For most of us, mental separation between our home and work lives, is something that we think we need.
Having definitive, boundaries between your workplace and work mind, versus your home life and family-centered mind, seems like the best way to keep those worlds from colliding.
We try various things to leave work in the office and home at the door. For example, you might set guidelines for when you will stop handling work emails and phone calls. Or you might not do personal chores at the office.
However, recent research suggests that keeping such clear distinctions and barriers between work/home might not be the best option. Merging the two a bit more could work better.
When we set up strict barriers in our mind between family responsibilities, relaxation, time with friends, and obligations of the work place, it actually takes more effort and stress to transition between those different roles and mindsets.
Let’s say you are sitting at your desk at work and you get a call from your wife or husband saying that one of the kids is sick and had to be pulled out of school today. When such home related thoughts occupy your mind in the workplace, your mind needs to transition from work mode to home mode. This drains your energy and makes you less focused on task at work, which leads to lower performance levels. Similarly, if you’re spending time with your kids and remember something about the workplace, you need to make an effort to block those thoughts out.
Research done by Ball State University and St. Louis University suggests that keeping your roles more fluid and being able to break some of those boundaries is actually better for keeping your stress/effort levels lower. This flexibility allows you to limit depletion of your cognitive resources.
Their study analyzed more than 600 employees, to understand what happens when they are at home or work, and think about things related to their ‘other life’. What they found is that people who had blurred the boundaries between work and home experience more transitions daily between those roles, but those people also experience significantly less stress and effort during the transitions.
They were able to develop tactics and strategies that would help them easily transition between their roles. So they either deal with the thought/matter effectively or put it on the back-burner, without letting it cause stress, use up their resources, or impact the quality of what they are doing at work or home. They don’t look at the matter as conflicting, or as an intrusion, or something that shouldn’t be happening.
People who maintained higher boundaries between home and work life, experienced less frequent transitions but with higher stress and effort levels. This had a greater impact on their performance at work as well as their responsibilities at home.
“It could be that, because work and life are more closely integrated and less separate, it’s just easier for those individuals to push a home-related thought out of their mind, knowing they’ll be back in the home role sooner. This may be why those employees in the study who had more blurred lines between work and life were the ones who experienced less disruption of job performance when home situations interrupted work time. However, it could also be that the more frequent role transitions makes it easier for those individuals to push the thought out of their mind with less willpower (almost like exercising a muscle).
“Overall, our findings suggest that integration, rather than segmentation, may be a better long-term boundary management strategy for minimizing resource depletion and maintaining higher levels of job performance during inevitable work-family role transitions,” researchers stated.
What do you think? Is this something that is worth trying, or do you think it won’t work for you in practice?