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Mental Health in the Working World

The ability to distance oneself mentally from work plays a central role in being able to recover at the end of the working day. However, what is the impact on the mental health of employees if they are unable to unwind?

Detachment means achieving both a physical and mental distance from work. This takes place during the rest period between two working days or between shifts, and thus plays a central role in the recreation of employees. The notion of detachment has different meanings in the literature. The act of achieving a mental distance from one’s work, for example, refers to the time frame, the dimensionality and the valence.

As regards the time frame, an inability to unwind can involve thinking of work-related issues after work. These work-related issues may lie in the past if, e.g., someone mulls over what happened the previous working day. They can also take place during rest periods in the present, for example, in case of business calls at the weekend. Or they are future-oriented, such as thoughts on work assignments that have to be finished the next day.

Regarding dimensionality, the concept of unwinding from work focusses on achieving mental detachment from work-related thoughts. Other approaches, such as rumination or reflecting actively on one’s work focus exactly on the opposite: mental engagement with work.

With regard to valence, the inability to distance oneself from one’s work may be expressed by employees having neutral, positive or negative thoughts about their work.

Current state of knowledge

A scoping review by the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (BAuA) summarises the state of scientific knowledge on detachment. The review considers the correlations between detachment, (mental) health and well-being. It also describes its relationship with motivation, job satisfaction and performance. There is also a focus on the effect key working conditions have on detachment. In addition to this, the scoping review reveals research gaps and discusses options for actively influencing this factor.

The project "Mental Health in the Working World"

The scoping review on detachment is part of the project "Mental Health in the Working World – determining the current state of scientific evidence". The project assesses mental load factors by means of the state of scientific knowledge.

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