If you consider that the 7-day week only contains 168 hours – and that most adults are working far more than the average 40 hours a week – it is easy to appreciate the challenge of managing demands from work, family and other roles. So, though I’m tempted to consider this experience my unique struggle, it’s clear that work-family conflict is prevalent, and navigating it rightfully spurs a great deal of discussion.

For organizations, understanding how their employees experience and manage their work- life demands – and incorporating practices to aid them in these endeavors – is relevant to their bottom-line performance. Consider Patagonia, for example. They allow their employees to set their own hours, lock the company headquarters at 8 PM and on weekends, and have an onsite child development center. The Washington Post reports that they’ve tripled their profits since 2008 and experience minimal turnover.

But achieving work-life balance is complicated, and can’t be addressed with a one-size-fits-all approach. In an earlier blog post on the increasing prevalence of work-life blending, we referenced individual preferences in handling work and personal role demands. People have different “boundary management styles,” meaning my perception of a satisfying balance might not be the same as yours. And, as I learned through a quick office survey, neither style seems to have it fully figured out.

Are you an Integrator or a Segmentor?

I’m an Integrator – I manage the demands of my work and home roles by blending them together. I use the thirty free minutes I have just before teaching to pay bills, or schedule an oil change, and then later in the evening do a simple work-related task while watching TV.

I am in good company amongst my colleagues – 40% of us would be characterized as Integrators (with a preference for blending work and personal life), while 47% identify as predominantly Segmentors (with a preference of separating the two); 13% don’t have a strong preference for either style.

These boundary management styles are considered to operate on a continuum, with Integrators on one end and Segmentors on the other. Research suggests that strategies related to each preference may have different implications for experiences with work-family conflict and other stress-related outcomes. When determining your style, consider what best fits all your roles. Integration may not work as well when it runs into family time, whereas those with a side hustle may find it a time-saver to check emails for both jobs at once.

Strategies for Integrators, Segmentors, and Everyone In Between

My colleagues’ approaches to managing boundaries in their own lives certainly map onto these orientations. For example, another Integrator at our firm uses one calendar for all responsibilities – it helps him make good time management decisions and prevents over-scheduling. Segmentors, on the other hand, utilize strategies such as turning off email notifications outside of work, using out-of-office email notifications when on vacation, and not bringing work home in their efforts to manage both roles.

Knowing your own boundary management style is important to reducing the strain that can come from feeling your demands are in conflict, but regardless of whether you combine or compartmentalize your roles, there are a few practices that will universally help to reduce stress.

  • Use the policies your organization has in place, especially if they align with your preferences. Employees can fail to take advantage of the resources available to them due to lack of awareness or even reluctance. However, using organizational work-life balance practices like flextime is related to positive outcomes such as increased organizational commitment and reduced turnover intentions.
  • Communicate with your supervisor about your own boundary management preference and how it aligns with the organization’s policy. Integrators may prefer to use flextime so they can get home by 4, spend some time with family/friends, and then log back on in the evening to complete their work. Segmentors may prefer being in the office from 8-5 so they don’t have to bring work home with them.
  • Set clear boundaries. For example, if you do not want to respond to emails after 8:30pm, be sure to let your peers/team know that, and be clear on when you will be available.
  • Leverage time management resources like Google calendar for all meetings/deadlines, daily to-do lists ranked by priority, scheduled time for your tasks, etc. Need more ideas? Check out these 25 tips for mastering time management.

How an Organization Can Address Work-Life Balance

My colleagues varied greatly in their perceptions of how effectively they manage their work and personal life boundaries, regardless of their style (just over half thought they had a high degree of control over managing their boundaries). It would appear that regardless of one’s preference, opportunities (or constraints) in the workplace may make it impossible to find a perfect solution. One Vantagian – a Segmentor who felt she was successfully navigating her boundaries – said it best when she discussed the importance of a previous boss who was strict about managing boundaries and actively discouraged their team from working outside of business hours. Without support from the top, it can be hard to enact the balance needed.

There are a number of ways organizations can support their employees in this pursuit, to the benefit of everyone: flextime, compressed work weeks, job sharing, childcare assistance, etc. The key to utilizing these policies is being flexible with individual employees, rather than imposing strict company-wide rules.

Above all, one of the best practices an organization can implement is open discussion about boundary management, focused on helping their employees understand when to unplug, and intentionally setting expectations around boundary control.

What about you? What are your best practices for managing – or encouraging – work-life balance?