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Successfully leaving work at work: The self-regulatory underpinnings of psychological detachment


Abstract and Figures

Detaching from work – defined as mentally and physically disengaging from work during off-hours – is an important prerequisite to effective daily recovery and psychological well-being. However, the extant literature has yet to articulate exactly why some employees fail to detach from work and, furthermore, offers few concrete recommendations on how to increase detachment on a daily basis. I illustrate how both of these limitations may be resolved by extending the definition of psychological detachment to more clearly specify from what employees are failing to detach. Drawing from self-regulation research, the theoretical framework developed in this study proposes that employees' minds continue to linger over goal-related content after the workday is finished. This proposition was supported in a longitudinal sample of 103 employees pursuing 1,127 goals. Consistent with a self-regulatory perspective, employees had more difficulty detaching from incomplete (vs. completed) work goals later in the day, especially when these goals possessed high valence. Furthermore, an experimental manipulation demonstrated that creating plans to resolve incomplete goals increased psychological detachment among employees with traits that chronically inhibit detachment. I discuss how this refined conceptualization of psychological detachment catalyses future theoretical development and provides groundwork for evidence-based interventions.
Content may be subject to copyright.
Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology (2015)
©2015 The British Psychological Society
Successfully leaving work at work: The
self-regulatory underpinnings of psychological
Brandon W. Smit*
Department of Psychological Sciences, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA
Detaching from work defined as mentally and physically disengaging from work during
off-hours is an important prerequisite to effective daily recovery and psychological well-
being. However, the extant literature has yet to articulate exactly why some employees
fail to detach from work and, furthermore, offers few concrete recommendations on how
to increase detachment on a daily basis. I illustrate how both of these limitations may be
resolved by extending the definition of psychological detachment to more clearly specify
from what employees are failing to detach. Drawing from self-regulation research, the
theoretical framework developed in this study proposes that employees’ minds continue
to linger over goal-related content after the workday is finished. This proposition was
supported in a longitudinal sample of 103 employees pursuing 1,127 goals. Consistent
with a self-regulatory perspective, employees had more difficulty detaching from
incomplete (vs. completed) work goals later in the day, especially when these goals
possessed high valence. Furthermore, an experimental manipulation demonstrated that
creating plans to resolve incomplete goals increased psychological detachment among
employees with traits that chronically inhibit detachment. I discuss how this refined
conceptualization of psychological detachment catalyses future theoretical development
and provides groundwork for evidence-based interventions.
Practitioner points
Creating plans at the end of the day that describe where, when, and how unfulfilled work goals will be
completed is an effective, low-cost intervention that enhances psychological detachment among
employees, which will ultimately improve occupational health and performance.
The planning intervention was primarily effective among employees who typically have difficulty
detaching from work during leisure time, indicating that intervention efforts should be targeted at
specific types of employees.
When setting daily work goals, employees should be encouraged to focus on smaller, concrete goals at
the end of the day in order to reduce unfulfilled work goals and facilitate psychological detachment.
Although most individuals transition between the work and home domains on a daily
basis, they do not necessarily mentally disengage from their professional role simply
because the workday has ended. Work-related issues have the ability to linger on
employees’ minds and, in some cases, prevent their ability to enjoy leisure and family time.
In fact, 72% of workers report spending some time after work worrying about their job,
*Correspondence should be addressed to Brandon W. Smit, Department of Psychological Sciences, Ball State University, North
Quad Building, Muncie, IN 47306, USA (email:
and 22% report that they worry regularly (Gallie, White, Cheng, & Tomlinson, 1998). In
the last two decades, the burgeoning literature on psychological detachment defined as
the extent to which an individual disengages from work-related matters during leisure
time has illustrated that mentally and physically detaching from work during off-hours
improves occupational health and performance among employees. Several daily-diary
studies have illustrated the positive effects of detachment, such as increased positive
mood and reduced negative affective arousal and fatigue during leisure time (Sonnentag &
Bayer, 2005), as well as increased daily task performance, personal initiative, and
organizational citizenship behaviour at work (Binnewies, Sonnentag, & Mojza, 2010).
While it is clear that psychological detachment benefits employees and organizations,
important questions about psychological detachment itself have yet to be addressed. First,
it remains unclear exactly why some individuals are unable to psychologically detach from
work. That is, why do our thoughts continue to linger during our leisure time on
upcoming deadlines, inept supervisors, and last year’s performance reviews? Little
research to date has formally articulated or tested the theoretical mechanisms that explain
why some employees continue to linger over work-related content during their leisure
hours, while others do not. As a result, it is unclear why different antecedents in this
literature shape detachment. For example, job involvement decreases detachment, while
a preference for segmentation increases detachment (Sonnentag, 2012); however, are
these effects each indicators of a common underlying mechanism, or do they reflect
distinct pathways to detachment? Second, what can individuals actually do to facilitate
experiencing psychological detachment themselves? Without a clear understanding of
the mechanisms driving detachment, intervention efforts aimed towards promoting
recovery will be impeded because it is unclear what the intervention should target.
Although the extant literature has explored a handful of solutions (e.g., joint partner
activities during weekends, Hahn, Binnewies, & Haun, 2012; mindfulness, H
et al., 2014; volunteering, Mojza, Lorenz, Sonnentag, & Binnewies, 2010), these practical
recommendations for increasing detachment have yet to be experimentally tested, and
furthermore, many may not lend themselves to widespread implementation on a daily
This study illustrates how these limitations can be successfully addressed by
expanding the definition of detachment to develop more conceptual nuance. Psycho-
logical detachment is currently defined as ‘both refraining from job-related activities and
not thinking about job-related issues during off-job time’ (p. 114; Sonnentag, 2012). This
definition, however, does not clearly explicate exactly what individuals are detaching
from during off-job time. I argue that goal-related content is one significant dimension of
these ‘job-related’ issues. Goals are theoretically relevant to psychological detachment
because of the varied and powerful ways they shape human cognition (Fӧrster, Liberman,
& Friedman, 2007). For example, research on the Zeigarnik (1927) effect documents how
unfulfilled goals continue to capture attentional resources until the goal has been either
completed or abandoned, which may have important implications for employees’ ability
to detach.
Given that goals have a unique ability to substantively capture attention (Fӧrster et al.,
2007), detachment may be, in part, conceptualized as a goal-oriented state. This
expansion of the detachment construct highlights the possibility that a state of low
detachment may be multifaceted and consist of a variety of different types of thoughts.
Using this revised conceptualization, I draw on self-regulation theory to develop a
theoretical framework that describes the mechanisms through which goals shape
detachment. Specifically, I hypothesize that goal accessibility defined as the extent to
2Brandon W. Smit
which goals are readily available in consciousness (Kruglanski, 1996) is one mechanism
determining the extent to which employees successfully detach from work. To continue
building evidence-based practices for increasing detachment, I leverage previous
laboratory research to experimentally test the efficacy of an intervention. I hypothesize
that creating plans, in the form of implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1999), will help
individuals detach from work-related goals. Previous research indicates that deciding
where, when, and how to resolve unfulfilled goals will reduce their accessibility
(Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011a) and, within this framework, increase psychological
This study makes at least three substantive contributions to the detachment literature.
First, the revised definition of psychological detachment developed here simultaneously
contributes to construct clarity and challenges our existing assumptions about
detachment. Conceptualizing detachment as a multifaceted construct adds nuance to
our understanding of this phenomenon and represents an important first step in
developing a more comprehensive understanding of what employees fail to detach from
during leisure time. Furthermore, this study highlights the possibility that a low level of
detachment may not be a monolithic state, but rather a more complex aggregation of goal-
related (and likely other) thoughts. Capturing detachment from specific goals represents
an innovative measurement approach that prompts questions about the assessment of
Second, this study provides researchers with a new theo retical lens to explore why and
how employees fail to detach from work. Although previous research consistently finds
that goal completion reduces goal accessibility (Johnson, Chang, & Lord, 2006), these
findings have been largely confined to laboratory settings. This study replicates these
findings in an applied context and, furthermore, extends and integrates these proposi-
tions with the psychological detachment literature. Leveraging self-regulation theory not
only allows scholars to reinterpret existing research, but catalyses future theoretical
development. This framework reveals the complex ways that workplace events shape
detachment by introducing goal accessibility as a mechanism in determining employees’
detachment. This is important, because a clearer understanding of the theoretical
mechanisms that drive detachment can help scholars expand the nomological network of
psychological detachment, and help practitioners utilize this knowledge to develop
interventions that can facilitate detachment.
Lastly, this study provides supportive evidence for a specific, effective remedy for
employees who have difficulty detaching from work. This is important, because the
extant literature provides few concrete recommendations for facilitating detachment
(c.f., Hahn et al., 2012; H
ulsheger et al., 2014; Mojza et al., 2010). This study illustrates
that creating specific plans for how to complete unfulfilled tasks frees employees’
attention to be directed towards other matters. Given how often employees transition
between work and home roles, this simple, low-cost method has the potential to improve
occupational health while preserving, or even improving, job performance on a daily
Psychological detachment from work-related goals
Stemming from the burgeoning literature on recovery experiences from job stressors, the
term detachment was originally defined by Etzion, Eden, and Lapidot (1998) as an
‘individual’s sense of being away from the work situation’ (p. 579). Recently,
psychological detachment has been defined more precisely as ‘both refraining from
Successfully leaving work at work 3
job-related activities and not thinking about job-related issues during off-job time’ (p. 114;
Sonnentag, 2012). Thus, full psychological detachment from work implies that an
individual not only avoids work behaviours such as reading work-related materials or
taking work-related phone calls, but simultaneously, and perhaps most importantly, he or
she avoids thinking about work-related content, such as mentally preparing for a future
presentation. Absent in this definition, however, is a clear conceptualization of what it is
that employees actually leave behind at work. Although the content of ‘job-related issues’
that follow employees home may be vast, goal-related topics may account for a portion of
these thoughts, among other dimensions.
Goals are defined as mental representations of end states that guide behaviour, as
well as shape emotions and evaluations (Austin & Vancouver, 1996). Although
extensive research has been devoted to exploring how the structure and content of
goals impact behaviour (Locke & Latham, 2002), given their inherently cognitive
structure as mental representations, an equally important facet of goals is how they
operate in the context of human cognition (Kruglanski et al., 2002). As cognitive
representations, goals are an example of a knowledge structure. As a result, goals have a
number of important characteristics that will determine where, when, and how they
come to mind. First, like any other cognitive knowledge structure, the extent to which a
goal is accessible in memory will vary across time and circumstances (Kruglanski, 1996).
In the same way that we know the plot of our favourite novel, goal knowledge
structures are stored in memory, and not necessarily immediately accessible in working
memory at any given moment. Second, goals as cognitive structures are nested within a
wider associative network of other constructs in memory. Constructs that are
conceptually more similar, and thus frequently co-activated, are more closely linked
together in the network. When a given construct is activated, closely related constructs
in the associative network also become activated and more accessible through well-
studied excitatory and inhibitory ‘spreading of activation’ mechanisms (Anderson, 1983;
Lord & Levy, 1994).
Goal pursuit is facilitated by cognition in two main ways. First, in what can be called
activation potential (Higgins, 1996), priming a goal does, in fact, prime closely related
information in that category, where this information is both accessed more quickly and is
more likely to be accessed overall (Goschke & Kuhl, 1993; Johnson et al., 2006). The
functional view of goal accessibility argues that prior to goal completion, goal-related
constructs are prioritized in cognitive processing, and individuals experience heightened
goal accessibility to facilitate the completion of the focal goal. Second, in what has been
coined post-fulfilment inhibition, when a goal is accomplished, it and its associative
network become deactivated and less accessible (Marsh, Hicks, & Bink, 1998). From the
functional view, by inhibiting now-irrelevant goal constructs, individuals are able to divert
attention to new goals rather than succumbing to maladaptive lingering on finished
business. Given that so many mental processes align and coordinate in ways that promote
focus on a goal, an important question to address is: What happens when goals are left
Although the cognitive processes that promote goal focus during goal pursuit are no
doubt an important prerequisite to goal accomplishment, these same mechanisms can be
counterproductive in some circumstances. These cognitive mechanisms would hypo-
thetically work perfectly when goals could be pursued from beginning to end in a single
performance episode, and each goal could be pursued consecutively. In everyday life,
however, individuals create complex networks of goals that are pursued in tandem, and
vary in hierarchical level, interconnectedness, and scope (Austin & Vancouver, 1996).
4Brandon W. Smit
When ambitious goals require more work than can be accomplished in one sitting,
individuals are forced to table and resume goals iteratively over the course of days, weeks,
months, or even years. Given that human cognition is strongly biased towards goal
completion once a goal has been activated (Fӧrster et al., 2007), problems can ensue
when goal pursuit is tabled.
When goals remain unfulfilled, these focal goals continue to be accessible because the
mind presses towards goal completion to alleviate ‘goal tension’ (Lewin, 1951). Evidence
shows that participants better remember tasks that were interrupted rather than
completed (Zeigarnik effect; Marsh et al., 1998; Zeigarnik, 1927). This suggests
unfulfilled goals remain active and accessible, while goal fulfilment reduces accessibility
(i.e., post-fulfilment inhibition). As a consequence, goals that remain accessible, but are
not being currently pursued, can split attention and create distractions that disrupt
activities in other domains. For example, individuals may have difficulty disengaging from
a work mindset and/or difficulty engaging in other roles due to continued work-goal
Applying the tenets of goal accessibility to psychological detachment would suggest
that when employees leave work before completing a given goal, the goal will remain
highly accessible. This heightened goal accessibility caused by unfulfilled goals will
continue to capture attentional resources even after an employee returns home for the
evening (i.e., Zeigarnik effect; Zeigarnik, 1927). When work goals remain accessible at
home, they can be pushed into conscious awareness when given the opportunity (e.g., ‘I
need to finish tomorrow’s lecture’; Bongers, Dijksterhuis, & Spears, 2010), thereby
inhibiting detachment. Given that psychological detachment has been described as the
experience of ‘switching off’ and leaving work behind both physically and mentally,
continued activation of unresolved goals is clearly contrary to this state. Conversely,
when goals are completed, post-fulfilment inhibition occurs and reduces goal accessi-
Hypothesis 1: Individuals experience less goal-level detachment from incomplete goals than from
completed goals.
Not all goals are created equal, and consequently, there will be variability with respect
to how easily individuals are able to detach from different goals. A widely supported
proposition in the goal accessibility literature is that accessibility is proportional to the
motivational strength of a goal (Fӧrster et al., 2007). In general, a self-regulatory
perspective on psychological detachment would predict individuals will have more
difficulty detaching from goals with a stronger ‘motivational pull’. When goals have higher
valence, they will be more motivational and accessible than goals with lower valence
orster, Liberman, & Higgins, 2005). There is a functional reason why more motivating
goals are more easily accessible. Accessibility facilitates goal pursuit by making individuals
more sensitive to goal-related cues in the environment, and making goal-related
information more easily retrievable to facilitate decision-making. Given that people have
limited resources and pursue multiple goals at once, the ability to focus cognitive
resources on goals that will maximize personal benefit is highly adaptive (Fӧrster et al.,
2007). Previous experimental laboratory research has observed that valence enhances
goal accessibility (F
orster et al., 2005).
Hypothesis 2: Goal valence moderates the relationship between goal type (i.e., incomplete vs.
complete) and goal-level detachment, where goal valence is negatively related to
goal-level detachment among incomplete goals.
Successfully leaving work at work 5
Global versus goal-level psychological detachment
To be clear, this revised conceptualization complements existing notions of psychological
detachment as measured in previous research (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007), referred to here
as global detachment, rather than replaces it. Given that global detachment is largely
conceptualized as the extent to which work-related thoughts linger in employees’ minds,
goal-level detachment represents a facet of global detachment by exclusively focusing on
goal-related thoughts. It is important to note that while goal-related content should
capture a wide array of work-related stimuli, other dimensions may also contribute to an
individual’s sense of detachment. For example, the justice literature illustrates the
ubiquitous value employees place on fairness (Colquitt & Rodell, 2011). Therefore,
another dimension that may shape detachment could be fairness-related events in the
workplace. Although global indices of detachment (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007) have the
advantage of comprehensively assessing an individual’s sense of detachment from work,
they also risk the possibility of conflating qualitatively different types of content under a
single label (e.g., task-focused thoughts vs. interpersonal-focused thoughts). Existing
interventions target global detachment, but neglect the possibility that detachment is
multifaceted. Given that detachment is likely multifaceted, not all interventions will be
equally relevant or effective for all employees. Thus, one purpose of this study was to
illustrate that psychological detachment may not be a monolithic state and there may be
advantages of using a more nuanced conceptualization of detachment.
Planning facilitates psychological detachment
The second broad goal of this study was to explore interventions that may help individuals
increase psychological detachment during off-work hours. While the extant literature has
explored a handful of specific, practical solutions such as volunteering (Mojza et al.,
2010), engaging in absorbing joint partner activities during weekends (Hahn et al., 2012),
and practicing mindfulness (H
ulsheger et al., 2014), these recommendations have several
limitations. Foremost is that they have only been supported using correlational designs.
Furthermore, not all employees have significant others, or the time and opportunity to
devote to volunteer work. Additionally, the nature of the joint activities that enhance
recovery has not been clearly explicated, and these effects were limited to weekends,
rather than on a daily basis. Only one study, to the author’s knowledge, has experimentally
tested the efficacy of an intervention to increase detachment (Hahn, Binnewies,
Sonnentag, & Mojza, 2011). Although effective, this intervention implemented a variety
of behavioural strategies for separating work and non-work domains, which makes it
difficult to draw firm conclusions regarding what specific strategies improve detachment.
Using a self-regulatory perspective, I leverage goals research to develop hypotheses about
a simple method that may have the ability to enhance detachment on a daily basis:
Although the planning literature spans multiple disciplines and perspectives (Lapierre
& Allen, 2012), I focus specifically on implementation intentions (Gollwitzer, 1999) for
three reasons: (1) it has been replicated in both laboratory and field settings, (2) it has
accumulated decades of empirical support and its major propositions have been
supported with meta-analytic tests, and (3) most importantly, it is uniquely complemen-
tary to a self-regulatory perspective on psychological detachment because it addresses
goal accessibility (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006).
Implementation intentions are plans that specify the where, when, and how of
behavioural goal pursuit (Gollwitzer, 1993). They are structured as, ‘When situation x
6Brandon W. Smit
arises, I will perform response y!’ In this way, implementation intentions link goal pursuit
to a specific situation (e.g., ‘when I finish working for the day’) and a specific behavioural
response (e.g., ‘I will drive to the gym and run for 30 min’). Implementation intentions
facilitate goal pursuit through several mechanisms. Implementation intentions remove
the ambiguity of how specific goals should be acted upon by specifying the behavioural
response to a situational prompt (‘... I will perform response y!’). Additionally, by
specifying the situational conditions that will prompt goal pursuit (i.e., ‘When situation x
arises...’), implementation intentions both provide reminder prompts to work on a goal,
and remove the ambiguity of when specific goals should be acted on. In one study on
preventative health behaviours, 47% of female participants forming the simple intention
to perform a breast self-examination failed to do so, citing ‘forgetting’ as the primary
culprit. The success rate among women with implementation intentions was 100%
(Orbell, Hodgkins, & Sheeran, 1997).
Implementation intentions may also facilitate psychological detachment through
these same mechanisms. When the situational cues to pursue goals are absent, especially
in salient cases like ‘When I am in the office...’, the cognitive processes that press for goal
completion should become relaxed because they are no longer necessary. Implementa-
tion intentions reduce the accessibility of unfinished work goals, because these goals have
been resolved, in a sense. Experimental studies have directly tested and supported this
proposition (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011a,b). In one set of studies, participants
assigned implementation intentions were less likely to experience intrusive thoughts of
unfulfilled goals during an unrelated task (Study 1) and experienced reduced unfulfilled
goal accessibility and goal means accessibility (Study 2, Study 3; Masicampo & Baumeister,
2011a). Importantly, several alternative explanations for these effects were ruled out in
these experiments, including the ideas that planning reduces anxiety and creates a sense
of goal progress in individuals’ minds.
I hypothesize that forming implementation intentions will reduce the accessibility of
unfulfilled goals at the end of the workday. When individuals experience daily goal events
that would normally increase goal accessibility (e.g., unfulfilled goals), end-of-day planning
will buffer these individuals from goal accessibility and increase psychological detachment.
Hypothesis 3: End-of-day planning moderates the relationship between goal type (i.e., incomplete
vs. complete) and goal-level detachment, where planning will increase detachment
from incomplete goals.
Boundary conditions on planning effects
Although theory and previous research indicate planning should be an effective
intervention for increasing detachment, this intervention may not be equally relevant
to all employees. While many employees experience thoughts of work while at home,
there is between-subjects variability in this phenomenon. As a result, employees with
individual differences that predispose them to reduced detachment may benefit more
from the planning intervention than employees who normally experience high levels of
detachment. In this study, I explore how job involvement may impact the efficacy of the
planning intervention.
Job involvement reflects the extent to which a person’s job plays a central role in his or
her life. Previous research finds that increased job involvement reduces detachment
uhnel, Sonnentag, & Westman, 2009). From a self-regulatory perspective, identity will
shape priorities, and as a consequence, an individual’s goal hierarchy (Carver & Scheier,
Successfully leaving work at work 7
1998). Goals that have implications for the self are typically abstract, high-level goals that
can be flexibly accomplished through different means. Furthermore, the value of mid-
level action goals may be determined according to how well they satisfy these high-level
goals (e.g., needs, values; Lord, Diefendorff, Schmidt, & Hall, 2010). In a top-down
mechanism, high-level goals will not only cause an individual to perceive and seek more
ways to satisfy them, but will also make the goals themselves more sensitive to activation.
As a result, individuals with greater job involvement may experience less detachment
cumulatively, because the structure of their goal hierarchy increases the likelihood they
will cumulatively experience more work-goal accessibility. Consequently, individuals
with high job involvement may experience more benefit from creating plans.
Hypothesis 4: The interaction between goal type (i.e., incomplete vs. complete) and planning will
be stronger among employees high in job involvement, where planning will increase
goal-level detachment from incomplete goals.
Finally, this study examined the efficacy of the planning manipulation in predicting
global levels of detachment. As noted earlier, goals represent one content domain that
may shape global detachment, and consequently, represent one facet of global
detachment rather than a substitute. If goals do represent one substantive domain of
thoughts that impair effective detachment, the planning intervention should improve
daily levels of global detachment, as well as detachment from specific goals. Extending the
rationale above, this study explores how the planning manipulation differentially affects
detachment for workers with varying levels of job involvement, given that not all
employees experience problems detaching from work.
Hypothesis 5: Job involvement moderates the relationship between planning and global
detachment, where planning will eliminate the significant differences in global
detachment between employees with low and high job involvement.
Sample and procedure
Participants were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk (MTurk), an online forum
used to solicit workers to complete tasks in exchange for compensation. Previous
research has found that MTurk workers are generally representative of the larger US
population, and the quality of data gathered from this source is equivalent to other sources
(Behrend, Sharek, Meade, & Wiebe, 2011; Buhrmester, Kwang, & Gosling, 2011).
Respondents who listed MTurk participation as their primary occupation were not
eligible for this study. Participants were compensated $7.00. On the first day of data
collection, participants filled out a single between-subjects online survey that assessed
demographic information and personality traits. Additionally, participants selected
specific days and times to complete the daily online surveys (i.e., one survey immediately
after work and one survey before going to sleep for the night on each day) in order to
accommodate unique schedules. Submitted surveys were tracked with timestamps to
ensure the surveys were submitted at the appropriate days and times. After completing
the first survey, participants began a schedule where they filled out two online surveys per
day at the times they selected for five working days. The after-work survey collected
information on (1) daily unfulfilled goals, (2) daily goal successes, (3) goal valence, and (4)
daily workload. To collect information on goals, participants first listed any goals they did
8Brandon W. Smit
not complete that day, and then rated the valence of each goal. This sequence was
repeated for any successfully completed goals listed by the participant. The before-bed
survey was the second daily survey that participants completed just prior to going to sleep.
This survey collected information on (1) goal-level psychological detachment, (2) daily
global psychological detachment (3) daily relaxation, and (4) state negative affect.
A total of 103 individuals participated in the study. These participants completed an
average of 3.3 days of surveys. Participants provided data on a total of 1,127 goals, with an
average of 10.9 goals per participant. On average, participants were 34.6 years old
(SD =10) and 60% female. While 57% of participants reported having no children, 43%
reported having one or more. Among all participants, 34% reported they had at least one
child living at home with them. Additionally, 42.7% of participants reported that they
never work from home, while 57.3% either occasionally work from home or work from
home most of the time.
With regard to work status, 71% of participants worked full-time
(40 hr or more per week), and no participants were unemployed as per the screening
criteria. Finally, 47% of participants were single, 47% were married, and 6% were divorced .
Experimental manipulation
One experimental manipulation was used in this study. Participants were randomly
assigned into one of two groups, the planning condition (N=46) or the control condition
(N=57). Participants in the planning condition created concrete plans at the end of the
after-work survey according to a set of guidelines outlined in the instructions. Using the
guidelines from a previous study, participants were instructed to create a plan for (1)
where, (2) when, and (3) how they will accomplish each of their unfulfilled goals from that
day (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011a). For example, a credit analyst listed the incomplete
goal ‘Call back customers about financial disputes’, and subsequently wrote the plan, ‘I
will go into work and start at 10:00 AM in a call center in my office. Log into my computer
and call customers back on the multi-line phone to inquire more information about the
disputes. After a thorough investigation and verifying evidence, make a final decision and
send correspondence to the customer’. Participants in the control condition completed
the exact same scales as participants in the planning condition, except for the planning
task. To ensure the manipulation was effective, the qualitative data were validated by two
raters to ensure participants created plans according to the objective guidelines (i.e.,
specifying where, when, and how). There was 99.1% agreement between the two raters
for whether plans were acceptable or not. Disagreements were resolved by referencing
the guidelines provided to participants.
Goal type (complete vs. incomplete)
Participants responded to prompts during the after-work survey to list and rate up to four
incomplete and four completed work goals from that workday. The prompts provided
instructions and these guidelines on what kinds of goals to list: (1) goals that are work-
related tasks, rather than personal; (2) specific goals, rather than broad, vague ones; (3)
Given the high proportion of participants who work from home, exploratory analyses were used to confirm that there were no
statistically significant differences in the two dependent variables used in this study (i.e., goal-level detachment and global
detachment) for those who worked from home and those who do not. Additionally, all hypothesis tests control for working from
Successfully leaving work at work 9
short-term goals that could be finished in a week or less if possible; (4) goals you have
control over completing; and (5) rather than listing large projects, focus on the next tasks
that must be performed. These goals were coded dichotomously, where completed goals
were assigned a 0, and incomplete goals were assigned a 1.
Goal valence
Goal valence reflects participants’ anticipated satisfaction from goal completion (Mento,
Locke, & Klein, 1992). Valence was measured with a 2-item scale (a=.95), and
participants rated each goal they listed with this scale. The items were as follows: ‘How
will you feel after completing your goal: [customized goal text]’ and ‘To what extent will
you feel satisfaction from completing your goal?’ Consistent with previous research, these
items were selected to emphasize the attractiveness of the goal outcome (Mento et al.,
1992). Participants rated these items on a 5-point Likert-type scale, from Very Dissatisfied
(1) to Very Satisfied (5).
Psychological detachment
Detachment reflects the extent to which individuals psychologically distance themselves
from work during off-time hours. Daily levels of global detachment (a=.90) were
measured using the 4-item detachment subscale from the Recovery Experiences
Questionnaire (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007). Two sample items include the following: ‘I
forgot about work’ and ‘I didn’t think about work at all’. Thus, scores on the daily global
detachment scale reflect the extent to which a participant thought about work in general
during their leisure time on a given day. Goal-level detachments (a=.91) were measured
using the same scale with slight modifications to focus the item content on individual
goals, rather than work more broadly. Participants completed the modified 4-item scale in
the before-bed survey for each individual goal listed by them in the after-work survey
earlier in the day. Two sample items include the following: ‘With regard to your
(in)complete goal earlier today at work: [customized goal text]...’, ‘I forgot all about it’
and ‘I didn’t think about this goal at all’. Thus, scores on the goal-level detachment scale
reflect the extent to which a participant thought about a specific work goal during their
leisure time on a given day. Participants responded on a 5-point Likert scale for both
measures, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree).
Job involvement
Job involvement reflects the extent to which an individual’s job plays a central role in his
or her life. Job involvement (a=.90) was measured with a 7-item scale modified from
Kanungo (1982). A sample item includes the following: ‘The most important things that
happen to me involve my present job’. Participants responded on a 7-point Likert scale,
ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).
Control variables
I controlled for a variety of factors that previous research has linked to detachment,
including having children living at home (Hahn & Dormann, 2013), workload (Sonnentag,
Kuttler, & Fritz, 2010), neuroticism (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007), segmentation preferences
(Park, Fritz, & Jex, 2011), negative affect (Sonnentag, Binnewies, & Mojza, 2008), and
10 Brandon W. Smit
relaxation (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007).
State negative affect (a=.93) was measured with a
10-item scale (Watson, Clark, & Tellegen, 1988). Participants rated these emotion
descriptor items on a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (Not at all) to 5 (Very much).
Daily relaxation (a=.97) was measured with a 4-item scale developed by Sonnentag and
Fritz (2007). Daily workload (a=.84) was measured with an abbreviated 6-item scale
developed by Ilies et al. (2007; modified from Janssen, 2001). Participants rated the
relaxation and workload items on a 5-point Likert-type scale, ranging from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). Neuroticism (a=.94) was measured with a 10-item scale
derived from the International Personality Item Pool (Goldberg, 1999). Segmentation
preferences (a=.95) were measured with a 4-item scale developed by Kreiner (2006). To
control for any pre-existing individual differences in habitual planning behaviour,
participants answered a brief set of questions regarding whether and how they normally
plan on a day-to-day basis. Current planning behaviours (a=.90) were measured with the
problem-solving rumination scale (Cropley, Michalianou, Pravettoni, & Millward, 2012). A
sample item includes the following: ‘I find solutions to work-related problems in my free
time’. Participants responded to these individual differences scales on a 7-point Likert
scale, ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 7 (strongly agree).
Preliminary analyses
First, I examined the extent to which the random assignment procedure was effective in
this study. To test for differences between the two experimental conditions, I conducted
nine independent-samples t-tests for the continuous variables in this study. For nine
comparisons, the probability of making a type I error would be equal to 37%. To control for
this inflated type I error rate, I used a Bonferroni correction to set the alpha level at .006.
The results indicated that there were no statistically significant differences between the
conditions for any of the variables included in this study, providing supportive evidence
that random assignment was effective. Additionally, I conducted chi-square analyses for
the categorical variables in this study (i.e., children at home, work from home). These
analyses each yielded non-significant differences for a conventional alpha level (a=.05),
which demonstrates these two variables were distributed in the same way across the two
experimental conditions.
To determine whether multilevel modelling is appropriate, intraclass correlations were
calculated with null empty-means models to estimate the proportion of between-subjects
variance in the outcome variable. With regard to goal-level detachment, approximately
16% of the variance existed at the day level (s=.15, p<.01), while 36% of the variance
existed at the person level (s=.34, p<.01). As a result, all analyses with goal-level
detachment as a dependent variable specified a 3-level hierarchical model where repeated
goal observations were nested within days, nested within individuals. The reliabilities and
intercorrelations among the study variables are listed in Table 1.
Hypothesis testing
Hypothesis 1 specified that daily unfulfilled goals, contrasted with daily goal successes,
would be associated with decreased psychological detachment. This hypothesis was
All hypotheses were tested controlling for negative affect and relaxation, as well as without these covariates, and the results were
Successfully leaving work at work 11
Table 1. Intercorrelations among study variables
MSD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 111213 14
1. Work from
0.57 0.50 ()
2. Children
at home
0.34 0.48 .00 ()
3. Job
3.24 1.26 .19* .04 (.90)
4. Segmentation
5.11 1.53 .34** .05 .63** (.95)
5. Neuroticism 3.40 1.37 .12 .11 .10 .01 (.94)
6. Planning
4.06 1.40 .23* .04 .58** .59** .04 (.90)
7. Planning
0.45 0.50 .03 .02 .06 .07 .10 .10 ()
8. Daily
3.20 0.79 .07 .21* .05 .03 .05 .20* .20** (.84) .11 .16** .08**
9. Daily NA 1.49 0.64 .03 .12 .07 .01 .45** .13 .02 .14 (.93) .45** .24**
10. Daily
3.68 0.85 .02 .03 .21* .04 .21* .07 .12 .19 .41** (.97) .32**
11. Daily global
3.71 0.90 .14 .13 .33** .22* .14 .31** .10 .29** .29** .57** (.90)
12. Goal type 0.66 0.19 .11 .02 .08 .05 .22* .07 .10 .22* .32** .22* .13 ().05** .20**
13. Goal valence 3.73 0.39 .04 .21* .07 .06 .15 .00 .04 .11 .32** .26** .23* .06 (.95) .13**
14. Goal-level
3.82 0.68 .06 .02 .28** .09 .19 .32** .14 .39** .27** .35** .58** .22* .18 (.91)
Notes. Work from Home: 0 =No, 1 =Yes; Children at Home: 0 =No, 1 =Yes. Goal Type: 0 = Complete, 1 = Incomplete; Between N= 96–103. Day-Level N=
320; Goal-Level N= 1,057–1,125.
*p<.05; **p<.01.
12 Brandon W. Smit
tested at the goal level, where goal-level detachment from individual unfulfilled goals and
successful goals was contrasted. A 3-level model was specified to control for both day- and
person-level intercept variance, along with the battery of day- and person-level control
variables (Table 2). It is interesting to note that the current planning behaviour covariate,
measured as problem-solving rumination, was actually negatively related to goal
detachment (c=.08, p<.05). Although previous research finds that planning should
reduce rumination, this negative relationship can likely be attributed to the fact that the
items for this scale emphasize problem-solving during leisure time, which is contradictory
to detachment. The results indicate that unfulfilled goals, in contrast to completed goals,
were associated with reduced goal-level psychological detachment (c=.28, p<.01;
pseudo R
=.22). Pseudo R
was calculated to create an index of effect size by calculating
the reduction in residual variance after adding hypothesized predictors. Given that effect
size calculation in multilevel modelling is still a debated topic (Nezlek, 2008), caution
should be used when interpreting these effect sizes. This pattern of results supports
hypothesis 1 and suggests that unfulfilled goals remain accessible to employees during off-
job time, consistent with the Zeigarnik effect.
Hypothesis 2 specified that goal valence would moderate the relationship between
goal type and detachment, where unfulfilled goals with higher valence are more strongly
related to goal-level detachment. Supporting hypothesis 2, an interaction term between
incomplete versus complete goals and goal valence was significant (c=.20, p<.01;
pseudo R
=.01). The simple slopes (Figure 1) suggest that regardless of goal type, goals
with low valence are unrelated to psychological detachment (c=.01, ns). However,
among goals with high valence, unfulfilled goals in contrast to completed goals were
associated with significantly reduced detachment (c=.21, p<.01). This pattern of
results is consistent with a self-regulatory perspective, and provides further evidence
suggesting that goal accessibility drives impairments in detachment.
Hypothesis 3 specified that the planning manipulation moderates the relationship
between goal type (incomplete vs. complete) and goal-level detachment, where the
differences in detachment due to goal type should be eliminated in the planning
Table 2. Test of Hypotheses 13
DV: Goal-level detachment
Variables Coefficient SE Coefficient SE Coefficient SE
Intercept 3.98** .07 3.98** .07 3.93** .08
Work from home 0.01 .09 0.01 .09 0.01 .08
Children at home 0.00 .08 0.01 .08 0.00 .08
Neuroticism 0.11** .03 0.11** .03 0.11** .03
Segmentation preferences 0.05 .04 0.05 .04 0.04 .04
Job involvement 0.14** .04 0.14** .04 0.14** .04
Planning behaviours 0.08* .04 0.08* .04 0.07* .04
Daily workload 0.08 .07 0.08 .07 0.08 .07
Goal type (1 =incomplete) 0.28** .04 0.21** .05 0.32** .06
Goal valence 0.01 .05
Planning manipulation 0.11 .08
Goal type 9Goal valence 0.20** .07
Goal type 9Planning 0.10 .09
Note.*p<.05; **p<.01.
Successfully leaving work at work 13
condition. The interaction between goal type and planning, although in the hypothesized
direction, was not statistically significant (c=.10, p=.25). As a result, I failed to find
support for hypothesis 3, which indicates the planning intervention may not be equally
effective for all employees.
To further explore this relationship, hypothesis 4 predicted that the planning
intervention would be most effective among employees with individual differences that
chronically reduce detachment. Hypothesis 4 specified a 3-way interaction between goal
type, planning condition, and job involvement, where the effect of planning for
incomplete goals would be most pronounced among employees high in job involvement.
The 3-way interaction term was added to the model (Table 3) and found to be statistically
significant (c=.18, p<.05; pseudo R
=.05). Consistent with hypothesis 4, the simple
slopes (Figure 2) suggested that among individuals with high job involvement, the
planning intervention was associated with increases in psychological detachment from
incomplete goals (c=.61, p<.01). As expected, the planning manipulation did not
Low valence High valence
Goal-level detachment
Complete goal
Incomplete goal
Figure 1. Interaction among goal type and goal valence.
Table 3. Test of Hypothesis 4
DV: Goal-level detachment
Variables Coefficient SE
Intercept 3.93** .08
Work from home 0.02 .08
Children at home 0.02 .08
Neuroticism 0.09** .03
Segmentation preferences 0.02 .04
Job involvement 0.11* .05
Planning behaviours 0.07 .04
Daily workload 0.08 .07
Goal type (1 =incomplete) 0.35** .05
Planning manipulation 0.14 .08
Goal type 9Planning 0.10 .09
Goal type 9Involvement 0.26** .04
Planning 9Involvement 0.12 .07
Goal type 9Planning 9Involvement 0.18* .08
Note.*p<.05; **p<.01.
14 Brandon W. Smit
impact detachment from completed (c=.01, ns) or incomplete (c=.13, ns) goals
among employees low in job involvement. This pattern of results supports the idea that
the planning intervention implemented in this study may only be effective among
employees who have chronic difficulties detaching from work.
Hypothesis 5 tested the efficacy of the planning intervention for improving global,
rather than simply goal-level, detachment (Table 4). Somewhat supportive of hypothesis
5, an interaction term between planning and job involvement was significant at the
p<.10 level (c=.19, p=.075; pseudo R
=.00). The simple slopes indicate that in the
control condition, individuals with high job involvement experience significantly less
detachment than those with low job involvement (c=.23, p<.01). However, when
individuals created plans at the end of the day, individuals with low and high job
involvement experienced similar levels of global daily detachment (c=.04, ns). Given
that planning exerted a much stronger effect on goal-level detachment than global
detachment, this pattern of results supports the idea that detachment may be better
conceptualized as a multifaceted construct composed of thoughts from a variety of
meaningful sources, including goals. Furthermore, the fact that a goal-centric intervention
primarily improved goal-level detachment instead of global detachment illustrates the
value of targeted interventions.
Goal-level detachment
Goal type
Low job involvement
No Plan
Complete Incomplete Complete Incomplete
Goal-level detachment
Goal type
High job involvement
No Plan
Figure 2. Three-way interaction among goal type, planning condition, and job involvement.
Table 4. Test of Hypothesis 5
DV: Global detachment
Variables Coefficient SE
Intercept 3.60** .12
Work from home 0.06 .14
Children at home 0.23* .14
Neuroticism 0.07 .05
Segmentation preferences 0.01 .06
Job involvement 0.23** .08
Planning behaviours 0.08 .06
Daily workload 0.12** .03
Planning manipulation 0.09 .13
Planning 9Involvement 0.19* .11
Note.*p<.10; **p<.01.
Successfully leaving work at work 15
Why do some employees have difficulty mentally disengaging from work during leisure
time, and can anything be done to help them? The purpose of this study was to explore
why, how, and when employees will experience psychological detachment from work. I
developed a set of propositions designed to test the idea that detachment may be
conceptualized, in part, as a goal-oriented state characterized by low work-goal
accessibility. In line with this revised conceptualization, results indicated that daily
unfulfilled goals were associated with reduced goal detachment in contrast to completed
goals. Furthermore, individuals had more difficulty detaching from unfulfilled goals with
higher valence, consistent with the idea that goals with greater motivational force capture
attention more easily and inhibit psychological detachment. To explore practical methods
to improve detachment on a daily basis, this study tested and supported the efficacy of a
planning intervention. Although planning did not increase detachment from unfulfilled
goals among all employees, evidence indicates that it does improve detachment among
individuals with high job involvement. This observation supports the idea that employees
with individual differences that chronically predispose them to low detachment may
benefit most from intervention efforts.
This study also explored whether the planning intervention can facilitate global
detachment, in addition to goal detachment. While the results are suggestive and in the
hypothesized direction, the interaction term between planning and job involvement
failed to reach conventional levels of significance (i.e., p=.075). Thus, these findings
should be interpreted with caution. One likely explanation for these non-significant
results focuses on the differences between goal detachment and global detachment.
Specifically, because global detachment may be composed of other categories of work-
related thoughts beyond goals (e.g., justice-related events, interpersonal interactions), the
goal-based planning intervention may not be effective in increasing detachment from
thoughts in domains that are not goal-relevant. Thus, the planning intervention may
perhaps only be effective in facilitating global detachment to the extent that a given
person’s level of global detachment is largely composed of goal-related thoughts. Some of
the future research directions outlined below may be able to shed light on this question.
Overall, the findings of this study have several important theoretical implications.
Theoretical implications and future research directions
First, conceptualizing psychological detachment as a multifaceted construct addresses
important gaps in theory. In the extant literature, it is currently unclear what employees
are actually detaching from during off-job time. Although the widely accepted definition of
detachment specifies job-related content, this study has demonstrated that psychological
detachment may be explored in more depth by conceptualizing it as a multifaceted
construct. This conceptualization sheds new light on the content of psychological
detachment by illustrating that goals are at least one important facet of what employee
attention continues to linger over during off-job time. This revised perspective creates
many opportunities for future research to further explore the content of psychological
detachment. For example, a goal-oriented perspective on psychological detachment
prompts questions about what types of goals employees detach from during off-job time.
Although this study focused exclusively on task-related goals, future research could
conceivably explore other categories of goal content as well. Self-determination theory
proposes that individuals pursue goals related to autonomy, competence, and relatedness
16 Brandon W. Smit
(Ryan & Deci, 2000). It may be the case that relatedness-focused goals are either more or
less difficult to detach from than task-oriented goals.
Additionally, a multifaceted perspective on psychological detachment prompts
important questions about the structure of psychological detachment. Specifically,
there is a need for a more comprehensive understanding of the content of detachment,
because neglecting other important facets may result in deficient measures. Although
previous research has conceptualized psychological detachment a monolithic state, this
study indicates that employees’ global sense of detachment may actually represent a
complex aggregation of detachment from various sources. Future research could
continue to explore other sources of work-related thoughts in order to develop
targeted evidence-based interventions that can facilitate detachment from these
Second, apart from clarifying the content of detachment, this theoretical innovation
also allows researchers to create richer theory regarding the mechanisms underlying
detachment effects. Although some scholars have suggested that prolonged work-
derived arousal may account for reduced detachment (Sonnentag et al., 2010), no
studies to date have explicitly tested this hypothesis. The current study departs from
this perspective and indicates that goal accessibility may be one important mechanism
underlying employee detachment failures. This assertion is bolstered by the strong
correlation between goal-level and global detachment, along with the fact that goal
valence moderated the relationship between goal type and goal detachment, indicating
individuals have more difficulty detaching from goals with stronger motivational force.
Although this feature may be adaptive during goal pursuit, the evidence presented
here converges with previous findings that a failure to appropriately disengage from
goals can have negative consequences (Wrosch, Scheier, Miller, Schulz, & Carver,
Identifying goal accessibility as a mechanism underlying this process is important
because it provides a fresh perspective on detachment. Although not measured directly,
the overall pattern of results found here replicates previous research that does directly
measure goal accessibility which helps bolster confidence that goal accessibility does play
a role in these findings (F
orster et al., 2005). This self-regulatory lens can help scholars
reinterpret previous research by illustrating how goals may affect detachment through
both top-down and bottom-up mechanisms. Returning to an earlier question, individual
differences such as job involvement may reduce goal detachment by chronically making
goal constructs more accessible (i.e., top-down). This is important to note, because it may
explain why segmentation tactics, such as removing work-related items from home, may
not be effective in some cases. Although bottom-up goal cues have been removed from the
environment, individual priorities and goal hierarchies may still prompt work-related
thoughts in the absence of physical cues.
Finally, this study contributes to the growing conversation on practical methods of
enhancing psychological detachment. The findings presented here build on prior work
by demonstrating that planning, in the form of implementation intentions, is one
effective way to increase psychological detachment from incomplete work-related goals.
Future research may continue to explore the role that planning plays in shaping
psychological detachment. For example, future studies may elaborate on the different
components of plans to explore differential effects on goal detachment. Additionally,
researchers may also continue to explore individual differences that moderate the effect
of planning on detachment to determine for whom planning will increase psychological
Successfully leaving work at work 17
Despite its contributions to theory and practice, there are a number of limitations to this
study. For example, goal-level detachment aggregated to the daily level was only
moderately correlated with daily global detachment (r=.58, p<.001), which may create
some concerns about construct validity. It is important to note, however, that these two
constructs were measured with the exact same four items (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007).
These scales differed only in their focus, where participants rated detachment from work
as a whole for the global measure, and participants rated detachment from specific work
goals for the goal-level measure. The moderate correlation here may indicate participants
failed to list important goals in the after-work survey from which they later failed to detach.
However, this result may also lend support to one assertion in this study that other content
areas beyond goals, such as justice concerns or interpersonal interactions, also shape
global detachment.
There could also be some concern that attrition in this study has shaped the findings.
To explore this possibility, I correlated the demographic and personality characteristics
with the number of days that participants provided data in this study. If significant
relationships were observed, this might suggest the sample is biased towards these
characteristics (e.g., there are fewer neurotic participants in the sample, because they
were less likely to complete surveys). This analysis, however, yielded non-significant
correlations between number of survey days completed and demographic/personality
characteristics. Although it cannot be determined with absolute certainty, this analysis
indicates that the data are missing at random in this sample.
Practical implications
At least two substantive practical implications may be drawn from the findings reported
in this study. First, the planning intervention used here provides prescriptive guidance
for employees and organizations seeking to improve occupational health and perfor-
mance through psychological detachment. It is important, however, that planning be
implemented in a specific way. The intervention used in this study instructed
participants to list (1) where, (2) when, and (3) how they would accomplish an
incomplete goal. Employees may leverage these results by creating plans at the end of
their workday to promote detachment. Creating end-of-day plans for incomplete goals is
a low-cost option, both with regard to time and money, for improving employee
occupational health and performance. As noted earlier, however, this planning method
will likely be less useful for individuals who already easily detach from work during off-
job time.
Second, these findings also have implications for how employees set and pursue
goals at work. For example, these results illustrate the importance of setting realistic
goals within a given day, because committing to too much will likely result in more
incomplete goals at the end of the day and, consequently, less detachment. Research
on the planning fallacy indicates that individuals poorly estimate how long tasks will
take to complete (Buehler, Griffin, & Ross, 1994), so recognizing this bias and
purposefully undercommitting and overperforming may help individuals improve their
accuracy in setting and completing goals on time. One recommendation to employees
may be to structure the workday so that concrete, short-term tasks are completed near
the end of the day, to help ensure that their goals are complete before finishing work
for the day.
18 Brandon W. Smit
Psychological detachment plays an important role in shaping employees’ occupational
health and job performance. This study expands our knowledge by conceptualizing
detachment as a multifaceted construct that is meaningfully shaped by goal-related events.
The findings presented here indicate that employees have more difficulty detaching from
unfulfilled goals in contrast to completed goals, especially for goals characterized by high
valence. The intervention implemented in this study provides supportive evidence that
planning, in the form of implementation intentions, can increase detachment among
employees who possess individual differences that impair effective detachment (e.g., job
involvement). Overall, these results support a self-regulatory perspective on detachment,
where goals play an important role in shaping employees’ ability to disengage from work
during off-job time.
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22 Brandon W. Smit
... J. Claessens et al., 2010;Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006;Parke et al., 2018;Schmitt et al., 2019). In addition, planning removes ambiguity about how to spend one's time (Smit, 2016) and may enhance feelings of self-control (Loschelder & Friese, 2016). In these ways, planning may free up attentional and energetic resources, which could -for instance -be spent on other activities (Parke et al., 2018;Smit, 2016;Uhlig et al., 2023). ...
... In addition, planning removes ambiguity about how to spend one's time (Smit, 2016) and may enhance feelings of self-control (Loschelder & Friese, 2016). In these ways, planning may free up attentional and energetic resources, which could -for instance -be spent on other activities (Parke et al., 2018;Smit, 2016;Uhlig et al., 2023). In line with this rationale, research has found that planning lowers rumination (Uhlig et al., 2023) and intrusive thoughts, even during unrelated tasks (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011). ...
... In line with this rationale, research has found that planning lowers rumination (Uhlig et al., 2023) and intrusive thoughts, even during unrelated tasks (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011). Furthermore, planning has been shown to free up cognitive resources (van Eerde et al., 2022), contribute to more cognitive flexibility (Uhlig et al., 2023) and facilitate psychological detachment among highly involved employees (Smit, 2016). ...
Because work-related ICT use after hours (WICT) has often been linked to negative outcomes, it is intriguing that many people still engage in this behaviour, often on a daily basis. Yet, qualitative research suggests that WICT may be less harmful when people consciously plan to engage in this behaviour. Drawing on Action-Regulation Theory, this paper tests the assumptions that WICT is sometimes a planned behaviour that people intend to engage in in response to work-related stimuli (e.g., daily unfinished tasks, daily workload) and that the outcomes of this behaviour are less detrimental when WICT is more intended or planned. We tested our hypotheses using a 5-day diary study (i.e., two measurement points a day) among 186 Flemish employees. We found that daily unfinished tasks – though not daily workload – were positively related to daily WICT via daily intentions to engage in WICT. Furthermore, daily intentions to engage in WICT were found to strengthen, rather than buffer, the negative relationship between daily WICT and psychological detachment. We found no moderation effect of daily intentions to engage in WICT in the relationship between WICT and work-to-home conflict. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.
... Interestingly, we identified one study suggesting that a specific type of work-related activity -work-related planning -could facilitate detachment later in the evening. Specifically, Smit (2016) conducted a daily diary intervention study that asked participants to plan how they will achieve their incomplete work goals in a form of an implementation intentions exercise completed immediately after work. This study found that participants who engaged in the planning activity generally reported higher evening detachment from incomplete work goals and higher evening detachment from work than participants who did not engage in planning after work. ...
... As mentioned throughout our review, a variety of interventions have been developed to facilitate psychological detachment from work. The interventions range from short after-work activities such as doing the three-good-things exercise (e.g., Bono et al., 2013) or the implementation intentions planning (Smit, 2016), to formal training programs aimed at teaching employees about the importance of recovery from work, strategies for managing work stress, and tactics for creating and maintaining work-nonwork boundaries (e.g., Ebert, Lehr et al., 2016;Hahn et al., 2011;Rexroth et al., 2016). Empirical evidence generally supports the efficacy of interventions in promoting detachment. ...
... In addition, employees can be taught tactics to help achieve closure at the end of the day and facilitate the transition from their work to nonwork roles (Ashforth et al., 2000). For example, employees can be encouraged to carry out activities such as an end-of-day reflection (e.g., threegood-things exercise; Bono et al., 2013) or planning how they will address their unfinished tasks (e.g., implementation intentions exercise; Smit, 2016) at the end of the workday. When possible, employees might carry out these activities with coworkers to reinforce norms for these practices. ...
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Contemporary work environments are characterized by increasing job demands, extensive use of communication technologies, blurred boundaries between work and private lives, and growing uncertainty. Under these stressful conditions, employee health and well-being are among the central topics studied by organizational researchers. Extant research has shown that psychological detachment from work is a key recovery experience that is essential for employees’ health, well-being, and work performance. This systematic qualitative review aims to advance our understanding of what facilitates or inhibits detachment. We review 159 empirical studies and evaluate the accumulated knowledge on predictors of detachment. Further, we offer actionable recommendations for organizational practitioners on how to facilitate this vital recovery experience in their organizations and highlight important avenues for future research aimed at improving our understanding of employee detachment.
... Goal setting and planning work steps are known to increase goal commitment, help people get started on the task, and reduce the risk of getting derailed in the pursuit of goals (Austin & Vancouver, 1996;Frese & Zapf, 1994;Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006;Mumford et al., 2001). Specifying when, where, and how a task will be completed can automate future actions, free up attentional resources, and reduce the ambiguity associated with a task (Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006;Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011;Smit, 2016;Smit & Barber, 2016). Moreover, thinking about potential obstacles and developing alternative plans can provide cognitive benefits that help employees to respond flexibly in the face of changing circumstances (Frese & Zapf, 1994;Mumford et al., 2001;Parke et al., 2018;Tripoli, 1998). ...
... The beneficial effects of self-regulatory strategies on engagement and task performance are central propositions of self-regulation theory and are thought to result from facilitating both the initiation and maintenance of action (Austin & Vancouver, 1996;Gollwitzer & Sheeran, 2006;Locke & Latham, 2002;Parke et al., 2018). Scholars have built on self-regulation theory to show that planning and specifying work steps can reduce employees' rumination by clarifying how a particular task will be completed and providing cognitive resolution (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011;Smit, 2016;Smit & Barber, 2016). Finally, self-regulation theory suggests that planning behaviour can increase flexibility in thinking as it leads to more thorough searching and information processing to gain a better understanding of a task (Frese et al., 2007;Frese & Zapf, 1994;Giorgini & Mumford, 2013). ...
... As these thoughts are often accompanied by negative feelings, rumination can be distressing (Cropley et al., 2012;Frone, 2015). Planning behaviour could help reduce rumination (Masicampo & Baumeister, 2011;Smit, 2016;Smit & Barber, 2016). Thinking through the necessary work steps and writing down each step could reduce employees' concerns about forgetting tasks or work steps. ...
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This study concerns research on self-regulation. It examines the effects of planning behaviour, a comprehensive self-regulatory strategy of goal setting, planning work steps, and developing alternative plans. Combining different strategies , rather than testing them in isolation, would strengthen their effects and make them more appropriate for complex work tasks. Drawing on self-regulation theory, we propose that planning behaviour positively affects work engagement, unfinished tasks, rumination, and cognitive flexibility. Considering cognitive flexibility as an outcome provides insight into the cognitive benefits of planning behaviour. We examine person-level cognitive demands of flexible work and predictability as moderator variables to better understand the role of contextual variables in the use of self-regulatory strategies at work. We conducted a field experiment (N = 208 individuals ; 947 weekly entries) in which we manipulated employees' weekly planning behaviour in their daily work lives. We found negative effects on unfinished tasks and weekly rumination, and positive effects on weekly cognitive flexibility. No significant moderating effects were found. Our study suggests that a brief planning manipulation at the beginning of the week may have multiple benefits and may be an important tool for improving cognitive flexibility. Future research should examine the role of time and mediating variables.
... Psychological detachment sometimes occurs automatically, but might also be deliberately induced through activity (Luta et al., 2021;Sonnentag and Niessen, 2020). Detachment literature introduces interventions linked to cognitive paths that prevent work-related cognition and emotions from intruding into leisure time (Althammer et al., 2021;Karabinski et al., 2021;Smit, 2016). Pursuing hobbies or socializing to spur a shift of focus offers another way to detach (Hahn and Dormann, 2013;Luta et al., 2021;Sonnentag and Lischetzke, 2018). ...
... Previous studies have Remote workers' recovery strategies shown the power of thought to affect detachment in laboratory settings (Sonnentag and Niessen, 2020). In addition, prior intervention studies have acknowledged the connection between cognitive techniques and detachment (Althammer et al., 2021;Karabinski et al., 2021;Smit, 2016). Our study enhances knowledge of cognitive paths to the detachment that remoteworking employees find useful and learn to utilize. ...
Purpose This paper examines an employee's recovery process in the remote-working context. It explores which elements of remote work are energy-consuming for employees and what action they can take to instigate the essential recovery strategy of psychological detachment. Design/methodology/approach The study adopts a qualitative research approach based on 89 semi-structured interviews with employees working from home with six large corporations from multiple industries. The data were interpreted using thematic analysis. Findings The study identifies a main theme – the energy-consuming elements of remote work – and three sub-themes: extended working hours, intensive working and reduced social support. Each theme incorporates elements controlled by individuals (internal) and those beyond their control (external). Second, the authors identified strategies that helped individuals to detach from work, and devised four sub-themes, the authors labeled cognitive controlling, physical disconnection from work, time-bound routines and non-work activities. Originality/value This is the first study to focus on recovery as a process in the context of remote working, and it contributes to the knowledge of psychological detachment and strategies for recovery and to the literature on contemporary remote working.
... At the same time, cognitive representation of job stressors can be accompanied by higher physiological arousal (Brosschot et al., 2005(Brosschot et al., , 2006 and, thus, be associated with reduced relaxation. Indeed, previous research supports our assumptions by demonstrating that more unfinished tasks are related to experiencing less detachment (Heissler et al., 2022;Smit, 2016; only for participants working on the weekend: . However, Weigelt and Syrek (2017) did not find an association between unfinished tasks and relaxation, whereby they focused on a different time frame (week level instead of day level). ...
... While working during nonwork time potentially buffers negative relationships between unfinished tasks and detachment, supplemental work itself impedes detaching from work . Instead, Smit (2016) proposed an intervention targeted to make plans to complete unfinished goals. At the end of the workday, making specific plans about how and when to complete unfinished tasks (e.g., on the following day, right after starting work) could help stop employees' recurring thoughts about unfinished tasks. ...
Cohabiting dual-earner couples are increasingly common. However, previous recovery research mainly focused on employees independently of others, thereby overlooking an essential part of their life. Therefore, we take a closer look at dual-earner couples’ recovery processes and link this research to a circadian perspective. We assumed that unfinished tasks impede engagement in time with the partner (absorption in joint activities, directing attention toward the partner) as well as recovery experiences (detachment, relaxation), whereas engagement in time with the partner should boost recovery experiences. Integrating a circadian perspective, we proposed that employees from couples with matching circadian preferences (chronotype) benefit more from engagement in time with their partner (i.e., stronger relationships with recovery experiences). Additionally, we explored whether a match between partners’ chronotypes buffers the negative relationship between unfinished tasks and engagement in joint time. We conducted a daily diary study with 143 employees from 79 dual-earner couples, providing data on 1,052 days. A three-level path model showed that unfinished tasks were negatively related to absorption in joint activities and detachment, whereas absorption positively predicted recovery experiences. Furthermore, the couples’ chronotype match mattered in the interplay with engagement in joint time: for couples with higher (vs. lower) chronotype match, experiencing detachment depended on absorption while for couples with lower (vs. higher) chronotype match, attention was even harmful for experiencing relaxation. Thus, it is crucial to consider employees’ partners when investigating their recovery processes because employees cannot act independently if they also need to take their partner’s circadian rhythms into account.
... Moreover, high levels of psychological detachment can generally be reached by avoiding unfinished tasks at the end of the workday (Syrek & Antoni, 2014). In contrast, planning how to deal with tasks was found to be beneficial for employees with high job involvement (Smit, 2016) but detrimental for employees with a high general tendency to plan (van Eerde et al., 2022). Thus, it is important to think about individual characteristics and needs when providing recommendations about how psychological detachment can be best fostered. ...
Focusing on the definition of recovery as a process, we examined how the four core recovery experiences (i.e., psychological detachment, relaxation, control, and mastery) develop during the evening. We tested whether the specific developments of recovery experiences are important for next-day favorable mood states-beyond the mean levels of recovery experiences. We collected data from 92 employees who completed daily morning and afternoon surveys over 10 workdays. In the morning surveys, we implemented the day-reconstruction method to assess detailed information about employees' recovery experiences during several episodes of the previous evening. Our final data set included 477 morning surveys with a total of 1,998 episodes and 383 afternoon surveys. Multilevel growth curve analyses showed that, in general, psychological detachment, relaxation, and control follow a positive linear trend and mastery a negative quadratic trend during the evening. Moreover, path analyses showed that the day-level increase of psychological detachment is important for next-day mood. Specifically, we found that after evenings during which employees experienced a higher increase in psychological detachment than they usually did, they had higher favorable mood states in the subsequent afternoon. Further, our results did not support associations between day-level slopes of relaxation, control, and mastery as well as next-day mood. Hence, our study demonstrates that recovery experiences systematically change during an evening and that this change is partially relevant for next-afternoon mood. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2023 APA, all rights reserved).
... Da es inzwischen sehr gut belegt ist(Steed et al., 2021), dass die Erholung insbesondere durch solche Arbeitsbedingungen beeinträchtigt wird, die das Beenden von Arbeitsaufgaben innerhalb der vereinbarten Arbeitszeit erschweren (z. B. hoher Zeit-und Termindruck, viele Arbeitsunterbrechungen, häufiges Multitasking und sehr komplexe Aufgaben), haben sich Forscher mit der Frage beschäftigt, ob arbeitsbezogene Zielsetzungsinterventionen das Abschalten von der Arbeit am Abend erleichtern können.In einer ersten Studie(Smit, 2016;Smit & Barber, 2016) zeigte sich wie erwartet, dass Beschäftigte an Arbeitstagen, an denen sie geplante Arbeitsziele nicht erreichten, häufiger Probleme hatten, am Abend von der Arbeit abzuschalten. Zusätzlich wurde geprüft, ob eine Planungsintervention nach dem Arbeitsende für die nächsten Tage (gezielte Vornahmen wann, wo und wie die unerledigten Arbeitsziele erreicht werden sollen), zu einer Reduktion arbeitsbezogener Gedanken in der Freizeit führt und damit die mentale Erholung fördert. ...
Purpose By utilizing boundary theory and distraction–conflict theory, this study attempted to examine the influential process of supportive teleworking practices granting work scheduling autonomy on work-to-family conflict (WFC) via the mediating mechanism of work interruption initiated from home. Design/methodology/approach The study conducted two-wave online questionnaire survey to obtain a final sample of 277 remote knowledge workers in Taiwan during the peak period of COVID-19 pandemic. Hypotheses were tested with partial least squares-structural equation modelling using SmartPLS 3.0 software. Findings The results revealed that supportive teleworking practices did not directly decrease the level of WFC while home-sourced work interruptions fully mediated the negative relationship between supportive teleworking practices and WFC. Originality/value This provides a more nuanced explanation for how and why supportive teleworking practices are beneficial for employees to cope with the challenge of work–home interferences under the new ways of working. The findings simultaneously address evidence-based practices to better deal with mandatory teleworking during potential societal crisis beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
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Objective: this search aims to test the correlation between job complexity and psychological detachment then stats how the burnout can affect in this relationship and dose the burnout can contribute in development of this relationship. Theoretical framework: the research adopted some questions like how can psychological detachment can make the employee keeping away from work and isolates himself from work environment and how can the job complexity enhance this behavior for employee ,and how can the burnout increase the correlation between job complexity and psychological detachment ?, then trying to extraction some of recommendations may contributes in enhancing practicing and adopting these three variables (job complexity, psychological detachment and burnout) in a symbol of workers in center of Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and from the importance of this search to research's society and searched symbol this search made main question (dos the burnout increase the correlation between job complexity and psychological detachment ?). Method: the analytical survey method has been used in achieving this search, and it has been adopted the mean, standard deviation and different coefficient to analysis the answers of symbol which was reached (215), to determine the level of relative importance to each variable in depending on different coefficient , then to test the relationship among these variables the search made three main hypotheses one of them was the hypothesis of moderating effect of burnout in correlation between the job complexity with psychological detachment. Results and conclusion: the search concluded that the relationship between the job complexity and psychological detachment doesn’t increase in existence of burnout. The most important recommendation was the necessity of work the organizations to create psychological healthy environment far from burnout and low stress to reach continuous positive communication of employees with their organizations.
Self‐sacrifice behaviour features in a number of well‐known management concepts such as organizational commitment, pro‐social motivation, and organizational citizenship behaviour, but is rarely acknowledged as a salient factor or examined directly. Drawing on theories of goal systems and personal resource allocation, and dyad data collected from 122 church ministers twice over 2 years and their partners, this study examines the extent to which worker self‐sacrifice behaviour is simultaneously an enabler of high work effectiveness and a cost for personal wellbeing. Findings support the ‘doubled‐edged’ nature of self‐sacrifice, showing that while worker reports of self‐sacrifice behaviour are positively related to increases in perceived role performance, they are also linked to partner ratings of worker emotional exhaustion and partner self‐sacrifice behaviour 2 years later. This study therefore validates the importance of self‐sacrifice behaviour in accounting for divergent work outcomes and its potential to spillover into the nonwork domain. The study further finds psychological detachment to partially moderate the relationship between worker self‐sacrifice and the two problematic outcomes. Therefore, psychological detachment offers a potential means of sustaining high self‐sacrifice behaviour over time and could play an effective role in related interventions.
This book presents a thorough overview of a model of human functioning based on the idea that behavior is goal-directed and regulated by feedback control processes. It describes feedback processes and their application to behavior, considers goals and the idea that goals are organized hierarchically, examines affect as deriving from a different kind of feedback process, and analyzes how success expectancies influence whether people keep trying to attain goals or disengage. Later sections consider a series of emerging themes, including dynamic systems as a model for shifting among goals, catastrophe theory as a model for persistence, and the question of whether behavior is controlled or instead 'emerges'. Three chapters consider the implications of these various ideas for understanding maladaptive behavior, and the closing chapter asks whether goals are a necessity of life. Throughout, theory is presented in the context of diverse issues that link the theory to other literatures.
Despite a significant amount of theoretical and empirical attention, the connection between justice and trust remains poorly understood. Our study utilized Mayer, Davis, and Schoorman's (1995) distinction between trustworthiness (the ability, benevolence, and integrity of a trustee) and trust (a willingness to be vulnerable to the trustee) to clarify that connection. More specifically, we drew on a theoretical integration of social exchange theory, the relational model, and fairness heuristic theory to derive predictions about the relationships among justice, trustworthiness, and trust, with supervisors as the referent. A longitudinal field study stretching over two periods showed that informational justice was a significant predictor of subsequent trust perceptions, even when analyses controlled for prior levels of trust and trustworthiness. However, the relationship between justice and trustworthiness was shown to be reciprocal. Procedural and interpersonal justice were significant predictors of subsequent levels of benevolence and integrity, with integrity predicting subsequent levels of all four justice dimensions. We describe the theoretical implications of these results for future research in the justice and trust literatures.
In this research, we examined the role of mindfulness for recovery from work using a daily diary design (N = 121; 5 days; 3 measurement occasions per day). The first goal of the study was to investigate the relationship of mindfulness with sleep quality and the mediating role of psychological detachment from a day-level perspective. A second goal was to extend the process perspective in recovery research beyond the day level and consider systematic change trajectories in recovery variables over the course of the work week and the role of mindfulness in these trajectories. Results regarding day-level relationships confirmed that mindfulness experienced during work was related to subsequent sleep quality, and this relationship was mediated by psychological detachment from work in the evening. Furthermore, an investigation of the role of mindfulness in recovery change trajectories supported the idea that psychological detachment trajectories increase over the work week for individuals low on mindfulness while there was no systematic mean-level change for individuals high on mindfulness. In contrast, sleep quality followed a linear increase from Monday to Friday for all individuals, irrespective of their levels of trait mindfulness. Practical and theoretical implications for the mindfulness and the recovery literature are discussed in conclusion. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2014 APA, all rights reserved).
This masterly new study presents the first large-scale empirical analysis of the changes in British work experiences and employment relationships between the 1980s and 1990s. Drawing on the Employment in Britain surveya national survey providing the richest source of evidence to date about individuals' experience of employmentit examines the impact of new technologies, the emergence of new management policies, the changing forms of employment contract, and the growth of job insecurity on people's experience of employment. The authors focus on the implications these developments have for the ways in which skills and work tasks have been changing, the nature of control at work, the degree of participation in decision-making, and the flexibility demanded at work. They assess whether there has been a tendency towards either a polarization or convergence of employment experiences between men and women, and between occupational classes. They offer fresh insight into how the changing quality of work in recent years has affected employee's involvement in their jobs and organizations, the stress they experience at work, and the propensity for absenteeism and staff turnover. While the study provides strong evidence of a marked trend towards upskilling, the authors take issue with the argument that a new type of employment relationship is emerging, arguing instead that the restructuring of the employment relationship has, in fact, reinforced traditional lines of division in the workforce.