Crossing Boundaries between Work and Home


By Dr. Pressley Rankin

In the field of boundary management, there are many ways to describe the boundaries between work and home. Sometimes the boundaries are strict and people separate their work and home life. Other times the boundaries are loose and people will often conduct work at home (checking your work email) and complete home related activities while at work…who hasn’t checked their Facebook at work or called to make an appointment for personal reasons.


Nonetheless, whether you have strict or loose boundaries you do have to cross them as you move around your world. When you cross those boundaries your crossing is often controlled by border-keepers. Clark (2000) defines border-keepers as domain members who have a greater influence over the definition of the domain boundaries. Typically border-keepers in the work environment are bosses, supervisors, other management personnel and/or human resource personnel and, in the domain of home, border-keepers could be spouses or roommates. The essential ingredient that defines someone as a border-keeper is some power over the border-crosser (emotional or positional).

Boundary Crossing can lead to Conflict

What is important about border-keepers is that they are often the biggest source of conflict when boundaries are crossed. Clark (2000) suggests that disagreement about borders between border-crossers and border-keepers is a primary source of work/home conflict. For example, you have a favorite sports team and the big game is being played during work hours. All you want to do is keep track of the score. You have a website running on your computer giving highlights and scores but your boss walks by and makes you turn it off. How would that make you feel? How does that affect your work satisfaction?

The same is true at home. If your spouse is wanting you to pay attention to a movie and you are checking your work email, a spousal disagreement could ensue. In that situation, you may be mad at your spouse or mad at work for how it intrudes on your life.  So how do you get balance? Well here are some tips adapted from Clark’s (2000) Work/Family Border Theory:

  1. If work and home are very different environments, then strong boundaries will help with balance. Conversely, if both environments are similar, then weaker boundaries are better. Also, it is typical that communication between work and home is easier if they are similar in boundary structure.
  2. If one boundary is stronger than the other, you will have better balance if you mainly identify with the place that has the stronger boundary (i.e. work is more important to you than being home).
  3. Make sure that people in both places understand the nature of the other place. If your family understands your work demands and boundaries they will be more likely to forgive boundary crossings. Similarly, if people from your work understand the demands you have at home they too will be more likely to understand a boundary crossing.
  4. The level of commitment people have to you both at work and at home will help with boundary crossing. If people have doubts about you, then they are more likely to enforce boundaries.
  5. As with anything, communication can make any situation better. However, it is understanding the nature of the Border-keeper’s job that will help that communication. The Border-keeper is holding the boundaries together…boundaries are what makes something home or work…losing those completely would destroy the nature of both environments. Respect the border-keeper and work with them for everyone’s benefit.

Want to know more about managing boundaries? Consider City University of Seattle to complete a Master’s in Leadership. A leadership degree will take your organizational management to the next level and help move you from manager to CEO.


Clark, S. (2000). Work/family border theory: A new theory of work/family balance. Human Relations, 53(6), 747-770. doi:10.1177/0018726700536001

Published June 28, 2017



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