Is recovery an effective action lever?

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Légende: Recommendation of our expert

Expert adviser:

associate professor, Human Resource Management,
Université de Sherbrooke


Stéphanie BÉRUBÉ, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Maude VILLENEUVE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Rébecca LEFEBVRE, research professional, Université de Sherbrooke
Marie-Hélène GILBERT, assistant professor, Management, Université Laval
Michel PÉRUSSE, adjunct professor, Université de Sherbrooke

This initiative was made possible through a collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke.

Many organizations would like to promote their employees’ work engagement. Can recovery be an effective action lever?

To answer this question, we interpreted Kühnel and colleagues’ research, published in 2017, which aimed to better understand the connections between two recovery methods (sleep and short work breaks) and employees’ work engagement.

What do we mean by : Recovery?

Recovery happens when the employee refrains from adopting behaviours that drain their energy resources and self-­regulation abilities*. The employee can recover temporarily when they are no longer exposed to sources of stress as part of their work. There will be a return to normal when these resources are restored.

*Definition translated from Beal, D. J., Weiss, H. M., Barros, E., & MacDermid, S. M. (2005). An episodic process model of affective influences on performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 90, 10541068. doi:10.1037/0021-­‐9010.90.6.1054 (p. 1058).


Energy resources: “the level of energy that the person has at a given moment”.

Self-regulation: “an attempt by the individual to control or modify his natural behaviors or mental states”.


Work engagement is defined by an employee’s high level of concentration, intense absorption and high energy in relation to their task*.

Definition adapted from Rothbard, P., & Patil, S. V. (Eds.). (2012). Being there: Work engagement and positive organizational scholarship. New York: Oxford University Press.

What do the results of the study reveal?

It is better to recover before exhausting your resources.

To strengthen work engagement, it is beneficial to have a quality sleep, self-­‐initiate short breaks and recover in various ways. Feeling an appropriate level of pressure and having control over your work will also contribute to work engagement.

Objectives of the study

of Kühnel, Zacher, Bloom and Bedow (2017) :

  1. better understand the links between employees’ work engagement and two recovery methods:
    • sleep: the quality and quantity of sleep (number of hours of sleep), and
    • self-initiated short breaks: take spontaneous breaks in the morning or afternoon (go for a walk, have a coffee). It doesn’t involve breaks set by the organization;
  2. determine whether sleep and self-­‐initiated short breaks are separate recovery methods;
  3. examine whether feeling time pressure and control over one’s work influences the relationship between recovery methods and work engagement.

Psychology students at a German university launched the invitation online among employees in various business sectors.

1) have a quality sleep
  • Employees feel more engaged at work on days when they assess the quality of their sleep positively.

Through sleep, employees restore their energy and self-­‐ regulation resources.

  • The amount of sleep did not influence employees’ engagement at work.

It is more the quality of sleep that influences engagement. However, since sleep quality may be assessed using various subjective criteria, employees may have taken into account the number of hours of sleep to assess its quality.

2) self-initiate short breaks
  • Employees feel more engaged at work on days when they self-initiate a short break in the afternoon.

In the morning, employees’ energy and self-­‐regulation resources are still available thanks to sleep, which restored them, which can explain why an afternoon break can be more beneficial.

Another study nevertheless showed positive effects in initiating a short break in the morning.

  • It is advisable that employees be able to decide on the timing of their short break regardless of the nature of the activity.

Employees are in the best position to observe and track their energy level, in order to initiate a short break before their self-­‐regulation resources are too low.

  • Self-initiated short breaks taken by employees do not compensate for too little or insufficient sleep.

The two recovery methods have separate functions for maintaining and restoring employees’ energy and self-regulation resources. They are therefore not interchangeable.

  • Employees feel more engaged at work on days when they feel a certain amount of time pressure.


Having some time pressures during the workday can be energizing, as employees must make a compensatory effort to meet work demands.

Please note! In the long term, time pressure is more harmful for energy resources and well-being.
  • Employees feel more engaged at work on days when they have more control over their work.

Enjoying greater control over their work increased employees’ engagement.

However, this increased control is not linked to self-initiating short breaks more often.

Because studies must always be interpreted with caution
Although this is a high-­‐quality study, the recruitment method used is not clearly identified, which leads us to recommend that you interpret the study with caution, as with any study that is limited.

Actions for employees

The researchers, Kühnel and colleagues (2017), recommend concrete actions to promote employees’ recovery.


Action step

  • Teach your employees about healthy sleep habits.


  • Let your employees know about lifestyle habits that promote a quality sleep.

Recommend that your employees:

  • go to bed earlier;
  • avoid consuming caffeine before going to bed;
  • avoid using bed for activities such as eating or watching TV;
  • avoid thinking about major issues in bed, especially on evenings before a demanding.

Action step

  • Create a work environment that allows for taking short breaks.


  • Send clear messages to your employees.


  • Allow your employees to take breaks and allow them to choose the time of their breaks.

Action step

  • Work toward having your employees make real use of their ability to self-initiate short breaks.


  • Break time will allow your employees to be more focused and engaged later in the day.


  • Encourage your employees to take breaks, especially on days when a high level of concentration and engagement is needed for work.

Action step

  • Train your employees to recognize when they have a drop in their energy and self-regulation resources.


  • Develop their ability to track their own energy level and self-­‐initiate short breaks.


  • Offer mindfulness activities in the workplace to develop your employees’ mindfulness (e.g., meditation, yoga, tai chi).

Recommendations from our expert

This study reminds us of the importance of two determining factors for both stress reduction and work engagement. Control and demands (in this study, time pressure) are levers you can use.

It is recommended that you ensure a balance between these two factors. That is, increasing employees’ control over their work environment and their task (e.g., organize their work and breaks) while setting demands (e.g., complexity of the task, development of new skills) that are realistic and high enough to promote their work engagement, would be a principle to emphasize.


This interpretation is based on the work of the following researchers:
Karasek, R., & Theorell, T. (1990). Healthy work: Stress, productivity and the reconstruction of working life. New York: Basic Books.
Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands-­‐resources model: State of the art. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 22, 309328. doi:10.1108/02683940710733115


St-Hilaire, F., Bérubé, S., Villeneuve, M., Lefebvre, R., Gilbert, M.-H., Pérusse, M. (2018). Is recovery an effective action lever? Global-Watch Scientific Interpretation available at


Kühnel, J., Zacher, H., Bloom, J. de, & Bledow, R. (2017). Take a break! Benefits of sleep and short breaks for daily work engagement. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 26(4), 481‑491.

Author: christine