Does lasting success come from “the grind”, “hustling”, or “going above and beyond”? Although hard work is necessary for success, it needs to be paired with rest. Numerous scientific studies have demonstrated that when people take time to recover from work, they experience not only increased overall wellbeing, but also improved job performance, “good citizen behavior” towards co-workers, and engagement.1
In fact, famous business leaders such as Arianna Huffington, the co-founder of the Huffington Post and founder/CEO of Thrive Global, have advocated for the importance of recovery and wellbeing as a strategy for success and called the 24/7 work-mentality a recipe for burnout.2 Even some countries such as Portugal and France have recognized the need for recovery from work and have promoted laws that forbid contacting employees outside of work hours.3
What is recovery from work?
The term “recovery” in a business context refers to individuals recouping from the strains of their jobs. When someone is recovering from work, that person is using time outside of working hours to unwind and restore energy.4 Recovering can vary in duration and location. It can range from a respite (i.e., going on a 2-week vacation to Italy), to a leisurely evening at home after work (i.e., watching a favorite Netflix show), to a microbreak (e.g., napping during the workday for 20 minutes).
Ben & Jerry’s reportedly encourages employee onsite naps, Patagonia posts surf reports to promote mid-day surfing breaks, and Reddit gives employees an allowance for fun experiences such as vacations or concerts.5 In addition to company practices in the business world, management researchers have performed scientific studies about the topic and typically look at it in two ways.
What are recovery activities and experiences?
The first approach is to look at the activities that individuals can pursue when they are not working. These activities have two types, namely low-duty and high-duty activities. Low-duty ones include reading a favorite romance novel, working on the car in the garage for fun, or doing an on-demand Pilates workout. High-duty activities are ones such as attending a friend’s birthday party or doing the evening routine with the kids. Typically, low-duty activities are more conducive to recovering from work.7
The second approach is to think about what is going on in people’s minds during recovery (i.e., the psychological states of individuals while recovering). Researchers have identified four categories.8 First, relaxation is about experiencing a feeling of calm and an escape from the overwhelm of social or even intellectual demands. Examples are a hike in nature with the family or resting on the couch listening to classical music. Second, detachment is not thinking about work. It sounds easier said than done! Truly detaching means physically and psychologically distancing oneself from work and not even replying to a quick email. Third, mastery means growth. Individuals may learn a new song on the guitar or how to cook a fun Paleo recipe. Lastly, control is having the autonomy to decide one’s own schedule. This can include planning a weekend tennis match with friends when it’s convenient and choosing to not attend optional work training. People tend to like certain activities, and this can even change day to day; experiences can be pursued simultaneously, so there is not a one size fits all.
Why do those who need to recover from work the most not do it?
It might seem like recovery is for those who do not enjoy their jobs and need a break. This is false! Those who experience high job stressors and would benefit from recovery are often the least likely to recover; this is called the “recovery paradox”.9 For instance, healthcare workers during the COVID-19 pandemic may have found their jobs meaningful but it was also impossible to rest. They reported severe burnout, anxiety, and depression, and many ended up quitting their jobs.10 Entrepreneurs are also frequently challenged with the recovery paradox. The nature of the job is uncertain. In addition, although entrepreneurs enjoy autonomy, the strong personal identification makes it even more difficult to just stop working and make time to rest.11 Some founders may find themselves up still at 4 AM working on a business plan or going weeks and weeks without a break. This is not sustainable!
In conclusion, it is important to recognize that recovery is needed for lasting success. Even those who love their jobs need to rest.
Baer, D. (2014). Arianna Huffington Explains Why You Need More Than Money And Power To Be Successful. Business Insider. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/arianna-huffington-on-wellbeing-and-success-2014-3.
Ollove, M. (2022). Health Worker Shortage Forces States to Scramble. Pew Research. Retrieved from https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2022/03/25/health-worker-shortage-forces-states-to-scramble.
Phelps, S. (2019). Google, Ben & Jerry's, Cisco And Zappos Show How Napping Is One Way To Health And Happiness At Work. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/stanphelps/2019/09/18/google-ben-jerrys-cisco-and-zappos-show-how-napping-is-one-way-to-health-and-happiness-at-work/?sh=783158bd2110.
Robinson, B. (2022). It’s Becoming Illegal If Employers Contact Employees After Work, New Research Shows. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2022/03/01/its-becoming-illegal-if-employers-contact-employees-after-work-new-research-shows/?sh=1f892f2b568a.
Sonnentag, S. (2001). Work, recovery activities, and individual well-being: A diary study. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. 6:196–210
Sonnentag, S. (2018). The recovery paradox: Portraying the complex interplay between job stressors, lack of recovery, and poor well-being. Research in Organizational Behavior, 38, 169-185.
Sonnentag, S., Cheng, B. H., & Parker, S. L. (2022). Recovery from work: Advancing the field toward the future. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 9, 33-60.
Sonnentag, S., Venz, L., & Casper, A. (2017). Advances in recovery research: What have we learned? What should be done next? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 22(3), 365.
Williamson, A. J., Gish, J. J., & Stephan, U. (2021). Let’s focus on solutions to entrepreneurial ill-being! Recovery interventions to enhance entrepreneurial well-being. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 45(6), 1307-1338.
 Sonnentag et al. (2022)
 Baer (2014)
 Robinson (2022)
 Sonnentag et al. (2017)
 Phelps (2019)
 Sonnentag (2001)
 Sonnentag (2001)
 Sonnentag & Fritz (2007)
 Sonnentag (2018)
 Ollove (2022)
 Williamson et al. (2021)