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Blurring the Boundaries of Work and Home

October 5 2010 - Employees with flexible schedules tend to experience greater blurring of boundaries between work and other parts of their lives, especially family-related roles, according to research from the University of Toronto published in the Journal of Family Issues. Sociology professor Scott Schieman and PhD student Marisa Young drew on data from a national survey of more than 1200 North American workers to measure the extent of schedule control and its impact on work-family processes.

Scott Schieman explained:

"Most people probably would identify schedule control as a good thing - an indicator of flexibility that helps them balance their work and home lives. We wondered about the potential stress of schedule control for the work-family interface. What happens if schedule control blurs the boundaries between these key social roles?"

Participants were asked: 'Who usually decides when you start and finish work each day at your main job? Is it someone else, or can you decide within certain limits, or are you entirely free to decide when you start and finish work?'

The study found that those with more flexibility are also more likely to work at home, attempting simultaneous work - family multitasking. Those reporting more blurring of work-family boundaries also tend to experience more conflict between roles and a consequent increase in stress. Researchers point to substantial evidence linking work-family conflict to poorer physical and mental health outcomes.

The study assessed work-family conflict by responses to questions such as:

  • ‘How often have you not had enough time for your family or other important people in your life because of your job?’
  • ‘How often have you not had the energy to do things with your family or other important people in your life because of your job?’
  • ‘How often has your job kept you from concentrating on important things in your family and personal life?’

However, the researchers also identified benefits to flexible working.

Scott Schieman said:

"People who had partial or full schedule control were able to engage in work-family multitasking activities with fewer negative consequences in terms of conflict between their work and family roles. Overall, our findings contribute to an ongoing—and complicated—debate about the costs and benefits of different forms of flexibility for workers.”

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