If Work/Life is a hot topic (or pressure point) for employees in your organization, resolve to change the conversation in 2015.
“Stop talking about balance,” says CCL’s Marian Ruderman. “Balance is a faulty metaphor, using a trade-off mentality to describe work and non-work time.”
“Our research suggests that boundaries are more important than balance — and give us a more dynamic, realistic and personalized image to work with,” Ruderman continues.
Many of us don’t feel balanced, and the idea of balance just isn’t helpful. We stress and struggle to live up to an image of doing it all and in just the right amounts. If we think about boundaries instead, more options open up — for individuals and for organizations.
People have different styles in how they manage the boundaries between work and non-work. CCL, in collaboration with Ellen Ernst Kossek, Ph.D., of Perdue University has developed a model of boundaries that combines behavioral preferences, with identity and a sense of control. This research has identified five work/life types, or behavioral preferences. Out of 4,418 people who completed CCL’s WorkLife Indicator, here’s what we’ve found about the way people prefer to behave in terms of boundaries.
- 42% are Separators, preferring to keep work and personal tasks and commitments separated with a clear boundary between the two. They tend to work during “business hours” and from a work location. Work stuff stays at work and home stuff stays at home. This is the more traditional style of working that has become challenged by a global business environment and technology that goes everywhere. An example of this style is the person who rarely, if ever, takes work with them on weekends or vacations. This person would also never schedule a family activity during work time.
- 24% are Integrators, blending work with personal tasks and commitments throughout the day. Their work life interrupts home life and vice versa. They move from business calls to running personal errands to taking care of someone; managing tasks anytime from anywhere. An example of this style is someone who takes a long lunch break to exercise, but then offsets it by working from home that night.
- 24% are Cyclers, switching back and forth between periods of integrating family and work followed by periods of intentionally separating them. An example of this style is a person who travels often or who has seasonal or project-driven work. Others may cycle around school schedules, custody agreements or other personal circumstances.
- 7% are Work Firsters, putting their work schedule first and protecting work time. They let work activities interrupt family time, but do not let family matters interrupt work. An example of this style is a parent who answers emails and makes work calls at sports events, family dinners and vacations — but rarely makes personal calls at work.
- 3% are Family Firsters, putting their family schedule first. They allow work to be interrupted by family needs, but protect their family time from work interruptions. An example of this style is a parent who rearranges work to care for a sick child or elderly relative — but rarely gives up family time for work.
Ideally, jobs and life circumstances match a person’s preferred way to set boundaries. The work/life juggle may still be hectic, but it will be more satisfying and productive. That’s because the more control a person has over where, how and when they work and how they manage other responsibilities, the easier it is for them to fit the different pieces of life together. Boundary control is another factor we measure with the WorkLife Indicator, and our database of 4,418 shows:
- 52% have High Boundary Control. They decide when to focus on work, when to focus on family, or when to blend the two. For example; they may decide to stay late at the office to finish a large project. Or, they might decide to attend a school event on a weekday morning and arrive at the office mid-day. Individuals with high boundary control feel they have the authority and ability to make these decisions and to manage any resulting trade-offs.
- 12% have Mid-level Boundary Control. They sometimes decide when to focus on work, when to focus on family or when to blend the two, but there are times when they feel they have no choice. For example, they can sometimes focus their attention and time on family matters during work hours, but there are times they would like to use another approach but cannot. They may want to separate or integrate more than they are able to. As a result, they often try to limit the amount of times they “cash in this chip.”
- 36% have Low Boundary Control. They do not decide when they focus on work, when they focus on family or when they blend the two. In most cases, these limitations are established by the type of job they have, their personal circumstances or both.
What does this mean for how you approach work/life issues in your organization? The concept of work/life boundaries can reframe the conversation employees have with each other, with their manager and with their families. Talking about preference versus reality can help identify areas that are most frustrating for employees and managers — and reveal potential fixes that ease the struggle. Get creative about boundary control, too, because even the most structured or high-demand jobs can be shaped to give employees just a bit more ease to meet both work and family needs.
Often, small changes that hit the mark make a big difference in the lives of your employees — and boost their capacity to be productive and effective on the job.
Ideas Into Action
- Help employees increase effectiveness with the WorkLife Indicator, an online self-assessment that measures an individual’s approach for managing the boundaries between work and family. The integrated individual feedback report and development planning guide provide concrete strategies and tips to create a more productive and sustainable way of managing boundaries between work and family.
- Read more about work/life boundaries and tips to help employees and managers address what matters most: