Boundary Theory and Work-Family Border Theory Research: A Focus on Boundary Enactment


  • Stephan Desrochers, Georgia Gwinnett College-Psychology Program, School or Liberal Arts
  • Cooper Morgan, Georgia Gwinnett College- Bachelor of Science in Psychology Candidate

Document type: Encyclopedia Entry

Appears in: Work and Family Encyclopedia

Year: 2021


When we began this review, our intent was to update a review (Desrochers and Sargent 2003) published a few years after boundary theory (Ashforth, Kriener, and Fugate 2000; Nippert-Eng 1996) and work-family border theory (Clark 2000) had been introduced in the work-family literature. In gathering publications to read, it became apparent that the literature had changed so much in almost 20 years that a simple update would not do. It also became apparent that we could not cover all of that literature in a single brief review. Because of the growth in the research literature grounded in boundary and border theory, in both the number publications and diversity of topics, we decided to focus mainly on explaining boundary theory and reviewing the research literature on what is perhaps the most widely studied topic and the one associated with the most “terminological confusion” (Allen, Cho, and Meier 2014) in this literature: the enactment of work and family boundaries. The terminological confusion comes from the wide variety of concepts that includes the related topics of boundary characteristics (e.g., flexibility and permeability), work-family blurring, behaviors tied to boundary enactment (e.g., micro role transitions, multitasking, and working at home), and more recently developed constructs that can be seen as different types of enactment (e.g., cross-role interruptions, detachment from work, and work-family internal conflict). To address this terminological confusion, we propose three levels of enactment: psychological, behavioral, and external. It would be difficult to adequately discuss the research literature on enactment without addressing other topics that come up in each study. So, aside from our focus on enactment, we will briefly address other constructs as they come up, such as attitudes about the self (e.g., work and parent identities), attitudes about boundaries (e.g., integration/segmentation preferences), boundary resources (e.g., organizational, community, and institutional policies), and boundary strategies (i.e., styles and tactics).

Link: Boundary Theory and Work-Family Border Theory Research