Why It’s Best to Leave Work at Work

We’ve all heard the phrases, “She’s a work-a-holic,” or “He’s totally married to his work…always at the clinic.” It’s easy to put those terms onto other people. “Surely that’s not me!” you say… “I know when to quit.”  But do you?  How many times do you justify checking emails or taking calls on your off-time?  Doctors and medical professionals already work a sometimes insane amount of hours in a matter of days.  For several reasons, it’s a really good thing to separate your work-life from your not-work-life.

There are dozens of ways for your work to follow you home, from patient emails to emergency phone calls to guilt to replaying the day’s events in your head. It can be hard to turn it off, but research suggests there is good reason to not let the worries and stress of your job edge their way into your free time and home life:

Knowing When to Quit = Smoother Recovery

Re-energizing after a long work day is essential; we all know this.  We tell each other and we tell our patients that a good work/life balance is needed for optimal health; we encourage our colleagues to take a break when we see them looking tired because we know – (especially in a teamwork environment that saves lives, takes care of the sick and deals with emergencies and critical conditions!) – that we need them to be in tip-top shape to get the job done well.  But why does this not extend to ourselves? It’s very easy for us to convince ourselves that, “I got this!” and that we are each individually above the status quo.  Really ya’ll, we are not superheroes, as much as we like to think we are.  We can do great things, and we DO great things, but not when we’re depleted and our batteries have run down.

It’s difficult to re-energize when we’re constantly checking into work-related tasks; studies show that those who can exhibit “work detachment” are much more able to cope with the daily stresses and strain 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 plenty of evidence that shows that detaching from your job can help make you better at it.  Taking time away, both mentally and physically, from your job fulfills areas of your life that are necessary for pleasure, personal development, social development, and reducing stress.  We all want to be good at our jobs, right?  Maybe the key to being GREAT at our jobs is not doing them all the time; maybe the key to success is engaging in leisure activities away from our work environment so that we’re able to be more engaged in our work while we’re at our jobs.  In a study posted in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, their findings concluded that: “Adequate recovery not only enhances vigor in the morning, but also helps employees to stay engaged during the next workday.”

Take Time to Eat Well for Better Performance

Food choice is a well-established indicator of nutritional health – we all know this.  In simpler terms, “We are what we eat.”  This 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 don’t eat as well.  We tend to gravitate toward meals of convenience when our minds are caught up in work tasks, and that can mean anything from microwave meals to vending machine snacks to running to pick up fast food for a “quick bite” away from the clinic.

Studies show that people who are unable to detach from work-related activities report eating less cooked meals and more processed foods than those who are 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 that you eat better when you make time to eat better.

Greater Life Satisfaction

As stated above, those folks who are “married to their jobs” are just that; they tend to not do so well in romantic/partner relationships and often do not play very active roles in their family relationships due to always being on the job.  This can often result from good intentions: wanting to provide well for your family or intending to save up money to pay off debts or to buy a bigger house, but at what cost? Any time away from home means time away from your family, and bringing work home with you just increases that strain on those relationships.  A study done in Brussels earlier this year found that the ability to detach from work will replenish resources that “…will contribute to and benefit feelings of marital satisfaction.”

What do all these things add up to? Research suggests that higher levels of self-detachment from work are associated with “…higher levels of significant other-reported life satisfaction as well as lower levels of emotional exhaustion.”  Basically this means that those who are able to keep work at work experience a happier, healthier, better balanced sense of satisfaction over-all, have more energy to output throughout their day, have better performance at their jobs, and help to prevent burnout.   

So what are you waiting for?  Turn off that computer and go get outside.  It’s a beautiful world out there and you owe it to yourself to get out in it!

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