Work-Life Boundaries and Well-Being: Does Work-to-Life Integration Impair Well-Being through Lack of Recovery?

Abstract

Against the backdrop of increasingly blurred boundaries between work and nonwork, the purpose of this study was to investigate the implications of employees’ work-to-life boundary enactment for well-being. Using border/boundary theory (as reported by Ashforth, Kreiner, & Fugate (Academy of Management Review 25(3):472–491, 2000) and Clark (Human Relations 54(6):747–770, 2000)) and the effort-recovery model (as reported by Meijman & Mulder (Handbook of work and organizational psychology vol. 2 55–53, 1998)), we developed a research model that links work-to-life integration enactment to exhaustion and impaired work-life balance via lack of recovery activities (as reported by Sonnentag, Journal of Applied Psychology 88(3):518–528, 2003). The model was tested using structural equation modeling. Our sample consisted of N = 1916 employees who were recruited via an online panel service. Results showed that employees who scored high on work-to-life integration enactment reported less recovery activities and in turn were more exhausted and experienced less work-life balance. Our study contributes to the existing literature on boundary management by investigating the well-being implications of work-to-life boundary enactment and by suggesting and testing recovery as an underlying mechanism. In doing so, we link boundary enactment with existing theory of the work-life interface. Based on our review of existent research on boundary management and well-being, we disentangle previous contradictory findings. Understanding of the well-being implications of boundary enactment and underlying mechanisms can help human resource professionals and practitioners to devise and implement organizational policies and interventions that enable employees to develop boundary management strategies that are sustainable in that they do not impair employees’ well-being.

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Fig. 1
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Notes

  1. 1.

    To rule out the possibility that our WLI enactment scale simply measures work-centrality, we included a work-centrality scale in our study. The correlation between WLI enactment and work centrality was r = .33. Multiple regression analyses that included WLI enactment and work centrality as predictors of our well-being indicators showed that WLI enactment was still highly significantly associated with exhaustion and work-life balance after controlling for work centrality. This rules out the alternative explanation that work centrality explains the association between WLI enactment and our well-being indicators.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by research funds of the Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Prevention Institute; Division Public and Organizational Health; University of Zurich

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Correspondence to Ariane G. Wepfer.

Appendix

Appendix

The first four items of each direction, items 1–4 and 9–12, are concerned with physical aspects of boundaries—2 for local aspects and 2 for temporal aspects. Items 5 and 6 and 13 and 14 are concerned with psychological boundaries and items 7 and 8 and 15 and 16 with behavioral aspects of boundaries.

Instructions

The following questions are concerned with how you currently manage the boundaries between work and nonwork life. The items below consist of two opposing statements. Please indicate for each item, what matches your own behavior. The closer to a statement you put your mark, the more this statement reflects your own behavior. There is no right or wrong.

Please indicate where you place yourself between both ends of the scale.
Work-to-life segmentation/integration
01 I never work from home. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often work from home.
02* I never take work home. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often take work home.
03* I always leave my workplace on time. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often leave my workplace late.
04* I never work after hours or on weekends. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often work after hours or on weekends.
05* I never think about work matters during my time off. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often think about work matters during my time off.
06* I never communicate with people from work during my time off. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often communicate with people from work during my time off.
07 I never talk about work with people from outside of work. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often talk about work with people from outside of work.
08 Outside of work, I am a different person than I am at work. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Outside of work I am the same person as I am at work.
Life-to-work segmentation/integration
09* I never take care of nonwork matters while physically at my workplace. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often take care of nonwork matters while physically at my workplace.
10 I have no personal items at my workplace. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I have many personal items at my workplace.
11* I never get to work late or leave early, in order to take care of nonwork matters. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often get to work late or leave early, in order to take care of nonwork matters.
12* I never take care of nonwork matters during scheduled work hours. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often take care of nonwork matters during scheduled work hours.
13* I never think about nonwork issues while I am at work. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often think about nonwork issues while I am at work.
14* I never communicate with family and friends while I am at work. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I often communicate with family and friends while I am at work.
15 I never talk about my nonwork life at work. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 I talk a lot about my nonwork life at work.
16 At work I behave completely different than at home. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 At work I behave the same way as at home.
  1. *Items that were kept in the scale

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Wepfer, A.G., Allen, T.D., Brauchli, R. et al. Work-Life Boundaries and Well-Being: Does Work-to-Life Integration Impair Well-Being through Lack of Recovery?. J Bus Psychol 33, 727–740 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-017-9520-y

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Keywords

  • Boundary management
  • Boundary enactment
  • Recovery
  • Well-being
  • Exhaustion
  • Work-life balance