In the last decade, there has been significant research in the framework of identity theory, on the management of multiple roles, identities, and daily micro-role transitions. This body of research, based on the founding work of Katz and Kahn on “the organization as a system of roles” analyzes the means put in place by individuals to create and maintain role boundaries, assesses the nature of these boundaries (e.g., permeability and flexibility), and explores the nature of role transitions (planned vs. interposed). Research has also been conducted on the perceptions individuals have about their own roles and the associated in-role and extra-role behaviors as a parallel to the social expectations regarding individual formalized roles.
There has also been so far an extensive set of literature on the blurring of boundaries between professional (working) hours and private (leisure) time, in particular from the perspective of work-life and work-family balance. This specific body of research also addresses the issues of home-role versus work-role conflicts and of the stress that balancing these two types of roles may generate on workers and also encompasses research about how individuals differentiate “work” from “home” in their own perception of space and time and in their desire for more or less role and identity segmentation.
The purpose of our approach is to complement and unify these two bodies of research in the specific context of the usage of ICTs in the professional environment. More specifically, we address the usage of electronic mail, the most successful ICT communication channel in the professional sphere. Our research complements previous research on the impact of information and communication technologies (ICTs) on how individuals manage the boundaries between their different daily roles, and in particular how they manage the interposed role transitions generated by incoming mail.
Our research is designed around the phenomenon of spam, e.g., unsolicited electronic mail, which represents in our view the “dark side” of mail. This phenomenon encompasses all the elements of research described above, e.g., the blurring of boundaries between professional and non-professional roles, the perception of in-role and extra-role behaviors, the adverse impact of ICTs on business ethics, and the usage of e-mail communications in the business environment. As such, e-mail deserves an in-depth analysis, both from the theoretical and from the managerial viewpoint.
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