Managing Boundaries Between Work and Family: Comparison of Satisfaction Levels Between Part-Time and Full-Time Working Mothers

Managing Boundaries Between Work and Family: Comparison of Satisfaction Levels Between Part-Time and Full-Time Working Mothers

Picture by: Microsoft Images


July 30, 2012 by Keeley Sorokti, MSLOC 2011

Many dual-income couples with children report working too many hours and struggle with managing the increasingly overlapping work and family domains. This study investigates whether there are differences in satisfaction with job, job flexibility, work-family balance, and family by comparing part-time and full-time working mothers. The women studied report being able to segment or integrate the boundaries between work and family in the way they prefer. Of the 307 dual-income working parents who completed an online survey, data from 34 part-time and 52 full-time working mothers qualified for analysis. The part-time working mothers in the study are more satisfied with their work-family balance and their job flexibility than their full-time counterparts. While both groups are equally satisfied with their jobs and their families, they vary in what factors contribute the most to their job satisfaction. No differences were found in satisfaction levels between women who integrate work and family (i.e. blur boundaries) and those who segment work and family.


Many organizations reward employees who make their job their top priority at the expense of their families (Hewlett & Luce, 2005; Kossek & Lautsch, 2007). This can marginalize employees, sometimes high-potential talent, who want to manage the boundaries between work and family and/or the number of hours worked in different ways than established organizational or societal norms. For dual-income couples with children at home the competing demands between work and family can become overwhelming. According to some research, two thirds of dual-career couples report working too much and many mothers prefer to work part-time in order to facilitate work-family balance (Hill, Märtinson, & Ferris, 2004; Jacob, 2008). But does working part-time actually increase satisfaction with work, family and managing the intersection between the two? Researchers have shown that individuals have a preference, or a need, for a particular level of segmentation or integration of the boundaries between work and family and that they fall along a work-family boundary continuum with segmentation on one end and integration on the other end (Ashforth, Kreiner, & Fugate, 2000; Bulger, Matthews, & Hoffman, 2007; Clark, 2000; Nippert-Eng, 1996). Integrators blend work and family (e.g. take work calls in the evening), volleyers switch back and forth between integrating and segmenting their work and family domains (e.g. an accountant who works long hours during tax season but then goes back to integrating work and family at other times of the year), and separators maintain barriers between work and family (e.g. telecommuter who locks his home office at 4:30pm) (Kossek & Lautsch, 2007). Work-Family Boundary Management Continuum

Note: The figure above is based on work by Kossek & Lautsch (2007).

Research Question: This study investigates whether there are differences in job satisfaction, job flexibility satisfaction, work-life balance satisfaction and family satisfaction between part-time and full-time working mothers who are able to segment or integrate the boundaries between work and family in the way they prefer.

Why study satisfaction? Satisfaction is an affective, or emotional, response to a particular area of one’s life (Rothbard, Phillips, & Dumas, 2005) that can be influenced by the way individuals manage boundaries between work and family and can in turn be related to various important outcomes.

  • Job Satisfaction: Organizations care about increasing job satisfaction because it has been shown to relate to lower absenteeism (Shore & Martin, 1989), increased performance (Shore & Martin, 1989), and reduced turnover (Tett & Meyer, 1993).
  • Job Flexibility Satisfaction: Working parents care more about facets of their jobs that facilitate the ability to address demands on time and money (Rothausen, 1994). Because flexibility is the facet of job satisfaction that is most related to work-family boundary management, I measured job flexibility satisfaction in addition to overall job satisfaction.
  • Family Satisfaction: Research has shown that when work interferes with family and family interferes with work, family satisfaction decreases (Chesley, 2005; Ford, Heinen, & Langkamer, 2007).
  • Work-Family Balance Satisfaction: For people who have little control over work time, increased work hours can reduce satisfaction with work-family balance (Valcour, 2007).

Why compare part-time to full-time? Because so many full-time working mothers say they would prefer to work part-time, it is important to understand whether they are more likely to be more satisfied by switching to part-time work. In this study 43% of the full-time working mothers who took the survey reported that they would prefer to work part-time but are not able to for various reasons. Also, in work-life research, the study of part-time work is often neglected or simplified (i.e. part-time workers with very different characteristics are grouped together) leading to inconsistent results (Feldman, 1990; Marchese & Ryan, 2001). My research has been designed so that the part-time and full-time populations are similar along some key dimensions (i.e. they are working their desired work schedule so are not underemployed or overemployed, they only have one job, they work year-round) which allows for better comparisons between these two groups.

Person-Environment Fit: The 86 women who participated in this study prefer to work their current number of hours (part-time or full-time) and report a high level of alignment between how their workplace allows them to manage the boundaries between work and family and the way they prefer to manage those boundaries. They have achieved what is called “person-environment fit” by having their individual needs fulfilled by their work and family environments (Chen, Powell, & Greenhaus, 2009; Edwards & Rothbard, 1999; Kreiner, 2006). In addition to seeking to understand the differences in satisfaction levels between full-time and part-time working mothers, my research also seeks to understand differences in satisfaction between women who fall on various points of the work-family boundary management continuum (integrators, volleyers, and segmentors).

The women studied are getting important needs met by working their desired work schedule and presumably have more control over the intersection of their work and family domains. But does this matter? How do their work hour choices relate to satisfaction levels? Are there trade-offs that need to be considered when a working mother is deciding whether to work part-time or full-time?

Who can benefit from this research?: This research is targeted to organizational leaders, executive coaches, managers and working parents as they seek to develop customized work arrangements and work-family boundary management strategies for their organizations, their clients and themselves. In a 2011 American Psychological Association study, only about 36% of U.S. workers reported being satisfied with the way employers assist them in managing work and family demands (Kossek, Baltes, & Matthews, 2011). If an organization wants to better assist employees with work-family balance, my research could help them make informed decisions about whether to offer a greater variety of work hour arrangements when developing work-life balance strategies that can help support satisfaction, retention and attraction of talent.


A self-administered online survey was used to collect responses from working parents who were solicited through e-mail and various social media tools. In order to increase the sample size, upon completion of the survey participants were asked to forward the survey information to other working parents. The recruitment materials asked for dual-income working parents with children under 18 living at home to take a survey about work-life balance. The survey consisted of 28 questions which measured two independent variables: 1) work hours (part-time or full-time) and 2) work-family boundary management style and three dependent variables: 1) overall job satisfaction (including a separate set of questions about satisfaction with job flexibility); 2) work-family balance satisfaction and 3) family satisfaction. Two open-ended questions were included to further understand the reasons for the job satisfaction and work schedule preference responses. In addition, ten demographic control variables were measured in order to describe the characteristics of the sample.

In order to limit the sample to people who are working their preferred number of hours and have achieved person-environment fit with how they manage work-family boundaries, the following two measures were developed which served to sort the respondents for the final sample: 1) work schedule preference and 2) work-family boundary management person-environment fit. With one exception (see Appendix A) the survey included existing, reliable instruments from published research that are commonly used by work-life and person-environment fit researchers (Brough, O’Driscoll, & Kalliath, 2005; Cammann, Fichman, Jenkins, Jr., & Klesh, 1983; Carlson, Grzywacz, & Kacmar, 2010; Kossek & Lautsch, 2007; Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2006; Rothausen, 1994; Valcour, 2007).

Study Participants

Mother with daughterIn order to complete the survey a respondent needed to meet the following requirements:

- Parent who is part of a domestic couple

- Has at least one child living at home

- Works and lives in the United States

- Works or gets paid year round from one organization or source

- Has worked at the organization for more than two months

This population was chosen because both members of these couples are managing the boundaries between work and home, and having children at home increases the demands on a parent’s time and energy. Therefore, this population of employees often need more help with work-life balance and boundary management strategies. Both men and women took the survey but because only 2 of the 41 men surveyed work part-time only women were used for the final analysis.

Of the 266 female respondents, 52 full-time and 34 part-time working mothers qualified for analysis (n = 86).

Weekly HoursThe analysis was completed on 86 female respondents who came from a mix of industries (services/consulting/law and education comprise 39% combined) and sectors (42% for-profit; 28% private non-profit/school; 16% self-employed; 12% government/public school; 2% not identified). The number of hours worked weekly was evenly dispersed within the part-time and full-time populations (see Figure 1). Overall the sample is highly educated (93% have a four-year degree or higher), has a high household income (67% over $100k), and is largely made up of professional individual contributors (36%) and middle/junior managers (26%), who are salaried (exempt = 66%). The average number of children living at home is 1.64.

Analysis and Results

Mean scores were calculated for each of the likert scale measures (dependent satisfaction variables) in order to create a scale score. Item reliability (alpha score) was checked for all dependent variables (Job Satisfaction = .725; Flexibility Facet of Job Satisfaction = .843; Family Satisfaction = .939; Work-Family Balance Satisfaction = .88) and the Work-Family Boundary Management Style independent variable (.82). The measure of Work-Family Boundary Management Person-Environment Fit created for this study resulted in a .64 alpha score (see Limitations section for discussion of this low alpha score).

Boundary Management Style

The survey measured a respondent’s place on the work-family boundary management continuum (i.e. placing respondents between the integration and segmentation ends of the continuum). A Pearson correlation analysis was conducted using the work-family boundary management style mean score and the various satisfaction scores to determine if the data show any relationships between a person’s preference for integration or segmentation and satisfaction levels. This analysis was used to test the following two hypotheses:

  • H1) For both full-time and part-time dual-income parents who have achieved work-family boundary management person-environment fit, separators will have lower job satisfaction than integrators or volleyers.
  • H2) For both full-time and part-time dual-income parents who have achieved work-family boundary management person-environment fit, integrators will have lower work-family balance satisfaction than separators and volleyers.

Some studies have found relationships between where a person lands on the boundary management continuum and satisfaction levels (Kreiner, 2006; Rothbard, Phillips, & Dumas, 2005). This study did not show any correlations between whether a person tends to integrate or segment their work and family and satisfaction levels. This may be due to the fact that most of the respondents did not show a clear preference for integration or segmentation but clustered in the middle of the continuum.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time

Independent sample t-tests were conducted to analyze whether there are statistically significant differences in satisfaction levels between part-time and full-time participants and to analyze whether the data confirms the following two hypotheses:

  • H3) For dual-income parents who have achieved work-family boundary management person-environment fit, full-time employees will have greater overall job satisfaction than part-time employees
  • H4) For dual-income parents who have achieved work-family boundary management person-environment fit, part-time employees will have greater work-family balance satisfaction than full-time employees.

Mean Satisfaction Scores - Figure 2

Statistically Significant Results: The t-tests showed that there is a statistically significant difference between part-time and full-time working mothers in my sample for the following 5-point likert variables (p scores < .05): 1) flexibility facet of job satisfaction (t-score = 4.412; p-value = .000) and 2) work-family balance satisfaction (t-score = 2.234; p-value = .028). Part-time working mothers in this study are more satisfied with their job flexibility (PT mean = 4.69; FT mean = 4.18) and work-family balance satisfaction (PT mean = 4.28; FT mean = 4.02) than the full-time working mothers (see Figure 2).

Mean Satisfaction Scores - Figure 3Insignificant Results: No significant differences were found between the two groups for the following 7-point likert variables (p scores > .05): 1) job satisfaction (t-score = -.471; p-value = .639; PT mean = 6.15; FT mean = 6.22) and 2) family satisfaction (t-score = -.192; p-value = .849; PT mean = 6.51; FT mean = 6.54). See Figure 3.

Hypothesis 3 was not confirmed. There is no significant difference between these two populations for overall job satisfaction. Not surprisingly, however, the part-time working mothers are more satisfied with the flexibility aspects of their job. While some studies have found that part-time workers are less satisfied with their jobs than part-time workers (Valcour, 2007) this particular group of working mothers have similar overall job satisfaction and the part-time workers are more satisfied with the extent to which they feel “…that they have flexibility in scheduling, in doing part-time or flex-time work, and in balancing work and family responsibilities” (Rothausen, 1994, p. 326).

Hypothesis 4 was confirmed. Even though both the full-time and part-time workers in this sample have achieved person-environment fit (i.e. are able to manage work-family boundaries in preferred ways), the part-time working mothers still have higher work-family balance satisfaction.

Factors Contributing to Overall Job Satisfaction

Rothausen (1994) describes seven job satisfaction facets that allow researchers to develop a more nuanced view of overall job satisfaction scores (flexibility, achievement, autonomy, rewards, cooperation, participation, structure). In order to assess whether flexibility was an important factor in overall job satisfaction, I measured the flexibility facet of job satisfaction but also asked respondents to list the top three factors that contribute to their overall job satisfaction. I coded these open-ended responses into Rothausen’s seven job satisfaction facets and also found two additional contributing factors: 1) mission of the organization and 2) location of work / commute time.

Job Satisfaction Factors

The top four reasons for overall job satisfaction were the same for both part-time and full-time working mothers, although the order differed. Part-time mothers most often listed flexibility as the reason for their job satisfaction (82%) whereas full-time mothers listed achievement most often (62%). The achievement facet of job satisfaction includes finding your job challenging, being able to use your expertise and training and being able to reach high standards.

About half of the part-time and full-time respondents listed their co-workers and/or boss as a contributing factor to their job satisfaction score, making the cooperation facet of job satisfaction the second highest factor for both of these groups. Surprisingly, the rewards facet was not in the top three factors for either group; I would have expected it to be listed more often by full-time working mothers.


One limitation of the study is the sample itself. Because only women were included in the analysis the results cannot be generalized for all working parents, specifically men. Only two men reported working part-time so all responses from men were discarded in order to compare similar populations. Also, the women studied are generally well-educated, high-income professionals so these results may not be the same for different populations of women.

Another limitation of the study is that interviews were not conducted to understand in more depth the context behind the answers given.

It should also be noted that the way work-family boundary management person-environment fit was measured was much more simple than other researchers’ methods (Chen, Powell, & Greenhaus, 2009; Kreiner, 2006; Rothbard et al., 2005). The alpha score of .64 did not meet the threshold of .7 for reliability. For the purposes of this analysis, the mean score of 3.75 out of 5 was chosen as the cut-off point for being included in the study sample; this allowed me to separate the respondents into two groups so that the people who reported greater control over their work-family boundary management could be studied. The people selected for analysis most likely manage the boundaries between work and family in ways they prefer more often than the people excluded from the analysis. However, it should not be assumed that this measure accurately captures person-environment fit alignment in the more nuanced ways that other researchers have measured this construct.

Interpretation & Recommendations: Individual Differences Matter

It is important to recognize that employees’ needs change at different points in their careers and that their preferences for the number of hours worked may change when they have a child or need to take care of an elderly parent (Hewlett & Luce, 2005; Kossek & Lautsch, 2007). Even for working mothers who prefer to keep working full-time, managing boundaries between work and family becomes more challenging when they have children. This research shows that working mothers and organizations need to consider individual preferences and needs when making decisions about work schedules.

There are benefits to working part-time or full-time as well as potential challenges. The images in this section show the answers that participants gave when asked to identify the top three factors impacting their job satisfaction level. The largest words represent the most frequent answers. Co-workers and boss fall under the cooperation facet of job satisfaction (ranked #2 by both part-time and full-time respondents).

Full-Time WordlePart-Time Wordle

 Depending on what is important to a mother making decisions about working for income, several factors can be considered based on the results of this research:

  1. Part-time working mothers are more likely to have increased work-family balance and job flexibility satisfaction but rewards and career advancement may be negatively impacted.
  2. If women are able to manage the boundaries between work and family in ways they prefer, job satisfaction levels can be the same for part-time and full-time working mothers.
  3. Flexibility is more likely to play a role in job satisfaction levels for part-time working mothers than for full-time working mothers.
  4. Achievement is more likely to play a role in job satisfaction levels for full-time working mothers than for part-time working mothers.


Working Parents

Knowing more about managing work-family boundaries and the relationship between work hours and satisfaction levels can help soon-to-be parents and working parents make more informed choices about their work arrangements. Individuals can ask themselves questions such as:

  • Do I care more about flexibility or achievement?
  • Can I look for employers who have part-time jobs with higher levels of achievement if I value that as much as flexibility?
  • Am I willing to reduce my work-life balance satisfaction in order to increase my household income?

It is important for working women to proactively assess their own needs and preferences in order to make decisions about their work schedules. Being clear with themselves and their employers will help working mothers make better career choices for themselves and their families.

Executive and Life Coaches

Executive and life coaches who are helping women with their career and personal development can utilize assessment tools like Kossek & Lautsch’s (2007) Boundary Management Flexstyle inventory to help women be more intentional about managing the boundaries between work and family. They can help guide women to co-create their own work path with their employers by being more aware of the potential impact of their choices as well as becoming very clear about their individual preferences and needs. For example, a coach could explore issues such as 1) how a working mother manages boundaries between work and family domains and what changes could be made to increase satisfaction, 2) clarifying an individual's priorities and preferences related to flexibility, income and job achievement/advancement, and 3) identifying ways to talk to an employer about possible changes to work hours.

Organizational Leaders and Managers

Part-Time QuoteIt is important for organizations to realize that there is not a one-size-fits-all answer to creating jobs and work schedules that work for employees with children at home; it comes down to individual preferences and circumstances. Leaders and managers can put practices into place that consider the following:

  • Reduce turnover and knowledge loss - find creative ways to retain working mothers: Create work arrangements that allow for reduced work hours for certain periods of time. Recognize that a mother's work hours may need to contract and expand throughout her career.
  • Flexibility matters: Flexibility was listed by both part-time and full-time working mothers as one of the top reasons for job satisfaction level so it is important to address this if an organization cares about job satisfaction.
  • Full-Time QuoteCreate better part-time jobs to increase achievement satisfaction: Some researchers have found that positive outcomes can result when organizations create part-time jobs that are challenging and give employees autonomy, such as control over flexibility (Hill, Martinson, Ferris, & Baker, 2004; Marchese & Ryan, 2001). 43% of the full-time working mothers surveyed for this study say they would prefer to work part-time (See Figure 5, Appendix B). The question for organizations is whether they are willing to make changes so that these women (and others like them) could reduce their work hours while still making positive contributions to the organization.

Areas for Additional Research

Some additional analysis could be conducted with the data collected for this study that is outside the scope of the original research question.

  • It is significant that part-time employees did not have lower overall job satisfaction scores in this study (Hypothesis 3 was disproved). This may be because the part-time respondents were carefully selected to avoid including employees who tend to have lower job satisfaction (e.g. seasonal employees, underemployed employees, or people with more than one job). The higher work-family boundary management person-environment fit scores of the sample may also play a role in the parity in job satisfaction between the two groups. In order to explore these questions further, additional analysis could be done to compare the respondents studied with the respondents who have lower person-environment fit scores and/or are not working their desired work schedule.
  • It would also be interesting to compare the full-time working men surveyed to the full-time working women in order to explore differences and similarities between these two groups. Millennial fathers are spending more time with their children than previous generations, increasing the work-life conflict experienced by dual-income men from 35% in 1977 to 59% in 2008 (Galinsky et al., 2009).
  • This study focused on the individual level of analysis so another avenue of research would be to understand this issue from the organization level of analysis. What factors contribute to the decisions that are made about employee work schedule options? Do organizations that offer high achievement part-time positions retain more working mothers and/or notice increased levels of satisfaction? What are the barriers to offering more part-time positions or allowing employees to reduce hours for particular periods?

Article and Author Information

Keeley Sorokti wrote this article in December 2011 for the Capstone 3 Research Analysis and Interpretation course. This executive summary assignment is the culmination of a nine-month capstone research project. Keeley graduated from the MSLOC program in 2011 and is now the Assistant Director of Academic Services for the MSLOC program.

Twitter: @sorokti


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Appendix A

Work-Family Boundary Management Person-Environment Fit Measure

The newly created measure for work-family boundary management person-environment fit resulted in an alpha score of .64 which is below the .7 threshold. The 6-question item was measured on a seven-point likert scale (Strongly Disagree to Strongly Agree).

How much do you agree or disagree with each statement below?

1. All in all, I feel that I am able to control how much work enters into my family life.

2. In general, I am able to control how much family enters into my work life.

3. My workplace allows me to manage the intersection between work-life and family-life.

4. In general, my work-life and family-life overlap (or do not overlap) in ways that suit me.

5. My workplace matches my preferences for how much work-life and family-life intersect.

6. In general, I am able to manage the boundaries between work and family in the way that I prefer.

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