Working Hard or Hardly Working

How detachment makes marketers smarter

By Greg Swan

5 tips to stay motivated


Before the economic downturn and the rise of social media, the term "workaholic" was a negative label reserved for corporate crazies who stayed at the office late, worked on the weekends and checked email constantly. Those attributes are laughingly commonplace today, when having and keeping a job is a struggle and mobile tech puts the office in your pocket. 

Marketers are expected to be available and all-knowing, and frankly, turning off from work seems impossible – even counter-productive. Whether it's the latest meme, a campaign launch or the current trending topic, brands and clients expect their marketing teams to be au fait on all things at all times. This is a client service industry, after all.

But what if never turning off is actually counterproductive? 

"In our culture, it's always a badge of honor to be busy," says John Tauer, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of St. Thomas. "But even with a healthy amount of stress, our bodies aren't designed to endure stress on an ongoing basis without breaks."

According to a new correlational study from the University of Mannheim, "Psychological Detachment From Work During Leisure Time: The Benefits of Mentally Disengaging From Work," employees may doing damage to their careers and clients by embracing the overload culture. 

To be "psychologically detached" from work, one needs to refrain from job-related tasks. The study found that mentally switching off the office, including emails, texts, social networks and all the trappings of a marketing professional's way of life, actually improves performance. In short, if you want to have the best idea in tomorrow's brainstorm, don't even think about it tonight.  

But marketers shouldn't take that as a blanket excuse to fully check out. The same study showed that both low and high levels of detachment during off-work hours were associated with poor job performance. High levels of detachment required too much ramp-up time when returning to work. 

"Some people naturally excel under stressful conditions, and there is a competitive advantage to working harder," says Professor Tauer. "However, there is also a clear, cognitive benefit to taking short breaks from work." 

So put down that smartphone tonight, but don't leave it at the office. 

employee detachment