Home Dynamics, Expectations and Responsibilities

In the mid-2000s, for many professionals the workplace had been moved into the home for at least part of the working week.

Workers, managers and their families had not, however, developed the social, cultural and structural systems to separate out the work and home roles including the effective coping strategies, supports, and expectations needed to work from home for the majority of the time.

The integration and segmentation strategies that workers develop play a part in the degree to which work engagement in private time affects them.  How work-based ICT use by the worker during private time can negatively impact them, their family, and the organisation they work for is explored below

Strategies for Segmentation and Detachment

The blurring of boundaries between work and private time does not affect workers and their families in the same way and to the same degree.

What is most important for workers’ wellbeing, is their ability to implement their preferred segmentation style, thereby controlling the flexibility and integration of work and private time.

The level of control they are allowed, tends to significantly moderate the relationship between work-related technology use for communication purposes use, levels of work-family conflict and health related outcomes such as depression.

Segmenters who would prefer a strong delineation between work and private life are more likely to experience work-related conflict when work-related digital technology infiltrates their family time.  

Integrators who choose to have a more permeable boundary by integrating work and private time, do so in order to improve their family life.

Rather than having to work late in the office, employees work at home during the evenings, allowing them to spend more time at home and be physically available for their family and fulfil home-based responsibilities.

Accessing work-based emails on smartphones, for those who preferred a work-life integration strategy, therefore, helps increase feelings of coping.

Either way, creating boundaries between work and home can facilitate perceptions of control of work-home interruptions, viewing actual boundary crossing as more of a resource for optimising workload rather than a demand on private time.

This can be because those with high psychological detachment who structure their digital technology during specific, allocated times during private hours, experience less negative impact of working during private hours.

Age, Life-stage, Family Status and Generational Impact

There is a long-standing workplace narrative that younger generations are better at technology than older generations. This is no longer true. The so-called ‘Digital Natives’ are now moving into middle and senior management positions.

Additionally, although younger generations are more confident with social technology, they are less knowledgeable about business technology.

Where younger generations have an advantage over the older generations is that their overall higher tech confidence (i.e. digital self-efficacy) makes them more likely to learn new technology quickly. 

Digital Intelligence is of greater value now than generational differences.

Those seemingly most affected by ICT-related stress, burnout and mental health issues are middle-aged employees between 35-45 years old [1]. As stress tends to dissipate in older age ranges, the assumption is made that stress is often due to the middle-aged group being most likely to be juggling both a young family and career progression concerns [1]. This middle-aged lifespan, however, falls across two theoretical generations: Millennials, currently aged 20-40 years old and Generation X, currently aged 40-55 years old [2] and does not consider the variances in responsibilities and commitments required by working parents with children of different ages.

The greatest level of work interference with family life, amongst dual-income households, occurs for families with children under the age of 5 and only starts declining when the youngest child is between 6-12 years old [3].  Older workers are less likely to encounter negative work spillover into family life and surmised that this is due to their changes in temperament and becoming less swayed by work stressors as they age [3].

Although women are more likely to juggle work around the demands of their families, the extent to which they do so varies across family stages [3]. Both male and female genders tend to engage with, and are motivated by, work at different life stages, depending on their family responsibilities [3]. With the ebb and flow of family life and variance in children’s ages, peak periods of work interference for men and women differ based on family responsibility across the family life span [3]. For example, during teen years fathers are more likely to feel greater interference as children become more independent and autonomous, and require greater involvement from parents in ferrying them from one activity to another[3].

Working Parents Have a Tougher Gig

Hybrid working is, on average, a better option for working parents. Remote working gives them the opportunity to manage both work and home responsibilities more effectively, especially when given the option to work flexibly and chunk their day into home and work slots. 

However, there still remains some interesting diametrically opposing gender expectations and biases that working parents have to juggle: 

  • For fathers, societal shifts encourage them to engage more in family life – which many want to do. Company expectations, however, still see fathers as the primary breadwinner, showing dedication to their families and employers by working longer hours. Heading home early is interpreted as not being a team player and means they are often overlooked when it comes to promotions and training opportunities. Hybrid work allows fathers to juggle both roles more successfully
  • Working mothers may either not return to the workplace or face their own set of biases if they do. Working only contracted hours is interpreted as lower productivity, being less of a team player and not aligning with personal goals with team goals. If they, however, spend longer in the office, they are viewed as cold, heartless and not a very good mother. 

Contrary to this workplace bias, research shows that mothers are particularly good at focusing and separating out their work and home time. They have to be fully present in each area of responsibility and are, as a result, actually more productive with their shorter working hours or work time than any other type of employee – regardless of gender, relationship status and number of hours worked. This was as true before Covid as it has been since then. 

Notes:
Sources:

Kossek et al., 2006; Kreiner, 2006; Derks et al., 2016; Thörel et al., 2020; Collins et al., 2015; Barber & Jenkins, 2014; [1] Berg-Beckhoff et al., 2017; [2] Clark, 2017; [3] Allen and Finkelstein (2014)

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