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What happens at work, should stay at work: New study finds recovery is essential for employee performance and psychological, physical well-being

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – When was the last time you received an email from your boss or a coworker after hours? As a member of the ultra-connected, technology-savvy workforce, it probably wasn’t too long ago that you were alerted to a new addition to your inbox at 6:30, 9:45 or even 11 p.m.

In 2017, France had enough of this behavior and enacted a labor law that gave its workers the “right to disconnect” from emails, smartphones and other electronic devices after they completed their work day.

“These measures are designed to ensure respect for rest periods and…balance between work and family and personal life,” the Ministry of Labor said in a statement when the law was put in place.

The French may have been on to something when they enacted the “right to disconnect” law. According to new research from the University of Florida Warrington College of Business, recovery from work, or the unwinding process of reducing or eliminating strain caused by the stressors of work, is not only important for employees’ psychological and physical well-being, but it also plays a significant role in job performance.

Brian Swider

Assistant Professor of Management Brian Swider.

“Recovery occurs during non-work time and can look very different to different employees (or employers,)” write Brian Swider, Warrington Assistant Professor of Management, Laurens Steed of Miami University, Sejin Keem of Portland State University and Joseph Liu of Florida Gulf Coast University. “The concept of recovery is the idea that employees need breaks from the demands of work in order to function optimally. Regardless of when or how one takes a break, recovery exists as a critical process that occurs during these breaks and can benefit employees in a variety of ways.”

You can think about your own need for recovery similar to that of debits and credits on a balance sheet, Swider said. In order to recover, you need to make sure your work demands are offset by your resources available to complete the work.

In their paper, “Leaving Work at Work: A Meta-Analysis on Employee Recovery from Work,” Steed, Swider, Keem and Liu, reviewed 198 studies on employee recovery in order to determine just how beneficial recovery is to employees and what might hinder their ability to recover from work demands.

Their findings indicate not only that recovery from work is beneficial for both the mind and body in the short term through elements like better sleep, less fatigue, and improved mental well-being, but also in the long-run through increased life satisfaction and reduced recovery.

Demands that employees face make recovery easier said than done, though, the researchers found.

“Employees’ ability to recover was hampered by the work demands they face, like time pressures, job insecurity, or bullying received,” said Swider. “But bolstered by their non-work resources, like spousal support, self-efficacy and psychological capital.”

Employers can help boost employee recovery, and in turn, employee productivity, by providing employees resources that will manage the demands employees face.

“Although it is impossible for organizations to shield their employees from job demands entirely, organizations should consider keeping demands in check when they can be controlled (e.g. not repeatedly creating time pressured via tight deadlines) or offering opportunities to build personal resources, such as psychological capital or (recovery specific) self-efficacy,” the researchers write. “Additionally, organizations may seek to implement policies and norms that encourage employee recovery, such as segmentation norms that regulate work email response expectations and other after-work activities that may cut into opportunities to engage in recover activities or experiences.”

That being said, organizations can only do so much.

“An employee has to take it upon themselves to recover the way they need to,” Swider said.

He suggests that employees prioritize recovery efforts the same way they prioritize their work efforts.

“Be conscious of how you spend your time outside of work, and learn to put value in performing and accomplishing tasks that aren’t related to work,” Swider said.

This research was recently published in the Journal of Management.