Thursday, 31 January 2013

Finding the balance between work and home

(We're reporting from this month's Division of Occupational Psychology conference at the Digest. This post is by Dr Jon Sutton, Managing Editor of The Psychologist, and will also feature in that magazine's March issue. @jonmsutton / @psychmag)



Who is responsible for work-life balance? The individual, the organisation, or even the legislative system? That was the question posed at the start of this symposium, and it became clear that ‘one size fits all’ policies and practices don’t exist: we must understand needs and wants in order to tailor solutions.

First up was Dr Ellen Ernst Kossek (Purdue University, US), who identified the importance of feeling in psychological control of boundaries. Based on three validated measures of ‘cross role interruption behaviours’, ‘boundary control’ and ‘work-family identity centralities’, Kossek outlined different profiles. You’re either an ‘integrator’, or a ‘separator’, or you cycle between the two: a ‘volleyer’. Add in consideration of whether your well-being level is high or low and you end up with six styles, including the ‘fusion lovers’ who are happy to integrate work and family life, the ‘job warriors’ who volley away to their heart’s discontent, and ‘captives’ who are the separators with low well-being.

The image of Winston Churchill in his pyjamas, as an early remote worker, cast a large shadow over the talk by Dr Christine Grant and colleagues from Coventry and Warwick Universities. Grant described her work to outline competencies related to the effective e-worker, and to develop an assessment tool. Organisations can provide training for existing and new e-workers, Dr Grant said, before leaving us with the thought that ‘a good manager is always a good manager; a bad manager is worse as an e-worker’.

It’s one thing taking your work home with you when you’re an academic or editor, but another entirely when you’ve just been pulling a family out of some motorway wreckage. Dr Almuth McDowall (University of Surrey) looked at work-life balance self-management strategies in the police force, eliciting 134 behaviours from semi-structured interviews. Some were context-specific, for example in the police it’s actually very important not to take work home with your, as it is confidential and often intrusive material. McDowall highlighted the importance of communication and negotiation over work-life balance, and suggested that there is a separate competence for line managing work-life balance in others.

Finally, Professor Gail Kinman (University of Bedfordshire) tackled a subject close to home for many: work-life conflict in UK academics. She noted that academics vary in the extent to which they wish their roles to be integrated, with many highly absorbed in the job role and most working considerably over the 48 hour working time directive. In Kinman’s survey of 760 academics in at least 99 universities, most academics weren’t getting the separation they wanted. Working at home and ICT use predicted work-life conflict. Kinman called for enhanced sensitivity to variation in boundary management styles and preferences amongst colleagues and supervisors, citing the example of sending e-mails at the weekend as potentially role modelling that behaviour for the recipient.

Another interesting point to emerge from the symposium is that most measures of work-life balance are focused on the impact on families, despite the fact that it’s an issue for the single and childless as well.

Further reading:

ResearchBlogging.orgErnst Kossek, E., Lewis, S., & Hammer, L. (2009). Work--life initiatives and organizational change: Overcoming mixed messages to move from the margin to the mainstream Human Relations, 63 (1), 3-19 DOI: 10.1177/0018726709352385

19 comments:

  1. Work from home gives the luxury to work very comfortably and in a good environment that is controlled by ourselves.

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  2. Work from home is great and we can work at our comfort and no 9-5 stressful hours. We can have breaks and continue on and depends on our work volume. I really appreciate your impressive posts.

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  6. The key to a successful work-life relationship is to actively manage your flexstyle, Kossek said. “You have to think about what feeds your soul. What makes you feel the best about yourself.” You want to “give your time and energy to things that you love.”

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