Explora Articles Without disconnection, there is no connection


March 18, 2024 9 min

Without disconnection, there is no connection

Although it may sound paradoxical, companies need to accept that the key to sustainable work engagement lies in people's ability to deliberately distance themselves from their jobs.

Santi Garcia

A content by Santi Garcia


“Employee engagement” is a metric many companies use to measure the effectiveness of their actions in the field of people management. However, as often happens in this area, HR professionals from different companies and diverse consulting firms do not always use this term with the same meaning, nor do they measure this variable in the same way. In the academic world, however, there is greater alignment. Here, we can highlight the definition by Schaufeli, Bakker, and Salanova (2006), according to which engagement is a positive and fulfilling mental state related to work characterized by vigor, dedication, and absorption, where the trait “vigor” is characterized by high levels of energy and mental resilience while working, the willingness to invest effort in one’s work, and persistence even in the face of difficulties; “dedication” refers to being strongly involved in one’s work and experiencing a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride, and challenge; and “absorption” is characterized by being fully concentrated and happily engrossed in one’s work, whereby time passes quickly and one has difficulties with detaching oneself from work. 

The problem is that having a very absorbing job also has a dark side. When people are absorbed by their work, time passes faster, but it also becomes difficult for them to distance themselves from their work activity, which can lead to negative consequences. In this regard, in 2021, a group of researchers led by Nina Junker published an article with the results of a study in which they analyzed to what extent work engagement can end up being exhausting for people who experience this “mental state” in their jobs. The authors found that people with a high level of work engagement are more likely than less involved people to recognize potential stressors at work, interpret them as relevant to their work progress, and be more motivated and willing to invest resources to overcome them. The downside of this is that, ultimately, it can lead to a state of exhaustion. That is, although work engagement can be interpreted as an indicator of current well-being, as many companies do, it can also end up leading to future discomfort, since this mental state can become stressful and exhausting for the worker, and, finally, negatively affect their performance.

Psychological detachment from work is key to reducing this risk. This concept refers to the ability of employees to mentally distance themselves from their work obligations and concerns during their free time, something vital to maintaining a healthy balance between work and personal life, reducing burnout, and facilitating stress recovery.

But, how to achieve this psychological detachment from work concerns?

A key aspect is to avoid work-related activities outside of working hours. However, stopping reading and responding to messages outside of hours is not enough, particularly when it comes to knowledge work. We may not read or respond to any messages or emails during our free time and still keep thinking about the problems we have faced or will have to face in our work. A good formula is to occupy our minds with other things that have nothing to do with our work activity, although the responsibility for this detachment is not only on the workers. For example, leaders can positively influence the disconnection of people on their teams by setting an example and showing that they are the first to disconnect, in the same way that HR can also do a lot in this regard by implementing measures that promote a healthy balance between work and personal life. Among these measures, companies can include some of the lines of work that Agolli and Holtz (2023) have identified from a systematic review of the academic literature on this issue. Among others, managing work stressors, promoting supportive social environments, adequate workload management, promoting leisure activities, and training in boundary management.

The thing is that, although at first glance it may seem the opposite, psychological detachment from work is particularly important for people with high levels of engagement. We might think that people who show this “mental state” do not need to distance themselves from their work since for them it is a positive experience, so there is no problem if their work, or the time they spend thinking about professional issues, extends beyond their working hours. However, there is evidence that employees with high levels of engagement benefit from psychological detachment from work even more than less involved and absorbed people. In part, this is because the stressors and negative experiences at work are more significant for people with high levels of engagement, and because being very absorbed by their work, the stressful situations they face also absorb them a lot, often too much. That’s why it’s so important for people with high levels of engagement to psychologically distance themselves from their jobs once their workday is over. If they don’t, the probability increases that the stressors they face in their jobs extend their negative effects also during non-working hours, affect their performance, and even their level of engagement.

The relationship between engagement and “psychological detachment from work” is, therefore, a paradoxical one and we need to treat it as such. On the one hand, engagement refers to a positive mental state of workers that employers pursue since it is associated with greater productivity, creativity, and job satisfaction. However, for this mental state to be sustainable over time, psychological detachment from work becomes crucial. This detachment, which involves the ability of employees to mentally disconnect from their work tasks during their free time, does not mean a reduction in the vigor with which people work, that they are less motivated, or less dedicated. On the contrary, it allows employees to recharge energies, reduce stress, and return to work revitalized. The great challenge for modern organizations is to add this new paradox to the many others they need to coexist with today and to worry about cultivating work contexts where the engagement and well-being of employees nourish each other.


Agolli, A., & Holtz, B. C. (2023). Facilitating detachment from work: A systematic review, evidence-based recommendations, and guide for future research. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 28(3), 129.

Junker, N. M., Kaluza, A. J., Häusser, J. A., Mojzisch, A., van Dick, R., Knoll, M., & Demerouti, E. (2021). Is work engagement exhausting? The longitudinal relationship between work engagement and exhaustion using latent growth modeling. Applied psychology, 70(2), 788-815.

Schaufeli, W. B., Bakker, A. B., & Salanova, M. (2006). The measurement of work engagement with a short questionnaire: A cross-national study. Educational and psychological measurement, 66(4), 701-716.”


Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

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