Mackenzie Ricard, BS, University of Wisconsin Milwaukee Sarah DeArmond, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
This study details the creation and initial testing of a training program designed to teach college students about recovery experiences and the importance of psychological detachment and boundary management tactics which can help people manage occupational stress. We hypothesized that those completing the training would have greater knowledge of stress, recovery experiences, and boundary management tactics after the training than they did before, increased psychological detachment after the training than before, less interference between their work, school, and personal lives, and greater mental well-being after the training than they did before.
According to the American Psychological Association’s 2019 Stress Survey, Americans experience higher average levels of stress than they feel is healthy. This is concerning because stress has been connected to a variety of negative health outcomes including depression, cardiovascular disease, and infections (Cohen, Janicki-Deverts, & Miller, 2007). Aspects of work and conflict between work and one?s personal life can act as stressors leading to a variety of types of strain (Hammig & Bauer, 2014; Nixon, Mazzola, Bauer, Krueger, & Spector, 2011). Researchers have identified recovery activities like psychological detachment that seem to be particularly effective in reducing the negative outcomes of stress. Managing one?s work-life boundaries well is linked to effective psychological detachment, and thus can help people recover from work-related stress. There is research on specific boundary management tactics (Kreiner, Hollensbe, & Sheep, 2009). However, that research has not yet been incorporated into interventions to help enhance recovery. There is some limited research on recovery training programs among those who are working (e.g., Hahn, Binnewies, Sonnentag, & Mojza, 2011), but there is little to no research that has looked at training college students on recovery and boundary management. This is a significant gap, because college students often work when attending school, and this is a time when many young adults learn about work and how to best cope with its associated challenges.
We created a 90 minute training program for undergraduate students focused on the use of psychological detachment and boundary management tactics to better cope with stress. The training also included two activities aimed at enhancing transfer. A total of 228 business students at a university in the Midwest region of the United States participated in the study. The training was presented during one of the students? required classes. The participants completed an assessment prior to training and one two weeks later. The assessments included previously validated measures of training-related knowledge, psychological detachment, interference between work, school, and participants? personal lives, and mental well-being.
The results showed significant improvements in participants’ trained knowledge and an increase in psychological detachment over time. Interference between their work, school, and personal lives did not decrease after training. Psychological detachment from work improved, but mental well-being did not show improvement.
This study adds to previous research demonstrating the effectiveness of recovery training programs (e.g., Hahn et al., 2011). The current study obtained significant results two weeks after a 90-minute training session. It is encouraging that improvements can be made with a modest investment of resources given the budget constraints often present in higher education. In terms of the hypotheses that were not supported, it is possible that there simply wasn?t enough time between the training and the post-test for the participants to fully apply what they had learned and to then see changes in things like one?s mental well-being. These results could also be linked to the natural ebb and flow of stress experienced by students during the semester. The pre-training assessment was given during week 2, and the post-training assessment was given during week five of a 14-week semester. Week 5 is closer to many major deadlines and exams associated with midterms. Also this study took place in spring 2020 when there were rising concerns about COVID-19. Week 5 was one week before leadership announced the decision to shut down the university. The surveys were turned in prior to the shutdown, but not before worry was increasing. It is possible that without the additional stressful factors surrounding the time of the post-test, variables such as psychological well-being and interference between school and work or school and one?s personal life would have significantly improved. It is also unclear what change similar students who were not trained would have in these variables over this same time period. Student may typically experience increases in interference between school and work and school and their personal lives. The fact there were no statistically significant changes in these variables could be a positive outcome linked to our training.
This research suggests that training aimed at enhancing knowledge of recovery and skill in the use of boundary management tactics can be beneficial for college students and possibly even be modified and tested in other populations.