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An Investigation of the Role of Non–Work-Time Behavior in Buffering the Effects of Work Strain

Winwood, Peter C. BDS, PhD; Bakker, Arnold B. PhD; Winefield, Anthony H. PhD

Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: August 2007 - Volume 49 - Issue 8 - p 862-871
doi: 10.1097/JOM.0b013e318124a8dc
Original Articles

Objective: In this exploratory study, we investigated the extent to which common leisure time behaviors, which generate positive feelings of fulfillment and personal reward, are significant in alleviating work-induced stress between successive work periods. We tested the hypotheses that such activities increase recovery from stress directly, and also by improving sleep quality, thereby alleviating maladaptive outcomes from work strain.

Method: An on-line survey study was completed by a heterogeneous sample of 314 workers in diverse occupations, in good health.

Results: Non–work-time behaviors play a significant role in mediating maladaptive outcomes from work strain. Multivariate analysis of these relationships indicates both direct and indirect effects, the latter being associated with mediating sleep quality. Respondents reporting higher levels of active leisure activities, exercise, and creative (hobby) and social activity, reported significantly better sleep, recovery between work periods, and lower chronic maladaptive fatigue symptomology.

Conclusion: Active and fulfilling non–work-time behaviors are more significant in maximizing recovery from work strain than is commonly recognized. This effect is arguably due to the downregulation of stress-induced brain arousal, and stimulation of the pleasure-reward brain neurophysiology. Consistent recovery from work strain between work periods may represent a crucial factor in avoiding work-related “loss spirals” leading to maladaptive health outcomes, which can be particularly relevant to workers in inherently stressful occupations.

From the School of Psychology (Drs Winwood and Winefield), University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia; and the School of Psychology (Dr Bakker), University of Rotterdam, Rotterdam, Netherlands.

Address correspondence to: Peter C. Winwood, BDS, PhD, School of Psychology, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia 5000; E-mail:

©2007The American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine