What do we know about juggling work and life outside it?
Research by Professor Nancy Rothbard, at the University of Pennsylvania, has found that people generally have one of two styles for helping them to actively manage the interface or boundary between work and other parts of their lives – segregation or integration.
An integrated style would mean dealing with some personal matters during work time, such as paying bills or making doctor’s appointments. People who prefer a segregated style keep their non-work activities away from work, and don’t take work home in any way.
For our wellbeing it doesn’t seem to matter which style we use: neither approach has come out as superior to the other in helping us cope with juggling work and the other aspects of our lives. What has been found is that we are more likely to be satisfied at work and committed to the organisation we work for if our style matches the employment policies and practices of that organisation.
There are a number of other consistent research findings about work-life balance:
- The better the “fit” between the person and the job, the greater the likelihood of engagement with work. (Engagement means satisfaction, enjoyment, and fulfilment.)
- Family-supportive work environments have been shown to be associated with greater levels of family and job satisfaction and organisational commitment.
- Support from others can function as a buffer between job or family demands (the stressors) and levels of work-family conflict.
- Increased hours of work do not necessarily translate into working smarter or greater productivity, and in fact have been shown to have negative consequences on work productivity, as well as on health and wellbeing.
- Our perception of work-life conflict and balance may be the most important factor in the way we manage it. How we think about each of the roles we have is likely to determine whether holding multiple roles is enriching or depleting for us.
Idea for putting this research knowledge into action
Here are some of the key ideas you might want to consider:
- When thinking about work-life balance, and how you want it to be, think broadly about all the areas of your life: work, both paid and unpaid, family and community responsibilities, leisure.
- Figure out what aspects of your life give you the most satisfaction, enjoyment and sense of engagement. Try not to be influenced by what you think you ought to feel, or by pressure from others. Then make sure you make these aspects a priority.
- Work out your style – integration or segregation. Remember, this may change over time as, for example, your children go through different stages or your job becomes more demanding.
- Ensure a good fit between your style and the organisation you work for.