Optimal recovery: why, and how, to do it

Helena Cooper-Thomas

18 Apr 2023

Professor Helena Cooper-Thomas

When it comes to taking on tedious, time-consuming tasks in the workplace, Chat GPT and other digital technologies are proving invaluable.

But what happens when we human employees become physically and mentally exhausted by the endless outputs generated by our artificially intelligent co-workers?

The downside of bots taking on routine tasks is that sentient employees must tackle increasing volumes of complex tasks which require significant levels of brain power.

These tasks might be stimulating, but without respite, they can lead to burnout.

To that end, while welcoming the gains brought by ongoing advances in technology, it is more important than ever to prioritise employee wellbeing – by employees themselves, by managers, and by employing organisations – so that we are not overwhelmed by the rate of workplace innovation and change.

Are you optimally restoring your energy after work? Take the quiz to find out:

Research shows four types of approaches that can help us actively restore our energies after work and enhance our on-the-job performance.

To determine if your activities off-the-job are forms of “optimal recovery”, ask yourself these four questions about what happens when you leave the workplace:

  • Am I able to forget about work? If the answer is yes, then you are experiencing psychological detachment. That’s the ability to mentally distance yourself from work so that unfinished tasks and upcoming deadlines are not front of mind. Activities that support psychological detachment require your full concentration, such as playing a sport or game (online or in-person) or planning in detail a fun leisure event.
  • Am I able to kick back and relax? Relaxation occurs when people feel calm and can let go of any stress and tension experienced from work. Activities that lead to deep relaxation include meditation, breathing exercises, reading, or being outside enjoying nature at a slow tempo. It can even be sitting in front of your favourite TV show, YouTube channel or scrolling through social media – if you find the activity relaxing and revitalising.
  • Do I undertake activities that challenge me and broaden my horizons? Another way to recover from work is mastery. Mastery activities involve developing new skills or pursuing learning experiences. Examples include learning a language or musical instrument or engaging in a hobby where you are actively improving your skills – for example, designing, crafting, or cooking something new.
  • Do I decide how to spend my leisure time? This reflects the value of the fourth recovery activity - control. Control (or agency) is not about being selfish; rather, it is about having the ability to determine your own out-of-work schedule so you can prioritise the needs of yourself and your loved ones.

Mix ‘n’ match for optimal recovery

Here are a few additional considerations for combining strategies for optimal recovery.

  • Motivation is important – you can’t optimally recover if you are doing an activity out of duty or necessity. Imagine, for example, you are making your kids’ school lunch. If you are creating something new and are motivated by of the joy of creativity, then you are probably experiencing the two recovery dimensions of mastery and control. If it feels like a slog, it’s not a recovery activity.
  • Physical recovery activities are especially beneficial, and even more so in a natural environment. It doesn’t matter if you keep it local – in your garden or neighbourhood park – or go farther afield.
  • Leisure activities that include socialising are particularly good for recovery, so consider activities or hobbies where you interact with others to learn or share experiences.
  • Finally, consider combining activities that allow you to boost the benefits across all aspects of optimal recovery. For example, going on a nature walk with friends means you can experience control in planning the activity, psychological detachment and mastery during it, and relaxation afterwards.

As our workplaces change, and as organisations adjust to digital tech innovations and artificially intelligent co-workers, it’s more important than ever that human employees are supported in creating opportunities to recover well outside of work to bring our refreshed, best selves back to work.

Read the original article in NZ Business Magazine

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