Should You Set Clear Work-Home Boundaries?
Five tips for striking the right balance between your job and personal life.
Posted May 16, 2017
By Arielle Rogers and Larissa Barber, guest contributors
Do you prefer keeping your work life separate from your home life, or do you like blending the two?
The answer to that question could have a significant effect on whether you’ll feel satisfied in a given job.
If you set clear boundaries between work and home, you are a segmenter. Segmenters rarely bring work home. They tend to answer emails only while at work and might keep separate calendars for their work and personal lives (Nippert-Eng, 1996).
If you blend your work and home life, then you are an integrator. Integrators might set up an in-home office, converse with their partners about work at the dinner table and invite coworkers over to the house for a party (Nippert-Eng, 1996).
Which is better: integration or segmentation?
Both segmentation and integration have benefits, as well as drawbacks.
Those who set clear boundaries between work and home experience less conflict between the two domains (Olson-Buchanan & Boswell, 2006). In other words, segmenters are able to give enough of their time and energy to both areas in order to be and feel successful.
Segmenters are also more likely to mentally “switch off” from work (Park, Fritz, & Jex, 2011), which may help lower stress and exhaustion (Sonnentag & Fritz, 2008).
Integrators also get some benefits—they experience less negativity when work creeps into their home life. For instance, when contacted at home by someone from work, integrators feel less annoyed than employees who want to keep home and work separate (Olson-Buchanan & Boswell, 2006).
Additionally, for integrators, work experiences are more likely to positively influence home experiences and vice versa (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006; Illies, Wilson, & Wagner, 2009). Positive emotions experienced at home influence employees’ work lives by helping them achieve work-related goals.
Of course, your preference for integration or segmentation might not align with what is expected of you at work. For example, if you’re a segmenter who works with integrators, you can feel forced into doing things like checking your email at home.
How stressed or satisfied you feel at work is influenced by whether your workplace supports your preferences for integration or segmentation (Kossek & Lautsch, 2012; Kreiner, 2006). So your fit with the organization is what matters most (Kreiner, 2006).
Tips for striking the right work-home balance
Regardless of your preference, there are several tips you can use to help you best manage work-home boundaries (Kreiner, Hollensbe, & Sheep, 2009):
- Clearly communicate your preferences. Make sure you communicate your preferences for boundaries between work and home to your family and coworkers (both your peers and the people you supervise). If you can’t address work issues after a certain time at home, make sure that is known to your coworkers.
- Use tools and technology in a way that matches your preferences. If you prefer separating work from home, you can use separate work and personal email accounts or phone numbers and turn off notifications on work devices while at home. For those who prefer blending work and home, you can work from home more often in a “virtual workplace,” or use the same email address and phone number for all contacts.
- Manage your time. If you prefer separating work from home, stick to a strict work schedule or only check emails during work hours. You can also block off specific times in your calendar for strictly non-work, family, or friend time. Time management is equally important for those who like blending work and home. If your preference is to blend work and home, you should make sure to set aside time to distance yourself from your work to avoid stress and exhaustion.
- Manage your physical workspace. If you prefer blending work and home life, you can hang up photos of your friends or family in your workspace. If you prefer separating work and home, but need to complete work at home, try to create a separate space for work and only perform work-related tasks in that space, during a set time frame.
- Research an organization’s culture and policies. During the job-search and interview processes, research and ask about factors that allow for integration or segmentation (for instance, working from home, flextime, shutting off email after hours). Try to understand whether the organization actually supports flexibility and how it is that employees seem to be managing work-home boundaries (Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2005).
Technology continues to change the way we manage boundaries between work and home. However, these tips can help employees to manage boundaries in a way that fits their own personal preferences.
Arielle Rogers is a doctoral student studying social and industrial-organizational psychology at Northern Illinois University. Her research is focused on occupational health, personality and emotional labor. She is particularly interested in work-life balance and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of emotions in organizations.
Dr. Larissa Barber is an assistant professor of psychology at Northern Illinois University. She teaches courses on industrial-organizational psychology, research ethics, personnel psychology, and occupational health psychology. Her research is focused on occupational stress, sleep and recovery, and work-life balance.
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