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The Role of Perspective Taking on Supervisor Off-Work Privacy Violations: A Three Study-Replication

Staff working on their phone and laptop computer at the same time

Based on work by Jennifer Franczak, Jacob McCartney (Michigan State Univ.), Samantha Jordan, Wayne Hochwarter (Florida State Univ.), and Angela Hall (Michigan State Univ.) that received the 2020 AoM Conference Careers Division Best Paper Award 

Constant connectedness is a prevalent reality for workplaces, and has been much more so since the COVID pandemic struck. Technology has forced organizations to adopt a 24/7 work culture, which is particularly highlighted by the recent mandatory work-from-home (WFH) requirements. Admittedly, it is important to prioritize productivity at work, and it’s natural that we might strive to impress our boss with “just one more email” stretching into an extra hour or two hunched over the laptop. 

But what if our boss does not have discernible “start and stop” times, and switching off work becomes increasingly challenging or impossible? As the pandemic accelerates the adoption of remote work and an increasing number of organizations, including Twitter and Facebook, is making WFH permanent, what can we do to ensure we use our constant connectedness meaningfully and respectfully? 

Our research set out to explore the benefits and perils of continuously connected employees, especially when they are faced with supervisor off-work privacy violations, such as constant emailing or texting after work hours. Through a constructive replication research design with a multi-sample (including employees from a communication firm and a middle size hospitals), we found that employees who experienced higher supervisor off-work privacy violations and who were high in perspective-taking, surprisingly, had more positive outcomes, including higher job satisfaction and job performance and lower depressed mood at work. This finding points us to consider a more balanced view of 24/7 borderless workplace, rather than to take “always good” or “always bad” connectivity- reaction outlooks. That is, if subordinates can discern meaning, impute reason to the off-work privacy violation and make sense of their new work expectations- which we call perspective-taking - subordinates can gain the ability and internal resources to buffer the potentially negative consequences of after-work intrusions. 

Although preliminary, findings in our study highlight the importance of creating boundaries between work roles and personal time. By doing so, employees will exhibit higher job satisfaction, performance, and lower depressed moods at work. Managers should be more cognizant about contacting their employees during off-work hours and have clear expectations for when replies should be received to lessen the stress of immediate feedback. Using perspective-taking as a resource, employees can learn to manage the negative outcomes of supervisor off-work privacy violations making constant connectivity feel like less of an intrusion. Remember a major silver lining: we can make thoughtful choices about how we reshape work for real connection and productivity.