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Ana Isabel Sanz Vergel

Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia


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Cognitive and emotional recovery at work and home


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Work and home are two crucial domains in peoples’ lives.

Apart from being employees, people engage in different roles: they are colleagues, partners, parents, sons, or friends. There are many different responsibilities to attend to in one day.

Finding out more about the dynamics between work and home is crucial to understand better why employees are stressed, how they can cope with daily demands and how they can maintain their well-being.

First of all, identifying the source of conflict is important. There are two possible sources of conflict: work may affect your family life (for example, when you work too many hours and do not have time for your family), or family can affect work (for example, when your child is ill and you cannot attend a meeting).

These two types of conflict lead to different outcomes, and there are strategies to overcome these problems.

Reduce the negative effects of work-family conflict: detach from work and express your emotions

Work-family conflict leads to psychological strain, but there are ways to buffer this negative effect.

Recovery strategies are crucial: work demands will not be as harmful if we are able to detach psychologically from work. Also, on days with high work pressure, people feel more exhausted. On those days, taking breaks at work and using those breaks to express positive emotions help employees to reduce the exhaustion.

Therefore, there are ways to deal with work-family conflict: Reducing work demands must be of course the first step, but other strategies such as taking breaks at work, expressing positive emotions, and detaching from work during non-work time help employees increase wellbeing.

These are relatively easy strategies, so it is worthwhile trying!

Family-work conflict: Look for support instead of conflicts

How do colleagues react when an employee’s family is interfering with work?

Take for instance an employee who is distracted because they have problems and is not performing at work. It may affect those with whom they interact regularly at work. This creates a conflict with colleagues. Creating an open culture in which family problems can be communicated is the way to reduce conflicts among colleagues at work. Understanding that today your colleague has a problem and needs support, and perhaps tomorrow you will be the one needing this support, is a healthy policy which will reduce conflicts at work.

Contagion of positive instead of negative emotions is the road to happiness.

The emotional contagion between couples: learning emotional regulation strategies

Once you arrive home, emotions can be transferred between the members of the couple.

This is known as “crossover”. The contagion of negative emotions may lead to lower satisfaction and wellbeing among the members of the couple.

For example, if we “fake” emotions at work (to adjust to organisational expectations), we tend to use the same strategy at home (for example, we pretend that we are interested in what our partner is telling us even when we are absolutely drained). But if you fake emotions at home with your partner, he/she will react in the same way, and will also fake emotions.

This in turn leads to lower levels of wellbeing among both members of the couple. This contagion is common in close relationships, and we have to be careful as it has a negative impact on satisfaction and wellbeing.

Renegotiating roles both in the work and the home domain and learning how to manage emotions are the first steps to improve quality of life in both domains.

And of course, contagion of positive instead of negative emotions is the road to happiness!


Sanz Vergel, A., Rodríguez, A., Nielsen, K. (2015). The thin line between work and home: The spillover and crossover of daily conflicts. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 88, 1-18.

Rodríguez-Muñoz, A., Sanz Vergel, A., Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B. (2014). Engaged at work and happy at home: A spillover-crossover model. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15, 271-283.

Sanz Vergel, A., Rodríguez-Muñoz, A., Bakker, A., Demerouti, E. (2012). The daily spillover and crossover of emotional labor: Faking emotions at work and at home. Journal of Vocational Behaviour,  81, 209-217.

Sanz Vergel, A., Moreno-Jiménez, B., Demerouti, E., Mayo, M. (2010). Work-family balance and energy: A day-level study on recovery conditions. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 76, 118-130.

Moreno, B., Mayo, M., Sanz Vergel, A., Geurts, S., Rodríguez, A., Garrosa, E. (2009). Effects of work-family conflict on employee’s well-being: The moderating role of recovery strategies. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 14, 427-440.

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Ana Isabel Sanz Vergel


Read more from Ana Isabel Sanz Vergel

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