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Wellness Club

Separating Work from Home

By: Shivani Shah

Working remotely has long been a subject of interest for researchers and has shown beneficial outcomes for both employers and employees. Research points to enhanced productivity and increased job satisfaction; however, it is important to note that much of this research was conducted under the condition that working remotely was an active choice made by employees and that perception of autonomy was key in explaining these positive outcomes. Under lockdown, millions were ushered into remote work with little warning and no choice, thus calling into question the aforementioned benefits. Bloomberg reports that remote employees are logging three more hours of work per day than before lockdown. For many, working from home has erased any semblance of work-life balance, only serving to exacerbate toxic American “hustle culture”

The job you have can certainly influence your ability to set boundaries between work and life, but research suggests that individual differences are an equally important factor. In her 1996 book, Home and Work: Negotiating Boundaries through Everyday Life, sociologist Christena Nippert-Eng posits that there are two types of people: segmentors and integrators. Segmenters are people who can draw clear boundaries between work and life whereas integrators are those who struggle to do so. Integrators and segmenters fall on a continuum, but recognizing where you fall on this spectrum is central to establishing healthy work habits. 

For integrators, working from home can exacerbate the struggle to establish clear boundaries between work and life. This blurring of boundaries has been repeatedly shown to be a source of stress as a result of role conflict. By the numbers, the U.S. is now a “working-from-home” economy, and it is up to employers to restructure policies on working hours and company culture to better discourage working overtime at home. Whatever productivity gains may come from remote work will be short-lived if the employees burn out. In the meantime, here are some actionable steps you can take to separate work from home, even when working from home. 

-Keep work materials out of your bedroom. This will strengthen the mental association between your bedroom and sleep. Realistically, this isn’t an option for many. If working from your bedroom, establish a singular area within your room with your essential work items. The key here is setting boundaries. 

-At the end of each workday, make a to-do list for the following day. This will put a stop to the rehearsal loop that would have continuously reminded you of those tasks if not written down. 

-Make it a point to engage in non-work activities to better psychologically detach from work during non-work time. This detachment can serve to mediate the negative health outcomes caused by job stress. These activities can be anything you’d like: walking, reading, cooking, etc. Effective job-stress recovery depends on being intentional in not thinking about work. 

-Stand up as much as you can while working. If you don’t want to splurge on a standing desk, a stack of books will do the trick just as well. 

-Take “pomodoro” breaks throughout the day. Every hour or two, get up and move your body. Walk around the house or outside, take a stretch, do a quick set of squats or stomach crunches.

-Set a time to start and stop working and abide by it. Avoid checking your texts and email upon waking up and before going to bed. If you set aside 8 hours of your day to work, you really shouldn’t be working beyond those hours.