Start Asking if You Need a Commitment Purge at Work

When a job is done, it's supposed to be done. That's what helps us take pride in our accomplishments and put mistakes behind us. But we may be holding onto the past at the office more tightly than we thought, and it's affecting how we get through our day.

Researchers at The Ohio State University asked more than 400 workers in health, manufacturing, and finance two open-ended questions about work commitments. First they requested a specific commitment from a job, such as a team project or a work relationship, that was no longer current. They didn't define the term, instead letting the employees bring their own conceptions to their answers. Next, the team asked why that commitment had ended, without prompting for a negative, positive, or neutral response.

Their findings? We carry a lot of grudges about work. The OSU researchers call the way we hold onto our feelings from office duties and interactions "quondam commitments." Over-commitment, changes in circumstances, and negative experiences or perceptions were some of the most frequently cited reasons for why we end commitments at work. Business researchers worry these unresolved emotions can carry over into unrelated scenarios — for instance, a freelancer who was treated poorly by one client might become quick to resent a new one, even if they're very different.

"Companies today often need to pivot quickly, and they need employees to change commitments just as fast," said lead author Howard Klein in a press release. "How managers deal with these changes for their employees, and the effects of prior commitments, is crucial."

Even if you think you're not carrying any baggage about your time at the office, it's always a good idea to check in with yourself. Do you feel drained at the end of the day? Are you venting more than you think you should? Try freewriting by hand or talking into a recording app for a few minutes; do it at the same time, every day, and see if you spot any patterns after a week or so. Don't try to edit as you go — just let yourself say what you're feeling. If you can identify something that's bothering you, that's the first step to addressing it and freeing yourself up to move on.