Donna McCloskey, Widener University – How to Set Boundaries between Work and Home

Work is always with you in the digital age.

Donna McCloskey, associate professor in the School of Business Administration at Widener University, explores how to set boundaries between work and home.

Donna Weaver McCloskey is an associate professor in Widener University’s School of Business Administration. She holds a bachelor of science in finance and management information systems from the University of Delaware, a master of business administration from Widener University, and a doctor of philosophy in decision sciences/management information systems from Drexel University. Weaver McCloskey earned the Certified Associate in Project Management credential from the Project Management Institute and is active in a number of professional organizations. As a recipient of multiple teaching awards, she enjoys teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

How to Set Boundaries between Work and Home

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This generation of workers are the first who can, literally, work anytime and anywhere – and evidence suggests they are doing so.

Mobile technology has blurred the physical and time boundaries that once existed between work and personal lives. Many people face conflicts when the stress or demands from one role interferes with the other.

We must consider three boundary components – schedule flexibility, work boundary permeability, and home boundary permeability. While prior research often merged flexibility and permeability, my research separates these constructs and shows that each has different impacts on work-family conflict.

For example, flexibility appears to be the most beneficial to meeting work and family demands. Workers increasingly have flexibility through formal programs, such as flex time or telework, or informal, such as leaving the office early for a personal appointment.

But while mobile technology offers flexibility, it also blurs the lines between work and personal roles, which increases stress and decreases work/life satisfaction. 

It is critical that workers consciously design behavioral boundaries to avoid work-family conflicts.

Workers can start by becoming self-aware of their existing levels of flexibility and work/home boundary permeability. A time log can reveal surprising insights.

Once aware of how, when, where and why boundaries are crossed, workers can be more conscious about maintaining boundaries. Just as telecommuters are coached to set boundaries through routines and rules, so too should knowledge workers.

A conscious decision to use separate devices for work and home, transitional routes for entering and leaving roles, and negotiating rules with both the employer and family members can allow workers to have more control over boundary permeability, while still taking advantage of the flexibility today’s technology offers.

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