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Balloons       A Business Forum Book Review:

Home and Work

by Christena E. Nippert-Eng

          Both real and imagined conflicts between "home"  and "work"  have probably been the bane of men and women throughout history, but these conflicts became much more serious with the advent of the Industrial Revolution about 200 years ago. Of course, military and naval service, and transcultural trade have always posed conflicts between home and work, but these occupations have rarely affected more than a small portion of the population. Most "work"  had simply occurred at "home."  Today, the institutionalized separation of "work"  from "home"  is one of the wrenching cultural changes emanating from the Industrial Revolu

          A thoughtful examination of this dilemma is presented by Christena E. Nippert-Eng in Home and Work: Negotiating Boundaries through Everyday Life  (The University of Chicago Press, 343 pages, $48.00 cloth, $16.95 paper). Dr. Nippert-Eng is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the Illinois Institute of Technology; her focus is upon "the social and physical environment in which work is done, including the cultural, domestic, and leisure environments that surround and permeate it."  While this is a rigorous academic study, its case studies address the dilemmas of real people and real situations in the workplace, and offer insight into ways to alleviate much of the anguish of these frequently inevitable conflicts.

          Dr. Nippert-Eng finds "... it useful to see the myriad ways we conceptualize and juxtapose ‘home’ and ‘work’ as a continuum ... These possibilities range from ‘integration’ to ‘segmentation’."  Maximum "segmentation"  is found in the traditional industrial workplace where all connectedness with "home"  is suspended when one walks through the factory gate. Maximum "integration"  is found in the family business or among the self-employed working off of the kitchen table.

          Although contemporary cultural changes coupled with new technology facilitate a great diversity of relationships between "home"  and "work,"  boundaries must be maintained between these two realms. An absence of boundaries results in chaos and confusion. These boundaries may be quite "permeable"  fostering easy and frequent transitioning, or they can be essentially "impermeable"*  establishing a rigid separateness between "home"  and "work."  Distinct mentalities are appropriate to "home"  in contrast to "work;"  transitioning from one mentality to the other is often difficult and, in certain situations, is impossible.

          Conflicts between "home"  and "work"  are commonly cast in the milieu of the large organization or institution. However, conflicts of comparable virulence are to be found in the smaller business and even among the self-employed. Except for the extraordinarily self-disciplined, it is essential that a separation in time and in space be maintained between "home"  and "work,"  and that healthy ways of transitioning the boundaries between these two realms be developed. There are many organizations today where all personal telephone calls are prohibited and family mementos or personal photographs in the workplace are discouraged. In contrast, the presence of even young children "at work"  free to interrupt or even disrupt their parent(s) is no longer an oddity.

          Indeed, there are no "right answers"  concerning the nature of boundaries or the ways in which they are to be transitioned. This is something to be negotiated between each individual and "the social and physical environment in which work is done."  A workplace that is psychologically acceptable or even relished by one person can be either a prison or sheer bedlam to another person. The increasing popularity of telecommuting and home-based businesses invariably underscore the necessity for boundaries and looking openly at the ways these boundaries are to be transitioned properly. Acculturation is usually paramount. In many families, an extensive overlap between "home"  and "work"  is simply accepted as normal; growing up in a family business, Sunday evening dinners are recognized to have been the weekly "board meetings."  In other families, "going to work"  means commuting to a time and place totally segmented from "home."

          In examining how we can invigorate our family relationships and  enhance the effectiveness of our work -- i.e.,  avoid conflicts between "home"  and "work"  -- Dr. Nippert-Eng helps us to raise the right questions. What are the inevitable boundaries between "home"  and "work?"  What are the purposes of these boundaries? Do these boundaries inherently cause significant conflicts between "home"  and "work?"  How can these boundaries be redrawn? Between "home"  and "work,"  am I transitioning these boundaries in constructive ways -- in both directions? If not, what must be changed to assure good transitions -- in both directions?

          In consideration of the many things that are unique about the smaller company, these are the insightful questions that can be of great relevance to the owner/ manager of the smaller business as well as to the entrepreneur. Truly, these are questions to be explored openly with one’s family as well as with one’s business and professional colleagues.

Your comments and suggestions for these pages are most welcomed!

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