Many managers believe being available to their team 24/7, checking email throughout the evening, and ruminating about work during downtime makes them more effective leaders. After all, plenty of stories of the most successful leaders involve sacrificing sleep, hobbies, and family time to get ahead.
However, a recent study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found managers who disconnected from work in the evenings felt more energized and identified more strongly with their leadership role the following day — and their employees rated them as better leaders.
While it’s no surprise that the demanding nature of leadership can leave many managers feeling depleted at the end of the day, less is known about how they spend their time after work affects their recovery. Klodiana Lanaj and colleagues at the University of Florida wanted to explore the effects of two behaviors — psychological detachment and affect-focused rumination — on leader effectiveness the following day. Psychological detachment refers to mentally switching off from work by, for example, silencing notifications, exercising, spending time with family or loved ones, watching a TV show, or enjoying a hobby. On the other hand, affect-focused rumination involves intrusive and repetitive thoughts or worries about work, such as obsessively thinking about a work project during your child’s softball game.
To explore these two after-work actions, researchers surveyed 73 leaders and their employees for 10 consecutive workdays. They found that when leaders psychologically detached after-hours, they identified more strongly with their leadership role the next day because they felt recuperated. Their employees rated these leaders as more effective in motivating them and guiding their work. In contrast, when leaders ruminated about work in the evening, they felt depleted the next morning, were less likely to see themselves as leaders, and were rated as less effective by employees. New leaders were more likely to suffer the negative effects of rumination than more experienced leaders. “My hope is that this study will give managers data to support their decision to be present at home and to disconnect from work,” Lanaj said.
So how can you best recharge after a busy work day? NLI’s Healthy Mind Platter, a list of seven essential mental activities for optimal cognitive performance, offers some suggestions. For example, true downtime is when we let our mind wander or simply relax, without a specific goal. This could include taking a leisurely walk or just gazing off into space. Time in, which includes activities such as meditation or mindfulness, refers to when we quietly reflect internally, focusing on sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts. And connecting time allows us to form and grow social connections with others, richly activating the brain’s relational circuitry. Try some of these activities in the evening, instead of thinking or worrying about work, and see if you don’t feel like a more effective leader the next day.