158 Letter from Jing Li
Three pillars support my passion for life: self-development, family, and career.
Dear female tourism researchers of the future (among whom I am),
HUG and WELCOME at first since reading this letter means you have set foot in the amazing field of tourism research. You must have learned a lot of valuable advice as I do from letters written by our honoured foremothers. Struggling at early stage of my academic career, I could yet reach systematic conclusions about how to live a smart career life. Instead, I would like to share my understanding of a focused topic-work-nonwork boundary management. My purpose is to remind us of the importance of caring our delicate boundaries and establishing sustainable boundary management strategies.
I will try not to make this letter serious, but I may slip to theories, data, and methods naturally. It’s because it’s me, who study leisure and playfulness but don’t look leisure or playful though actually I am! I don’t have such identity threat, in terms of my another research focus- Digital-Free Tourism, enjoying presence and spending reasonable amount of screen time daily.
The following may help if you have the same feelings as I do: I love this job (not necessarily institution-specific, but doing what I am doing- researching, teaching, and servicing in tourism). The job is part of my identity and who I am. And I think there’s societal aspect of being female in academic that I haven’t even fully unpacked to understand how it impacts me on a day-to-day basis.
Undoubtedly, academic work is demanding, academic women are highly career invested. We really need and appreciate the recognised welfares of being an academic, namely flexibility, work autonomy, and unceasing development. However, these deprive us of excuse for exiting nonwork roles sometime as we should. The tension between work and nonwork roles might have exerted more influences on our career and overall well-being in the post-COVID 19 era than previous pandemic. By the way, I seized doctoral degree and started academic career two months after the pandemic happened.
We all have to cope with the conflicts between work and nonwork roles – both in juggling role responsibilities and in facing perceived incompatibility between being an academic and being a woman. Existing theory suggests that preserving a boundary between work and nonwork roles could help women resolve this conflict (Dumas & Sanchez-Burks, 2015).
Here are some tips concluded from a study conducted specifically for this letter. Fourteen female tourism researchers at various career stages who work at universities were interviewed and observed. Hope their practices and perspectives facilitate your adaption.
- More than juggling with roles. Boundary management is not only to juggle role responsibilities and tasks (Kossek & Lautsch, 2012), but also to manage competence perceptions and work relationships (Dumas & Sanchez-Burks, 2015). Several interviewees mentioned their pressure to be “ideal workers”, who work long hours as though unencumbered by non-work demands. Otherwise, as #7 said, “we women will be devaluated as less competent or less suitable for academic roles… if only raising a childe could e counted as a piece of publication.”
- 3+3 principle of resilient boundaries. Powerful boundaries were constructed by interviewees as incorporating three components- physical, temporal, and psychological boundaries; and having three essential traits- permeability, flexibility, miscibility.
- Segmentation and integration approaches. Boundary management includes segmentation and integration practices. Segmentation reinforces a distinct boundary between work and nonwork, whereas integration (e.g., working from home) blurs the work and nonwork boundary (Ashforth et al., 2000; Nippert-Eng, 1996). Both approaches have pros and cons. Flexibility would be scarified if we sticked to the rule of demarcation, which may invoke anxiety. On the other hand, there is a consensus among most interviewees that blurred boundary is often associated with greater tension between roles.
- Structural and social supports. We are not alone on the journey. Resort to supports from workplace, families, friends, and even our lovely and lively students. Negotiations about expectations, task division, cooperation with other members in work and nonwork contexts are commonly agreed as useful. Outsourcing mundane tasks has been adopted by half of the interviewed. Interviewee’s attitudes to cross-field communications (talking about nonwork roles with colleagues and leaders or talking about work with families) are divergent.
- Job crafting premised on job autonomy. Always remember that we are advantaged to be an academic owing to the relatively high level of work autonomy. We can better balancing work, family, and self-development through adjusting career goals, rhythm of climbing the ladder, and finding different routes to reach our goal.
- Adjusting to unavoidable boundary disruption. Interviewees have all experienced disrupted work-nonwork boundaries in the recent two years. Disruptions occurred when there was a radical change and disturbance of previously existing temporal, physical and psychological demarcation between work and nonwork roles. For example, #9 interviewee talked about how struggling she was when facing sudden, nonvoluntary transition to remote work due to pandemic quarantines, so did the others. They responded in different ways and took virous strategies to cope with the disruption. Some attempted to conceal nonwork role experiences from colleagues. On the contrast, some actively reveal and share nonwork roles to either seek understanding or challenge the ideal worker pressure. Besides, they adapted through forms of role sacrifice, including trading off roles, psychological role withdrawal, or behavioral role exit. Some purposely disengaged from one role’s tasks to fulfill the other role’s demands when feeling they had no choice but to prioritise one over the other. Others reported experience of mentally disconnecting from a role for a window of time when feeling overwhelmed. Most extreme, and rarest form of role sacrifice involved abandoning a role’s duties in partial or entirely.
Hopefully, these tips derived from the 14 interviewed confederates could add to your wisdom of balancing dual role responsibilities. Way to go, girls!
Jing Li (Lydia)
Management School, Jinan University, Guangzhou, China