Work-Home Boundary Blurring
We’re all on a spectrum, for most things. Where humans are concerned, there is very little that is black and white, ‘normal’, or definitive. This is also the case in how we manage the boundaries we each have between our work and home lives [i].Research shows 2/3’s of us don’t have a strategy when it comes to how we separate or integrate our work and home responsibilities. We tend to work as and when we feel we need to or are compelled to by external forces.
We bumble along trying to get through the workload and try squeeze in a bit of life (constantly juggling work and home responsibilities) and then feel guilty about not doing either well enough. It is only when things aren’t going so well, and we’re feeling stressed and anxious that we start to think that something needs to change. Our default is to not detach from work unless we realise that we need to do so and actively seek to do so and put a strategy in place to separate out work and home life.
So, for the 1/3 of us who do put a strategy in place, creating some element of boundary between work and home life, what does that detachment strategy look like?
There are generally two preferences when it comes to boundary creation[ii]. Depending on our personality, worldview, life stage, aims and circumstances, we tend to either be Integrators or Segmenters.
Are those who adopt a more blended, flexible approach to work-home boundaries to be more effectively juggling the responsibilities they have in each life realm. They may have time-bound home responsibilities that need to be attended to, such as picking a child up from school, focussing on schoolwork, feeding little ones and getting them in to bed. This can mean that they need to dedicate a number of core hours each day to focussing on and attending to home responsibilities. They are therefore unable to effectively focus on and attend to work-based activities. They may use the time before their children get up and after they go to bed to complete work-based tasks and projects.
Working parents and caregivers benefit from the ability to work before and after traditional working hours, allowing for chunks of dedicated time during traditional core work hours to focus on home-based tasks and ‘swopping’ these hours with traditional core home hours Integrators are less likely to experience conflict between work and family responsibilities and tend to feel relieved if they are given the ability to be flexible in fulfilling their work demands around set family time restraints and responsibilities.
Other integrators may be passionate about their work or just enjoy the autonomy and flexibility to get their job done the way that works best for them and allows them to take time out to enjoy other aspects of their life that bring them fulfilment and contentment.
On the other hand, are those that prefer to separate out work and home life. They prefer to block out evenings and weekends to spend time with family and friends and not have to think about or engage in any work-related communication or tasks. Their ‘off work’ time helps them recover from stress and demands of their job and helps to avoid emotional exhaustion and work stress. They feel resentment when job demands infringe on personal time and energy and take away from time spent with family and on their personal pursuits.
Although we all fit somewhere on this spectrum, we tend to skew heavily in one direction or the other, with our own variation and nuances on our preferred style.
Whatever our preference around workplace technology use (especially communication with colleagues and job task completion) outside of set working hours, we primarily need to have a personal strategy that we have decided on and mapped out. It needs to be:
- Bespoke to life circumstances, work and home-life priorities and world views
- Strategic, with caveats on acceptable infringements in boundary-blurring activities and
- Aligned with company/team culture
Personal conflict arises when there is a mismatch of segmentation strategy vs organisational norms – this is when stress and anxiety start to manifest themselves.
[i] This section is based on the concept of Boundary Theory, which is: The extent to which individuals choose to psychologically transition between distinctive domains or life roles that have a particular meaning for an individual, such as work (e.g., parent, spouse) and home (e.g., worker, supervisor). The concept of Boundary Theory was originally developed by Ashforth et al (2000). If you would like to read more about this from an academic perspective, you can read their article called: All in a Day’s Work: Boundaries and Micro Role Transitions.
[ii] In their book ‘CEO of Me’, Ellen Ernst Kossek and Brenda A. Lautsch, present us with a 3rd style, that of ‘Volleyers’. They also provide a number of categories within each style that helps to further identify the type of work-home ways of responsibility and life juggling. For the sake of simplicity, we have stuck to the two more ‘extreme’ segmentation styles in our model – i.e. whether or not we generally prefer to chunk up the day in order to juggle time-bound responsibilities or dedicate large portions of the day dedicating time and energy to focus on one specific life-realms at a time. If you would like to find out more about your specific style and how to develop a more bespoke personal strategy around managing work and home responsibilities, this is a good (although slightly on the academic side) read and a great resource in working out a segmentation strategy that may work best for you.