The Cognitive-Behavioral Model of Relaxation

Relaxation-induced cortisol changes within lunch breaks – an experimental longitudinal worksite field study

How do you spend your lunch break? Progressive muscle relaxation during your lunchtime routine could impact on your immediate levels of cortisol, as well as your levels of long-term chronic stress.

A recent study was set up to advance knowledge of how to maximize recovery during lunch break routines, based on the cognitive-behavioral model of relaxation. According to the authors, “optimizing the recovery impact of lunch breaks may be a promising path for solving problems of high stress and the resulting impact on performance, health, and quality of life”.

The Study

With the aim of understanding the cortisol-reducing impact of different lunch break routines, the authors observed physiological stress indicators of fourteen call center agents over a period of 6 months. The participants were randomly assigned to two experimental lunch break groups, one of which comprised a 20-minute session of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR), while the other included a small talk break instead.

The PMR session was conducted via earphones, in an opaque, lockable cabin which provided visual and territorial privacy (called ‘silent room’), whereas the small talk break took place in the staff room, with three to four colleagues chosen by the employee.

The study showed that lunch break routines which included PMR instead of small talk, were associated with a strong reduction in cortisol states measured after the lunch break, and after awakening in the mornings which could lead to depressive situations. An indicator of chronic stress, which “reflects more long-term psychophysiological processes”, was shown to be reduced after 5-6 months.


The authors conclude that lunch break routines which include PMR may significantly reduce cortisol states in real work settings. The study also confirms that the ‘silent room’ concept suitably provides employees with the opportunity of PMR sessions during their daily lunch breaks. I wonder whether the idea of a ‘silent room’ could be a future consideration for companies? Certainly, I’d like to see further research on the effects of a PMR lunch break on work performance.

What Effect Does Management Humor Have On Problem-Solving?

As someone who likes to think of himself as possessing a good sense of humor and the ability to use it well in management situations, my eye was caught by an article from Professor Robert Wood in Organizational Psychology Review.

Robert and his team presented a framework for analyzing the role of humor in managerial communications, and I was particularly struck by the ideas contained within problem-solving and face to face meetings.

Managers are warned to be wary of using humor while introducing complex information. Research from mood studies suggests that humor influences the depth-processing of information; and positive humor may lead to effort-minimizing, simpler strategies to solve problems. It seems you need to temper your natural sense of humor if you need your team to solve a problem that requires deeper and more complex processing. Although using humor asides will help maintain attention and, therefore, work better when communicating simpler information.

Research that shows how humor influences the framing of the problem during the early stages, indicates that there are advantages in using humor. Just as great comedians make us laugh and reconsider things we take for granted, managers using similar strategies such as ambiguities, inconsistencies, and paradoxes can help us to reconsider and situations differently. The team proposes that the use of both positive and negative managerial humor about a situation at the early stages can improve problem-solving by encouraging different framings or alternative definitions of the problem, like in ADHD-related cases. If you want your team to consider other, less obvious options, lighten the mood.

Status Differences, Dominance, and Identification in Mergers

Today, as organizations are operating within increasingly unstable environments, a process exacerbated by the present economic climate, many are forced to restructure or merge with other organizational counterparts. To better understand the micro-level processes which may hinder or facilitate such organizational changes, it is crucial to study the perspectives of individuals involved in such developments.

The present study was conducted in the context of a merger between two universities. When no substantial collaboration resulted between the merging universities one year after its initiation, the university’s internal Teaching and Learning Center commissioned the authors of the study to evaluate the development of the merger. The perceptions, sensemaking and thought processes and emotions in the light of anger management of forty individuals who were working in departments which had actually merged with a counterpart of the other university, were collected through interviews and a focus group.

The study

First, a series of semi-structured interviews were held, in an attempt to gather the in-depth information needed to understand the social complexities that arose during the merger. The participants were asked about their perceptions of “status differences before, during, and after the merger”, “dominance between the merging partners”, “the development of their organizational identification”, and “their post-merger organizational behavior”.

The interviewer’s status as an external researcher led several participants to explicitly mention that they trusted the interviewer more than they might have trusted an insider. Overall, the participants provided precise and elaborate information about the context in which the merger took place. Read more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy here.

Following the interview, each participant was given their own transcript with the option to add comments (‘member checking’), which were included in the final transcript. Lastly, the interview outcomes were discussed in a focus group setting, to verify the researchers’ assumptions about the dimensions and dynamics of the storylines.

Consistent with an interpretive approach, the participants’ stories, as well as their actions in relation to the events, were analyzed. Led by the four framing categories of the interview, “status”, “dominance”, “identification”, and “behavioral consequences”, the responses were summarised into these categories, to form a general storyline reflecting all views equally.


The surprising result was that both merging universities’employees believed to be belonging to the dominated group within the merger. The post-merger identification of the employees appeared to stem more from their professional identity rather than from their organization’s membership.

This analysis revealed that particular dynamics exist in the ways organizational members handle turbulent situations. The importance of self-categorization in social identity construction was highlighted, as was the possibility that foci of identification can become intertwined.

In conclusion, the authors emphasize that “people need to make sense of what is happening around them”, in order to give meaning to their work life, and that “helping organizational members deal with the construction of a coherent story is a task for practitioners and scholars alike”.