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The Importance of Recovering After a Work Day to Make Employees Happy

The Importance of Recovering After a Work Day to Make Employees Happy

Encouraging recovery can make employees happy, create a more productive work environment and ultimately improve staff retention

Want to make your employees happy? Well then it’s important to take two minutes to read this article.. In the last decade the term ‘work-life’ balance has become very popular especially for those talking about ensuring happy employees in the workplace. Everyone strives towards it, are told how important it is, and does their best  to figure out what mechanisms work. There is no one-size-fits-all for all employees though. Calling it work-life balance appears paradoxical, almost like two opposing poles; work is life and life is work. Perhaps it’s about balancing life with its various domains. The term ‘work-life balance’ per se has no standard definition and means different things to different people. So, how do we begin to engage with work-life balance with so many unknown variables?


An aspect of work-life balance that I’ll write about, as it’s frequently overlooked or ignored, is the concept of recovery during and after work. Often, we associate recovery as the process of getting healthy after an illness, and link it to the opposite of fatigue or burnout. But we seldom view recovery as a much-needed process during a working day as well as part of recuperating from a full day’s work. Professor Stevan E. Hobfoll, from the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center in America defines recovery as the replenishment of mental and physiological resources used for the external demands placed on us.

In a work environment we experience two types of fatigue:

  • Physical fatigue – is associated with hard labour and muscular aches where appropriate rest time during the day is often adequate to rejuvenate the body.
  • Mental fatigue – is linked to cognitive thinking, planning, problem solving and attending meetings. A short rest period, as would be adequate in physical fatigue, is not enough here.

And that is where the challenge begins. We need longer and more frequent breaks in the mental fatigue mode to uphold our stamina and energy, but seldom take the necessary breaks.

Short breaks can lead to more motivated employees a more productive team and a happy workplace.

Furthermore, we are able to distinguish between internal and external recovery. Internal recovery refers to the short, scheduled breaks we take between work tasks to shift our attention or even purposefully distract us. We recognise that our mental stamina is temporarily depleted and we shift tasks, take short breaks, chat with colleagues or engage in a completely different mental activity. The short breaks delay our fatigue but are not enough to recover from the day’s mental fatigue. External recovery provides us with that much-needed rest and restoration time between working days, weekends, pubic holidays and holiday time. Working after hours cancels out our entire recovery time, and we go to work the next day, maybe with a reduced work load and fewer emails in our inbox, but with lower energy, and reduced performance and productivity levels.

Healthy Employees are Happy Employees

From a health point of view, getting enough rest and recovery time reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, sleep problems, fatigue and burnout. That being said, activities that positively influence and assist with the recovery process are sports and physical activities, connecting with friends, performing household activities and caring for your children. The sports and physical activities are shown to have the most significant effect, which is understandable because of the additional adrenalin and happy hormones that we feel afterwards. But there is more to why sports and physical activities win first prize, and that is because our brain can’t engage in the activity and simultaneously ruminate over a work situation. It’s one or the other which is fantastic for our brain to be able to get some forced downtime.

Allowing your employees to get into a rhythm will improve team motivation and employee happiness.

The final thing that I want to write about is the relevance of our circadian rhythm, our biological body clock. By nature some of us are early morning risers, while others are night owls and peak later during the day. Working with our biological energy system influences our entire human system from our hormones, body temperature, and sleep patterns, to our insulin and glucose cycle and moods and emotions. In short, it determines when we are physically and psychologically at our best. Unfortunately, working life doesn’t always allow us to work predominantly from our best performance state, and we often have to demonstrate peak performance when our body isn’t in that mode. We’ll need extra energy to think harder, stay alert, pay attention to detail and remain connected with people, with the end result that in the evening our energy is more depleted than normal. Our brains have used up all the energy possible, and we need to engage in additional recovery, rest and restoration time to return to a homeostatic balanced mode. Recommended techniques are for you to engage in down-time practises such as yoga, meditation or reading, and refraining from any stimulating activities.

By now you may have noticed that your recovery processes during the day and after work are actually ongoing. They require your continuous conscious and self-regulated attention. The downside to not recovering enough is that ruminating thoughts, negative emotions, disturbed attention span, fatigue and distorted sleep creep into our lives. Our health and overall well-being levels drop severely. I hope that with this article you are inspired to review and amend, where necessary, your recovery process between work days.

Want to read more about how to make employees happy and motivated? Click Here to find out about 5 Ways to Motivate Employees


Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualising stress. American Psychologist, Vol. 44, 513-524.

Zijlstra, F. R., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). After work is done: Psychological perspectives on recovery from work . European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 15(2), 129-138.

Zijlstra, F. R., Cropley, M., & Rydstedt, F. R. (2014). From Recovery to Regulation. An attempt to reconceptualise ‘recovery from work.

Cause of misery at work #1 Co-workers

As personal coaching consultants, we know that people work to earn a living, to support their families, to grow and develop, and to fulfill their passions. Work is what adults do in the world and there is little room to avoid working as a grown up. More than half of workers are unhappy at work and don’t enjoy what they do, the people they work with, or the company they work for. Think about it… that means that every second person you walk past in the morning is unhappy. Sometimes it’s noticeable, but not always. Are you part of the 50% of unhappy employees?

What it costs if your employees don’t have happiness at the workplace

Annually, unhappy employees cost companies millions of Rands in productivity and likewise it costs employees in the form of stress, burnout, poor health and relationships. The downside is felt by both the company and the employee; it is an overarching lose-lose situation.

What really makes people unhappy at work? The natural reaction is usually money, but you’ll be surprised when you hear that it’s not correct. We have established three causes of misery and will address each one in the following series of blogs. The three causes are:
1. Co-workers
2. Managers
3. Tools and Systems

In this week’s blog we analyse the first misery – Co-workers.

Co-workers are other employees that you work with. They are people with whom you share responsibilities, perform tasks with or are needed to complete an outcome. Working with them cannot be avoided. Our co-workers cause us misery when:
• They are negative about anything and everything at work.
• Conflict arises which is not addressed. Conflict makes us miserable and at a super-fast pace. It preoccupies our mind, our mood and our performance and consumes all of our thinking which leaves no space for anything else. It makes us feel uncomfortable and uncertain how to behave. It is a dilemma!
• We appoint other managers or leaders to resolve the people challenges who do not have the team’s / co-worker’s best interests at heart. They worsen the misery!

To improve happiness in the workplace, we need to focus on:

To resolve the misery among co-workers we need to focus on:
• Communicating with each other frequently, sincerely and honestly.
• Resolving conflict, which includes the verbal conflict and less noticeable silent conflict.
• Collaborating and working with one another; and not against each other.
• Rewarding team success, not individuals. Competition amongst co-workers is beneficial and necessary, however it is important to find the ideal balance of collaboration and positive competition.
How much do your co-workers make your work life miserable? Are you prepared to continue paying for the cost of this misery? It is very likely that other co-workers are just as miserable as you are. Take the first positive step to end the misery by talking to each other and establishing what is in the way!

For more information about personal coaching and happiness at the workplace, visit the 4Seeds website.