In this section, the theoretical framework for the study will be presented and explained. The following concepts and theories have been chosen for this research: boundary theory, social influence model, social learning theory, globalization and digital mobile media. The theoretical framework will be useful when analysing and understand the result of the research.
Globalization and digital mobile media
Globalization is commonly described as processes of communication between individuals globally, no matter of time and space, which is possible because of electronic media (Thompson 1995, 149). Information that is communicated through an electronic device is explained as ICT, such as smartphones and computers connected to the Internet (Berkowsky 2013, 520; Day et al. 2012, 473). ICT is referred to as digital mobile media in this study, since this research is focusing on the use of portable devices employees bring home after working hours, especially focusing on emails and calls through smartphones.
An understanding of globalization and digital mobile media in workplaces are necessary for this study, which will focus on work-related email and smartphone usage. The concept of globalization is also important to have knowledge about because the participants are working for a multinational company.
Digital mobile media have had an important impact on workplaces since they offer the possibility of a boundary-less working environment, where it is possible to communicate to anyone, anywhere and at any time (Mellner 2016, 146-47; Thompson 1995, 31). The work environment has been going through several changes during the last 50 years. The technology has had a major influence on how individuals communicate today and new global workforces have been possible to create. Global capital, competition and production have together created a bigger need for efficiency and fast learning employees (Dewe and Cooper 2017, 95-96).
There are both positive and negative aspects of the new technology within organizations. The digital mobile media have made it easier to communicate with co-workers that are not physically available, but the possibility to always being connected to work has generated in new work demands and expectations (Day et al. 2012, 473). Digital mobile media, such as smartphone and laptops, make it possible for workers to be constantly available to the workplace, no matter time or geographical place (Sayah 2013, 176).
The concept of technostress refers to the negative effects that can be caused by being introduced to new technology, such as learning to adapt and cope with it (Brod as cited in Dewe and Cooper 2017, 121). Telepressure is another negative expression of media usage, referring to employees that experience pressure to answer work-related message immediately (Barber and Santuzzi 2014, 173). It is of importance to have an understanding of concepts about stress in relation to digital mobile media because there is a possibility that the participants have experienced technostress or telepressure at their workplace.
Statistics from Sweden show that emailing is the current superior communication tool online, more used than instant messaging and (online) calls (IIS 2017, 6). Email is important within organizations and has changed internal and external communication. Sending an email is a quick, easy and cheap way to deliver a message. It is also possible to send it to several receivers at ones, independent on time zones. However, there are also negative aspects of using emails. Too many emails and of bad quality make it difficult for the receiver to understand which ones to prioritize. It is also common that the receiver misunderstands the sender’s message since emailing does not include tones of voice or gestures as a face-to-face conversation (Dimbleby and Burton 2007, 139 – 140).
When exploring the effects digital mobile media have on work-life balance, a boundary theory is often used (Berowksy 2013, 520-21; Mellner 2016, 147).
As described by Nippert-Eng (1996, 563), boundary work is a process when the individual mentally categorizes life into different spheres, and the effort it takes to maintain and challenge these psychological frameworks. According to the boundary theory, individuals create a boundary between different sections of their life to simplify and organize it. Individuals categorize people, places, events and thoughts into different sections which each has a special meaning for the person, such as home and work life. The different sections are often socially constructed and individuals create similar spheres (Ashforth, Kreiner and Fugate 2000, 474).
Within the socially constructed spheres, e.g. home and work, there are also different roles created, such as employee, manager and parent. The individual uses the roles for different situations and times during the day, for example has a person different felt expectations when being at home as a parent and when at work as an employee (Nippert-Eng 1996, 571, 580). The definition of work does not necessarily need to have one meaning. There are jobs that can be done from home and ‘work’ is not always tasks that the individual gets paid for, taking care of one’s child or doing voluntary tasks are also forms of work (Mirchandani 1998, 168-169). However, in this research ‘work’ will only be referred to the workplace where the participants are hired to be working from during office hours.
In boundary theory, the relationship between different roles can be explained in segmentation and integration and individuals have different amount of boundary between work and home life (Hartmann cited in Ashforth et al. 2000, 475; Nippert-Eng 1996, 567). When there is segmentation between the work and home life, the individual is maintaining the roles as separate activities for example, choosing to not check job emails when at home. Integration is the opposite and the boundary is more flexible such as, an individual might choose to work from home (Nippert-Eng 1996, 567-568).
As described by Kreiner (2006, 485-486) different individuals prefer different levels of segmentation or integration between their social roles. However, the technology is making the boundary blurred which can make it more difficult to choose the level of role segmentation and integration. The boundary also depends on what kind of role it is. For example, a manager might have high expectations to answer work-related email on the spare time even though he would prefer to have a high segmentation between work-home life (Ashforth et al. 2000, 475). How the workplace is structured is also a factor on how integrated or segmented the work-home life is. Some workplaces are more integrated than others. Nowadays workplaces are encouraging their employees on some level to be connected after working hours through digital mobile media (Kreiner 2006, 486). Based on this, it is important to take digital mobile media into consideration when studying the boundary between work and home life.
different domains in consist of different rules and behaviors (Ashforth et al. 2000, 478-79; Clark 2000, 753). The different borders or boundaries between the different sections can be divided into three types: physically, temporally and psychologically. A physical border can be the office where the individual chooses to do his or her work. Temporal borders refer to when the role actions take place, such as working from nine to five. The third border, the psychological one, is self-created and is about when the individual chooses to be mentally concentrating and thinking of special tasks, for example solving work-related problems when in the office. Even though the psychological border is a responsibility of the individual, the physical and temporal borders can influence the physiological behavior of a person (Clark 2000, 756; Kreiner 2006, 485-86). Permeability refers to how the different domains are entering each other. For example, the individual might be physically and temporally at work but he or she gets a phone call from a family member (Clark 2000, 756).
The boundary theory will be valuable when answering RQ1: “How do employees experience the impact of digital mobile media regarding the boundary between work and home life?”. The segmentation and integration of work and home life will be a guideline when analysing the participants’ answers about their usage of work-related digital mobile media after office hours.
Social norms and behaviors
To understand why digital mobile media have such a strong impact on the boundary between work and home, it can be useful to look into norms since it has influential effects on group behaviors (Dimbleby and Burton 2007, 101). Norms can be described as unwritten rules of behavioral expectations for different kinds of social roles (Kinicki and Fugate 2012, 233).
As described by Fulk (as cited in Baym 2010, 41), the social influence model describes that individuals use media, especially email, depending on the norm in the working environment. The model explains how friends or colleagues can have a major influence on an individual’s attitude towards a medium and its usage. Based on this, the boundary between home-work life is not only something that is chosen by the individuals themselves but rather something that is socially constructed in the working place (Berowksy 2013, 521).
To create a workplace culture with a healthy relationship to the digital mobile media usage, training can be valuable. Having training on how to use new technology can avoid stress at the workplace, for example when learning how to communicate by email in a clear way and the support of having a work-life balance (Day et al. 2012, 476). It is also important with support from the managers and not only have one training session but also evaluate its success (Dewe and Cooper 2017, 185; Mellner 2016, 278).
Work culture and the social influence model will be useful for this study since the participants are working for the same company. Focusing on norms will be helpful when exploring the answers for RQ2 “What reasons do employees mention for connecting to work during time off?”. The participants might not experience any peer-pressure from colleagues or managers in a negative way but being positively influenced is also part of how a workplace culture is created.
Another theory within psychology is the social learning theory by Bandura (1977). Bandura (1977, 16-17) explains how individuals are not born with certain behavior but that behaviors are learned through self-experiences or by observing others and the surrounding. The theory indicates that individuals only imitate a behavior if they see a value of doing it and a positive outcome. As described by Bandura (1977, 17): “Learning by reinforcement is commonly portrayed as a mechanistic process in which responses are shaped automatically and unconsciously by their immediate consequences.”. Depending on the outcome of an action, individuals also learn in which situations it is suitable for certain actions (Bandura 1977, 17).
Another factor for adapting a behavior is the individual’s thoughts about an behavior. If an action in a setting shows a positive outcome, the individual might still not want to follow this behavior for future similar situations. One reason for this could be that he or she has heard from other sources that this behavior should not be rewarded (Bandura 1977, 18).
Bandura (1977, 22-24) also described how individuals only learn if they want to learn, and that they choose different models to learn from. In a social group, there are some individuals that are more likely to be models for others learning, for example people with certain characteristics and if the functional value of their behavior is worth following.
Social learning theory can be valuable to study in relation to boundary theory since the boundary between work and home can be a behavioral choice. A manager that encourages and rewards his or her team to work over-time, creates a risk that the employees continue this behavior if they do not question it.
A workplace that creates a norm of negative behaviors can be damaging for the both the organization and the employees. As described by Carr et al. (2011, 32-33, 37), it is almost impossible to create a workplace completely stress-free but it is important that the management notice employees’ well-being to upkeep a successful business. There are three areas that can affect an individual to come to a state of chronic stress: Job demands, individual differences, social demands. Job demands have to do with the formation of the work task, such as how difficult it is and how much uncertainty it brings to the employee. The individual differences refer to that all individuals react differently to the same kind of work tasks, what makes one individual stressed might not be stressful for someone else. The last perception, social demands, is about support from the surrounding. It is important to get social support from family, friends and colleagues to upkeep a psychological state of well-being and the individual have a better chance to tackle stressors and difficult situations (Carr et al. 2011, 33).
Method and participants
This chapter focuses on the chosen method and material for the study. Arguments for the choice of method and material will be covered, as well as explanations of how the method process has been proceeding throughout the research.
Interview style and setting
The purpose of this study is to contribute with qualitative knowledge about the boundary-less working conditions and how employees handle a work-life balance when always connected to work through digital mobile media. When aiming to understand individuals experience on a certain topic, a qualitative method of interviews will be useful. Interviews make it possible to gain knowledge about the interviewees’ insights and perspectives about certain issues or situations (Brinkmann and Kvale 2015, 33).
As described in the previous research chapter, several quantitative studies showed a negative result about the digital mobile media availability after working hours (Berkowsky 2013, 536; Dettmers et al. 2016, 291; Mellner 2016, 157; Wang and Chen 2017, 99). Based on this, there is a possibility that this study will show similar results but with a qualitative method of interviews the answers will be richer and it will be possible to explain how and why the employees use work-related digital mobile media in the way they do (Brinkmann and Kvale 2015, 33).
The interview type for this study is a phone based semi-structured interview. All of the interviewees have been interviewed through digital telephone. The interviews were phone based since the employee’s workplaces were located in different places around Sweden. Furthermore, the time limit and budget of the research were other factors for choosing interviews through phone (Robson 2011, 290). These factors made it difficult to have face-to-face meetings or focus groups. As described by Brinkmann and Kvale (2015, 174-175), a problem with computer-assisted interviews is the difficulty to understand the body language and spoken language, some details of the conversation will be missed out. On the other hand, it is shown that computer-assisted interviews make the participant keener to openly talk about intimate topics (Brinkmann and Kvale 2015, 175). As described by Robson (2011, 290) phone interviews are shorter than face-to-face interviews and usually, they take less than 30 minutes.
Interviews can have different focuses which give the researcher different information about the interviewees. As described by Robson (2011, 280): “A distinction is commonly made between seeking to find out what people know, what they do, and what they think or feel”. In this study, the questions have mostly been focusing on ‘how the participants do things’, in this case how they use work-related digital mobile media after working hours. The interview questionnaire also holds a few questions about what the participants ‘think or feel’ about something for example, questions about the positive and negative side of a constant availability through digital mobile media.
The interview questionnaire has been created based on recommendations from the literature by Robson (2011, 284). The questions have been divided into four different sequences and the complete interview guide can be seen in the appendix 2 (p. 56).
Before the actual interviews, a pilot study was set up. A pilot study is helpful to understand if research questions are understood by the participant and how the questions are useful for answering the research questions (Robson 2011, 141). The test person was a family member since he works as a manager for a company in Sweden and has experience from email and smartphone usage after working hours. The pilot study was effective and a section of the interview questionnaire was revised before the final interviews. Throughout the real interviews some of the questions were further improved, to make them even easier to understand for the interviewees.
Table of Contents
Aim and purpose
Literature review of previous research
Choice of previous research
Studies focusing on work expectations and work-life boundaries
Research examining digital mobile media usage at workplaces
Studies covering workplace stressors and digital mobile media support
Summary of previous research and research angle identified
Globalization and digital mobile media
Social norms and behaviors
Method and participants
Interview style and setting
Choice of participants
Table list of interviewees
Reliability and validity
Evaluation of the interviewing process
Result and analysis
Experiences of the boundary between work and home life
Availability after working hours .
Positive aspect of being available to work during time off
Negative aspects of being available to work during time off
Motives for after work availability
Peer pressure and workplace culture
Digital mobile media policy and improvements of work availability
Discussion and conclusion
Answering research question one
Answering research question two
Limitations of the study and suggestions for future research
List of references
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Boundary-less work and digital mobile media