without adequate downtime”. 


“Until we can value [rest, relaxation, reflection and contemplation] more, we’ll continue to suffer stress and depression at extremely high levels,” he says.


Adds Professor Bakker: “There is always something important to do, but in order to be able to keep being involved with these important work activities, one needs to regularly distance from work and recover.” 




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