Americans spend the majority of their waking hours at work. Over a lifetime, that can equal around 90,000 hours spent working. As if a 40-hour workweek wasn’t enough, employees also can’t seem to leave the office. American workers stay late an average of 2.5 days per week and often bring their work home. But as millennials flood the workforce, drastic changes are taking place – one of which is a shift toward a better work-life balance.
The problem is … technology has made us constantly available. It’s more difficult to separate work from play (or just downtime) when emails are rolling in and to-do reminders are popping up. New Yorkers may not have to worry about separating work from home if a new bill is passed, but the rest of the American workforce will have to make the difficult switch to “offline.”
So how are employees detaching from work and easing away stress after a long workday? Taking the edge off after work used to mean mixing a drink or pouring a glass of wine, but with Netflix, yoga classes, and even adult coloring books, the relaxation options today seem endless. So we surveyed over 1,000 employees about their stress levels, job satisfaction, and wind down activities to find out. Keep reading to see what we uncovered.
Millennials may be pushing the hardest for work-life balance, but when it comes to putting the idea into action, the younger generation struggles. While 58% of baby boomers reported transitioning from work to home at the end of the day without difficulty, only 36.2% of millennials said the same. Instead, the “burnout generation” was the most likely to label the transition as “somewhat difficult.”
The same trend occurred regarding thinking about work. While the majority of baby boomers took the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach without any difficulty, less than 30% of millennials did the same. Instead, millennials were more likely than older generations to say it was somewhat difficult to stop thinking about work. Achieving a work-life balance may be difficult for millennials due to their increased use of technology, which keeps them tethered to the office. And while some people say millennials are lazy with little to no worth ethic, others perceive them to be workaholics.
Considering many workers struggle with job-related stress and hate their jobs, how does this factor into their after-work habits? High stress and job satisfaction typically don’t mesh well, but employees with the highest job satisfaction and stress shared a habit – both groups reported disabling work-related alerts and notifications when leaving work.
Employees may have high job satisfaction because they turn off their notifications, while those with more stress may turn off their notifications to find relief. Regardless of the reason, they may be onto something – in addition to muted work-related notifications improving work-life balance, turning off all notifications can reduce stress and boost productivity.
A typical workweek doesn’t leave much time to do anything else. Mornings are spent getting ready for and commuting to the office, while evenings are spent eating dinner and preparing for bed. Throw kids into the mix, and the time before and after work all but vanishes. Given the numerous sources of time constraints, 55.1% of American workers said they typically had less time to relax after work than they needed. They reported having just 2.2 hours of relaxation time, on average, between leaving work and going to bed, excluding time spent on chores or child care.
But those mere 2.2 hours are dependent on leaving the office as soon as the clock hits quitting time – a task that is becoming increasingly difficult to do. Americans stay late at work half of the time, and the majority of employees bring their work home. The more often employees brought work home, or even checked their work email, the higher their job stress was. And this can have serious consequences for people’s physical and mental health.
Clocking in extra hours can increase the risk of alcohol consumption, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, in addition to depression, having a stroke, and even developing cancer. While research has found a six-hour day or 30-hour workweek to be the sweet spot for work-life balance, it can be difficult to change your boss’s or even society’s mind. But separating work from home life can be a step in the right direction.
Once ties have been cut, and work is no longer on employees’ minds, what do they do to relax? Almost 81% of Americans tuned out by tuning into TV. Binge watching may be all the rage, but watching TV too close to bedtime can actually have negative consequences, especially if the show is a genre of high tension. Despite the feel-good effects binge watchers experience, they’re more likely to have higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, ultimately taking them further from their goal of relaxing. In the end, it’s all about moderation.
Other, seemingly safer routes Americans took were reading and listening to music. Scrolling at social media was the relaxation habit of 42% of people, but exercising closely followed this. While less common, some employees even played board games and cards. An additional 6.7% of employees reported coloring to relax – and this trend brings numerous benefits: the exploration of feelings, fostering of self-awareness, reduction of anxiety, and an increase in self-esteem.
Interestingly, the post-work relaxation activities that were the least common happened to be associated with the highest job satisfaction. People reporting the highest job satisfaction relaxed by volunteering, talking to a roommate, and playing cards after work, while those with the lowest satisfaction turned to alcohol, video games, and venting about their workday. The link between stress and alcohol has been a long-researched topic, with numerous findings showing that drinking to relax compounds the problem, only leading to medical and psychological problems and an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
On a related note, people with the highest average job stress were the most likely to vent about their workday, followed by volunteering and turning to recreational drugs. However, just as drinking and other substances won’t make work more satisfying, neither will venting about it.
While talking about your feelings and problems is cathartic and necessary, negatively venting about work can spark drama and even make the person feel worse. Straying from venting doesn’t mean employees have to be stuck with unhappy feelings, though. Writing their feelings down, taking a break to get some fresh air, or seeking counsel from a professional are all healthier and more effective ways to deal with stress.
Over the last four decades, the number of hours worked each year has increased by 7.8%. With one-third of Americans working at least 45 hours per week, they often have to make sacrifices in their personal lives to accommodate a demanding work schedule. Nearly 53% of employees reported sacrificing time with a loved one to work longer hours in the past year. On average, they sacrificed time with family and friends 5.4 days each month. And that’s not the only thing people reported sacrificing; just over 60% of people said work had negatively impacted their sleep in the last year. More than 42% reported having difficulty falling asleep due to thinking about work, and 27.3% actively chose to forgo sleep to work longer.
While the CDC recommends a minimum of seven hours of sleep, more than one-third of American adults don’t clock enough zzz’s, and their work life may be the biggest reason. Even if employees are not consciously choosing work over sleep and time with loved ones, work stress can carry over into their personal lives, bringing turmoil to relationships and keeping them awake at night.
There’s no denying that Americans are overworked with their eight-hour-plus workdays, less than seven hours of sleep, and little time to relax. But for those who can disconnect from the office, it’s all about sitting down and watching TV or venting. While the most common relaxation activity might not be the best, it does provide some relief from daily work stressors.
However, when the mere two hours of relaxation doesn’t completely counterbalance job stress and lack of satisfaction, it may be time to find a more fulfilling position. At SimplyHired, you can browse millions of jobs at the touch a button and easily apply to the ones that catch your eye. To learn more, visit us online today.
We surveyed 1,010 current employees about how they try to relax after work and cope with the demands of the modern workplace. Respondents had to report being a current hourly or salaried employee or self-employed to qualify for the survey.
Respondents were 50.8% men and 49.2% women. The average age of respondents was 36.6 with a standard deviation of 10.7.
All respondents answered questions from both the job stress validated scale by Eran Vigoda-Gadot and Ilan Talmud and the job satisfaction scale developed by Iverson et al. Respondents were scored according to the documentation for both scales, and both sets of data were scaled using a normal cumulative distribution function.
Parts of this project break down data by generation. Respondents were grouped into generations based on their reported age. These groups were based on the standards laid out by the Pew Research Center.
Respondents were asked how much time in minutes they typically had to relax between the time they left work and when they went to bed, excluding time spent on chores and child care. The average relaxation time was calculated to exclude outliers. This was done by finding the initial average and the standard deviation. The standard deviation was multiplied by two and added to the initial average. Any data point above that sum was then excluded, and a new average was calculated.
All respondents completed a job stress validated scale and a job satisfaction validated scale. Based on their responses, each respondent was given a calculated score for job stress and job satisfaction. The data was scaled using a normal cumulative distribution function. In our final visualization, the data are represented as percentiles based on the average score of participants reporting particular responses to questions.
The data we’re presenting are self-reported. While steps were taken to minimize the impact of this form of data gathering, there are some issues with self-reported data. These can include exaggeration and selective memory. For example, respondents were asked to report various monthly frequencies, such as how many days per month they brought work home or checked their work communications after hours. People could have exaggerated the number of days these things occurred or based their responses on an atypical month that was prominent in their memory.
With a booming economy, technology that puts work in the palm of our hands, and the inevitable stress of being a working professional, it can be difficult to disconnect and relax. If you know someone who could benefit from this study, please feel free to share it for any noncommercial reuse. Maybe they’ll be inspired to pick up one of the after-work activities associated with higher job satisfaction or lower job stress. Just be sure to link back here so that people can see the entire study and our contributors can get credit for their work.