For employees who have the day off on one of the many holidays sprinkled throughout the calendar year, or just for a routine weekend at home, clocking out of work mode may be difficult. Researchers from Ball State University tested a group of employees to see if there was a way to “switch off” their work-focused minds so they could enjoy family time during the holidays or a Sunday morning newspaper without worry. The study, published in the Journal of Organizational and Occupational Psychology, may have a quick strategy for preventing unnecessary work stress.

For the study, researchers administered online questionnaires to 103 employees who collectively reported their 1,127 work goals. They found that across the board, employees struggled with letting go of unfinished work tasks, and therefore had a more difficult time relaxing and enjoying their time off.

"This is primarily true for people that already have a difficult time forgetting about work during leisure because their job plays a central role in their life,” said the study’s lead author Dr. Brandon Smit, a researcher from Ball State University, in a press release. “For them, a simple change to their work routine like task planning near the end of the workday would likely make a real difference."

To test the theory, Smit and his colleagues used the planning approach to ease the brain out of work mode and into relaxation, otherwise known as “switching off” work. One group of employees were asked to create plans by writing down where, when, and how they would complete their unfinished tasks. The other group, meanwhile, didn't write plans but still had a similar level of unfinished tasks. Those who didn't write down their plans had a harder time detaching themselves from work during their time off when compared to those who wrote down their plans.

The inability to “switch off” and relax is a prevailing issue in the United States. As much as 72 percent of working Americans experience stress or anxiety in their daily lives, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America. These people's workloads are what stresses them out, followed by people issues, juggling work with personal lives, and lastly, a lack of job security. By alleviating some of the workload stress — such as tiresome deadlines and unfinished tasks — employees can improve their health and lower the risk of heart attack and hypertension, according to the American Institute of Stress.

"If you have an important deadline looming on the horizon, for example, your brain will keep nudging you with reminders, which makes it difficult to get a break from work demands,” Smit explained. “It seems like we have the ability to 'turn off,' or at least 'turn down,' these cognitive processes by planning out where, when, and how goals will be accomplished.”

Source: Smit B, et al. Journal of Organizational and Occupational Psychology. 2015.