Psychologically Detaching Despite High Workloads: The Role of Attentional Processes

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Abstract

Although psychologically detaching from work is beneficial for employee well-being and productivity, heavy workloads can interfere with detachment. Drawing from the self-regulation literature, we expand the stressor-detachment model to explore 2 attentional factors that shape the workload-detachment relationship: dispositional self-control—defined as a trait ability to regulate thoughts and behavior—and a daily planning intervention designed to direct attention away from incomplete work goals. Overall, we hypothesized that the ability to control and redirect attention is crucial for detaching from high workloads. Using an experimental daily diary design with 103 employees, we replicated previous results that daily workload is negatively associated with daily psychological detachment. However, this relationship was nonsignificant for individuals high on dispositional self-control and those that completed the planning intervention. We also observed a 3-way interaction, where the planning intervention was only effective for individuals low on dispositional self-control because employees high on self-control were naturally better at detaching from high workloads. Overall, these results illustrate the theoretical and practical utility of an attention-based perspective on detachment processes, including a simple intervention for helping individuals detach at home despite high workloads.

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