Practical Tips for Tackling the Daily Grind

Jan 17, 2018
As Featured In 
Journal of Organizational Behavior

Can We Undo the Effects of the Daily Grind?

For many of us, our working days are spent hunting for solutions to challenging conundrums, engaging in complex conversations and often making tough decisions. And each of those activities depletes personal resources, according to research.

Scholars call it “a kind of chronic day to day seepage.” Non-scholars often call it “the daily grind.”

That depletion, or grind, can be bad for business, so in recent years, researchers have tested various intervention methods aimed at increasing people’s psychological, cognitive and physiological resources.

Working with two co-authors, Trevor Foulk, associate professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, evaluated six of those methods, weighing their potential benefits and costs.

Their findings, published recently in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, highlight some potential new practices for organizations and a potential pathway for new research.

The researchers looked at the literature on six widely studied interventions designed to build personal resources to try to determine whether the interventions can be successfully adapted for use in organizations.

The focus is on six interventions that, Foulk says, “are so small and so easy to do that anyone can do them.” They don’t require a lot of resources, he adds, but they can have a meaningful impact.

Expressive writing: The research reviewed suggested that this form of emotional disclosure, in which participants perform several quick, cathartic writing sessions over consecutive days, can result in small, but long-lasting benefits.

Social sharing or capitalization: Positive social sharing, or capitalization, is what happens when we tell others about positive events that have happened and it’s quite common in everyday life, the researchers say. It’s also been found to increase positive affect, happiness, positive emotions, life satisfaction and vitality.

Work breaks: Leisure time between periods of work can build physiological and cognitive resources as well, with effects that vary in duration based on the length of the break, the researchers say. And it almost doesn’t matter whether it’s a microbreak or a lunch break in the middle of the workday, or even a longer vacation that spans weeks, as long as the break halts the ongoing resource depletion by “pausing working demands,” and includes alternative activities that rebuild personal resources. Breaks can also boost cognitive liveliness, reduce strain or injury. Those good effects are temporary, however, with the duration of results being linked to the duration of the break, so the benefits from a short work break may last only a few minutes. And that nice, long vacation? The benefits usually will have faded within a few weeks.

Positive psychology interventions: While there are several types of these types of intervention, they consist mostly of short writing exercises deployed over the course of a few weeks or several months. Some studies have shown increases in psychological resources after just a few days. The articles reviewed found evidence that some interventions take effect over longer periods, with effects lasting as long as six months.

Mindfulness: This practice, which has roots in Buddhist traditions, involves attention to the present moment. The interventions — which can span weeks or just minutes — have seen a recent surge in use in medical and organizational settings. Research shows that mindfulness interventions can build all three types of personal resources — psychological, cognitive and physiological.

Nature exposure: Whether viewing nature, being in the presence of nature or being actively involved with nature, the articles reviewed provided evidence that mindfulness can help to build cognitive, psychological and physiological resources. “The built environments people encounter on a day‐to‐day basis, and the task activities that people perform in them, consume resources by demanding vigilance and sustained directed attention, thereby causing stress and fatigue,” the study says. “Being in nature removes people from these ongoing demands and exposes them to engaging and aesthetically pleasing stimuli.”

“Evidence that these resources can be built through simple interventions is promising,” the paper says. “Although the effects are relatively small, they are meaningful in light of the often minimal nature of the interventions.”

Read more: Building Personal Resources Through Interventions: An Integrative Review is featured in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

About the Author(s)

Trevor Foulk

Dr. Trevor Foulk is an Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida, and his Bachelors of Business Administration from the University of Massachusetts.

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