ResearchWork-Home Boundary Blurring

Constant phone checking brings life to work and work to life

'When You Just Cannot Get Away - Exploring the use of information and communication technologies in facilitating negative work/home spillover'.

Extracts and a summary of research by: Ronald W. Berkowsky (2013)

Key quotes from the research:

  • ‘Boundaries [between work and home], while sometimes motivated by the needs and beliefs of the individual, are often socially constructed and are based on societal norms, pressures, and expectations’. 
  • ‘Because [mobile digital technology] provides a means for individuals to be available to both work and home contacts at all times, there is an increasing potential for these contacts to impede upon a specific domain in which they do not necessarily belong’.
  • ‘[Mobile digital technology does not] dictate the permeability of the work/home interface, but are instead tools which perpetuate the structural norms associated with work/home boundaries’.
  • ‘Having a heavy workload, having unclear job expectations, and experiencing physical illness/ailments were significant predictors of negative spillover in both directions’.
  • ‘Other work-related characteristics (such as job autonomy and schedule control) … have previously been found to be significant predictors of spillover’. 

Summary of the research: 

The proliferation of mobile-based technology, since the turn of the century, has resulted in workers being constantly connected to friends, family and colleagues at all times of the day and night wherever they happen to be. This constant ability to be contacted has been a significant catalyst for increased physical and mental stress and negative well-being. Berkowski’s research is an investigation of the negative impact of digital technology’s ability to allow for work to spill over into non-work time and visa versa. 

The boundaries we set between one domain and another, and the level to which we allow one to permeate into another, are as distinct and unique as each of us are.

Prior to the introduction of mobile digital technology, the boundary between work and home was (generally) a simplistic and definitive one, determined by a geographic boundary between the two life realms. Mobile digital technology has removed this geographic boundary between work and home, resulting in one that was already more permeable prior to the onset of mass remote and hybrid working. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. 

The advantages are:

  • Life and work roles have the ability to enrich each other – i.e. a positive mood in one life realm can counteract any negative or stressful circumstances in another
  • Being successful in one role can compensate for any areas needing improvement in the other
  • Skillsets and competencies in one role can translate into the other – so participating in a number of different life roles can counterbalance negative stress and struggles in another

The disadvantages are: 

  • ‘Role interference’ – where the stress and negativity of one role can impact on other life realms
  • Work interruptions during private time can reduce the amount of time spent with significant others, reduce overall energy levels and take time away from personal pursuits

The level of either positive or negative impact that the more permeable boundary has on the individual is determined by the preference they have for allowing work to spill over into private time or visa versa.

The level of stress and anxiety is determined by the level of individual ability to meet these expectations in practice. e.g. if someone prefers to have their home and work life overlap, stress and anxiety result when they are not able to do so – either because workplace policies do not allow them to do so or a partner may have a strong preference for a clear segmented approach to work and home life.

Alternatively, if someone prefers very little overlap between work and home, but a line manager or client either sets a meeting for (or sends messages, emails, or calls) outside of official working hours asking questions or expecting a reply, this can result in higher levels of anxiety and stress, both for the work and others within the household. 

The impact of technology use during private time: 

  • Those who have higher levels of ambition and are more involved in their job role are more likely to use mobile technology after work, which results in higher levels of conflict in home life
  • Perceived usefulness of technology, organisational pressures, and after-hours supplementary work is directly associated with work-to-family conflict
  • Checking emails and work-based mobile use, over time, was linked to work negatively spilling over to private time, which was linked to higher levels of distress and lower family satisfaction.
  • Using Social Media to connect with work colleagues in private time can help to reduce stress, as social media is viewed as a means to socially engage with work colleagues outside of work commitments.

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