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The aim of the worksite study presented here is to elucidate the cortisol reducing impact of different ways of spending lunch breaks. With the help of the so-called silent room cabin concept it was possible to induce a relaxation opportunity that provides visual and territorial privacy. In order to evaluate its proposed effects, 14 call centre agents were distributed to either 20 min progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) or small talk break group. Participants were analysed in a controlled trial for a period of 6 months (1 day each month with five daily measurements at awakening, awakening +30 min, start of lunch break, end of lunch break, and bedtime) using saliva cortisol measurements as a stress indicator. Results indicated that only the PMR break reduced awakening, lunchtime, and bedtime cortisol response. Although further intervention research is required, our results suggest that post-lunch PMR may sustainably reduce participants' cortisol states in real worksite settings.
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Relaxation-induced cortisol changes within lunch
breaks – an experimental longitudinal worksite
field study
Jarek Krajewski
1
*, Martin Sauerland
2
and Rainer Wieland
3
1
Experimental Work Psychology, University of Wuppertal, Wuppertal, Germany
2
Work and Social Psychology, University of Landau, Landau, Germany
3
Work and Organizational Psychology, University of Wuppertal, Wuppertal,
Germany
The aim of the worksite study presented here is to elucidate the cortisol reducing
impact of different ways of spending lunch breaks. With the help of the so-called silent
room cabin concept it was possible to induce a relaxation opportunity that provides
visual and territorial privacy. In order to evaluate its proposed effects, 14 call centre
agents were distributed to either 20 min progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) or small
talk break group. Participants were analysed in a controlled trial for a period of
6 months (1 day each month with five daily measurements at awakening, awakening
þ30 min, start of lunch break, end of lunch break, and bedtime) using saliva cortisol
measurements as a stress indicator. Results indicated that only the PMR break reduced
awakening, lunchtime, and bedtime cortisol response. Although further intervention
research is required, our results suggest that post-lunch PMR may sustainably reduce
participants’ cortisol states in real worksite settings.
The hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis is primarily activated when the body
responds to physical and mental stress (Miller & O’Callaghan, 2002); it is responsible for
the secretion of the stress hormone cortisol. It is hypothesized that prolonged activation
of this axis can suppress certain immune functions, can be detrimental to health and
increase the risk of disease (Rabin, 2005) or of faster disease progression (Sephton,
Sapolsky, Kraemer, & Spiegel, 2000). Furthermore, changes in the cortisol rhythm are
discussed in the aetiology of a number of diseases including heart disease, atopic
neurodermitis, and osteoporosis (Manelli & Giustina, 2000).
Numerous studies have indicated that the HPA axis may be specifically activated
under conditions of social-evaluative threat of the sort that appear daily in
professional worksite settings. Since work-related stress has been linked to a wide
* Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Jarek Krajewski, Experimental Business Psychology, Schumpeter School of
Business and Economics, University of Wuppertal (Germany), Gaussstraße 20, 42097 Wuppertal, Germany
(e-mail: krajewsk@uni-wuppertal.de).
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
The
British
Psychological
Society
1
Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (2010), 00, 1–14
q2010 The British Psychological Society
www.bpsjournals.co.uk
DOI:10.1348/096317910X485458
spectrum of negative health outcomes and impaired well-being (e.g. Wegge,
Van Dick, Fisher, Wecking, & Moltzen, 2006), the development of effective worksite
stress countermeasures is a central task for applied stress research. A promising
approach for stress related interventions is the effective restoration of spent
resources within recovery sections (e.g. Binnewies, Sonnentag, & Mojza, in press;
Fritz & Sonnentag, 2005; Sonnentag, Binnewies, & Mojza, 2008; Trougakos, Beal,
Green, & Weiss, 2008). However, little attention has been paid to the longest and
thus probably the most influential, of all breaks within the workday: the lunch
break. Thus, optimizing the recovery impact of lunch breaks may be a promising
path for solving problems of high stress and the resulting impact on performance,
health, and quality of life.
Recent research on relaxation techniques has indirectly provided some ideas for
developing recovery intensive lunch break routines. One of the most widely used
techniques – progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) – has been shown to be an effective
countermeasure in reducing stress in experiments conducted in laboratory and clinical
settings (e.g. Schneider et al., 2005). PMR aims at enabling subjects to achieve physical
and mental relaxation using exercises to tense and release 16 different muscle groups
(legs, arms, shoulders, face, chest, etc.). The commonly used subform, abbreviated
progressive relaxation training, is derived from Jacobsen’s original PMR and routinely
used, both clinically and in research (Carlson & Hoyle, 1993).
Laboratory settings have produced many well-documented recovery effects of PMR
on the cardiovascular, neuromuscular, electrodermal, autonomous, and central nervous
systems. Furthermore, PMR shows effects on a wide range of psychosomatic disorders
(e.g. high blood pressure, sleep disturbance, asthma, rheumatic complaints, atopical
neurodermitis – see e.g. Rainforth et al., 2007), as well as on psychological variables
such as increased positive moods and physical well-being (Lohaus, Klein-Heßling,
Vo¨gele, & Kuhn-Hennighausen, 2001). Moreover, it also increases pain thresholds and
decreases inner tension and stress (Emery, France, Harris, Norman, & Vanarsdalen,
2008; Lolak, Connors, Sheridan, & Wise, 2008; Shapiro & Lehrer, 1980). As demonstrated
by Pawlow and Jones (2002, 2005), and Nickel et al. (2005) PMR even reduces the
endocrinological stress marker cortisol.
A theoretical framework explaining such stress-reducing effects of PMR lunch breaks
is provided by the cognitive-behavioural model of relaxation (Smith, 1988; Smith,
Amutio, Anderson, & Aria, 1996). This model suggests that focusing (the ability to
maintain focus on simple stimuli), tension relief (positive sensations associated with
reduced cognitive and somatic arousal), and passive disengagement (the ability to stop
unnecessary goal directed and analytic activity; cf. Sonnentag, Mojza, Binnewies, &
Scholl, 2008) are the basic components of all forms of effective relaxation. Similarly,
Meijman and Mulder (1998) have determined that effective recovery is enhanced by low
task-related physical, mental, and emotional demands and low external stressor
frequency and intensity. Moreover, drawing on literature from Trenberth and Dewe
(2002), break time should guarantee distraction from work-related ruminative thought,
for instance by strongly focusing on involving tasks (Cropley & Purvis, 2003).
Furthermore, physical distance from the workplace and the resulting detachment are
relevant to effective recovery processes in non-working time (Hartig, Johansson, &
Kylin, 2007). Additionally, as demonstrated by Fastenmeier, Gstalter, and Lehnig (2003),
obligatory activities seem to have a reduced recovery value. Nearly, all the theoretical
and empirical claims made for recovery intensive lunch break routines can be taken into
account with PMR lunch breaks.
2Jarek Krajewski et al.
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
Previous empirical research has independently demonstrated the stress-reducing
short-term effects of PMR. However, few attempts have been made to capture the
stress-reducing effects of PMR for more than a few hours. Furthermore, studies have so
far only shown stress reducing effects of PMR in artificial experimental or clinical
settings. To the best of our knowledge, no study has been conducted to replicate
laboratory findings within the context of real worksites, adding such information as
chronic strain indicators (cortisol awakening responses, CARs), involving employees
(instead of students) as participants, and testing the long-term stability of the proposed
recovery effects over half a year in a real life setting. To enable this kind of research,
sustainable organizational solutions for implementing PMR into daily worksite routines
had to be offered. The major difficulties associated with incorporating PMR were solved
by the infrastructural framework of the silent room.
Infrastructural framework for implementing relaxation techniques into worksite
settings
As shown above, numerous studies have documented the recovery potential of
systematic relaxation techniques in non-worksite research fields. In fact, implementing
these procedures into organizational contexts faces several problems. One serious
problem is related to the general security and privacy needs of deep relaxation, which
requires eye closure and a horizontal lying position. Another problem refers to the
professional setting in which relaxation activities take place. To satisfy these needs a
relaxation setting should ensure visual, auditory, and territorial privacy. In order to fulfil
the described demands in a worksite setting a room-in-room concept, called ‘silent
room’ has been developed. The core features of this conception consist of lockable
cabins and medical daybeds (see Figure 1). The silent room is an intimacy maintaining
and stressor-free place that protects privacy by noise subdued and opaque cabins
coupled with a hygienic dental-medical appearance. Moreover, a flexible acoustic
4
1.81.8
2
3
2
3
41
55
1
2.5
Figure 1. Inner view of the silent room cabin module (length and width are displayed in metres).
1, medical daybed; 2, music system with PMR instruction; 3, eye mask, alarm clock; 4, noise subdued
floor; 5, lockable cabin door.
Relaxation-induced cortisol changes 3
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
system offering standardized PMR instructions is integrated into the room. By installing
the silent room in a call centre, it was possible for us to integrate PMR into daily worksite
lunch break routines.
The scarcity of experimental evidence in this area of worksite implementation of
PMR breaks highlights the need for more detailed research. Hence, the focus of the
present study is to analyse the immediate (þ10 min), spillover effects (þ10 h; see e.g.
Pawlow & Jones, 2005), and the ‘quasi-chronic’ changes of cortisol over a longer period
(þ42 h; chronic stress marker CAR; Nickel et al., 2005) due to PMR lunch breaks within
daily worksite settings. Thus, it is hypothesized that PMR breaks reduce cortisol states
more efficiently than the usual small talk (ST) breaks.
Method
Participants
All participants (14 call centre agents) took part voluntarily. Due to the study’s focus on
measuring cortisol in typical call centre employees, the following inclusion criteria had
to be met: (a) had worked as call centre agents for more than 6 months, with a regular 5
day and 40 h workweek and a fixed daily work schedule from 8:00 to 17:00; and (b) had
no prior experience in systematic depth relaxation procedures. Of the 14 participants,
seven age-and-gender matched pairs were created (range ^4 years). Each member of
a pair was randomly assigned to either an ST or PMR group. Both groups consisted of
4 male and 3 female participants.
Procedure
After identifying lunch breaks as important recovery occasions within a pre-survey
interested parties were invited to an informative meeting. Here, employees were asked
to participate in an experimental study. All subjects were screened in a short personal
interview in order to assure that they corresponded to our criteria of selection.
Participants were informed about the purpose of the study. After that, participants
received a short summary with important information including a ‘don’t’ list (e.g. not to
drink any alcoholic beverages 6 h prior to sampling time) before taking part in our study.
These instructions were given in order to reduce the influence of possible confounders
related to cortisol measurement. We received written informed consent from all
participants. In return for participation, reports about individual stress profiles, as well
as the overall findings, were promised. Participating employees were not compensated
for their services. In a first appointment, the procedure and the use of the material
(collection devices, compliance monitor, diary, and questionnaires) were explained to
them and practiced intensively.
At the beginning of a 6 months period (from September to April), 14 call centre
agents were randomly allocated to experimental lunch break groups: either (a) 20 min of
PMR, or (b) 20 min ST break. The lunch break was scheduled between 12:00 and 13:00.
The experimental PMR session (12:15–12:45) of the break took place (for the PMR
group) in a noise-subdued, dimly-lighted (10 lux), opaque, lockable cabin, called ‘silent
room’, where participants wore eye masks. PMR instructions were given via wireless
headphones (including calm instrumental background music) while participants lay on
medical daybeds. The ST break was located in the company’s staff room and conducted
with three to four self-chosen colleagues. Instructions were given to follow the usual
4Jarek Krajewski et al.
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
choice of ST topics. Since cortisol measurement can be influenced by food intake no
lunch was consumed on measurement days during the break. However, small snacks
were allowed when participants were back at their desk (13:05–14:00). On the other
hand, snacks were consumed between 12:00 and 12:30 on non-measurement days
within the 6 months period.
Participants were instructed to use their allocated break every workday over a period
of 6 months. Exceptionally, there were no PMR sessions on the day before the
measurements to exclude direct spill over effects to the following day and determine
‘quasi-chronic’ changes of cortisol (see Figure 2). Cortisol measurements were taken
on 8 fixed days (d0¼20:25 months, d1¼þ0:25 months, d2¼þ1:25 months,
d3¼þ2:25 months, d4¼þ3:25 months, d5¼þ4:25 months, d6¼þ5:25 months,
d7¼þ6:25 months). The pre-measurement d
0
(ST for both groups) served as baseline.
On each measurement day samples of cortisol were (self-) administered at awakening
and awakening þ30 min then 11:55, 13:05, and bedtime. Altogether, this procedure
resulted in a Treatment (between-subject factor: ST, PMRÞ£Time (within-subject factor:
t1¼awakening, t2¼awakening þ30 min, t3¼11 : 55, t4¼13 : 05, t5¼bedtimeÞ£
Measurement Day (within-subject factor: d
0
,d
1
,,d
7
) design.
Measurements
To collect saliva samples, participants used a device called a ‘salivette’ (Sarstedt;
Nu
¨mbrecht, Germany). Participants woke up as usual (at times ranging from 6:00 to
7:15) roused by their own alarm clocks. Participants were instructed to provide five
samples over the course of a normal workday. The appropriate time for the saliva
collection (especially for the post-lunch time 13:05 measurement) was chosen with
regard to the delayed response of cortisol to acute stress. Previous studies had shown
that salivary cortisol reaches its maximum about 10–20 min after acute stress reaction
(Hammerfald et al., 2006).
LT
LTRWT
Time of day
10:00 12:0008:00 22:0020:0018:0016:0014:00
06:00
RWT
ST
RWT
RWT
t
5
t
4
t
2
t
3
t
1
Process of experiment [months]
42
ST
d
0
d
4
d
3
d
2
d
7
d
6
d
5
60 531
d
1
P
P
Figure 2. Time schedule of the experiment. (RWT, regular work task; P, PMR break; ST, small talk
break; LT, leisure time; t
1
t
5
, time of cortisol measurement; d
0
d
7
, measurement day).
Relaxation-induced cortisol changes 5
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
In order to avoid interference with experimental effects, participants were
instructed to refrain from eating, smoking, strenuous physical exercise, brushing teeth,
and consuming acidic drinks or caffeine for at least 1 h prior to testing, and from
consuming alcohol for at least 6 h prior to testing. None of the samples had to be
excluded due to non-compliant behaviour.
Regular saliva sampling by participants is prone to measurement error due to a lack
of compliance in taking the sample at the prescribed time. To monitor compliance with
the salivary cortisol collection protocol, we removed the sampling swabs from their
original plastic tubes and put them in an electronic drug exposure monitor (Smart Caps,
eDEMTM; Aardex Ltd., Switzerland). This monitor recorded the time at which the box
containing the cotton rolls was opened. The employment of this device strengthened
the compliance of the participants and prevented invalid cortisol profiles in
non-compliant participants (Kudielka, Broderick, & Kirschbaum, 2003). Sufficient
compliance was defined as taking the saliva sample (i.e. opening the cap of the
compliance monitor) within a time frame of 5 min before and after the prescribed time.
Applying this criterion, the compliance rate was 98.6%, which is in accordance with the
data from Kudielka et al. (2003). Salivary free cortisol concentrations were determined
employing a chemiluminescence assay with high sensitivity and inter-assay and
intra-assay variations ,10%(University of Du
¨sseldorf, Germany).
Cortisol parameter
The CAR in saliva is increasingly regarded as a non-invasive and reliable method for
detecting subtle changes in the HPA axis. It allows repeated assessment and has been
shown to have a high intra-individual stability (Hellhammer et al., 2007). Furthermore,
an enhanced CAR has been found in healthy subjects under chronic stress either
manifested as high workload or social stress (Wu
¨st, Federenko, Hellhammer, &
Kirschbaum, 2000). CAR
delta
was determined by calculating the difference between
awakening þ30 min and awakening, and CAR
mean
by the mean of the two awakening
samples. Furthermore, lunch break cortisol (LBC) reductions indicating immediate
effects of PMR and ST were calculated as the difference of 13 :05 211 :55 cortisol
values. Spillover effects of PMR and ST were determined by collecting bedtime cortisol
values. In sum, the participants provided 543 cortisol samples (97%; 560 total samples,
14 participants £8days£5 samples per day). The missing data of a specific sample (e.g.
participant 6, t
5
,d
3
) were replaced by the total mean of the corresponding time of day
and measurement day over all remaining participants (mean of all participants in t
5
,d
3
).
Manipulation check
In addition to the application of Smart Caps, we checked the compliance and quality of
relaxation method realization by means of (a) a checklist of relaxation symptoms
(for PMR breaks), which involved, e.g. questions about the feeling of heaviness in the
16 different muscle groups; (b) informal questioning by a neutral person (was not
associated with the study); and (c) a masked observation sample (by a peer colleague)
on the measurement days. Non-compliant behaviour (non-adherence to the lunch
break-mode) could be extrapolated from the above-mentioned questioning and
observation. Furthermore, reporting less than 50% of the relaxation symptoms served as
an exclusion criterion. None of the participants fell below this criterion. Moreover, the
results of the informal questioning showed that the average percentage of PMR breaks
6Jarek Krajewski et al.
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
on the measurement days was 100% and the average number of PMR breaks during
6-month measurement period was 3.6 per week (SD ¼0:2). The major reasons for not
conducting a PMR break on non-measurement days were private obligations (banking,
administrative tasks), social obligations (solving within-group conflicts, emotional
support for colleagues), and falling asleep while practising PMR (under 20% of the
whole PMR break trials, but none on measurement days). Due to the very high number
and accurate collection of samples, high compliance with the sampling protocol, a high
level of general compliance could be assumed.
Statistical analysis
Before performing analyses, the raw cortisol values were positively skewed and
log-transformed to approximate normal distributions. However, in order to be
physiologically meaningful, Figure 3 shows absolute cortisol values. One three-way
repeated measure analysis of variance (ANOVA) was carried out to examine the
interaction effects of treatment (PMR, ST), time (t
3
,t
4
), and measurement day (d
0
d
7
)on
pre- and post-lunchtime cortisol. Moreover, three ANOVAs were computed to determine
the interaction effects of treatment (PMR, ST) and measurement day (d
0
d
7
) on the
remaining cortisol parameters. To control for possible effects of age, sex, intake of
contraceptive medication, wake-up times, and sleep duration, these variables were
10
5
0
40
30
20
10
0
30
20
10
0
–5
–10
d
0
10
8
6
4
2
0
d
1
d
2
d
3
d
4
Day
LBC [nmol/l]CAR mean [nmol/l]
BED [nmol/l]CAR delta [nmol/l]
Day
d
5
d
6
d
7
d
0
d
1
d
2
d
3
d
4
d
5
d
6
d
7
d
0
d
1
d
2
d
3
d
4
d
5
d
6
d
7
d
0
d
1
d
2
d
3
d
4
d
5
d
6
d
7
Day Day
Figure 3. Cortisol parameter (LBC, BED, CAR
mean
, and CAR
delta
) of the pre- (d
0
) and seven post-
measurement days (d
1
d
7
) for PMR and ST break. Data are shown as mean ^SD. PMR break, triangle
marker; ST break, circle marker.
Relaxation-induced cortisol changes 7
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
included as covariates in the ANOVAs. Moreover, unpaired ttests were used to examine
short- (d
1
) and long-term (mean of d
6
and d
7
) differences between ST and PMR groups.
A significance level of p#:05 was used.
Furthermore, we conducted an a priori power analysis for repeated measure ANOVA
to determine the statistical power. Based on an estimated medium effect size, an alpha
level of .05, and a sample size of seven subjects per cell (total sample size:
8£5£2£7¼560), it was computed that the power exceeds the necessary 80% for
the significance tests. The statistical analyses were conducted with SPSS for Windows
release 17 (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, Illinois, USA).
Results
Sample characteristics and preliminary analyses
Table 1 shows the main characteristics of the sample separately for the PMR and ST
groups. The groups were statistically indistinguishable with regard to several cortisol
influencing variables (age, gender, ethnicity, use of contraceptives, awakening time, and
sleep duration), and cortisol sample values of the pre-measurement day. These findings
support the interpretation of treatment group differences as being caused by the
experimental factor treatment.
Cortisol indicators
Effects on post-lunch break cortisol
The LBC effects (cortisol level at 13:05 minus cortisol level at 11:55, LBC) revealed
significant different time courses for the PMR and ST groups as depicted in Figure 3.
The results obtained from a Treatment (between-subject factor: ST, PMRÞ£Time
(within-subject factor: t3¼11 : 55, t4¼13 : 05Þ£Measurement Day (within-subject
factor: d
0
,d
1
,,d
7
) threee-way interaction effect, Fð7;96Þ¼2:56, p,:05, indicate the
Table 1. Sample characteristics (N¼14)
PMR (N¼7) ST (N¼7) p
Age [years] 34.71 (7.43) 42.00 (9.51) ns
Female [%] 57.1 57.1 ns
BMI [kg/m
2
] 24.26 (1.71) 21.90 (2.10) ns
Caucasian ethnicity 100 100 ns
Contraceptives [%] 42.8 42.8 ns
Awakening time [h] 6.40 (0.24) 6.31 (0.29) ns
Sleep duration [h] 8.17 (0.56) 7.95 (0.34) ns
Cortisol t
1
[nmol/l] 16.53 (5.21) 15.80 (5.46) ns
Cortisol t
2
[nmol/l] 23.83 (7.00) 24.16 (7.28) ns
Cortisol t
3
[nmol/l] 7.14 (3.66) 5.63 (3.70) ns
Cortisol t
4
[nmol/l] 8.29 (4.15) 7.74 (4.19) ns
Cortisol t
5
[nmol/l] 6.01 (2.16) 4.70 (1.53) ns
Q5 CAR
delta
[nmol/l] 7.30 (3.34) 8.361 (5.18) ns
CAR
mean
[nmol/l] 0.18 (5.94) 9.97 (5.89) ns
LBC [nmol/l] 1.14 (1.84) 2.11 (2.47) ns
Note. Cortisol t
1
, awakening; t
2
, awakening þ30 min; t
3
, 11:55; t
4
, 13:05; t
5
, bedtime.
8Jarek Krajewski et al.
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
divergent pre- and post-lunchtime cortisol values of PMR and ST group. LBC effects can
be observed for both short-term (d
1
) and long-term (mean of d
6
and d
7
) perspective,
t(12) ¼25.92, p,.001, t(12) ¼24.97, p,.001, respectively.
Effects on bedtime cortisol
A two-way ANOVA (2 Treatment £8 Measurement Days) showed systematic differences
in bedtime cortisol levels between the PMR and ST groups, Fð7;96Þ¼1:99, p,:10
(see Figure 3). The bedtime cortisol effects (BED) reached significance within both
short-term and long-term perspective, tð12Þ¼23:38, p,:01, tð12Þ¼23:21, p,:01,
respectively.
Effects on CAR
The CAR
mean
revealed no significant difference in time course for the PMR and ST
groups, as depicted in Figure 3, Fð7;96Þ¼1:15, p.:10. Accordingly, no short-term or
long-term effects were found, tð12Þ¼0:22, ns, tð12Þ¼21:44, ns, respectively.
In contrast to this result, the CAR
delta
values showed – referring to the significance
criterion of the two-way ANOVA (2 Treatment £8 Measurement Day) treatment-by-
measurement day interaction effect – a substantial effect, Fð7;96Þ¼3:73, p,:001
(see Figure 3). In contrast to the pattern observed above, CAR
delta
values reached
significance not from short term but from long-term perspective, tð12Þ¼0:29, ns,
tð12Þ¼24:34, p,:001.
Discussion
The aim of the 6-month experimental worksite study presented here is to elucidate the
cortisol reducing impact of different ways of spending lunch breaks. We expected that
PMR lunch breaks would elicit smaller cortisol responses than ST lunch breaks, and the
results do indeed document the cortisol decreasing effect of PMR lunch breaks.
The main finding apparent in the data is the strong reduction of lunchtime and
awakening cortisol states in response to the PMR break. Cortisol states at bedtime seem
to be less influenced by the chosen type of lunch breaks. The highest cortisol reduction
and largest effects were found for immediate post-lunch break cortisol states.
This corresponds to laboratory-based results concerning immediate cortisol reduction
due to PMR stress reduction (Pawlow & Jones, 2005). A theoretical framework
explaining such stress reducing effects of PMR has already been provided (see Meijman
& Mulder, 1998; Smith, 1988; Trenberth & Dewe, 2002). In contrast to the lunchtime
and bedtime effects, a reduced CAR
delta
can not be observed in the short run (after 0.25
months), only in the long run (after 5–6 months). According to Fries, Dettenborn, and
Kirschbaum (2009), who link CAR to prospective and anticipated demands of an
upcoming day, we assume that chronic stress as measured by CAR
delta
was not reduced
immediately since attitudes towards anticipated workload of the upcoming day are
unlikely to change in short term. This result corresponds with the resisting inertia of
CAR
delta
, which reflect rather long-term psychophysiological processes, and is
associated with chronic stress states (Thorn, Hucklebridge, Evans, & Clow, 2006).
Besides, the above-mentioned potential recovery effects of PMR, the specific
characteristics of the silent room-based worksite implementation selected for this
experiment could be responsible for the results. Based on long-term implementation,
Relaxation-induced cortisol changes 9
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
the study at the same time provided familiarization with PMR procedures and its silent
room setting for participants. These factors might have enabled them to experience
deep and effective relaxation during the lunch break and thus explain the effect sizes
obtained by the PMR-based breaks. In contrast, the ST break might have shown
increased cortisol levels due to interpersonal and situational characteristics such as
social-evaluative threats, unpredictability, uncontrollability, and the anticipation of
negative consequences. Freely choosing a preferred small talk partner may, on the other
hand, have diminished these effects and led to the observed nearly normal circadian
rhythm as expected from the literature.
In general, our results correspond to the hypothesis made at the beginning. Similar
results concerning the cortisol reducing effects of PMR have been found in artificial
laboratory contexts. However, this is to the best of our knowledge the first report on a
longitudinal implementation of systematic relaxation techniques in a real work setting
with daily lunch break routines.
One limitation of this study refers to the cortisol-based approach that was selected.
It is well-known that cortisol measurement faces several confounder-related threats with
reference to validity. However, cortisol levels throughout the experiment fell within the
expected range for normal, healthy adults showing a normal circadian rhythm, as
expected from the literature (see Westermann, Demir, & Herbst, 2004). Furthermore,
the observed compliance (derived from Smart Caps and self-report measures) confirms
the reliability of the measurements. Nevertheless, caution is warranted in the
interpretation of these data. Hence, future research might attempt to use other
non-obtrusive (electro-physiological, acoustic, or behavioural) stress measures.
In general, methodological difficulties may only disturb slightly the realization of the
experimental PMR break or manipulate its conditions. Participants’ compliance can be
considered high. This suggestion is supported by the fact that ST breaks serve as the
most common and natural form of lunch break. Participants’ compliance in the PMR
break condition was confirmed by random observations and informal questioning at the
end of the experiment. Nevertheless, it may be a matter of debate whether the observed
cortisol reducing effect resulted from placebo effects, characteristics of the ‘silent room’
(e.g. silence, darkness), from short periods of napping during PMR or from pure PMR.
Napping itself has already proved its effectiveness in industrial settings (Takahashi,
Nakata, Haratani, Ogawa, & Arito, 2004). Furthermore, imitation of the PMR break might
have occurred in the leisure time of the ST group. But informal interviews gave no hint
of this, and even if this imitation had occurred, the real difference between bedtime and
awakening cortisol of ST and PMR would have been underestimated. A further
uncertainty refers to the explanation BED and CAR
delta
results, which might be induced
by mediator effects of changed activity pattern (see Geurts & Sonnentag, 2006) or
irritation level at home rather than directly influenced by PMR breaks. Moreover,
Hawthorne effects could be responsible for the results. Even, if the latter might be less
probable due to the long experimental period of 6 months and the fact that cortisol (in
contrast to performance levels) cannot be enhanced by voluntary effort. Nevertheless,
due to habituation effects it remains unclear to what extent we can extrapolate the
6 months effects on to real long-term effects (,6 months). In addition, when extending
to a longer period seasonal effects might become more obvious. Again, this potential
confounder would only change the absolute cortisol level; the relative distance between
ST and PMR should remain stable.
Although in comparison to large-scale cross-sectional correlation designs the sample
size in this study is quite small, it is still within the typical range of experimental
10 Jarek Krajewski et al.
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
worksite field studies (see Takahashi et al., 2004). Moreover, repeated measurements
ensured the robustness, internal validity, and significance of the results. Furthermore, no
group differences in cortisol influencing variables or cortisol sample values of the
pre-measurement day could be found, which confirms the a priori equivalence and
baseline-specific superiority of PMR experimental groups.
The present study was carried out in a real, but small-sized worksite. In order to
judge external validity properly, it is evident that clarification concerning the ability to
generalize the results is needed. The extent to which we can extrapolate from this
call-centre context to other professional sectors remains unclear. With the limiting
factors described above in mind, our present findings should be viewed as preliminary
ones that warrant more controlled research. Some possible starting points and questions
for future research might be concerned with improving measurement instruments for
intervention studies (What physiological, behavioural, and acoustic instruments can
detect stress non-obtrusively and without interrupting the primary work task?;
Krajewski, Batliner & Golz, 2009) or optimizing the recovery value of worksite lunch
breaks (Which combination of different break usages as, e.g. napping or
pharmaceuticals improves the intensity and sustainability of the recovery process
best?; Wesensten, Killgore, & Balkin, 2005).
In sum, the longitudinal field-experiment results indicate that PMR lunch breaks may
reduce cortisol states significantly. Additionally, the current study extends prior research
by addressing cortisol reduction problems in real work settings. Finally, this study builds
evidence suggesting the acceptance, sustainability, and success of the silent room as an
implementation module enabling PMR within daily lunch break routines.
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Received 13 May 2009; revised version received 2 November 2009
Relaxation-induced cortisol changes 13
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Author Queries
JOB NUMBER: 1285
JOURNAL: JOOP
Q1 Please update the publication details in reference Binnewies et al. (in press).
Q2 If possible, please supply DOI numbers for the journal articles in the list, as per
current APA style.
Q3 Please supply the page ranges for the reference Fastenmeier et al. (2003).
Q4 Reference Magkos and Kavouras (2004) is provided in the list but not cited in
the text. Please supply citation details or delete the reference from the
reference list.
Q5 Please check the edit of the value (8.361) in Table 1.
14 Jarek Krajewski et al.
JOOP 1285—4/1/2010—SANKARS—357577
... We focused on two work break activities: Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) as our relaxation break activity and riding a stationary bike as our physical break activity. These activities fit within a 15-min work break and have well-known health and well-being benefits as demonstrated in experiments and workplace field studies (Blasche et al., 2018Krajewski et al., 2010Krajewski et al., , 2011Sionaja et al., 2018;van Hooff et al., 2019). These break activities align with our rationale for employees seeking activities to up-regulate (via exercise bike) or down-regulate (via PMR) arousal levels to manage stress and facilitate resource recovery throughout the workday (Ziljstra et al., 2014). ...
... employees. All told, it would be relatively inexpensive for workplaces to provide 'recovery spaces' -a space away from employees' desks dedicated to these restorative breaks (Krajewski et al., 2010(Krajewski et al., , 2011 that would offer employees options for up-and down-regulating their arousal depending on their different needs. ...
... We did not examine how long the effects of the two recovery breaks lasted. Some research has found that the effects of very short breaks (e.g., 6 min) can last at least 20 min (Blasche et al., 2018), whereas longer breaks (e.g., 30 min) can show effects lasting up to three hours (Krajewski et al., 2010). Future research should compare different break lengths and the duration of their effects to help employees determine which are going to produce the best and most long-lasting recovery benefits. ...
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Actual resource replenishment, a defining part of the stress‐recovery process, has hardly been studied. We address this gap in the literature within the context of work breaks to determine which resources are replenished relative to a pre‐stressor baseline. Guided by conservation of resources theory and the effort‐recovery model, we explored how two different break activities promoted recovery by looking at their effects on recovery experiences (relaxation, psychological detachment), psychological resources (self‐regulatory capacity, energy), and an indicator of insufficient recovery (fatigue). In a sample of 160 college students, we experimentally induced a state of resource depletion via mentally demanding tasks and randomly assigned people to a physical (stationary bike) or relaxation (progressive muscle relaxation) recovery break activity. The relaxation activity resulted in higher psychological detachment and relaxation experiences, the physical activity resulted in higher energy levels, and there were no differences between the break activities for self‐regulatory capacity or fatigue. Overall, post‐break resource levels improved following recovery break activities. Energy levels returned to baseline (replenishment); self‐regulatory capacity and fatigue improved beyond baseline (accumulation). These resource replenishment and accumulation findings further the development of recovery theory and help employees select a work break activity that better meets their resource‐related needs. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
... Several longitudinal, diary and cross-sectional studies suggest that detachment from work during breaks is related to favourable recovery outcomes, such as positive affect, vigour, lower exhaustion and lower need for recovery (e.g., Coffeng et al., 2015;Kinnunen et al., 2019;Rhee & Kim, 2016;Sianoja et al., 2016;Von Dreden & Binnewies, 2017). In addition, earlier diary studies and intervention studies show that relaxation during breaks can contribute to improved well-being (e.g., Bosch et al., 2018;de Bloom et al., 2017;Krajewski et al., 2011;Sianoja et al., 2018). There is also evidence concerning the beneficial role of autonomy (or control) during breaks (Bosch et al., 2018;Sianoja et al., 2016;Trougakos et al., 2014). ...
... Third, we examined the direct relationships between break recovery experiences and affective well-being in the afternoon and in the evening. Several earlier findings suggest that detachment (e.g., Coffeng et al., 2015;Kinnunen et al., 2019;Rhee & Kim, 2016;Sianoja et al., 2016;Von Dreden & Binnewies, 2017), relaxation (e.g., Bosch et al., 2018;de Bloom et al., 2017;Krajewski et al., 2011;Sianoja et al., 2018), and autonomy (or control) (Bosch et al., 2018;Sianoja et al., 2016;Trougakos et al., 2014) during breaks are related to improved well-being. Also, at least one study (Bosch et al., 2018) found a link between affiliation during breaks and better well-being in the afternoon. ...
... Some intervention studies aiming to support break recovery have utilized physiological measurements such as heartrate, heartrate variability (Brown et al., 2012), or cortisol levels (Krajewski et al., 2011), but these studies did not investigate psychological recovery experiences. Third, along with well-being outcomes, future studies could also investigate how break recovery is related to performance-related outcomes, such as concentration capacity and creativity at work. ...
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... Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) includes systematically tensing and relaxing muscle segments in the body, and this targets sympathetic arousal. PMR influences the immune system as seen in studies on decreasing cortisol levels and increased NK-cells following PMR [73][74][75][76]. In contrast, HRV-B training plays an even more direct role in autonomic modulation, as it specifically targets reflexes that modulate autonomic activity via the parasympathetically controlled vagal nerve. ...
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... Relaxation is commonly seen as an important component in interventions intended to prevent physical and mental health problems (Richardson and Rothstein 2008;Verbeek et al. 2019). Relaxation is a psychobiological need which, when satisfied, helps people to recover from bodily strain and can have prolonged effects for well-being and health (Kleiber 2000;Krajewski et al. 2011;Ohtsu et al. 2012). Perhaps relaxation, containing a psychological as well as a biological component, can act as a mediator that connects the satisfaction of other psychological needs to psychobiological well-being and health benefits. ...
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In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in psychological need satisfaction and its role in promoting optimal functioning. The DRAMMA model integrates existing need and recovery models to explain why leisure is connected to optimal functioning (i.e., high well-being and low ill-being). It encompasses six psychological needs: detachment, relaxation, autonomy, mastery, meaning, and affiliation (DRAMMA). While the individual needs of the DRAMMA model have been previously shown to relate to different aspects of optimal functioning, a longitudinal study examining the entire model has not been conducted before. In this longitudinal field study covering leisure and work episodes, we tested the within-person reliability and (construct and criterion) validity of the operationalization of the DRAMMA model in a sample of 279 German employees. Participants filled out measures of DRAMMA need satisfaction and optimal functioning at five measurement times before, during, and after vacation periods in 2016 and 2017. The six-factor model showed good fit to the data. In the multilevel models, relaxation, detachment, autonomy, and mastery had the most consistent within-person effects on optimal functioning, while the relationships between optimal functioning, meaning, and affiliation were considerably weaker. In conclusion, DRAMMA need satisfaction can aid and nurture employees’ optimal functioning.
... Future research could consider alternative conceptualizations and include measures of job stress that refer to it as a challenging opportunity rather than a threatening event (LePine, LePine, & Jackson, 2004). 6 Another extension might complement employees' self-rated assessments of job stress with objective, biological measures, such as levels of cortisol in their saliva (Krajewski, Sauerland, & Wieland, 2011). Furthermore, a different line of research might determine whether employees' turnover intentions lead to actual turnover (Griffeth, Hom, & Gaertner, 2000). ...
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Grounded in conservation of resources theory, this study investigates the mediating role of job stress in the relationship between coworker support and employees’ turnover intentions, as well as the moderating roles of political ineptness and despotic leadership in this process. Time-lagged data collected from employees in Pakistan reveal that an important reason coworker support diminishes turnover intentions is the lower stress that employees experience while undertaking their job tasks. This influence of stress reduction is particularly salient to the extent that employees are equipped with less political skill and, contrary to expectations, are less exposed to despotic leadership. For organizations, this study accordingly pinpoints a key mechanism by which coworker support can diminish the tendency to leave the organization (stress containment), and it reveals that this mechanism varies according to both personal and leadership factors.
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Purpose As new work environments have been created and accelerated due to technological advances, after-hours work communication has become one of the prominent features of the technology-enabled work environment. Grounded in the conservation of resources theory, this study aims to uncover the effects of after-hours work communication through communication technologies on employees' burnout and extra-role behaviors. Design/methodology/approach The study conducted an online survey of 315 US full-time employees from a wide range of industrial sectors. Findings The findings of the study show that after-hours work communication through communication technologies increases employees' negative extra-role behaviors, specifically counterproductive work behavior and negative word-of-mouth. Furthermore, emotional exhaustion partially mediated the relationship between after-hours work communication and negative extra-role behaviors. Practical implications The study provides practical implications for an organization's effective optimization of work-related communication to overcome adverse consequences for employees and organizations. Corporate leaders and communication professionals are encouraged to establish clear guidelines related to the use of communication technologies after hours and exercise leadership practices to prevent after-hours communication through communication technologies from contributing to employees' burnout. Originality/value The findings enhance the understanding of the role of after-hours work communication through communication technologies in the workplace by revealing how the effects of after-hours work communication enabled by communication technologies on employees' psychological well-being spills over to organizational effectiveness.
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Recovery from work stress during workday breaks, free evenings, weekends, and vacations is known to benefit employee health and well-being. However, how recovery at different temporal settings is interconnected is not well understood. We hypothesized that on days when employees engage in recovery-enhancing lunchtime activities, they will experience higher resources when leaving home from work (i.e., low fatigue and high positive affect) and consequently spend more time on recovery-enhancing activities in the evening, thus creating a positive recovery cycle. In this study, 97 employees were randomized into lunchtime park walk and relaxation groups. As evening activities, we measured time spent on physical exercise, physical activity in natural surroundings, and social activities. Afternoon resources and time spent on evening activities were assessed twice a week before, during, and after the intervention, for five weeks. Our results based on multilevel analyses showed that on days when employees completed the lunchtime park walk, they spent more time on evening physical exercise and physical activity in natural surroundings compared to days when the lunch break was spent as usual. However, neither lunchtime relaxation exercises nor afternoon resources were associated with any of the evening activities. Our findings suggest that other factors than afternoon resources are more important in determining how much time employees spend on various evening activities. Fifteen-minute lunchtime park walks inspired employees to engage in similar health-benefitting activities during their free time.
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This study examined the acute effects of relaxation training on salivary cortisol and salivary immunoglobulin A (sIgA). Members of age- and gender-matched undergraduate student pairs were randomly assigned to an experimental or control group. Forty-one experimental subjects were led through Abbreviated Progressive Relaxation Training (APRT) during a 1-hour laboratory session; 14 control subjects merely sat quietly in the laboratory for an equal amount of time. All subjects provided pre- and post-intervention saliva samples and self-report data on state anxiety, perceived stress, and relaxation levels. Heart rate was also monitored immediately before and after APRT or quiet sitting. Results indicated that a brief relaxation exercise led to experimental subjects having significantly lower levels of post-intervention salivary cortisol (p < .036) and significantly higher levels of post-intervention sIgA concentration (p < .001) and secretion rate (p < .001) than control subjects. The data suggests that relaxation training may play a role in immunoenhancement.
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Three studies (one exploratory pilot, one concurrent between-group post-only, and one prospective between-group time-series) are reported that investigate processes of psychological contracting in the context of interviews conducted by parents (i.e. as prospective employers) looking for a live-in nanny to care for their children (i.e. prospective employee). The qualitative study involved the development of a coding scheme for analysing interviews with 18 experienced nanny-employer pairs coupled with a focus group comprising five ‘experts’ trained in psychological contract theory. In the two inferential studies, we examined the quantity (frequency) character (explicit or implicit) and content (relational or transactional) of spontaneous discussion about mutual expectations within two types of employment interview (23 first-time nanny-employer pairs and 16 experienced nanny-employer pairs). In particular, we looked at the consequences of those interviews for: (1) perceptions of mutual trust, mutual understanding and perceived reciprocity at post-interview; and (2) selection decisions. The results showed that clarity of expectation (or experience) was associated with an increased likelihood of time spent referring to, or discussing, expectations—whether explicitly or implicitly (H1a), but did not induce a more explicit discussion (H1b). On the contrary, clarity predicted an increased likelihood of discussing expectations ‘implicitly’, especially relational considerations (H2b). Generally speaking, relational material was discussed more implicitly than explicitly, whereas transactional material was discussed more explicitly than implicitly (H2a). Moreover, what was discussed (relational or transactional) during interviews predicted feelings of mutual trust, not the explicit/implicit nature of the discussion (H3a). However, implicit discussion did mediate the association between discussion of relational material, mutual understanding (H3b) and perceptions of reciprocity (H3b). Finally, selection decisions could not be attributable to the explicit/implicit nature of discussion (H4a); rather, post-interview outcomes (mutual understanding and trust, perceived reciprocity) mediated selection decisions (H4b). The theoretical and methodological implications of these findings are discussed.