Reattaching to work each day leads to greater focus, productivity in the office

PORTLAND, Ore. — Giving ourselves some time to unwind after a long day of work is often a much-needed (and welcomed) way to clear our heads and stay mentally sound. But while it’s important to “detach” from work in the evening or whenever one’s shift ends, a new study finds that workers should also mentally “reattach” in the morning to remain engaged at the office.

Researchers at Portland State University say that the reattachment process starts with employees thinking about what will happen during the day, such as tasks that need to be accomplished, potential challenges that might come up, and the support and resources they need to accomplish those tasks.

“We know that detachment from work during non-work hours is important because it creates positive outcomes like higher life satisfaction and lower burnout,” said study co-author Charlotte Fritz, associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Now we need to think about helping people mentally reconnect to work at the beginning of their work shift or day so they can create positive outcomes during their work day and be immersed in their work. It’s not enough to just show up.”

The study surveyed 151 full-time workers from a wide range of industries, including finance, the energy sector, information and communication, the health sector, and public administration. Participants completed two surveys each day, one at the beginning of the workday and the other at the end, for an entire work week. Surveys measured for various work aspects such as goal activation, task focus, social support, and job control.

In the morning, participants rated statements such as, “This morning, I thought about what I wanted to achieve at work today,” or “At the present moment, I am energetically pursuing my work goals.” They were also asked to rate their feelings associated with words such as “active,” “interested,” or “excited.”

The same process was used for surveys in the afternoon, when participants were presented statements such as, “Today, I was enthusiastic about my job,” “To what extent did you receive help and support from your colleagues today?” or “During work today, I had a lot of say about how things were done.”

The authors found that on days workers were more mentally reattached to their jobs, they felt more focused, enthusiastic, and engaged in the office. They also enjoyed more positive interaction with colleagues and experienced more job control.

“Through reattachment, employees are able to activate work-related goals, which then further creates positive experiences which allow people to be more engaged at work,” says Fritz. “Engagement is a sense of energy, sense of feeling absorbed, feeling dedicated to work, and those are all very important motivational experiences that translate to positive outcomes for both employees and organizations. They’re more satisfied with work, more committed to work, enjoy work tasks more, perform better and help out more with extra tasks.”

The researchers suggest that companies create norms and routines that assist employees in work reattachment and support the daily transition between personal space and the workplace. Such initiatives could lead to more productivity which is a win for both the employee and the employer.

“Organizations need employees who are highly engaged, and reattachment is key,” concludes Fritz.

The study was published in the Journal of Management.

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