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Leaders who disconnect lead better, study shows

July 17, 2023

The balance between personal and professional routines seems increasingly important in the corporate world. A study led by American scientists suggests that managers who “switch off” completely after work to dedicate themselves to their favorite activities are seen as more efficient by the teams they lead.

Led by scientists from the University of Florida, the University of Arizona and Florida State University, the investigation assessed leaders’ ability to disconnect from work when at home the night before and their level of energy and how strongly they identified as a leader in the morning at work. Employees rated their bosses on their ability to lead their teams.

The study found that on nights when leaders were able to completely turn off and not think about work, they were more energized the next day, and they felt better connected to their leadership role at work. On those same days, their followers reported that these leaders were more effective in motivating them and in guiding their work.

“The simple message of this study is that if you want to be an effective leader at work, leave work at work,” said Klodiana Lanaj, a professor in UF’s Warrington College of Business who led the research. “This is particularly important for inexperienced leaders, as they seem to benefit the most from recovery experiences when at home. Leaders have challenging jobs as they juggle their own role responsibilities with the needs of their followers, and they need to recover from the demands of the leadership role.”

How to improve work-life balance

The study didn’t ask managers how they relaxed at home, but other research points to well-known ways to unwind and reset: exercising, socializing with friends, spending quality time with family, or engaging with TV shows, books or hobbies. What helps one person leave work at the office might not help another. The key, Lanaj says, is to find the methods that let you decompress from work as much as possible.

“You can start small,” Lanaj said. “Say, ‘After this time in the evening, I won’t check my work email.’ See where that takes you.”

Source: American Psychological Association | University of Florida