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When Work and Life Overlap: The Pros and Cons of Boundary Violations

When Work and Life Overlap: The Pros and Cons of Boundary Violations
Credit: alphaspirit/Shutterstock

It's not uncommon for employees to take calls from their significant others while at work. In fact, you probably often overhear a brief conversation between colleagues and their family members. But have you ever stopped to think whether those interruptions are helping or harming performance?

A new study from Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business found that the effects of mixing home and work so thoroughly is a bit of a mixed bag. Emily Hunter, associate professor of management in Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business and lead author on the study, said that familial interactions at work – and work interactions in the domicile – come with pros and cons. Naturally, when one comes knocking, the other loses out on some attention. However, employees also demonstrated positive reactions to a more integrated work and family situation.

"Our results demonstrate that the effect of interruptions in the work and home domains are twofold: On one hand, they may lead to unwelcome consequences, including obstruction of goals, negative affect, decreased satisfaction with investment in work and family and work-family conflict," researchers wrote. "On the other, greater integration of work and family may afford workers increased positive affect, as these interruptions help them meet certain work or family goals."

Boundary violations – when work seeps into family life, or vice versa – aren't inherently positive, but steps can be taken to maximize the benefits while minimizing the drawbacks.

Whether these boundary violations are fruitful or not has to do entirely with the employee's own goals in each domain. If family interruptions obstruct a work goal, for example, an employee is unlikely to respond positively, further dampening their productivity. If work interrupts a family dinner and nothing is achieved as a result, employee satisfaction with their job is likely to decrease.

On the other hand, proper planning and time management can harness all the benefits – when employees feel they can coordinate or complete goals across domains, a healthy work-life integration leads to a virtuous cycle.

"Employees could set aside specific times in their workday when they invite and initiate communication with family, such as lunch time or a midafternoon break when their children arrive home from school," researchers wrote. "In this way, they allow their work boundary to be permeable to family violations at certain times while setting limits on family interruptions that would otherwise interfere with workflow. Not only does this minimize work goal obstruction, but it also may generate positive outcomes for their family members."

The same goes for work invading the home domain. Managing the expectations of colleagues about availability and respecting familial obligations before working off the clock is key to a successful balance.

"Workers who work from home in off-job hours can also benefit from managing co-worker expectations about availability after hours, setting aside time after children go to bed to accomplish work tasks with minimal obstruction to their family role and setting limits on hours of smartphone use for work purposes," Hunter said.

The study, published in the Journal of Management, analyzed diary entries kept by 121 employees, who logged their activities for 10 days as part of the research. Each employee worked at least 35 hours per week during traditional business hours and was living with a spouse or partner. Malissa A. Clark and Dawn S. Carlson contributed to the study along with Hunter.

Adam Uzialko

Adam C. Uzialko, a New Jersey native, graduated from Rutgers University in 2014 with a degree in political science and journalism and media studies. He reviews healthcare information technology, call centers, document management software and employee monitoring software. In addition to his full-time position at Business News Daily and business.com, Adam freelances for several outlets. An indispensable ally of the feline race, Adam is owned by four lovely cats.