Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why You Keep Bringing Workplace Stress Home With You

There's an obvious source that is overlooked by most research

Many individuals and couples suffer when they bring stressful, debilitating workday experiences home with them. A new study provides some information about what can help. Its findings are useful, but in a narrow way: They are limited by a significant omission that – unaddressed – fails to stem the impact of workplace stress upon home life. Unfortunately, such research is too often typical of the kind of academic studies that ignore the realities of everyday experience.

Let me explain: Researchers from the University of Central Florida found that exercise and sleep are the keys to keeping employees from bringing work stress and frustrations home. The study, reported in this summary from the University, focused in particular at abusive behavior at home in relation to workplace experiences. They found that employees who engaged in more walking at work, and had more sleep, were less likely to be abusive towards their partners at home. That is, according to researcher Shannon Taylor, “…employees who are mistreated at work are likely to engage in similar behaviors at home. If they’ve been belittled or insulted by a supervisor, they tend to vent their frustration on members of their household. Our study shows that happens because they’re too tired to regulate their behavior.”

Really? Because they’re too tired? Of course, exercise and sleep are important for everyone to sustain and improve health – especially in these times of stress and uncertainty in all realms of life. Corporations are starting to take note, as well. But as a solution to the debilitating impact of workplace stress? Not so much. The findings from that study focus on one of its symptoms, but not its source.

That is, the wellspring of most employee distress and dissatisfaction in our organizations is the management culture and leadership practices that are negative and destructive, either directly or indirectly. They include practices and environments those that are abusive, psychologically unhealthy, unsupportive of career development, too limiting of opportunities for continued learning; and a host of other features.

I’ve described in The New Resilience many examples – such as dealing with the impact of unhealthy management practices and the emotional damage that results; the sources of negative views about management and work that surveys regularly find; and many related issues whose origin are found in unhealthy management and leadership. The latter continue to be implicated in the variety of emotional and physical ailments people experience in their workplace and careers.

Regarding the current study, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, note that it was conducted with MBA students – a population whose daily experiences, while stressful in their own way, are not the same as those encountered by entry level, mid-level or senior career workers in organizations. So the researchers’ conclusions — “burning an additional 587 calories can reduce the harmful effects of mistreatment and help prevent it from carrying into the home…(such as) an hour of swimming or a brisk 90-minute walk” — are healthy practices, to be sure. But they don’t address the fact that healthier organizations will help people experience more positive, supportive, and meaningful career and work experiences to begin with.

Progressive Impact

Center for Progressive Development

© 2017 Douglas LaBier

More from Douglas LaBier Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today