James Hewitt
517 words
2 minutes

How to measure recovery?

Recovery is a key to sustainable high-performance in the workplace, but how can we measure and improve it?

I spent many years working with endurance athletes, from amateur to professional level. Often, people would ask me what differentiated the top competitors from the ‘weekend warriors’. Physiological measures, such as VO2 max – the body’s capacity to take-up and use oxygen –  plays a significant role. Psychological strength, and the ability to resist fatigue and maintain motivation to train day in, day out, are undoubtedly important. However, my view is that one of the biggest differentiators between amateurs and professionals is the time they are able to dedicate to recovery, and the content of their recovery periods.

The Workplace As An Arena For Cognitive Performance

Recovery is one of the ‘keys to sustainable high-performance. During recovery time we adapt. This may manifest itself in growth and improvement, but for many athletes at the top of their game it’s simply a means to maintain their level.

Today, while I continue to work with some athletes, my research focusses on knowledge work as an endurance activity, considering the workplace as an arena for cognitive performance, and exploring the aspects of life and work which could help us to maintain a high level of performance, without burning out in the process.

I’m particularly interested in three aspects of knowledge work:

  1. How we work and rest
  2. How we feel
  3. How we perform


I recently completed a study, where I tracked one hundred knowledge workers for fourteen days, to explore variables related to these three aspects. One group of variables in particular – Recovery Experiences – turned out to be a significant predictor, suggesting that they are among the ‘foundation stones’ for wellbeing and sustainable performance.

In this recent study, participants used a self-report tool called ‘The Recovery Experience Questionnaire’ which was developed as a way to assess recuperation and unwinding from work. The questionnaire differentiates between four recovery experiences:

  1. Detachment: forgetting, distancing and getting a break from work.
  2. Relaxation: taking it easy and making time for leisure.
  3. Mastery: Learning new things, seeking challenges and broadening your horizons.
  4. Control: Deciding your own schedule and what you want to do.

I’ve been sharing some of the preliminary results of my research in recent conversations (I’m writing up an academic paper based on this at the moment, so I can’t publish them here, yet), but the early findings seem to resonate with people, both intellectually and personally.

How Are You Recovering?

I’ve included the Recovery Experience Questionnaire below, as I think it could be a helpful tool for self-reflection and evaluating your recovery ‘strengths and weaknesses’ across the four areas. The result can provide a snapshot of your current recovery status, help to identify areas for improvement and provide ideas to enhance recovery in the future. I encourage you to repeat this assessment over time, to evaluate change.

To what extent do each of the following sentences describe accurately your experience and activities during your free time?

(1 = I do not agree at all… to 5 = I fully agree…)

I forget about work.

1            2            3            4           5

I don’t think about work at all.

1            2            3            4           5

I distance myself from my work.

1            2            3            4           5

I get a break from the demands of work.

1            2            3            4           5

Average Detachment Score:

I kick back and relax.

1            2            3            4           5

I do relaxing things.

1            2            3            4           5

I use the time to relax.

1            2            3            4           5

I take time for leisure.

1            2            3            4           5

Average Relaxation Score:

I learn new things.

1            2            3            4           5

I seek out intellectual challenges.

1            2            3            4           5

I do things that challenge me.

1            2            3            4           5

I do something to broaden my horizons.

1            2            3            4           5

Average Mastery Score:

I feel like I can decide for myself what to do.

1            2            3            4           5

I decide my own schedule.

1            2            3            4           5

I determine for myself how I will spend my time.

1            2            3            4           5

I take care of things the way that I want them done.

1            2            3            4           5

Average Control Score:

Average Overall Score:


Sonnentag, S., & Fritz, C. (2007). The Recovery Experience Questionnaire: development and validation of a measure for assessing recuperation and unwinding from work. Journal of occupational health psychology, 12(3), p.204-221

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