Shift Work and Negative Work-to-Family Spillover

By Grosswald, Blanche | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, December 2003 | Go to article overview
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Shift Work and Negative Work-to-Family Spillover

Grosswald, Blanche, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

A representative sample of the U.S. workforce from 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce data (Families & Work Institute, 1999) was examined to study the relationship between shift work and negative work-to-family spillover. Negative spillover was measured by Likert-scale frequency responses to questions concerning mood, energy, and time for family as functions of one's job. Statistical analyses comprised t-tests, ANOVAs, and multiple regressions. Among wage earners with families (n = 2,429), shift work showed a significant, strong, positive relationship to high negative work-to-family spillover when controlling for standard demographic characteristics as well as education and occupation. Distinctions among evening, night, rotating and split shifts revealed the highest negative spillover for rotating shift workers. Additional work-related factors influencing negative spillover included number of work hours, preference for fewer work hours (positive associations), supervisory support, job autonomy, and a family-supportive job culture (negative associations).

Keywords: shift work, wage earners, families, job autonomy, spillover, work-week, dual wage earners, productivity


The area of research recognized as "work-family" began with Kanter's 1977 book in which she dismissed the "myth of separate worlds." The theoretical model of segmentation, claiming that work and family were entirely separate, to explain the relationship between work and family, was no longer relevant. Since Kanter's (1977) seminal work initiated a new perspective on work and family, a variety of theoretical models have developed to explain the relationship between work and family. These include spillover, compensation, and conflict theories (Young and Kleiner, 1992). Spillover is one focus of this paper.

The nature of work and its impact on family life has been a growing area of interest and concern during the past twenty to thirty years in the industrialized countries as women have entered the labor force at increasing rates. The current study investigated the relationship between negative spillover and shift work. Spillover refers to the transfer of mood, energy, and skills from one sphere to the other. Negative spillover suggests bad moods and low energy resulting from one arena impacting the other. "Shift work" refers to a job schedule in which employees work hours other than the "standard" hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or other than the standard workweek, Mondays through Fridays in the United States.

Shift work is an important area of study because the percentage of the U.S. labor force engaged in shift work has been rising steadily. Estimates range from 15% (Seward, 1997) to 45% (Presser, 1995), varying due in part to diverse definitions. Among dual-earner families, 51% with children under 15 include at least one parent who works non-standard shifts (Deutsch, 1999).

The study presented here draws on the literature of two related fields, the spillover model of work-family, and shift work, in order to examine an intersecting point of interest. The research question this study addressed was: What association, if any, does shift work have to negative work-to-family spillover (NWFSp)?



Much of the work-family research during the last 20 years has concentrated on which model or models best illustrate the connection between work and family. A good deal of literature has focused on positive and negative spillover as operating in both directions, i.e., work affecting family and family affecting work (Zedeck, 1992). Concurrently, much research has concentrated on role conflict in that working family members find their roles as parents or spouses conflicting with their roles as employees in terms of time, energy, and character traits that each arena requires (Bailyn, 1993; Burke & Bradshaw, 1981; Howard, 1992). However, Barnett, Marshall, and Singer (1992) and Barnett and Hyde (2001), dispute this position and demonstrate that multiple roles enhance well-being.

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