Dumas: Re-defining Work-Life Balance
Tracy Dumas

Tracy Dumas

Before entering academia, Tracy Dumas conducted workforce-related research for a Chicago-based research and consulting firm.

“It was a very high-pressure position where you always had to be available for a client,” recalls Dumas, who often cancelled personal plans due to last-minute client needs.

As an assistant professor of Management and Human Resources at Fisher, Dumas is researching the boundary between people’s personal and professional lives. It’s a research topic that originated while she was a doctoral student at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Currently, Dumas is exploring assumptions of the so-called “ideal worker”—the image of the dedicated “company man” that was idealized in the 1950s. The married man with a stay-at-home wife remains a dominant image of an ideal worker in organizations; however, the single, childless worker also has emerged as an additional family configuration expected to live up to the ideal worker norm.

“Our initial survey found that single childless people, though they report that work is very important to them, actually report a lower engagement of all other family configurations,” she says.

What can affect employee engagement positively? Dumas says when individuals within this group were able to take time off from work to volunteer or pursue personal development opportunities, their engagement increased.

“It seems having these involvements outside of work can really enrich people’s experiences in the workplace,” she says.

Dumas adds the data also showed no statistically significant difference in engagement between people with an unemployed versus employed spouse.

“People’s engagement is not related to their family situation in the way we traditionally expected.”

Research suggests that companies that respect individual needs and preferences in how they manage work and nonwork responsibilities will get the best productivity. Dumas advises companies to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach.

She applauds Best Buy’s Results Only Work Environment that establishes key performance metrics but lets employees decide how, when and where they get the job done. This approach eliminates the rules, restrictions and expectations of the traditional workplace.

“Many of the factors that shape people’s ability to advance are outdated perceptions and expectations—not results,” says Dumas. “Removing those barriers allows employees to excel in their professional and personal lives.”

Tracy Dumas Interview

Tracy Dumas, assistant professor of Management and Human Resources, talks about her research on identifying the ideal worker.

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