Boundaries Lower Work Stress
Let’s be honest, smartphones and laptops provide us with an amazing opportunity to not only connect with people globally but also to work remotely anywhere in the world. Here is the catch though, these information communication tools are starting to blur the lines between work and home life. Being one “send” button away from each other creates the illusion that we are accessible at all times, even after work hours.
If life is work and work never stops, how can we achieve a healthy work-life balance?
Studies have found that intrusions after work hours are detrimental to well-being. In one study, Assistant Professor Yihao Liu and colleagues at the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that boundary control is crucial for workers to keep stress levels at bay.
For this study, the researchers had more than 500 public school teachers take surveys and write weekly diaries for five weeks. Then, they investigated how off-work intrusions via smartphones or work emails affect teachers’ stress levels. Liu and colleagues reported a relationship between intrusions after work hours and ruminating on negative work experiences, feeling distressed and sleep problems like insomnia. However, they also found that teachers who had better boundaries around work and personal life spent less time ruminating on work.
In light of the study findings, the researchers suggest that principals who support work-home life and parents who are mindful of boundary expectations strengthen teachers’ boundary control. Thus, teachers who are supported are less likely to spend hours thinking badly about their work. Instead, they are more likely to have the mental energy to focus on other priorities without guilt.
We all have specific roles that we play in different domains of our lives. Working individuals have certain duties and responsibilities at their workplace that are only applicable to their work environment. However, intrusions after work hours create a clash with the role(s) that we play at home. Therefore, we feel a need to draw psychological boundaries to distinguish personal life from work.
According to boundary-border theory, work and home act as “borders” that we transition in and out of depending on our wants and needs. We can choose to integrate or separate work and home roles if we need to work from home, for example. Liu and colleagues propose that pressure to be online after work hours via information communication technologies weaken home boundaries.
In the case of public school teachers, principals and parents act as border keepers for the work domain. The “always-online” illusion that the internet creates makes it easier for border keepers to place more demands on teachers even after work.
In an interview for the Illinois News Bureau, Liu states that “Setting a good boundary between work and regular life is going to help more people and more stakeholders. Overall, it’s critical that individuals manage their work-life boundaries for their own health and well-being, but also for their own productivity and their colleagues’ productivity.”
Due to the recent pandemic, most people had to work from home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. As work continues to shift into online spaces, it becomes especially important to learn how to create better boundaries to play the different roles in our lives as best as possible.
Turning off email alerts on your smartphone is a good start to create better boundaries around work and your personal life. Remember that our laptops and smartphones are only tools to make our lives easier and we have the power to use them for our benefit.
- 1. Park, Y., Liu, Y., & Headrick, L. (2020). When work is wanted after hours: Testing weekly stress of information communication technology demands using boundary theory. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 41, 518-534. https://doi.org/10.1002/job.2461
- 2. Ashforth, B. E., Kreiner, G. E., & Fugate, M. (2000). All in a day's work: Boundaries and micro role transitions. Academy of Management Review, 25, 472–491. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2000.3363315
- 3. Kreiner, G., Hollensbe, E., & Sheep, M. L. (2009). Balancing borders and bridges: Negotiating work–home interface via boundary work tactics. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 704–730. https://doi.org/10.5465/AMJ.2009.43669916
- 4. https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/809752