W Power 2024

The (real) benefits of breaks and distance during a job search

Why do jobseekers who manage to detach themselves psychologically from their search feel replenished and invigorated, and end up putting in more effort and getting more interviews?

Published: Nov 7, 2022 11:23:12 AM IST
Updated: Nov 7, 2022 11:34:24 AM IST

Distractions and breaks can be restorative not only for work activities but also for other strenuous activities in someone’s daily life.
Image: ShutterstockDistractions and breaks can be restorative not only for work activities but also for other strenuous activities in someone’s daily life. Image: Shutterstock

In many life activities, including studying, working, or even job seeking, people need to take breaks in order to replenish their energy levels. As people make efforts to accomplish various goals, they use physical and mental energy, and these energy levels are not infinite.

With regards to work activities, researchers have consistently found positive effects of at-work recovery activities (e.g., breaks during the workday), off-work recovery activities (e.g., physical exercise), off-work recovery experiences (e.g., psychological detachment from work tasks), or even social activities (e.g., spending time with family and friends) on employees’ well-being. There is no doubt that we all need to find distractions from work activities and take breaks at work and off work both physically and mentally.

Distractions and breaks can be restorative not only for work activities but also for other strenuous activities in someone’s daily life. An important strenuous activity, in which everyone will engage once or more during their lifetime, is job seeking.

Why detachment is key in the job search process

Indeed, searching for a job is a strenuous process, involving an important number of rejections, stressful activities (e.g., interviewing), and a lot of effort and resilience needed to achieve the ultimate goal of finding a job. In other words, job seeking is a process that takes time, and consumes a lot of mental and physical energy.

Since energy is not an unlimited resource for people, research across fields has looked into whether and how energy levels get depleted and whether and how they can be replenished. Energy depletion and replenishment in job search is no different.

In a recent study, my co-authors and I looked at whether detaching oneself psychologically from job seeking would help job seekers better manage their search for employment. Specifically, we found that when job seekers detach themselves psychologically from their search on a weekly basis, they feel recovered, invigorated, and ended up put more effort and obtained a greater number of interviews.

Another way of interpreting the findings of our study is that it is important to take breaks, to distract oneself from the job search, and not to make job seeking a full-time job. As with many other activities, replenishing one’s depleted resources is essential for job search success.

As such, we collected additional data to see what kind of break job seekers, in this case students looking for their first full-time job, engaged in. We found that they took breaks that varied in time, from very short breaks that took place multiples times a day, such as texting friends and family, to longer 20- to 30-minute breaks, such as watching an episode of a series. Some kinds of breaks like sports and videos games seem the most efficient We found that the most common breaks were watching TV/Netflix/movies/YouTube videos, playing (video) games, and sleeping.

For example, one participant reported that during a specific week of job seeking, she “tried new coffee shops, saw movies with friends, and walked around town during the nicer days.” Another respondent said that he “spent time learning how to program since he is planning on developing an app idea he has on the side". He also reported, “playing a ton of video games and going to the gym.”

Also read: Hey, employers: Job hunters really want to see your diversity data

For one participant, though, this break did take place after getting a first job offer: “I was so excited about finally getting the first offer that I spent a lot more time than usual this week relaxing with friends. I got more rest than usual, and I felt more relieved than I ever have about this process. I am still interviewing with other companies, but I took time to relax by listening to music and catching up on some Netflix shows that I missed out on due to my job search and other obligations.”

Overall, taking breaks can be beneficial to detach mentally from job seeking, while also giving the mind and body time to refill its energy levels. And these breaks can take various forms.

Another path: humour as a leverage for stress-relief

In another work, I proposed that one such distraction, or way to mentally detach oneself from the stress of job seeking is humour. Indeed, humour can act as a stress relief mechanism, and thus could be a behaviour that helps reduce the stress associated with job seeking.

For example, individuals could share their bad experiences in a humorous way with other job seekers or career counselling services in order to learn from their mistakes while laughing at themselves (i.e. distracting themselves...).

In summary, taking time off or disconnecting is crucial for success, in this case, job search success. Whatever type of break job seekers choose to take, it will help them recover and become invigorated. And this has a direct impact on their job search, both in terms of effort and success.

Also read:  What does the job of 'chief resilience officer' entail?

It is also important to note that these breaks can vary in duration and type of break, but that they should be the break that one thinks will help in distracting oneself. For some, it will be having a laugh with friends or fellow job seekers. For others, it will be watching TV or playing video games.

By Serge Da Motta Veiga, Professor of Human Resources at EDHEC, Business School