Baylor's Emily Hunter Helps Set Smartphone Interruption Boundaries
May 22, 2017
You’re focused on an important project at work and your phone rings.
It’s your spouse.
You’ve just finished dinner with your family and you’re cleaning up the
table. Your phone buzzes. An email from your boss.
Are these interruptions of your work and family time harmful or helpful?
Yes and no, according to a new study from Baylor University’s Hankamer
School of Business.
The study, published in the Journal of
Management, analyzed daily diaries kept by 121 employees, who agreed to
log their activities for 10 days as part of the research. Each
participant worked at least 35 hours per week during traditional
business hours, such as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and was
in a committed relationship, living with a spouse or partner.
“Our results demonstrate that the effect of interruptions in the work
and home domains are twofold: On one hand, they may lead to unwelcome
consequences, including obstruction of goals, negative affect, decreased
satisfaction with investment in work and family and work-family
conflict,” researchers wrote. “On the other, greater integration of work
and family may afford workers increased positive affect, as these
interruptions help them meet certain work or family goals.”
Hunter, Ph.D., Baylor University
Emily Hunter, Ph.D., associate professor of management in Baylor
University’s Hankamer School of Business, served as lead author on the
study. She said technology is blurring the boundaries between work and
family, and this can have daily consequences on workers.
“When you give to one domain, you must take from the other. There are
only so many hours in the day,” Hunter said. “Interruptions from family
‘take’ from work in the form of work goal obstructions, negative
emotions and lower satisfaction with investment in work.”
She said that proper planning could turn these interruptions into
benefits that help employees meet work and family goals.
The study shows that boundary violations at work were relatively common,
and the researchers suggest managers and employees seek strategies to
actively manage work and family boundaries.
example, employees could set aside specific times in their workday when
they invite and initiate communication with family, such as lunch time
or a midafternoon break when their children arrive home from school,”
researchers wrote. “In this way, they allow their work boundary to be
permeable to family violations at certain times while setting limits on
family interruptions that would otherwise interfere with workflow. Not
only does this minimize work goal obstruction, but it also may generate
positive outcomes for their family members.”
When work invades family time, employees can use that to their advantage
as well, Hunter said.
“Workers who work from home in off-job hours can also benefit from
managing co-worker expectations about availability after hours, setting
aside time after children go to bed to accomplish work tasks with
minimal obstruction to their family role and setting limits on hours of
smartphone use for work purposes,” she said.
In the study, researchers suggest workers request that coworkers or
supervisors contact them after hours using communication mediums with
varying levels of urgency: emergencies only by phone call or text
message whereas matters that can wait until morning via email.