There is a lot of evidence that shows the importance of breaks during work to counteract stress as well as improve job performance. Time is needed to replenish resources after work whether it is for a short period of minutes or hours (e.g., microbreaks) or longer in terms of days or weeks (weekends and vacations). If these breaks involve positive reflection about work (thinking about the positive aspects of one’s work), it is associated with higher levels of wellbeing and job performance and it is the opposite with negative reflection about work. If one is not able to disengage from work during these breaks, it could lead to exhaustion, negative moods, and poorer work performance. Breaks of any length with relaxation are linked to improvements in wellbeing, including positive mood, vigour, and less fatigue.
Organizational factors like high workload and long work hours can prevent recovery during these breaks and affect wellbeing of employees. These long work hours may impact the choice of the employees in their selection of a relaxing activity which may be more sedentary (e.g., watching television) and less healthy compared to physical exercise as the employers do not have enough physical energy left to engage in the latter.
In the current pandemic scenario, a lot of employees have reported longer work hours from their usual pre-lockdown on-site work days. The longer number of hours spent at work may seem to improve their productivity and work performance but leaves them with less time and energy for breaks to replenish themselves. Research at Wharton showed that personal productivity of people improved during the pandemic as they were “able to hunker down and get less distracted while working remotely” but it also impacted their sense of purpose at work.
This relationship of work engagement and wellbeing in the current context is not the same and as straightforward in the current unprecedented context as it was in the pre-pandemic context. So, while focusing on wellbeing, it may not be necessary to highlight work engagement simultaneously. It is perhaps important to focus on wellbeing in the immediate context first as people continue to face multiple challenges on the personal front in the face of the virus and then address work engagement as the situation improves.