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Effort recovery model

Author: Dr Simon Moss


Individuals often feel exhausted after work. Nevertheless, after a vacation or enjoyable evening, they might feel refreshed. Over the past decade or so, scholars have attempted to examine the factors that facilitate or obstruct this recovery. Activities that instill a sense of mastery or learning, for example, tend to enhance recovery (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007). Furthermore, a sense of control or choice can also generate these benefits (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007). Similarly, social engagement and exercise can also facilitate recovery (Winwood Bakker, & Winefield, 2007).

Some factors seem to obstruct recovery. To illustrate, when jobs are especially demanding, individuals are less inclined to feel more refreshed after leisure time (Geurts, Kompier, Roxburgh, & Houtman, 2003). The effort recovery model was formulated to accommodate these findings (Meijman & Mulder, 1998). Specifically, this model characterizes the role of recovery and the implications of limited recovery.

Key assumptions

The effort-recovery model comprises several key assumptions (see Meijman & Mulder, 1998). First, to fulfill responsibilities in life, individuals need to devote effort into their tasks, called allostatic load. Second, this effort elicits a series of physiological and psychological changes in the body. That is, a series of complex, interrelated neurochemical processes in the brain are elicited. These processes release hormones and neurotransmitters that affect the production of glucocorticoids, such as cortisol, and catecholamines, such as adrenalin, from the adrenal glands.

Third, these changes are reversible, provided the effort can be suspended and various means to facilitate recovery are applied. Indeed, stress, coupled with sufficient recovery, can facilitate physiological toughness, which is characterized by increases of adrenaline and noradrenaline, without the usual spike in cortisol, under stress--which tends to coincide with effective performance under pressure, stability of emotions, and an intact immune system (e.g., Dienstbier, 1989).

Thus, if individuals are exposed to conditions that facilitate recovery, depleted resources are restored (e.g., see ego depletion) and inhibited systems are reinvigorated (e.g., Sonnentag & Zijlstra, 2006). Specifically, pleasurable and rewarding experiences increase the production of beta-endorphins, serotonin, and related chemicals that reverse some of the consequences and complications of allostatic load (e.g., Bodnar & Hadjimarkou, 2002).

Fourth, if recovery is hampered, these physiological and psychological changes can persist and can demonstrate adverse effects. For example, excessive production of these hormones and neurotransmitters can damage glucocorticoid receptors in the limbic system (e.g., McEwen, 2003). Such changes can compromise the immune system (e.g., Cohen, Tyrell, & Smith, 1991) and provoke depressive symptoms (Wacogne, Lacoste, Guillibert, Hugues, & Le Jeunne, 2003). Indeed, the structures that evolved to accommodate excessive demands are impaired. The capacity to accommodate further demands, therefore, is hindered further (Winwood, Bakker, & Winefield, 2007).

When recovery is hindered, mood is impaired and burnout surfaces (e.g., Sluiter, Van der Beek, & Frings-Dresen, 1999). Vigor at work is limited (Schellekens, Sijtsma, Vegter, & Meijman, 2000).

Many impediments, both in the work and home environment, can impede recovery. If roles are demanding, individuals often ruminate about the following day at work, called anticipatory stress, which impedes recovery (Monat, Averill, & Lazarus, 1972).

Factors that facilitate recovery

Many scholars have examined activities that facilitate recovery. Sonnentag (2001), for example, showed that a variety of leisure activities--interacting with friends, reading books, or exercising at a gym, for example--can facilitate recovery.

Sometimes, recovery at work can partly unfold during work hours (Sluiter, Frings-Dresen, Meijman, & van der Beek, 2000), such as during meal breaks or other diversions from demanding tasks. Usually, however, recovery unfolds after the work day.

Factors that mediate activities and recovery

A variety of activities or conditions can facilitate recovery. In particular, Sonnentag and Fritz (2007) identify four key factors that expedite recovery: psychological detachment from work, relaxation, mastery, and control.

First, psychological detachment from work refers to the capacity of individuals to disengage from their work tasks--feeling a sense of distance from the workplace and naturally orienting their thoughts to other activities (e.g., Etzion, Eden, & Lapidot, 1998;; Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007). As many studies have shown, when individuals do disengage from work, fatigue subsides and positive affective states are evoked (see Brosschot, Gerin, & Thayer, 2006;; Sonnentag, Binnewies, & Mojza, 2008). The benefits of psychological detachment from work are especially pronounced when time pressure is elevated (Sonnentag & Bayer, 2005).

Second, relaxation exercises can also curb the deleterious effects of stress at work, ultimately curbing fatigue from work and fostering life satisfaction (e.g., Sonnentag, Binnewies, & Mojza, 2008). These exercises can thwart anticipatory stress--worry about work at home--a form of stress that obstructs recovery.

Third, some activities are challenging and enlightening. These activities can facilitate learning as well as improve the degree to which individuals feel competent.

Such feelings of mastery have been shown to facilitate recovery. In one study, reported by Fritz and Sonnentag (2006) for example, the psychological wellbeing of participants was measured after a vacation. Vacations that involved mastery, such as learning a skill, were more likely to enhance recovery. Furthermore, even the experience of mastery during an afternoon has been shown to enhance energy the next morning (Sonnentag, Binnewies, & Mojza, 2008).

Fourth, when individuals experience a sense of control or choice over their lives outside work, recovery is enhanced (Hobfoll & Shirom, 1993;; Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007). This sense of choice can replenish depleted resources as well as facilitate mastery (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007).

Active versus passive recovery

Many academic works implied the recovery is passive, facilitated by rest and sleep, for example. These papers assumed that adequate time is necessary to ensure recovery. Some researchers, however, have shown that active behaviors can facilitate recovery. Consistent with this perspective, exercise has been shown to curb enduring levels of fatigue (Kristal-Baneh, Froom, & Harari, et al., 1996). Physical activity, therefore, seems to expedite recovery and thus reduce fatigue or other adversities.

To illustrate, Winwood Bakker, and Winefield (2007), in a survey of over 300 workers, showed that exercise, active leisure activities, creative hobbies, and social engagements all improve recovery--reducing the relationship between work stress and symptoms. In this study, participants answered questions that assessed level of recovery from fatigue, sleep quality, as well as number of hours devoted to exercise, creative hobbies, and social interactions. Creative hobbies included arts and crafts, handiwork, sewing, collecting, gardening, and so forth.

If participants engaged in many hours of exercise, creative hobbies, or social activities, they reported elevated levels of recovery. For example, they endorsed items like "Even if I'm tired from one work period, I'm usually refreshed by the start of the next work period." They also reported elevated levels of sleep quality.

In short, exercise, creative hobbies, social engagement, and other active behaviors seem to expedite recovery. These activities seem to stimulate neural circuits that are associated with pleasure and reward, many of which are mediated by dopamine and serotonin. These systems tend to elicit the converse of stress and allostatic load (see Bodnar & Klein, 2004).


When individuals experience vacations, resources that were depleted during work can be replenished (Eden, 2001). Recovery during vacations might enable individuals to protect and to extend their pool of resources, which can include material possessions, skills, status, and other characteristics (Hobfoll, 1998). This accumulation of resources enables individuals to withstand demanding and stressful events after the vacation (Hobfoll, 1998). Consistent with this premise, when the jobs of employees are especially stressful, vacations are especially likely to restore wellbeing (see Eden, 1990;; Westman & Eden, 1997). Furthermore, burnout tends to diminish as well (Westman & Etzion, 2001).

The benefits of vacation are obviously temporary. Typically, the improvements in wellbeing and performance after a vacation usually last 3 to 4 weeks (e.g., Eden, 1990;; Westman & Eden, 1997). That is, within a month or so, wellbeing and performance return to levels that were exhibited before the vacation.

Furthermore, vacations are not always beneficial (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006). If individuals contemplate some of the complexities and difficulties of work during the vacation, these benefits to wellbeing and performance might never surface (see Sonnentag & Bayer, 2004), consistent with the importance of psychological detachment. Similarly, if individuals experience hassles and difficulties that are unrelated to work, such as conflicts with family or other unforeseen complications, the benefits of vacations might also dissipate (see Westman & Eden, 1997).

In contrast, some of the features of vacations can magnify the benefits of such respite (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006). Reflections on the positive facets of a job may, for example, increase perceived competence, which represents a key resource to accommodate stress. Relaxing activities might also facilitate recovery (Sonnentag and Fritz, 2007). Furthermore, a sense of mastery, in which individuals engage in challenging activities or experience a feeling of progress, tends to amplify the benefits of vacations (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006).

Fritz and Sonnentag (2006) conducted a study that verifies these propositions. In this study, participants completed questionnaires at four times: one week before, during, two days after, and two weeks after vacation. The survey assessed the extent to which they experienced health complaints and burnout, the perceived level of performance at work, the level of effort they felt they were expending, their reflections during the vacation about work, and their experiences during the vacation. When applicable, some of the questions were presented at only a subset of times.

The results highlighted the overall benefits of vacation, but also underscored some limitations to these benefits. For example, immediately after the vacation, individuals felt they expended less effort at work--perhaps because they felt they had extended their resources--but did not report improvements in performance. Similarly, health complaints did diminish during the vacation but were restored to baseline levels two weeks later.

Many features of the vacation affected the benefits of this respite. Negative ruminations about work curbed the effect of vacation on wellbeing: Health complaints and burnout remained elevated. Hassles during the vacation, such as conflicts, also curbed some of these benefits. Positive reflections about work, relaxing activities, and a sense of mastery or growth also magnified the benefits of vacations.

Activities after work

Because the benefits of vacations are temporary, sometimes dissipating within two to four weeks (Fritz & Sonnentag, 2006), other opportunities to recover are vital, such as activities after work (Sonnentag, 2006). Sonnentag (2006) conducted a study to ascertain whether leisure activities one evening affected engagement and proactive behavior at work the next day. Participants completed a questionnaire that assessed the extent to which they are granted control over the methods they use and the schedule of work activities as well as the degree to which the job is demanding and the necessary materials or equipment are available. In addition, more enduring levels of work engagement, personal initiative, and the pursuit of learning were measured. Finally, the extent to which they felt recovered after leisure activities yesterday and their work engagement, personal initiative, and the pursuit of learning that day were assessed.

The degree to which individuals felt recovered after leisure activities, as reflected by items like "Because of the leisure activities pursued yesterday, I feel recovered" was related to work engagement that day. This engagement was, in turn, associated with personal initiative, gauged by items like "Today, I attacked a problem actively" and pursuit of learning, represented by items like "Today I actually looked for opportunities to develop new skills and knowledge". These relationships persisted even after more enduring measures of engagement, personal initiative, and the pursuit of learning were controlled.

Computer games

Video and computer games might represent an activity that facilitates recovery. After a stressful or upsetting day, individuals are more inclined to engage with these games to enhance recovery (Reinecke, 2009).

Reinecke (2009) argued that video and computer games entail the key features of activities that facilitate recovery: they disengage the person from the work environment, they relax individuals, they imbue a sense of mastery, and they instill a feeling of control. To illustrate, games can enable individuals to assume a fictional role and thus flee from the reality of work stress. This immersion and distraction can foster relaxation, at least after the game ends, despite the arousing properties of these activities. The challenging nature of these games, as well as a sense of progress, instills feelings of master. Finally, the interactive nature of these games enables individuals to enjoy a sense of control and choice.

In the study conducted by Reinecke (2009), participants specified the extent to which they play video or computer games. In addition, they specified the degree to which they played games after specific events or states, such as after stress, irritation, fatigue, exhaustion, or a need to recover. Next, participants specified the extent to which video and computer games enable individuals to detach from work, experience relaxation, enjoy a feeling of mastery or challenge, as well as feel a sense of control and choice. Furthermore, the coping style of individuals as well as the level of social support they receive was assessed. Finally, fatigue that is ascribed to work and daily hassles in the workplace over the last few weeks were gauged.

After participants experienced hassles over the least few weeks, they were more likely to play video and computer games to recover, especially if they report an emotional coping style. Furthermore, they were more likely to play these games if fatigued when social support was limited. These games thus represent an alternative to social support for some individuals. Nevertheless, the future benefits of this strategy were not assessed.

Voluntary work

According to Mojza, Lorenz, Sonnentag, and Binnewies (2010), voluntary work during leisure time might facilitate recovery. They showed that voluntary work instilled a sense of mastery or progress, which has been shown to expedite recovery (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2007). Furthermore, such work also reinforced relationships with the community, which can also enhance recovery (see Fritz & Sonnentag, 2005). That is, both mastery and community experiences represent a gain of resources: competence and relationships respectively. These gains in resources enable individuals to accommodate subsequent demands and thus enhance wellbeing.

Sleep quality

Sleep quality is also a key determinant of recovery or recuperation after work. As Sonnentag, Binnewies, and Mojza (2008) emphasize, impairments to sleep can by frustrating, evoking negative states and thus hampering recovery. Furthermore, if individuals sleep well, depleted mental resources tend to be replenished (Muraven, M., & Baumeister, 2000). In addition, if sleep is disrupted, self efficacy might decline, because individuals feel they might be impaired.

Sonnentag, Binnewies, and Mojza (2008) verified this possibility. That is, sleep quality, as measured by a single item, was positively associated with positive affect, as well as negative associated with negative affect, the next morning. The study was a within-subject design and, hence, these findings cannot be ascribed to spurious variables. That is, the study shows that sleep quality does indeed improve mood the next morning.

Beneficial work

Work that is perceived to benefit the lives of other individuals might curb the need to recover. Specifically, as research indicates, when work is philanthropic or prosocial, factors that usually culminate in burnout--such as monotonous roles or personal anxieties--become less likely to elicit this state of exhaustion. Somehow, such prosocial work buffers the deleterious impact of various complications or problems at work.

To illustrate, in one study, reported by Grant and Sonnetag (2010), a sample of participants, all of whom were professional fundraisers, completed a questionnaire, assessing the extent to which they perceive their work is inherently enjoyable or tedious, the degree to which they feel satisfied with themselves, and the extent to which they feel exhausted or drained at work. Furthermore, some of the questions assessed whether or not participants feel their work is beneficial to the lives of other individuals, including items like "I feel that my work makes a positive difference in other people's lives".

If the work was not perceived as beneficial to the lives of anyone else, jobs that were inherently tedious evoked more exhaustion than did jobs that were inherently enjoyable. Furthermore, participants who were dissatisfied with themselves experienced more exhaustion than participants who were not dissatisfied with themselves. Furthermore, this exhaustion compromised job performance. In contrast, if they perceived their work as beneficial to the lives of other individuals, a different pattern emerged: whether or not the role was monotonous--or whether or not the participants perceived themselves as unsatisfactory--did not seem to affect emotional exhaustion (Grant & Sonnetag, 2010).

Somehow, when individuals engage in acts of kindness, assisting another person or group, they are more likely to experience positive rather than negative emotions (for evidence, see Bason, 1990;; Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008;; Greenfield & Marks, 2004;; Musick & Wilson, 2003). Conceivably, when individuals behave altruistically or helpfully, their attention is directed towards the needs of another person. They become less cognizant of their own faults or deficiencies, which curbs negative emotional states (e.g., Bartel, 2001;; Crocker & Canevello, 2008;; Midlarsky, 1991). The ensuing positive emotions overrides the ruminations and anxieties that monotonous jobs or personal doubts can elicit (Grant & Sonnetag, 2010).

Factors that obstruct recovery

Conflict between work and life responsibilities

The adverse effects of an imbalance or conflict between work and life responsibilities is often ascribed to the effort-recover model. Van Hoof, Geurts, Taris, Kompier, Dikkers, Houtman, & Van Den Heufel (2005), for example, conducted a longitudinal study to show that such interference between work and home does precede, and thus is likely to cause, a deterioration in health.

Specifically, in their study, interference between work and home as well as health were measured at two times, one year apart, in Dutch police officers. The findings showed that interference between work and home predicts subsequent health complaints. This model applied when the strain of work compromised activities at home--but did not apply when time demands of work compromised activities at home. Incessant conflict between work and home thus compromises recovery, ultimately translating to an accumulation of health complaints.

Van Hooff Geurts, Kompier and Taris (2006) conducted a diary study to uncover the patterns of behavior that are disrupted by this interference between work and home. In their study of academics, overall assessment of interference between work and home were positively related to overtime work in the evening, time spent on activities that demand effort, and fatigue or sleep problems. Accordingly, the interference coincides with activities that demand effort and thus preclude recovery. When recovery is hampered, wellbeing is compromised.

Unutilized flexible work arrangements

Flexible work arrangements can, potentially, curb effort at work. That is, some organizations offer flexiplace, in which employees are permitted to complete their work in the office, at home, or at any other location. Some organizations also offer flexitime, in which employees are permitted to complete their work at various times--perhaps in the evening or weekend, depending on the needs and preferences of these individuals (Shockley & Allen, 2010).

These flexible work arrangements are intended to assist employees balance their work and family lives. Nevertheless, employees do not always embrace these arrangements, and hence the benefit of this provision may be diminished (Thompson, Beauvais, & Lyness, 1999).

Individuals are especially likely to refrain from these flexible work arrangements if they segment, rather than integrate, the various roles in their life (Shockley & Allen, 2010). That is, most individuals need to manage and fulfill multiple roles: parent, friend, employee, team member, and so forth. Some individuals prefer to segregate these roles& they pursue each role in a different location, at distinct times, called inflexibility. Similarly, at each place and time, they prefer to pursue on role only, called impermeability. In contrast, some individuals can pursue several roles at the same place or time& they can integrate these roles (see Ashforth, Kreiner, & Fugate, 2000).

Shockley and Allen (2010) conducted a study to assess the proposition that individuals who like to segment their roles abstain from flexiplace and flexitime. In this study, participants completed a questionnaire that assessed their need for segmentation, with items like "I prefer to keep work life at work". In addition, the percentage of time they completed work tasks at their office and outside traditional work hours was assessed, to assess use of flexiplace and flexitime respectively. All participants were academics, who were permitted to utilize these provisions. Segmentation was inversely related to use of flexiplace and flexitime. Whether or not the organization prefers employees to work in the office, called face-time orientation, did not significantly moderate these associations.


The effort-recovery model can partly explain the effect of workload on wellbeing. Importantly, perceived and not actual workload is the main source of these complications, as Remus, Schind, Wagner, Johnson, DeRue, and ILgen (2007) showed. That is, even if employees only work 40 hours a week, individuals who feel their workload is excessive are especially inclined to feel anxious and irritable at home as well as believe their work interferes with their capacity to fulfill their family responsibilities. Family activities are thus impeded, and recovery is disrupted. This disrupted recovery may culminate in anxiety, depression, and health complaints.

Specifically, when individuals feel their workload is excessive, regardless of their actual job demands, they are not certain they can fulfill their obligations, evoking anxiety. These emotions increase the likelihood they will appraise other events, such as remarks from their family, as undesirable, provoking irritability even at home. Furthermore, the mental energy that is required to curb their anxiety at work reduces the supply of mental energy that is available at home& they cannot regulate emotions well. Hence, difficulties at work foster difficulties at home, even if these employees are granted the time to fulfill family responsibilities. Finally, when their mood is unpleasant, individuals feel less motivated to engage in social activities, and thus are not as inclined to interact with their family.

Geurts, Kompier, Roxburgh, and Houtman (2003) also assessed the association between workload and conflict between work and home. Participants, who were medical residents, child care workers, or bus drivers, completed questions that asses their workload, the extent to which work interferences with life at home, and their wellbeing. As structural equation modeling showed, work interference with life at home fully mediated the relationship between workload and both depression as well as health complaints. This finding indicates the drawbacks of workload can be ascribed, at least largely, to a decline in recovery at home. Interference with life at home partly mediated the relationship between workload and negative affect.

Similarly, Taris, Beckers, Verhoeven, Geurts, Kompier, and van der Linden (2006) also showed that perceived job demands, which is related to workload, also increases interference between work and home, ultimately increasing exhaustion but curbing enjoyment. Furthermore, when individuals did not feel they could control their activities at work, and that autonomy was limited, exhaustion was especially elevated.

Workload might also compromise psychological detachment from work--a key determinants of recovery. Sonnentag and Bayer (2005) investigated some of the predictors of psychological detachment from work. They showed, for example, that psychological detachment is impeded when workload is elevated. This finding is striking because recovery, and thus psychological detachment, is more important during these demanding periods. Presumably, when workload is elevated, individuals might not have completed all their key tasks before they left the workplace. Unfulfilled goals are, typically, especially salient and, therefore, can preclude psychological detachment (see the intention superiority effect).

Marital dissatisfaction

Saxbe, Repetti, and Nishina (2008) claimed that marital relationships can affect recovery from effort at work. Thirty couples participated in this study over a week. On four of these days, their interactions were recorded on video. Mood, workload, and saliva samples of cortisol were measured on three days. To assess workload, participants completed the Busy Day scale (Repetti, 1989), which comprised items such as "There were more demands on my time than usual". The degree to which they experience unpleasant social interactions at work was assessed. Saliva was assessed early in the morning, upon awakening, immediately before lunch, late afternoon, just before leaving work, and late in the evening, minutes before retiring to bed. Furthermore, marital adjustment was evaluated.

When wives were dissatisfied with their relationship, they exhibited more uniform cortisol levels across the day--a pattern that tends to be inversely related to wellbeing (e.g., Abercrombie, Giese-Davis, Sephton, Epel, Turner-Cobb, & Spiegel, 2004). That is, in about half the population, cortisol levels are elevated in the morning, soon after awakening, and then decline rapidly during the morning and gradually during the rest of the day (Ice, Katz-Stein, Himes, & Kane, 2004). In individuals exposed to persistent stress, however, the body does not accommodate demanding environments as effectively. Their physiological processes do not respond to these stressful contexts well. Relatively uniform levels of cortisol levels across the day, called a weak basal cortisol rhythm, might reflect this deficiency (McEwen, 1998).

In addition, after a busy day, cortisol levels in the evening were higher in wives who were dissatisfied with their relationship. Specifically, after stressful days, cortisol tends to be lower during the evening--perhaps reflecting some form of compensation. Nevertheless, this reduction in cortisol is especially pronounced when women are satisfied with their relationships. Marital dissatisfaction, thus, seemed to stifle recovery from stress (Saxbe, Repetti, & Nishina, 2008). These effects of martial dissatisfaction were not as pronounced in the husbands, however.

In husbands, social conflicts at work, rather than dissatisfaction in the relationship, impeded recovery. That is, when these men reported social conflicts, cortisol levels remained high during the evening, indicating limited recovery.

Family difficulties

Other difficulties at home could also impede recovery. When children are ill, for example, opportunities to engage in physical and psychological recovery may diminish and psychological problems might ensue.

This possibility was verified by Grzywacz, Rao, Woods, Preisser, Gesler, and Arcury (2005). A sample of adults, living in rural North Carolina, completed a survey The survey examined the extent to which children were ill as well as their own absence from work and opportunities for recovery. When the children were often ill, parents were more likely absent from work because of mental, but not physical, health. Furthermore, this relationship was partly mediated by fewer opportunities for parents to recover.

Limited mindfulness

Mindfulness, in which individuals are more aware of their private and ongoing feelings, sensation, and thoughts, but do not judge these experiences, seems to facilitate recovery (Marzuq & Drach-Zahavy, 2013). In one study, conducted by Marzuq and Drach-Zahavy (2013), 200 nurses completed measures of mindfulness, exhaustion, and vigor before a two-day respite. Towards the end of this respite, they answered questions about their activities during the last two days, such as the degree to which they could relax and master new experiences rather than feel hassled. Finally, they completed a measure of exhaustion and vigor after the first day back at work.

A relaxing respite, devoid of hassles, diminished exhaustion and promoted vigor, but especially in the mindful individuals. That is, mindfulness seemed to enhance the benefits of this respite. Presumably, when mindfulness is limited, relaxation experiences may not overcome worries and preoccupation. Mastering new experiences also may provoke stress rather than excitement, compromsing recovery.


Verbal expression of emotions

Family demands can sometimes impede work responsibilities. Alternatively, work demands can sometimes impede family responsibilities. Disclosing the emotions that such conflicts evoke can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the circumstances.

This complication was uncovered by Moreno-Jimenez et al. (2009). In this study, participants completed a measure that gauged the extent to which they express their emotions verbally. Sample items include "I express my emotions verbally without difficulty" and "When I have problems and I feel bad, I talk to someone about how I feel". In addition, the participants answered questions that gauged the degree to which they family demands impede work responsibilities and vice versa. Finally, some of the questions measured the degree to which participants experience distress, depression, and other symptoms of strain.

In general, conflicts between the demands of work and family were positively associated with psychological strain. However, if participants expressed their negative emotions verbally, psychological strain was relatively impervious to family demands but especially sensitive to work demands. That is, in these participants, the effect of work demands on family responsibilities, but not the effect of family demands on work responsibilities, was especially likely to amplify distress.

This pattern of results was not predicted. The expression of emotions was assumed to diminish the intensity of these feelings and, therefore, curb the distress that emanates from both forms of conflict. Perhaps, when people discuss their concerns about how work demands impede their family responsibilities, colleagues and managers are dismissive and family members may sometimes feel threatened. The responses are not always supportive, exacerbating strain. In contrast to this complication, the researchers showed that psychological detachment from work, such as leisure activities, diminishes the detrimental effects of both forms of conflict between work and family demands.

Related theories

Attention restoration theory

During the day, the tasks we undertake can diminish our capacity to sustain or mobilize attention and effort. According to attention restoration theory, certain features of the environment can restore this capacity (Kaplan, 1993, 1995, 2007;; Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). Specifically, various features of the environment attract attention involuntarily and without effort, sometimes referred to as undirected attention. That is, individuals experience moments of intrigue and enchantment, called soft fascination (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). During these brief moments, people do not need to devote voluntary attention or effort into their experience. Their voluntary attention or effort--a process that is limited in capacity--can thus be refreshed and restored. These brief moments of restoration are referred to as micro-restorative (Kaplan, 1993) and may, for example, including merely gazing out a window towards some trees for a few moments.

Attention restoration theory: Indoor plants

Research on whether indoor plants in office environments restore attention has generated mixed results (for a review, see Gueguen, 2012). Yet, according to Gueguen (2012), the design of these studies has often been flawed: sample sizes have sometimes been limited& cross-sectional correlational designs have sometimes need used, and so forth. Gueguen (2012) undertook a study that circumvents these problems and, indeed, validated the benefits of indoor plants on the restoration of attention.

In this study, participants completed a task in a small office that either did or did not contain indoor plants. These individuals completed a reading span task, purportedly a measure of their capacity to mobilize attention. On each trial, either four or six sentences were presented. The task of participants was to read these sentences and remember the last word of each sentence. Then participants needed to report this set of four or six words. Participants completed this task as they arrived, immediately after completing a proofreading task, and then again five minutes later.

In contrast to participants who were not exposed to indoor plants, participants exposed to indoor plants demonstrated better attention after, compared to before, competing the proofreading task. That is, the plants seem to restore attention. This difference between the two groups was maintained, but was not amplified, after five more minutes.

Attention restoration theory: Variability in the urban landscape

As Lindal and Hartig (2013) showed, features of the urban scape can foster a sense of recovery and restoration. Specifically, in some urban environments, the buildings vary considerably from one another. If the silhouette or invisible line that connects the top of all buildings is jagged but unpredictable rather than even or consistent--and the facade of these buildings also differ considerably from each other in style, shape, and color--people are more likely to report elevated levels of recovery. They agree with items such as "I would be able to rest and recover my ability to focus in this environment". In addition, the degree to which these cityscapes seem fascinating (e.g., "There is much to explore and discover here" and evoke a sense of being away (e.g., "Spending time here gives me a break from my day-to-day routine") mediated this relationship. Tall buildings, however, tend to diminish this sense of recovery and restoration.

Individuals experience a sense of intrinsic motivation, rather than extrinsic motivation, when they are exposed to complex and fascinating possibilities. This intrinsic motivation does not demand effort and, therefore, can facilitate restoration. A diverse cityscape is perceived as complex and fascinating, eliciting intrinsic motivation and restoring energy. This intrinsic motivation also enables individuals to feel they have been liberated by external constraints, and this liberation corresponds to a sense of being away.


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