Jean-Charles Languilaire (2009)

Experiencing work/non-work - Theorising individuals' process of integrating and segmenting work, family, social and private

The relationships between work and personal life have been on the public, business, and research agenda for about 35 years. Perspectives on these relationships have shifted from a work-family to work-life or work-personal life focus, from a conflict to a balance or enrichment view and, finally, from a segmentation to an integration perspective. This evolution, however, leads to a theoretical and practical impasse where neither integration nor segmentation can be seen as the absolute individual, organisational and societal value. This thesis takes the discussion one step further and focuses on individuals’ work/non-work experiences, calling for a humanistic case. The humanistic case urges placing individuals’ work/non-work experiences at the centre of human resources and at the centre of the work-life field.

The aim of the thesis is to theorise individuals’ work/non-work experiences in their individual, organisational and societal contexts. To achieve the purpose, the thesis presents individuals’ work/non-work self-narratives. These self-narratives of six French middle-managers, three men and three women, underline how individuals experience their diverse life domains, namely the work, the family, the social and the private and their management. The self-narratives have been generated through in-depth qualitative interviews and diaries. The thesis explores and provides an understanding of individuals’ work/non-work experiences from a boundary perspective.

Focusing on the processes behind individuals’ work/non-work experiences, the thesis reveals that work/non-work preferences for integration and/or segmentation are not sufficient to understand individuals’ experiences. It is essential to consider the preferences in relation to their level of explicitness and the development of work/non-work self-identity. Moreover, it is important to understand the roles of positive and negative work/non-work emotions emerging in the work/non-work process as a respective signal of individuals’ satisfaction or dissatisfaction in how their life domains are developed and managed.

The thesis contributes to the work-life field, especially the boundary perspective on work and non-work by presenting a model of individuals’ work/non-work experiences. The model pursued is derived from 33 theoretical propositions. The study suggests a two-dimensional approach for life domain boundaries as a systematic combination of seven boundary types (spatial, temporal, human, cognitive, behavioural, emotional and psychosomatic) and their mental and concrete natures. It suggests a three-dimensional model for work/non-work preferences, revealing five major archetypes of work/non-work preferences between segmentation and integration, and stressing the emotional side of the work/non-work process. It shows that individuals value segmentation on a daily basis and integration on a long-term. This thesis concludes that segmenting and integrating is essential for the harmony of their life domains namely their work, their family, their social and their private.