Are you happier when work stays at work, or do you prefer when work can be intertwined with the rest of your day?
Your answer could explain if you are a “segmenter” or an “integrator.” Researchers classified these two different work personality types based on an individual preferences for the ideal boundaries between home and work.
Although these personality types were identified long before a number of Americans were forced to work from home because of the coronavirus pandemic, it may matter now more than ever which one you are: Working during this ongoing upheaval is draining enough on its own; working against your type may be compounding all those feelings of exhaustion or burnout.
How To Tell If You Are A Segmenter Or Integrator
Segmenters “want to keep as many boundaries between their work life and their personal life as possible, whereas integrators don’t mind going back and forth, [like] ‘I might do a little bit of work and then I’ll go spend some time with my family or do something around the house, and then I’ll go back to work,’” said Laurens Steed, an assistant professor of management in the Farmer School of Business at Miami University.
Steed noted that it’s helpful to note that integrators and segmenters fall on a continuum: You might be an extreme segmenter, extreme integrator or fall somewhere in between.
In her 1996 book, “Home and Work: Negotiating Boundaries Through Everyday Life,” sociologist Christena Nippert-Eng found that segmenters often draw the line between work and home through objects ― for example, by having separate calendars, uniforms or sets of keys for each place or activity.
In the book, Joan, an office worker who prefers segmentation, keeps both a desktop calendar of deadlines and appointments and a big wall calendar filled with vacation days and family visits. She looks at the latter when she needs a mental respite.
Steed said that it may be easier for such segmenters to “shut off” work, while it can be harder for integrators to resist going back to the computer and, say, responding to an email late at night.
You may be more likely to be an integrator. Google, which used Nippert-Eng’s research in a study of its own staff, found that more than two-thirds of employees identified as integrators and often agreed with the statement, “It is often difficult to tell where my work life ends and my non-work life begins.”
If you are still confused about whether you may be an integrator or a segmenter, track for a week or two how you work to identify patterns, said Cynthia Pong, feminist career strategist and author of the upcoming book, “Don’t Stay in Your Lane: The Career Change Guide for Women of Color.”
“Track in a journal or in a diary when you are working, how you are working, and see if you are a person who likes to naturally separate or if you work better when you’re blending,” Pong said. She said that when she started her business, people told her to make strong boundaries, such as “always end [your workday] at a certain time and leave the work space,” but that was not realistic considering her preference for a fluid work and home life.
Unfortunately, how you work may not always be up to you. Now that your home may also be your office thanks to coronavirus, it can be all too easy to blur the lines between your job and the rest of your life. Steed also noted that your organization’s culture around working hours may enforce integrating or segmenting even when you would prefer the other.
If you’re a people manager, you should be aware that some team members may prefer to set hard boundaries around their work life, even if you don’t. For work communication after hours, ask yourself, “Does my team need to respond immediately? Can I let them know in the email, ‘Hey, this can wait until the morning?’” Steed said.
What Recovery May Look Like
No matter what your personal preference is, everyone needs a break from work to recharge. Steed co-authored a 2019 analysis of 198 studies and found that recovery time from work improved sleep, well-being, and job performance.
True recovery time should include detachment from the job, relaxation, a sense of mastery (such as learning how to ride a bike) or a sense of control over how the time went, Steed said. Keep in mind that what may be a restful, recharging activity for you on one day may be a stressful event on another. Sometimes, spending time with your kids can offer a sense of recovery, Steed said, but on days in which your kid doesn’t want to eat dinner or be put to bed, that may be more draining.
The length of a recovery break can also differ. Segmenters may prefer to say, “I’m done at 5:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. ET, and I spend the rest of my evening doing my home life,” Steed said. “Integrators might be more comfortable building in short breaks during the day, like, ‘Maybe I’ll take 30 minutes and go for a walk.’”
If you find it hard to end the work day, try building some type of accountability mechanism ― perhaps an evening workout class you paid for ― until it becomes a routine, Pong said. That will force you to make the most of your work day, and create time for recovery.
“You’re training other people too that you may work with, like, ‘Oh, OK, I’m not going to hear back from Cynthia until tomorrow.’”