October 8, 2023
All time off is not created equal.
In today's fast-paced work environment, burnout has impacted employees across virtually every industry, from healthcare to tech. Intentional time-off represents a major opportunity in the field of burnout prevention. At Cultivet, we’ve completed a literature review on work recovery research from the fields of cognitive science, management science, and psychology. What we’ve found is both astounding and simple: the best way to recover from work and lower stress levels during non-working hours is to fully disconnect from work stressors. This can be easier said than down. That’s why we’ve developed a framework for High-Quality Time-Off.
What is High Quality Time-Off?
High Quality Time-Off is the practice of achieving emotional, cognitive, and physical detachment from work during your non-working hours. This allows you to maximize resource recovery and reduce stress levels back to baseline on nights, weekends, holidays, and vacations. High Quality Time-Off has five key attributes:
- Intrinsically satisfying
- Disconnected from devices
- Stimulating to the senses
- Fuels growth
By practicing High Quality Time-Off on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis, you can begin to achieve healthier time-off habits that enable you to truly achieve cognitive, physical and emotional distance from work. This will enable you to reduce stress levels and refresh your cognitive systems, eliminating exhaustion and elevating your performance across all areas of your life.
What are Time-Off Types?
While each of these attributes plays an important role in disconnecting from work, each of us has unique interests and preferences for how we like to unwind. That’s why we’ve developed the Time-Off Types, which align to the five attributes of High Quality Time-Off.
Knowing your Time-Off Type helps you reflect on your current time-off practices and preferences. It builds self-awareness for what you need to recover intentionally from work. While you should aim to incorporate all attributes of High Quality Time-Off into your time-off practice, knowing which ones matter most to you will help you take a first step in building a practice of intentional work recovery.
In this guide, we will explain the five Time-Off Types and the corresponding High Quality Time-Off attribute they connect with. We will share important research areas supporting your type, as well as examples of how you might incorporate your type preferences into your time-off habits. The ultimate goal is to empower you to develop new healthy habits for High Quality Time-Off that launch you into a virtuous“gain spiral” that enables you to thrive.
- The Natural
The first attribute of High-Quality Time-Off emphasizes the need for active engagement during time away from work. Burnout often begins with emotional exhaustion, and active recovery methods help individuals detach emotionally and cognitively from work. Activities that require concentration, have clear goals, and demand skill, such as those described in Csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow states, are particularly effective for resource recovery. Active experiences provide immediate feedback, a sense of control, and detachment from work. Cognitive changes like reappraisal, perspective-taking, and active distraction contribute to emotional regulation and help prevent burnout.
Research indicates that activities like creative expression, cardiovascular exercise, deep breathing, and even relaxation techniques can promote active recovery. Engaging in goal-oriented activities consumes only slightly more energy than resting passively, making them more beneficial for resource replenishment.
- Intrinsically Satisfying
High-Quality Time-Off should involve activities that are intrinsically satisfying, meaning they are done for their inherent enjoyment rather than external rewards. Engaging in autotelic activities, where the activity itself is the reward, can help individuals regain a sense of autonomy and control over their lives. Intrinsic motivation strengthens prosocial behavior, fosters a sense of community, and reduces feelings of helplessness, a common characteristic of burnout.
Studies have shown that intrinsic motivation leads to better performance and productivity, particularly when combined with prosocial motivation. Moreover, experiences that evoke a sense of awe can positively impact health and contribute to lower stress levels. Therefore, encouraging employees to engage in activities that align with their intrinsic motivations can be a key element of High-Quality Time-Off.
- Sensory Stimulation
Physical detachment from work, once achieved through commuting, is now challenging in remote work environments. The concept of "enclothed cognition" highlights the psychological impact of clothing on cognitive processes. Changing clothes and creating a distinct physical environment can facilitate cognitive and emotional distance from work. Sensory stimulation through clothing choices, surroundings, and even hydrotherapy can promote resource recovery and reduce physiological stress markers.
- Disconnect from Devices
Excessive screen time, driven by the widespread use of smartphones and digital devices, has become a significant contributor to burnout. Disconnecting from devices during time off is crucial for physical detachment from work. Research has shown that increased smartphone usage blurs boundaries between work and personal life, leading to emotional exhaustion and stress. Excessive device use can also result in anxiety, sleep disruption, and other negative health impacts.
Encouraging employees to establish clear boundaries with their devices, especially after work hours, can mitigate these effects. Studies indicate that disconnection from devices can improve sleep quality, reduce anxiety, and decrease stress levels, all of which contribute to better resource recovery.
- Meaningful Growth
High-Quality Time-Off should offer opportunities for meaningful growth and personal development. Engaging in challenging experiences outside of the workplace can build resilience, confidence, and a sense of competence. Resilience, defined as the ability to bounce back quickly from challenges, is a crucial factor in preventing burnout.
Research suggests that pursuing activities that involve physical courage and facing fears can increase self-confidence, reduce fear, and enhance resilience. For example, engaging in activities that require moral courage has been linked to greater resilience among nurses. Meaningful growth experiences help individuals build self-efficacy, allowing them to set clear boundaries between work and personal life and replenish vital resources.
Implementing High-Quality Time-Off in your organization can be a powerful strategy for preventing burnout and promoting employee well-being. By focusing on active engagement, intrinsic motivation, sensory stimulation, device disconnection, and meaningful growth, companies can create an environment where employees can truly detach from work and recover their emotional, cognitive, and physical resources. Collecting data on burnout metrics will help refine these practices and tailor them to specific populations, ensuring that employees can structure their time off for maximum resource recovery and well-being. Ultimately, High-Quality Time-Off can lead to a more balanced and fulfilled workforce, with reduced burnout and increased productivity.
Are you interested in learning more about how optimizing work demands and work recovery can improve retention and employee engagement in your workplace? Contact us at email@example.com or book a meeting with us here to learn about our offerings!