• Dr. Jeff Doolittle

Chances Are Your Work-Life Boundaries Are Not as Good as You Think



In the distraction economy, many leaders have tossed in the towel on trying to manage work-life boundaries. But, evidence suggests that not committing to managing personal and professional expectations leads to increased stress, feelings of busyness, a lack of joy, and broken relationships. Effective leaders know and manage personal work-life boundaries and consider the needs of each follower. Don't let another week go by not managing or understanding work-life boundary styles. Below you'll find tips and tools to build good leadership habits.


Why Managing Work-Life Boundaries Matter


It could be time to establish better work-life boundary habits. Many employees are currently examining their current situation and changing course. The great resignation continues to grow. In fact, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November 2021.





There are likely many reasons for the great resignation, and there isn't going to be a definitive explanation without controlled studies. However, these employees are likely not just quitting to sit around at home and watch Netflix.


Evidence from multiple studies reveals that blurred boundaries negatively impact the well-being of leaders and employees. When leaders fail to schedule priorities and expectations successfully, it often results in feelings of regret or distress. How leaders and employees manage boundaries has consequences on job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and business results. Leaders, followers, organizations, and communities benefit from healthy work-life boundary management habits.


Personal Example: Early in my career, I had an opportunity to include my family in a leadership 360-survey as part of a leadership development program. My first reaction was to question the value I could get from an online survey with my family. I knew my family loved me, and I felt we had open communication. I also debated sending it to my son, given his young age. However, wanting more feedback, I decided to go ahead and send my family the survey.



To my surprise, I learned about some hidden strengths and blind spots important to my family. One survey comment I remember from my son was that his dad was always on his mobile device. Yes, it hurt to read that I had a blind spot and was dropping the ball with one of my most significant relationships. My first private response as I read the comment was defensive and challenging.


The reality at the time was that my work responsibilities had expanded significantly. I went from site leadership responsibilities to having a team across multiple regions. Also, my young family was growing older and wanted more time from their dad. I failed to consider the impact of growing needs at home and the growing needs at work.


Thankfully, my lack of boundary management awareness didn't cost me relationships, and I could course-correct. I learned an important lesson. Just because you are not hearing concerns or seeing the negative impacts of mismanaging work-life boundaries doesn't mean everything is OK.





4 Boundary Management Styles


Does work-life separation or integration lead to achieving balance? The answer is that it varies by individual. The better you understand your preferred boundary management style and the others, the better you can manage personal work-life boundaries and adapt your leadership to the needs of your team.


There are four main work-life boundary styles:

  1. Integrators make themselves constantly available to work and non-work needs. Integrators enjoy the freedom of blending their work life and non-work life. They move back and forth between the two as needed. Taking a work call after dinner is OK for an integrator if they also can run an errand during work hours.

  2. Cyclers bounce back and forth between periods of solid separation and times of full integration.

  3. Separators divide their time and attention between either work or non-work needs. They set a hard line between personal and professional roles. When they are off the clock, they are done with work. They don't do well with after-work hours work and emails or calls.

  4. Hybrid role first styles have a defined work first or non-work first identity and allow one identity to trump the other. This style can be integrators, cyclers, or separators with a specific hybrid. If you are a work first hybrid, you will shift work hours or move family events to accommodate work.




Discovering Your Boundary Management Style


The following short survey can help you become more aware of your boundary management style. The survey measures how you perceive boundary control, manage interruptions, balance personal and professional, technology dependence, and time for self.




Interpreting your results:

  • Integrators: Low personal time scores and tendencies for high technology dependence are integrators.

  • Separators: Moderate personal time and tendencies for low technology dependence are separators.

  • Cyclers: High personal time and tendencies for high technology dependence are cyclers.

  • Role first: High family identity scores identify as a hybrid family first style. High work identity scores determine a hybrid work first style.


Tips to Better Work-Life Boundary Management


Generally, individuals with low scores for boundary control are focused on life or work priorities rather than life and work priorities, and either success or significance is sacrificed. If you received a low score on the Work-Life Boundary Management Checker, taking the following suggestions could improve your low boundary control scores:

  • Use separate devices for work and non-work activities.

  • Turn off alerts from devices during periods. Use the Do Not Disturb option on your IOS device to silence notifications.

  • Restrict access to work and non-work social media access at different times.

  • Use physical space to create separation between activities. Many of us are now working from home at least part of the time. To help keep work at work, use a separate location for work to the greatest extent possible.

  • Block time in your calendar for work and non-work priorities

  • Add time buffers to your calendar to create a transition between work and non-work activities. A commute builds a natural buffer. However, if you are working from, it could be helpful to go for a walk or make a cup of coffee as a routine to create time for a mental transition.

  • Create a regular check-in with an accountability partner for support, feedback, and encouragement.

  • Hire an executive coach. Given that the ultimate goal of coaching is personal change, the process uses essential questions and client-centered critical thinking to invoke self-awareness and personal responsibility with work-life boundaries.




Work-Life Boundary Management & Leadership


Healthy leader-follower relationships are based on trust and respect. Don't assume you know your team's boundary management styles. Simply leading others the way you want to manage boundaries may or may not work with your team.


It is best to apply the platinum rule regarding work-life boundary management. Do unto others as they would want to be done. The following are some tips you can use with your team:


  • Demonstrate respect by getting to know your team's boundary management styles. You may want to have your team read this blog and use it as a topic for discussion in your next team meeting or one-to-one.

  • Have your team take the Work-Life Boundary Management Checker and share their results with what they agree with from the quiz, what they don't, and why with examples.

  • Engage your team members in a conversation about the organizational culture and their work-life boundary management style. Where is there alignment, and where are there opportunities to be better.


Conclusion: Managing Work-Life Boundaries


Taking a work-life separation or integration approach is not always the answer. However, not committing to managing personal and professional expectations leads to increased stress, feelings of busyness, a lack of joy, and broken relationships. Effective leaders manage personal work-life boundaries and lead in alignment with their team's needs.


Is it time for you or your followers to get a better job or to do a better job managing work-life boundaries?


Let's talk about how our transformational executive coaching and organizational consulting solutions can help you achieve your goals.





References:


Foucreault, A., Ollier-Malaterre, A., & Ménard, J. (2018). Organizational culture and work-life integration: A barrier to employees' respite? International Journal of Human Resource Management, 29(16), 2378-2398.


Kossek, E. E. (2016). Managing work-life boundaries in the digital age. Organizational Dynamics, 45(3), 258-270.



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Hi, I'm Dr. Jeff Doolittle. I'm determined to make your personal and professional goals a reality. My only question is, are you?

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About Dr. Jeff Doolittle

He is the founder of Organizational Talent Consulting in Grand Rapids, MI, and Program Director of online graduate and continuing business education at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, IL. Executive leaders who work with Jeff describe him as thoughtful, decisive, intelligent, and collaborative. Jeff is a business executive with over twenty years of talent development and organizational strategy experience working with C-suite leaders in Fortune 100, Forbes top 25 private, for-profit, non-profit, and global companies in many industries.

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