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

Business News Daily Editor
Business News Daily Editor

When one domain of life interrupts another, there can be serious consequences. Here's how to manage it for the better.

  • Studies have shown mixed results on blending work life with home life. There can be positive and negative interactions that occur when family and work responsibilities come together.
  • Setting boundaries is one of the most important steps in achieving a healthy work-life balance. Make expectations clear and stand by your own rules.
  • Make changes at home and the office to achieve a good work-life balance. Delegating duties and limiting access to work materials while at home can help.

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?

Positives and negatives of blending work and home

A study from Baylor University's Hankamer School of Business found that the effects of mixing home and work is 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."

Harnessing the benefits

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 lunchtime 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.

Additional tips on maintaining a healthy work-life balance

One of the hardest parts of maintaining a healthy work and family balance is the inability to delegate. The Mayo Clinic recommends that individuals find ways to delegate activities that they don't have adequate time to complete. These activities can be chores at home or duties at work. Type A personalities often have a time ceding control, but delegating can free up time for things you enjoy. It's also important to harness the power of saying no. If you're overtaxed or the task is something you don't enjoy, avoid being a people-pleaser by automatically agreeing to the job.

Limiting screen time is another way to maintain a healthy work-life balance. When you're out of the office, avoid checking emails or any other work-related content. Disconnect unless it's an absolute emergency.

Set boundaries with people at work and in your personal life. If you're spread too thin as it is, avoid individuals who take up your time or who aren't a positive influence. For instance, if you find yourself stuck on the phone with the office gossip, politely excuse yourself from the conversation.

Finally, make changes gradually if you want to get your life back on track. For instance, if you normally work every weekend, you may feel out of sorts by suddenly drastically reducing your hours. Instead, cut back your hours gradually until you feel comfortable.

Image Credit: Jacob_Ammentorp_Lund_ / Getty Images
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