Carl H. Lindner College of BusinessCarl H. Lindner College of BusinessUniversity of Cincinnati

Carl H. Lindner College of Business

A Fine Line

Elaine Hollensbe investigates work-life balance.

Although the challenge of work-life balance was perceived to be a “women's issue” in the 70s and 80s, the topic of men as “stay-at-home fathers” became popular in the 90s. Elaine Hollensbe, management professor at the UC College of Business, has now shifted the focus away from what gender is juggling responsibilities to who is juggling them.

In a three-part study funded by the CREDO Institute, Inc., Hollensbe and her colleagues, Glen Kreiner (Penn State) and Mathew Sheep (Illinois State), have researched (among other things) work-life balance as it pertains to the person: specifically, individuals serving as Episcopal priests.

“Episcopal priests, as do other members of the clergy, face a unique challenge in that they live virtually or literally next door to what they do,” Hollensbe explains. “How do they ‘turn it off' when they go home?” With many business professionals struggling to balance their work and personal lives, her research bears lessons for us all.

The priesthood is one of what's termed the “greedy occupations”—those that can obliterate the individual. Medical doctors and CEOs are examples of other such occupations.

“In a greedy occupation, the person might have little identity separate from his or her professional role,” says Hollensbe.

Through her work with the priests, Hollensbe has identified two basic types of individuals. Segmenters are those who can leave work and turn it all off. Integrators, on the other hand, carry their “worlds” with them to each different location. These are the people who carry tote bags of work home with them and stacks of bills to pay during lunchtime.

Problems arise with boundary violations. With a constant tension between work demands and home demands, a potential conflict exists. For example, if your boss has a permeable boundary and you do not, stress can build up.

“If you're a segmenter and your boss is an integrator, you're bound to have a problem,” Hollensbe points out. “You expect to leave work once you're home and your boss might expect to have you tethered to a cell phone or other electronic device.”

Differential permeability refers to those people who will allow spillover one way but not the other. For example, your boss might expect to reach you at all hours of the day or night (thus exhibiting integrator behavior toward you) but express annoyance when you try to reach her (thus becoming a situational segmenter).

The right answer is finding the level of integration that works for you, and making sure that when working with another person, you recognize and address each person's preferences.


The study revealed tactics individuals use to help maintain the level of integration they prefer:

Use other people:
Enlist the help of co-workers and family members to help control boundaries.
Leverage technology:
Use cell phones, e-mail and other devices to manage your separate lives. Keep boundaries intact with separate business and personal e-mails, for instance.
Invoke triage:
Prioritize work and home demands. Distinguish the urgent and the important and recognize what is easiest to address, as well. Then act accordingly.
Allow differential permability:
Identify when, where and under what circumstances boundaries may be crossed.

Control work time:
Manipulate time to meet specific needs. If you must work during family time, “bank” that family time and use it later.
Find respite: Remove yourself from work and/or home demands by leaving the area for a significant period of time.

Adapt physical boundaries:
Erect a physical border or create some other visual clue that a role boundary exists.
Manipulate physical space: Examine what works best for you and create or reduce the physical space as it suits you best.
Manage physical artifacts: Use tangible items to separate or blend aspects of your home and work life as it suits you best. Consider if you want to use one or separate calendars, one or separate key chains, etc.

Set expectations: Communicate your expectations up front before a boundary violation can occur. If you do not want to be contacted while on vacation, let your colleagues know.
Confront violators: When people violate your boundaries, let them know. If a colleague calls you on vacation, let him or her know that it's not OK to do so.