Reattaching to work is as important as detaching from work, study

Planning and mentally simulating the upcoming workday triggers work-related goals.

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According to a new study by the Portland State University scientists, reattachment to work before actually starting work is important for work engagement during the day. Doing so, employees can think of what will happen during the day, the tasks that have to be accomplished, any potential challenges that might arise, as well as the support and resources they might need to accomplish their goals.

The study co-authored by Charlotte Fritz, a co-author and associate professor of industrial-organizational psychology in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences suggests that employees who mentally reattach to work in the morning are more engaged at work.

Fritz reported, “We know that detachment from work during non-work hours is important because it creates positive outcomes like higher life satisfaction and lower burnout. Now we need to think about helping people mentally reconnect to work at the beginning of their work shift or day so they can create positive outcomes during their work day and be immersed in their work. It’s not enough to just show up.”

During the study, scientists surveyed 151 participants from a broad range of industries, including finance, the energy sector, public administration, information and communication, and the health sector.

An employee’s reattachment to work can vary from day to day and will depend on the person and their job. For example, employees can think about specific tasks that need to be done over breakfast or in the shower, mentally go over a conversation with a supervisor during their commute, or run through their to-do list while standing in line for a coffee.

Fritz said, “Through reattachment, employees are able to activate work-related goals, which then further creates positive experiences which allow people to be more engaged at work. Engagement is a sense of energy, sense of feeling absorbed, feeling dedicated to working, and those are all very important motivational experiences that translate to positive outcomes for both employees and organizations. They’re more satisfied with work, more committed to working, enjoy work tasks more, perform better and help out more with extra tasks.”

The researchers suggest that organizations develop norms and routines that help employees reattach to work and support them in smoothly transitioning into the workday. It could be allowing them a few quiet minutes at the start of the day, initiating a short planning conversation about the upcoming workday, encouraging them to prioritize their most important goals, offering short checklists, or even providing them with more autonomy on the job to complete specific tasks.

Fritz said, “Organizations need employees who are highly engaged, and reattachment is key.”

The study is published in the Journal of Management.