Blurred Work-Life Boundaries Negatively Impact Well-being
In the past few years, numerous writers have declared work-life balance unachievable. Instead, they call for work-life integration, where individuals weave their personal and professional lives together in a way that makes sense for them (e.g., leaving the office early to attend a child’s theater performance and catching up on email during intermission, or taking a vacation to an exotic locale, but setting aside a few hours a day to tackle work projects and videoconference with colleagues).
However, new research from the University of Zurich suggests that blurring boundaries between work and personal life can negatively impact people’s sense of well-being and lead to burnout and exhaustion.
Occupational health psychologist Ariane Wepfer and her colleagues recruited 1,916 employees from a broad range of sectors in German-speaking countries to take part in an online study.
Most were married (70.3 percent), their average age was 42.3 years, and 55.8 percent were men. Half of participants worked at least 40 hours per week. Respondents were asked how well they were able to manage the boundaries between their work and non-work lives (e.g., how often they took work home, how often they worked on weekends and how often they thought about work during their time off). Participants also indicated whether they made time after work to socialize or to participate in sports and other hobbies, and how diligently they ensured their work did not interfere with their private lives.
To measure a person’s well-being, the researchers considered participants’ sense of physical and emotional exhaustion as well as their sense of balance between work and non-work.
The researchers found that employees who did not maintain clear boundaries between work and free time were less likely to participate in activities that could help them relax. They were therefore more exhausted and experienced a lower sense of balance and well-being in the different key aspects of their lives.
“Employees who integrated work into their non-work life reported being more exhausted because they recovered less,” Wepfer says. “This lack of recovery activities furthermore explains why people who integrate their work into the rest of their lives have a lower sense of well-being.”
Wepfer recommends that companies have policies in place to help employees maintain healthy work-life boundaries.
“Organizational policy and culture should be adjusted to help employees manage their work-non-work boundaries in a way that does not impair their well-being,” Wepfer says. “After all, impaired well-being goes hand in hand with reduced productivity and reduced creativity.”
The study is published in the December 2017 issue of the Journal of Business and Psychology.