Flexible work life: What are your limits?

The flexible work life is in high demand. But it also has its pitfalls. If you do not establish some framework for your work, you increase the risk of stress. In this guide, you can get an awareness of your personal limits in your work life.

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"Free from time and place", "a flexible work life" or "get rid of the 9-5 job". Flexibility goes by many names - and it has become more important than ever for IDA's members:

In a recent questionnaire survey, 69 percent answered that it is of great or some importance that they have the opportunity to take time off in the morning and afternoon hours, and work at other times, for example to drop off and pick up children.

And when it comes to the possibility of varying working hours during the days of the week, 86 percent consider it to be of great or some importance. For almost half of respondents, it was even so important that they would reconsider applying for an otherwise relevant position if they did not have the option of flexibility.

Career counsellor Jeanette Svendsen recognises the positive perception of flexibility from her many conversations with members:

"They love all the good aspects of it: influence on their own lives and on creating a balance between work and leisure, being able to decide for themselves when and where you want to work."

But Jeanette Svendsen also knows the pitfalls of a flexible work life: It is more difficult to distinguish between work and leisure, and there is a danger of burning out if no limits are set for work.

She will not give general advice on setting limits in one's working life, because it is very individual where such limits should be:

"A well-functioning flexible work life requires that you know your own preferences for how you perform and thrive best. In addition, you must also think about whether your current life situation requires any special framework for your working life."

Based on business psychologist Vivi Bach's analysis tool Personal boundary strategies, Jeanette Svendsen points to 4 dimensions that you should consider when you need to know your preferences and set boundaries.

The analysis tool: Personal boundary strategies

TIME: When and how much do you work?

In the past, most people worked at the same workplace at the same time. Now the working hours of an increasing number of knowledge workers are individual and it is up to you to decide when you want to work. Therefore, you have to find out for yourself what your preferences are.

One end of the spectrum is that you like best to have a sharp division with a time for work and a time for private life with family, friends, leisure interests: you thrive when you can frame quite precisely how much and when you work.

You are at the opposite end if you do not separate your time into "working time" and "free time” but thrive when you can combine your roles and tasks as much as possible. You belong to those where an 8-16 job will never work.

Your preferences belong in the middle of the spectrum if you have limitless habits, for example that you like to answer emails on the sofa in the evening in order to be able to switch off the computer for an hour in the afternoon.

PLACE: Where do you work?

After the years of corona shutdowns, the labour market has changed significantly in relation to home work - or generally working elsewhere than at the workplace, e.g. in the library, café, in the summer house or during transport.

There is a big difference in the extent to which workplaces require physical presence in the hybrid working life. A survey of IDA members' working lives shows that over 50 percent have the opportunity to work at home 2-4 days a week. Many thus have several working days per week, where it is up to them where they want to work. This again calls for you to know yourself and your preferences.

If you belong to the most separating end of the spectrum, you are most comfortable having one specific place to work, e.g. a home office and would never take the work PC into the living room.

If you belong to the middle of the spectrum, you can take a work call while walking the dog, and as the most integrative, you can work anywhere. Your office is your computer and mobile phone.

Remote work: Here are your rights

RELATIONSHIPS: Who are colleagues and who are friends?

Do you have friends at work, or are they just good colleagues?

It may be a strange question for you if you "mix" your relationships and do not have sharp distinctions between colleagues, business partners and friends. Some also mix family relationships with work and are fine with, for example, running a business together with family members.

Or are you best off separating your relationships and only seeing your colleagues and friends in the various contexts where they "belong".

Regardless of whether you are best friends with your colleagues or not, it is a good idea to learn more about your relationships both inside and outside of work and to investigate whether you have the colleagues, sparring partners, network, friends and acquaintances that are needed, so that you thrive and develop in your job and in your life.

CONTENT: How do you work?

The last dimension in Vivi Bach's analysis tool concerns the content of your work and how you organise your tasks.

Do you thrive best dividing your tasks sharply between private tasks and work, and do you usually finish one task before starting a new one? Or are you at the other end of the spectrum, where you don't have a clear dividing line between work and leisure activities, and you're always juggling a large mix of tasks at once?

Get an overview of your tasks with the Time-place model

Unless you are self-employed in a solo business, you cannot just become aware of your own limits. You should also consider what your tasks require from collaboration with others: Who do you need to be with – and who needs you? To help you get an overview, you can use Gratton's Time-place model:

Jeanette Svendsen tells of a member who asked for counseling because she felt lonely at work. She was a new employee in a small office, and the only one who showed up every day, while the other experienced colleagues had many days of remote work.

When the tasks were mapped using the time-place model, it was clear to the member that she had had a bad onboarding. She had not received the collegial training she needed, as well as the necessary alignment of expectations and contact with the manager. So where the member had an experience of an emotional problem, it turned out that it was about the organisation of the work in the department and especially the training as a new employee.

Talk to your manager, colleagues and family about your limits

Jeanette Svendsen suggests that when you have become aware of your preferences, you should look at whether you have actually arranged your life so that you are faithful to the way of working that you are most comfortable with, or whether you should adjust some of your limits.

Setting limits for the flexible working life starts with yourself, but then you have to coordinate them with your manager, your colleagues and perhaps also the family at home. Because it's never going to work if the framework isn't aligned. This is where you really have to be self-directed and take responsibility for communicating your limits via a good dialogue on the job. Openness is needed before you can find a compromise that benefits everyone.

It can be a good help for this conversation to print the above time-place model and the analysis tool for personal boundary strategies and take them to the next 1:1 with your manager and maybe also suggest that you look at them together in the department.

When you have learned your own limits and communicated them, there is also a third step: Review your limits when there are changes in your working life or private life. Our preferred framework can change with a new job, we have children, the children move away from home or after a long course of illness or other life crises.

Good luck with implementing your new framework.