Balancing act

Image from National Photo Library on Flickr
As my colleagues at Plymouth Institute of Education make their way back to work, and I sit gazing, relaxed (and retired) from the sidelines, I have mixed emotions. I am happy that I no longer need to worry about timetables, module delivery sheets, digital learning environment content updates, online marking, exam boards, deadlines and more deadlines, but I'm also a little worried about how my colleagues will cope with ever increasing workloads, and the incessant emails and other digital content they have to wrestle with on a daily basis. It's the same globally for all those involved in the business of education. In short I think we should ask - how can teachers regulate and balance all of the demands on their time?

A very interesting theory about self regulation of work life comes from Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek of Purdue University, USA. She discusses the idea of 'flexstyles' in her research (Kossek & Lautsch, 2008), a description of the ways people switch rapidly between modes as they cope with demands on their time. It can be nicely applied to digital environments as an explanation of the ways people create a work-life balance. Technology, she says rightly, can help us all to work more flexibly, but there is a danger that work can invade every aspect of our lives, because we can so easily take it home with us, and digital access is ubiquitous. Having web access it seems, is a double edged sword.

Kossek identifies three modes in which people manage their work-life balance: Integrating, separating and vollying. The first is self-explanatory. It tends to be what many of us do - we bring our work home with us, and integrate it into all the other aspects of our lives. I know it was something I did - there was no boundary between my working life and my home life, and my excuse was that I really enjoyed teaching and research. I was fooling myself though, into believing that all the other stuff that comes with it (mainly admin and trivia) was also enjoyable when all it did was take away my family time. The second mode represents those who separate out work from home life, which she calls 'segmenters'. This is a difficult trick to master, but some can achieve this if they put their minds to it and are strict with their time. The final mode, vollying, is the least understood but refers to those who can switch between integrating and segmenting as context demands. I suspect that vollying is the mode that most of my colleagues adopt, and it's the mode I shall be practising myself from now on!

Kossek, E. E. and Lautsch, B. A. (2008) CEO of Me: Creating a Life that Works in the Flexible Job Age. Philadelphia, PA: Wharton School Publishing.

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Balancing act by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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