Jobs and the Future of Work

Don't try to balance work and life. Integrate the two

A woman with a book sits on a bench at the departure area at the Fraport airport in Frankfurt November 14, 2012. Frankfurt airport's new Mandarin-speaking personal shopper service is just one example of how leisure and travel firms in crisis-struck Europe are trying to tap into the seemingly inexhaustible spending power of Chinese tourists. Value-added tax (VAT) refund data shows that Chinese travellers, who could overtake Germans as the world's biggest spenders on foreign travel this year, top the tax free shopping leaderboard in European cities like Paris, London and Frankfurt.  Picture taken November14, 2012.  REUTERS/Lisi Niesner  (GERMANY - Tags: BUSINESS TRAVEL) - RTR3AXH4

Keeping work and life separate could be making you stressed. Image: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Emma Luxton
Senior Writer , Forum Agenda
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To have a good work-life balance you shouldn’t take work home with you, and personal matters should be dealt with in your own time, right? Wrong, says new research.

Keeping work and home life separate could actually be making you more stressed. Instead, integrating the two is the best strategy to strike the right balance.

The research, published in the journal Human Relations, studied over 600 employees and found that integrating work and home life can actually make employees more effective at their jobs.

“Overall, these findings suggest that integration, rather than segmentation, may be a better long-term boundary management strategy for minimizing self-regulatory depletion and maintaining higher levels of job performance during inevitable work-family role transitions,” the researchers note.

Switching between your work and home roles is much harder if you try to keep them completely separate, the research suggests. Being actively engaged in one role while also thinking about your other role is known as a cognitive role transition. The larger the separation between the roles, the bigger the transition.

And it’s these transitions that can cause stress, as well as depleting energy levels, as you attempt to banish thoughts of your other role from your head and focus on the task at hand.

You might be sitting at your desk when suddenly it occurs to you: “I need to speak to my son’s school.” Pushing this thought away and attempting to continue concentrating on your work will result in increased stress and reduce your ability to focus.

The researchers suggest employers should allow workers to integrate their home life into their work life, and vice versa.

"In the long run,” they argue, “it may be better to allow employees' minds to wander and take occasional phone calls from home rather than set up policies that establish strict and inflexible boundaries.”

While most people are still searching for the right work-life balance, some nationalities are closer to achieving it than others.

According to the OECD’s Better Life Index, Denmark has the best work-life balance of the 20 OECD countries studied.

 Top 10 countries with the best work-life balance
Image: OECD

Most employees in Denmark don't work long hours, and government policies support families with young children, allowing people to balance their work and home life.

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