What Developing Countries Can Teach us about Role Boundaries
New research suggests that our understanding of how people manage the multiple roles in their life is much more complex than we originally thought.
The findings are contained in the paper, “Can I sell you avocadoes and talk to you about contraception? Well it depends which comes first: anchor roles and asymmetric boundaries”, which is slated for publication in Academy of Management Journal. The paper is co-authored by Geoffrey Kistruck, Professor and RBC Chair in Social Innovation and Impact at Schulich, together with Patrick Shulist, Miguel Rivera Santos, and Winnie Nguni.
The researchers collected data from 73 people within Tanzania, whereby each individual possessed both a self-employment work role and a community volunteer role providing family planning counselling. When anchored in their community role, they were very careful not to mix in business activities. However, when anchored in their work role, they very freely brought up family planning counselling.
Why this asymmetry in role boundary? According to the researchers, when the social interaction was anchored in their work role, the expectations for how to behave were very straightforward – which left plenty of opportunity and flexibility for also wearing their community ‘hat’. However, when anchored in their more complex and constrained family planning role, the thought of also introducing activities associated with ‘work’ was perceived as highly conflicting and confusing.
“Such findings have implications not only for our understanding of role boundaries within developing countries, but also other role pairings in developed country settings,” said Kistruck.