Work and Family

Most people would rate work and family as their top priorities, although not necessarily in this order. Balancing between work and family can be extremely difficult and exhausting and realizing that the demands at the office are incompatible with the demands of your role as a mother or a father can be a huge disappointment. Most frequently, such a conflict arises when the time needed to fulfill one role does not allow a person to participate fully in the other. Schedule conflicts and work overload are examples of this form of work-family conflict. It may also involve some form of interference between one role and another. This may occur when symptoms of psychological strain, such as anxiety, fatigue or irritability, generated by the demands of the work or family role intrude into the other role, making it hard to fulfill your responsibilities.

In 2003, two professors of management, Jeffrey H. Greenhaus and Gary N. Powell, conducted an experiment to see what factors motivated people to choose between work and family. A group of part-time MBA students were asked to choose between attending a parent's surprise party or a team meeting at work. The degree of pressure from the parent or the manager respectively varied in different scenarios. The subjects of the experiment were told that neither event could be rescheduled and were asked to answer all questions according to what they would do in certain situations. The percentage of those who chose the family event slightly surpassed the other one, with 57 percent claiming that they would ignore the work meeting for the parent's party. The numbers changed when pressure was modified, with 38 percent of the students choosing the family activity when work pressure was strong, compared to 74 percent when work pressure was weak. Two-thirds of the respondents chose the family activity when family pressure was strong, compared to under 50 percent when family pressure was weak. Eight out of 10 respondents chose the family activity when family pressure was strong and work pressure weak, whereas only 27 percent chose the family activity when work pressure was strong and family pressure was weak.

The survey cannot be exhaustive because attitudes toward family and work depends on the mood, characteristics, psychological profile and many other factors, which can make one answer in a different way if they are asked the same question in one year, for instance. However, it helps to realize that work-family conflict can produce difficulties for employees and their families, for employers and for society as a whole. Too much interference of work with family can have adverse effects on marital relationships and the quality of family life. Excessive interference of family with work responsibilities can hinder career progress and thereby reduce satisfaction within work. From an employer's perspective, severe work-family conflicts can interfere with employees' concentration on their jobs, increase absenteeism and eventually lead to resignations.

Learning how to manage the two most important aspects of a person's life is not simple and certainly there is no universal recipe for success. Most people have to balance a number of roles. In the case of a working mother, for example, she needs to be a caring and understanding parent. Other factors to consider involve the woman's role as a loving and supportive wife, a successful and dedicated professional, a good housewife and an active member of the community. Clearly, excelling at all of these roles is not realistic.

Psychologists and counselors suggest that people have to lower their expectations and to stop trying to be superhuman. They advise that people should not be afraid to use external help, such as housekeepers or babysitters if they can afford it and should share family responsibilities more often. Employers should also consider their actions, by making use of the positive spillover effect. This suggests that increased satisfaction at home may increase productivity and efficiency at work and vice versa. Thus, by providing employees with more free time to be with their families or offering financial bonuses, companies can indirectly increase productivity. Modern technology including cell phones and wireless Internet can also help by bringing people closer and maintaining contact even if they are on a business trip hundreds of miles away. Home working has also been encouraged by some organizations as an important factor in balancing a family and a career.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Working Families: The Transformation of the American Home
Rosanna Hertz; Nancy L. Marshall.
University of California Press, 2001
Forgotten Families: Ending the Growing Crisis Confronting Children and Working Parents in the Global Economy
Jody Heymann.
Oxford University Press, 2005
Starting in Our Own Backyards: How Working Families Can Build Community and Survive the New Economy
Ann Bookman.
Routledge, 2004
Work-Family Challenges for Low-Income Parents and Their Children
Ann C. Crouter; Alan Booth.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
The Unfinished Revolution: How a New Generation Is Reshaping Family, Work, and Gender in America
Kathleen Gerson.
Oxford University Press, 2010
The Economics of Work and Family
Jean Kimmel; Emily P. Hoffman.
W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, 2002
Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do about It
Joan Williams.
Oxford University Press, 2000
Integrating Work and Family: Challenges and Choices for a Changing World
Jeffrey H. Greenhaus; Saroj Parasuraman.
Praeger, 1999
The Widening Gap: Why America's Working Families Are in Jeopardy and What Can Be Done about It
Jody Heymann.
Basic Books, 2000
Work and Family Variables as Related to Paternal Engagement, Responsibility, and Accessibility in Dual-Earner Couples with Young Children
Nangle, Suzanne M.; Kelley, Michelle L.; Fals-Stewart, William; Levant, Ronald F.
Fathering, Vol. 1, No. 1, February 2003
The Third Shift: Managing Hard Choices in Our Careers, Homes, and Lives as Women
Michele Kremen Bolton.
Jossey-Bass, 2000
Men's and Women's Eldercare-Based Work-Family Conflict: Antecedents and Work-Related Outcomes
Barrah, Jaime L.; Shultz, Kenneth S.; Baltes, Boris; Stolz, Heide E.
Fathering, Vol. 2, No. 3, Fall 2004
Work-Family Conflict: A Model of Linkages between Work and Family Domain Variables and Turnover Intentions
Boyar, Scott L.; Maertz, Carl P., Jr.; Pearson, Allison W.; Keough, Shawn.
Journal of Managerial Issues, Vol. 15, No. 2, Summer 2003
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