‘Reattaching’ to Work Is Just as Important as ‘Detaching,’ Researchers Find

March 20, 2019 by Josh Hrala

We all know that it’s important to be able to disengage from work during the off hours. When you get home in the evening, you should be able to switch focus to your life instead of work, giving you a great work-life balance.

However, new research suggests that it’s just as important that employees be able to ‘reattach’ to work the next day during work hours, offering new insights into how work-life balance works as a whole.

“We know that detachment from work during non-work hours is important because it creates positive outcomes like higher life satisfaction and lower burnout,” said the study’s co-author Charlotte Fritz, from Portland State University.

“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.”

In other words, we’ve gone too long without wondering how people get ‘back into work mode’ because, for so long, we’ve been trying to help employees examine their home lives.

Before we dive into the new study and how you can help your employees reattach themselves, we have to cover some basics.

What Exactly Is Reattachment?

Basically, reattachment is the process of mentally getting back into work mode after a break. For example, take winter break. Most people get a few days off around the holiday season with many coupling up a few vacation days to stretch the break until after New Year’s Day.

This gives those workers a good, decent-sized respite from working. However, the first day back is usually a tough one because workers not only have a lot to catch up on but have to mentally switch back into working, which they most likely haven’t thought about since clocking out.

Even though this is a bigger example, the same can be said from day-to-day work. When a person leaves the office, they go and live their lives – an area work-life balance is has been heavily researched over the last couple years – and then they have to reattach the next morning.

But how? How are workers supposed to do this?

How Does Reattachment Work?

The new study, which was recently published in the Journal of Management, suggests that mindful reattachment helps workers meet their goals once they arrive back to work. And the process doesn’t have to be super complex to be beneficial either.

“During reattachment, employees think about 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,” reports Portland State University.

In other words, before an employee returns to the office, they must mentally prepare themselves to get back into the swing of things if they want to ensure that they meet their goals for the upcoming day and/or week.

Does this really work?

To find out, the team surveyed 151 participants working in a wide range of different areas.

The team said that they found that practicing reattachment can help employees become more engaged at work, meaning that employees are also more productive and goal-oriented as well.

Wait, but how do you reattach? Is there a golden rule? No, not exactly. In fact, the process is quite personal.

According to the team, reattachment works differently for everyone. For some individuals, mentally running down what tasks they have to perform in a given day during breakfast was enough to get them motivated and engaged. For others, standing in line for coffee gave them the chance to prepare.

The takeaway here – on an individual level – is that reattachment is a personal thing very much in line with the way that work-life balance is a personal thing. No matter which way a person does it though, the outcome is always the same: they’re more engaged.

“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,” Fritz said.

“Engagement is a sense of energy, sense of feeling absorbed, feeling dedicated to work, 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 work, enjoy work tasks more, perform better and help out more with extra tasks.”

Organizations Should Do More to Help Employees Reattach

The biggest takeaway for organizations here is that in order for workers to have the work-life balance they need to perform well at their jobs and be engaged, organizational work-life programs must include a reattachment process.

Now, given that reattachment is a personal process, differing from employee to employee, organizations should really take a high-level approach when coming up with an organizational solution.

“The researchers suggest that organizations develop norms and routines that help employees reattach to work and support them in smoothly transitioning into the workday,” Portland State University reports.

“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.”

There’s never going to be a catch-all here, but by understanding what reattachment is and how it works, will allow organizations to better complete their work-life balance initiatives.

It must be noted, though, that this study has a rather small sample size and is looking at an area of work-life balance that has, so far, gone under studied. In the future, we hope that larger studies with bigger sample sizes can shed even more light on how reattachment works on an organizational level.

The team’s study was recently published in the Journal of Management. Read the complete article for yourself here.

Josh Hrala

Josh Hrala

Josh is an HR journalist and ghostwriter who's been covering outplacement and offboarding for over six years. Before pivoting to the HR world, he was a science journalist whose work can be found in Popular Science, ScienceAlert, The Huffington Post, Cracked, Modern Notion, and more.

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