Woman working from home

Why It’s Best to Leave Work at Work

“She’s a workaholic.” “He’s totally married to his job. He’s always at the clinic.” We’ve all heard lines like these.

It’s easy to put those kinds of terms on others. “Surely that’s not me!” you may be thinking. “I know when to quit.” But do you? How often are you checking email or taking calls on your off-time? Doctors and medical professionals often work an insane number of hours.

There are dozens of ways for work to follow you home—from patient emails to emergency phone calls to feeling guilty about something to obsessively replaying the day’s events in your head. Research suggests there are very practical advantages to not letting the worries and stresses of your job edge their way into your free time and home life. Here are a few:

Knowing When to Quit = A Smoother Recovery

Reenergizing after a long workday is essential.  We tell each other and our patients that good work-life balance is needed for optimal health. We encourage our colleagues to take a break when they look tired because we know we need them to be in tiptop shape to get the job done well.

But do we extend this philosophy to ourselves?

Too often we say, “I’ve got this!” and think that we are above the status quo.  But really, we are not superheroes, as much as we’d like to think we are. We can do great things, and we do great things, but not when we’re depleted and our batteries are run down.

Studies show that those who practice work detachment are better able to cope with the daily stress of the day-to-day job. “Mentally and physically restraining from work-related activities and experiences at home allows an employee to cease further taxation of resources (e.g., mood, time, energy) and provides opportunities to replenish drained resources,” states a journal article in Frontiers in Psychology.

Higher Work Engagement

As backward as it may sound, there is evidence showing that detaching from the job can actually help make you better at it.  Taking time away, both mentally and physically, is necessary for pleasure, personal development, social development, and stress reduction.

We all want to be good at our job, right?  

A key is not to be doing it all the time, but rather to engage in leisure activities away from the work environment, which in turn allows us to be more engaged while working our job.  The findings of a study in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology concluded that “Adequate recovery not only enhances vigor in the morning, but also helps employees to stay engaged during the next workday.”

Eat Well for Better Performance

In many ways, “We are what we eat.” It should come as no surprise then that when we choose to stay at work late or work on our days off, and even when we bring work home with us, we often don’t eat as well or as healthily. Then we suffer the consequences.

At such times, we can tend to gravitate toward meals of convenience, which can mean anything from microwave meals to vending machine snacks to running to pick up fast food and then wolfing it down.

Studies show that people who are unable to detach from work-related activities eat less cooked meals and more processed foods than those able to work-detach. Interestingly, those who engage in post-work perseverative thinking also have issues with making healthy eating choices. The take-away here is the common sense fact that you eat better when you make time to eat better.

Greater Life Satisfaction

Perhaps not surprisingly, those folks who are “married to their jobs” tend to do not so well in romantic or partner relationships; if married, they often do not play active roles in the family. Such habits can often come out of good intentions: wanting to provide well or working to save up to pay off debts or buy a better house.

But  at what cost? Time away from home means time away from family, and bringing work home can strain relationships.  A study done in Brussels found that the ability to detach from work replenishes resources that “contribute to and benefit feelings of marital satisfaction.”

What do all these factors add up to?

Research suggests that a higher level of self-detachment from work is associated with “higher levels of significant other-reported life satisfaction as well as lower levels of emotional exhaustion.”

Those who are able to “keep work at work” experience a happier, healthier, and better balanced sense of satisfaction overall, have more energy, and perform better at their jobs. And importantly, such healthy lifestyles help to prevent burnout.   

So what are you waiting for?  Turn off the computer now and get outside! Enjoy your free time so that when it’s time to work, you’ll be rested and healthy.

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