By Kay Byers

Conflict between work and family tasks are often role-related stressors that many women experience in everyday life. There have been multiple research projects which identify how role conflict is associated with negative consequences. These consequences include an impact on both physical as well as psychological health. In this article, we will explore how there is a similar but distinct role-related experience (or what is called “role blurring”) frequency between telecommuting career choices and non-telecommuting positions. When the additional position of telecommuting is thrown into the role-blurring mix, the negative consequences can have an impact for the entire family and their well-being. The typical response to this type of role blurring is a combination of stress and guilt.

We must further define what is considered a “role blurring” in order to know what we are actually talking about. For purposes of this article, we are defining it as the request to receive work-related contacts outside of normal working hours, or family requests within normal working hours while the person remains at home. It is a form of inter-role conflict in which the pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some respects (Greenhaus and Beutell 1985:77). The recent trend to allow more and more paid employees to telecommute from their home to the workplace (allowing work to be done “anytime, anywhere”), along with the increase in nonstandard and flexible work schedules are influencing both our personal and professional lives. Although we have all experienced this role blurring in our professional lives at some point or another (a parent working from home on a weekend to meet a deadline, or placing outgoing calls from home to a customer or employer in order to divert a crisis), they are short-termed or infrequent occurrences quickly resolved. Where the conflict begins to create stress or guilt is when either party begins to demand the employee to be in two places at the same time, or do two things at one time, each associated with a different social role. The inability to think with two different mentalities at the same time is a source of role and self conflict. Research suggests guilt may be a common response to work-family challenges which also then impacts our individual identity and stress. We feel as if we are either letting our work peers down or our family members down – and we all lose in the process. Repeated or uncontrollable instances of guilt may negatively impact our well-being and ability to cope with otherwise normal life stressors. There is a difference in how men and women handle role blurring. When employees telecommute, they experience this source of conflict at a much higher frequency and intensity than their traditional peers performing the same role in the workplace. Men tend to report they feel it is natural to combine work and family roles. Women, on the other hand, report feeling guilty about combining these roles.

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Now that telecommuting is becoming more and more commonplace, it is imperative that we help professionals establish appropriate roles and boundaries in order to maintain personal health and well-being while still “getting the job done.” We must help those that we interface with on a daily basis (both family and professional peers) understand when we are available for “work” related contact and when we are “off work”. Below are some suggestions which might help you establish these boundaries:

· Establish clearly set hours for work and publish them

– Set up on a sign on your desk or office door at home for family members to see

– Include in your email signatures for work correspondence

· Have two telephone numbers if possible – one for work and one for personal calls

– One answers calls for work on the work telephone during working hours

– One answers personal calls on the personal telephone during personal hours

· If either party should need to get in touch with you outside of your established hours, they must contact you using the appropriate number (crisis at home which normally causes them to call you at work, would result in a call to your work number even though they are in the same house as you are at the time). This allows everybody to acknowledge that what is being requested in outside of “normal” behavior and expectations.

· Gentle reminders are given to those who “forget” the boundaries which also helps confirm your own commitment to a healthy, guilt and stress free life-style

· Give yourself “breaks” to leave your home office environment and enjoy a lunch with your family periodically or take short breaks and leave your home/work desk.

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