Public Release: 

Home away from home

Personalizing the workplace

University of Chicago Press Journals

In a given day, Americans spend much more of their waking hours at work than at home. Because of this, work and related workplace activities play critical roles in defining one's self. An article released in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research helps to better explain our lives in the workplace. The article finds that in order to reconcile the competing worlds of work and home, people often find ways to blend the two--often by using possessions--yet at the same time maintaining lines of division.

"Even though work often occupies as much of our time and energy as family, the focus of prior research and theory on the extended self has been the home. We find that negotiating the home/work boundary through personal possessions is an attempt to reconcile these competing spheres of identity," argue Kelly Tian (New Mexico State University) and Russell Belk (University of Utah).

Tian and Belk stress the importance of possessions, such as pictures, in the workplace. These not only stabilize the self, but they also allow for shifting of the self between home and work. As such, there is an inevitable blurring of boundaries. Also important is the bringing of work-related artifacts home, making a once "privileged place for privacy" less so.

"As more functional work-related possessions enter the home, more symbolic home-related possessions likely enter the workplace. Thus, we seem more apt to bring photos of family members to our office than to bring photos of work colleagues to our home."

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Extended Self and Possessions in the Workplace. Kelly Tian and Russel W. Belk. Journal of Consumer Research. September 2005.

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