Workplace Incivility Interferes With Sleep, but How You Use Your Free Time Can Help

Bad experiences at work don’t always stay in the workplace. They can follow you home when the workday is done. Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that a new study suggests the key to resilience in the face of workplace negativity could be how you spend your free time.

The study, which was a collaboration between researchers at Oakland University, Portland State University the USDA’s Rocky Mountain Research Station, surveyed 699 U.S. Forest Service employees about their experiences at work, in their leisure time, and when trying to sleep at night.

Of particular interest to the researchers was the link between workplace incivility and disrupted sleep. The study confirmed that employees who reported facing more incivility at work also experienced more symptoms of insomnia at night.

The findings also suggested a reason why this might be the case: rumination. When people reported experiencing more workplace incivility, they tended to ruminate more on negative work experiences, which in turn predicted their higher levels of insomnia. For those who have ever tossed and turned at night thinking about something unpleasant, the link between rumination and disrupted sleep might not be so surprising!

Encouragingly, though, the researchers found some evidence that the way people used their free time could potentially “halt the negative spillover of workplace incivility on sleep.” When people were able to relax during their free time and detach from their workplace experiences, engaging in what the researchers called “recovery experiences,” the correlation between workplace incivility, rumination and insomnia was disrupted. It may be, then, that participating in activities that are rewarding and relaxing outside of work can provide a buffer for unpleasant workplace experiences.

Granted, there are still some questions to be answered about the cause-and-effect. Does the way people use their leisure time change the way they respond to workplace incivility, or are people who react less strongly to workplace incivility simply more able to make the most of their free time?

We can’t say for sure until more research is done here. But if you’re encountering stressful situations in the workplace, it almost certainly won’t hurt to set aside some time for seeking out and engaging in activities you enjoy that have nothing to do with work.

Image: Flickr/Ruyman Gilbert