January 2, 2018

When Work Life Takes over Personal Life

Flex-hours, freelance and working from home sound great. And they can be. But you need to set some boundaries.

Your work will take over your life if you let it. The ability to work from home, a coffee shop or virtually anywhere is a double-edged sword. It can make work more flexible and make you more efficient, but it can also play havoc with the rest of your life. All those emails, texts and phone calls from bosses and colleagues blur the line between work and the rest of your life. Some degree of separation seems to be essential to most people's well being.

Nowhere is this more evident than in a recent study of over 1,900 people in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The researchers noted that if you don't set firm boundaries between your work and your personal life, you're likely to find yourself working when you should be with family and friends or just relaxing and enjoying yourself.

Some degree of separation between work and the rest of one's life seems to be essential to most people's well being.

People in the study were asked questions about their work/life boundaries, ranging from how often they worked late or took work home to whether they made time to relax and socialize after work, and the steps they took to insure that their work did not interfere with their private life. They were also asked questions about their work/life balance.

People who indicated less separation between their work life and their outside life reported being more exhausted, both mentally and physically. Part of this appeared to be due to how little time they spent on recovery activities — time spent doing things they wanted to do rather than the things they had to do. But the lack of boundaries itself also seemed to play a part.

The study can't prove that too little separation between work and outside life caused exhaustion, only that the two go together. The same is true for exhaustion being caused by lack of revitalizing recovery activities. But who can't find a link in their own life between work and exhaustion?

A flexible work schedule can especially create problems for parents by distracting their attention from their children when they need it the most. But it can affect singles too, since they are often seen as having few outside responsibilities. And while your boss may not agree or even care, all work and no play really does make Jack a dull boy. And doesn't do much for Jill, either.

If you're one of the many people now working more hours than you ever did before, the demands of work can be a black hole that you'll never fill unless you create some separation from them.

The study is published in the Journal of Business and Psychology.

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