Many of us are now working at home or splitting our time between home and the ‘old’ office due to COVID restrictions. Those without the option of moving into a safe home office space over the pandemic or have been commuting to and from work trying to stay safe. Under these circumstances, the issue of work-life balance has been more highlighted than it was previously. While we speak of work-life balance, it is really more about work-life boundaries, about how we control the boundaries around work and non-work activities.
“Boundary control refers to the extent to which you perceive that you are in control of how you manage the boundaries between your work life and personal life.“ (Kossek, 2016, p.262)
Boundary control will vary for each individual as we have our own unique ways of working and engaging around work and what we value; distinctive personalities and behaviours; different life phases; and preferred work styles. Kossek (2016) has identified three work styles – integrators who are happy to mix work and personal activities during the day ensuring that work is done by working later, or on weekends to make up the time and ensure the job gets done; cyclers being those who have jobs that have peak busy periods where work concertinas between busy and quiet (think teachers or FIFO workers); and separators being those who have a clear delineation between work and personal life, setting limits on both and preferring, or being unable, to mix the two.
The digital world in which we live makes it easy to be ‘on’ far more than ever. Enhanced communication technology allows more connectivity and immediacy, creating expectations that people are constantly available (Von Bergen, Bressler. 2019). The merging of work and non-work has implication for personal well-being and relationships, as well as the organisational level.
“Effectively managing work—life boundaries cannot only reduce work—life conflicts, but can also reduce stress, burnout, addictions, mood disorders, and enhance mental and physical health.” (Kossek, 2016, p.259)
“The ‘always-on’ work culture also creates numerous problems for organisations stemming primarily from the fact that it denies workers a sense of individual efficacy and autonomy by putting them on a permanent state of alert. It drains morale and initiative, and scatters employees’ mental resources, making it difficult for them to take ownership of projects and prioritise their efforts. Additionally, research on working long hours is associated with productivity decreases for firms.” (Von Bergen, Bressler, 2019, p.54)
France was the first European country to recognise the importance of ‘work-life’ boundaries, introducing the ‘right to disconnect’ legislation in 2017. The El Khomari law recognises that “employees are under no obligation to bring work home…and that it was not misconduct if an employee was not reachable on a smartphone outside of work hours.” (Von Bergen, Bressler, 2019, p.57). In an Australian first, the Victorian Police recently had the ‘right to disconnect’ written into their enterprise bargaining agreement. Police officers are to be contacted outside of their shift hours only in the case of an emergency such as a bushfire or terrorist attack. (Ziffer, 2021)
Although we are not always one hundred percent in control of our work flow, we are in the main responsible for setting our own work-life boundaries. We are in charge of our own self-care, of knowing our preferred working style, of knowing when we are happiest with our life situation, and when someone has overstepped the line. To determine what those boundaries are requires self-reflection, time out to review our current situation and ponder how things might be different going forward.
“If you feel you do not have time to develop friendships outside of work, exercise, or just relax to take care of yourself, particularly if you place a high value on needing time for self, you are unlikely to have healthy work— life boundaries.“ (Kossek, 2016, p.265)
What are your work boundaries? How are you setting boundaries to ensure you have a sense of control over your life in these COVID times? Please don’t hesitate to get in touch if the above resonates with you in light of your own situation.
Kossek, Ellen Ernst. (2016) Managing Work life in the Digital Age. Organizational Dynamics, 45, 258-270 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308050367_Managing_Work_life_in_the_Digital_Age
Von Bergen, C.W., Bressler, Martin S. (2019) Work, non-work boundaries and the right to disconnect. Journal of Applied Business and Economics, May, 51-69
Ziffer, Daniel (2021) Right to disconnect looms as massive work change giving lives back to employees. The Business, ABC News, April 6, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-04-06/right-to-disconnect-gives-workers-their-lives-back/100040424