A diverse group of SIOP members are serving as Trend Champions for the people-related work trends that SIOP members collaboratively predicted to be the most impactful in 2023. Each Trend Champion has expertise in and professional passion for their trend subject. SIOP appreciates their service to the profession in providing quarterly updates on their chosen topics.
Find the full list of topics and links to the other Top 10 Work Trends here.
What About your Boundaries?
I cannot be the only one out there that hears Slack and Outlook notifications in their sleep.
Whether we are willing to admit it or not, I think that many of us are nostalgic for a time when there seemed to be clear boundaries between work and home. This idea seems absurd considering how email, smartphones, and (somewhat ironically) remote work have eroded the boundaries between work and home life. This lack of boundaries was particularly salient during the pandemic when the home and workplace were one in the same for some, and had little relief from the stressors of the pandemic. Wherever we work, workplace stress spilling over into home life can have adverse consequences for health and well being. Right now, it feels that we find ourselves in a “forever war” over whether a person will fully return to the office or not. I, and my fellow idea champions have spoken about this issue at length. Though my concern is that there has been little regard or respect for boundaries between work and non-work lives of employees.
Boarders and Boundaries
Boundary theory and board theory explain the relationship and boundaries between work and non-work aspects of life. These theories' primary argument is that individuals create and maintain boundaries to balance the demands of work and life. The strategies used to maintain boundaries vary on a continuum of segmentation to integration. At one end of the continuum is segmentation which continuum represents distinct separation between work and non-work life. Integration which represents the opposite end of the continuum represents the presence of flexible and permeable barriers that allow for integration between work and life. What matters most for employees is the ability to maintain boundaries that fit their preferences and to have access to activities that help them recover from work.
Work and Well-being
There is an extensive body of evidence documenting the impact of working in person on employee well-being and performance. Primarily, commuting to work is associated with exhaustion at the start of the work day especially for workers that have to drop off children at child. This exhaustion grows as the work day progresses especially when employees have negative interactions with co-workers and/or customers. Additionally, noise and lighting in the workplace significantly impact the performance and mood of employees.
In some ways, remote work is a solution to the problems associated with working in person. Remote work eases employees’ transition between work and home roles. Having a respite from the emotional labor involved with workplace interactions reduces employee exhaustion. The flexibility of remote work also allows employees to attend work more consistently, and improve their overall health. However, it is important to remember that all employees cannot work remotely. Additionally, remote work has a number of disadvantages isolation from work place social networks, separation from mentors, and reduced opportunities to engage in informal social interactions that help build social capital.
What can we do?
As we have seen the past few years there is no perfect modality for work. However, there are things that we can do to help employees maintain reasonable boundaries between work and non-work life.
1. Offer employees as much flexibility with their schedules as possible. Being able to set one’s schedule is key to work-life balance and employee satisfaction.
2. Makes offices a space for productivity. Let’s be real: most workplaces suck. They lack ergonomically friendly furniture, quality lighting, and design to reduce disruptive noise. Of course, remodeling an office can be a significant undertaking. Nonetheless there are affordable interventions that can make offices more inviting and less likely to induce stress which can spill over to non-work life.
3. Do not view employees asking for remote work as a way to get out doing work, but rather as an opportunity to recharge while being productive. We all have different needs, and sensory experiences. Employers should take this into account when developing remote work policies.
4. Use time in the office wisely. Time in the office is best used for interdependent activities, not having Zoom meetings. I encourage managers and employers to schedule time for in person meetings and collaboration, while also maintaining the same energy when scheduling informal social gatherings for employees. As discussed in my Q2 update, these gatherings are critical to facilitating collaboration and creativity.
 “Non-work” is an inclusive term meant to include all aspects of life outside of work (hobbies, family, friends, etc.)
Recent conservations surrounding the four-day work week have sparked a long overdue conservation about the time we devote to work. Before this, I am pretty sure the thought “how do I spend my days at work?” has crossed your mind more than once. This is a natural since we spend a significant amount of our time working. Better yet, I can also imagine some of us have wondered “Why is my work day eight hours long?” The answer to this question starts with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.
Before the Industrial Revolution, a large number of people in Western countries worked in small-scale agriculture or trades such as carpentry or textile weaving. Generally, these jobs did not have set work schedules. Instead, tasks were completed in a piecemeal fashion or as demand for skilled labor developed. As industrialization spread, the work day became significantly longer and more grueling with many manufacturing employees working twelve-hour or longer days with few breaks. Though it was not long before employees resisted the adverse conditions in their workplaces. Among these employees Ira Steward, a machinist and labor leader whose advocacy set the stage for the eight-hour work day in the United States. Steward’s primary argument was that reducing the work day to eight hours was an important step to reduce the exploitation of workers. However, other labor advocates proposed that reducing the work day offered employees more leisure time and more opportunities to buy products which would benefit businesses. In either case, advocates and employees recognized that too much time was spent working.
With the eight hours being the norm for many, how do employees spend this time? Apparently, according to an often cited study, on average employees only work just under 3 hours a day. The rest of the time is spent on a variety of tasks such as social media use, non-work related conservations, and preparing hot beverages such as coffee or tea. With the multiple innovations that have increased employee productivity if the eight-hour day is no longer optimal, what is the solution?
How can we solve the misfit between how employees use their time and the “structured” eight hour work day? Organizations can shorten the length of the work day, an idea that was revolutionary when Henry Ford’s time in 1914 is still groundbreaking today. Stephan Aaarstol’s company Tower Paddle Board is an example of how this could be done. Tower Paddle Board is successful because employees are responsible for managing their own workloads and hours and have incentives to perform. Remote work has also been presented as a way to for employees to reduce the length of work days. Remote work can eliminate the need for commuting which would save the average American about an hour of their time. Counterintuitively, certain aspects of remote work may lead to employees spending more time working. This was especially the case for managers which spend more time in meetings and engaging with email and other forms of communication and coordination.
It is my belief that it is important for organizations to question the eight-hour work day and other practices we take for granted. Though when it comes time to make changes employees and affected stakeholders should have a say.
Human behavior may seem simple, but often things are more complicated than we assume. For instance, having access to more choices or making more money does not always equal happiness. Similar complications occur in the workplace where context matters and individual differences drastically shape experiences. One supposedly simple assumption that we will discuss here is that employees must be present in their workplaces (most often offices) to be creative.
What is Creativity?
Before exploring this assumption further, let’s define creativity. Intriguingly, despite the ongoing buzz creativity receives, there is no standard definition of the term. Nonetheless, creativity scholars generally agree that creativity involves the creation of new and useful ideas. More recent conceptualizations incorporate surprise into the definition. The idea behind the incorporation of surprise into the definition of creativity is that it represents the novel and unexpected ideas that can materialize during the creativity process. These three elements of creative ideas are best optimized through thought trials where individuals present a wide range of novel ideas but rely on criteria such as practicality, time constraints, and potential costs to evaluate the feasibility of ideas. As mentioned earlier, surprise occurs throughout this process as employees discuss ideas and uncover new, unexpected insights.
How does Creativity Happen?
The action of employees meeting at a specified time in a specified place is a key assumption of our discussion of creativity. It is here where we now revisit our assumption that employees must be present in their workplaces to be creative. A study recently published in Nature aligns with the interests of Bob Iger and other CEOs in favor of employees returning to the office for the majority of the work week by demonstrating that employees came up with fewer creative ideas when collaborating on videoconferencing platforms. The performance of employees may have suffered because they focused on on-screen content instead of the creativity process. (Side note: Recall your last meeting on Zoom, Webex, or other videoconferencing platforms where you had to have your camera on while also focusing on on-screen content and remember how exhausted you were afterward). Though it is noteworthy that employees collaborating on video conferencing platforms were able to select which ideas to pursue at a rate similar to their peers working in person. Informal interactions and chance encounters in the workplace also play a role in the creative process. Informal, serendipitous interactions in the workplace seem to help employees complete creative projects. These serendipitous interactions also help employees be better liked, receive better performance evaluations, and receive assistance from colleagues in the future. Overall, it seems that being in the office facilitates creativity.
Lost magic found?
Since his return to Disney seemingly at the behest of unsatisfied shareholders Bob Iger expects to recapture the “magic” that Disney has seemed to have lost since his departure by requiring employees to return to the office at least four days a week. Helping Disney which has entertained and delighted us for decades seems to be a good enough (but not entirely satisfactory) reason to require employees to return to the office. While most of not have a hand in redesigning Disney theme park attractions or planning the next great Disney+ series our work does incorporate creativity. Maybe what Iger and other CEOs actually want is to create a time and space for the informal, serendipitous interactions that may (but aren’t guaranteed to) spark creativity. With that being said, there a couple of things we can do to (re)capture our creativity.
In closing, I challenge everyone to keep an open mind when it comes to creativity and the creative process. Afterall, creativity is supposed to be an enjoyable process.
Champion: William Luse, PhD
Dr. William Luse is an Assistant Professor of Management and Leadership at the University of La Verne where he teaches Negotiation, Organizational Behavior, and Conflict Management courses. Dr. Luse’s research interests include individual differences, groups/teams, and organizational justice. His research is published in Journal of Applied Psychology, Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion: An International Journal, and Current Psychology.
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