April 21, 2020

Work without boundaries: When every day is ‘take-your-kids-to-work day’

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — In-home activities are available for families who still want to celebrate Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day on Thursday (April 23). The day is designed to show children the “possibilities associated with balanced work and family life,” according to the foundation.

But nearly every day is “take-your-kids-to-work day” for millions of Americans forced to telecommute due to COVID-19, said a Purdue University work-life balance expert.

Ellen Ernst Kossek, the Basil S. Turner Professor of Management in the Krannert School of Management at Purdue, has written about and interviewed hundreds of Fortune 500 employees on managing work-life boundaries in the digital age.

kossek-ellen Ellen Ernst Kossek. (Courtesy photo) Download image

“With this new normal, what’s happened is work without boundaries,” Kossek said. “A lot of my work has shown that people vary in the degree to which they like to integrate work and non-work roles. And if things are happening that are stressful for parents at work, it can bleed over into the family dynamics.”

Kossek provided these tips to help parents better manage the boundaries between their personal and professional lives:

  • Transition time: “The idea of transition time is very important for well-being so that you can switch mentally, emotionally and physically, from your work role to your non-work role. When you’re at home, you don’t have transition time very well, so what you might want to do is go for a walk, cook dinner, listen to music — do something to transition from your job so that you can mentally be there for your family.”
  • Substitution and sharing: “If you’re married, trade off with your spouse on who is primary for domestic demands such as childcare, cooking and cleaning, so one of you could be in work mode while one of you could be in family mode, to give yourselves each a break. Share responsibilities with your partner so you’re not on call all the time.”
  • Communication and planning to avoid job creep: “Talk with your boss and your co-workers about availability in this new normal, and say, ‘Here is when I am available: Here is when I’m not. This is when I help with homework: This is when I’m away on the weekend.’ I think you do have to negotiate those boundaries with your team, and you can also ask them about their contact times.”
  • Avoid isolation by regularly scheduling ways to connect socially. “Teleworking works best when you have some face-to-face contact. When you’re by yourself completely, it can be very isolating. Similarly, parents should stay connected with their kids, even if that’s via video chat. My husband and I have started a family zoom on Sundays with kids in four cities — including one who is overseas — experimenting with finding a time that doesn’t interfere with weekend morning sleep and evening meal prep.”

About Purdue University

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Writer: Joseph Paul, paul102@purdue.edu (working remotely but will provide immediate response)

Source: Ellen Ernst Kossek, ekossek@purdue.edu (available for phone and webcam interviews)

Note to Journalists: A work-from-home stock image and a photograph of the professor is available to journalists via Google Drive.

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