An Examination of the Role of Emotional Intelligence in Work and Family Conflict *

By Lenaghan, Janet A.; Buda, Richard et al. | Journal of Managerial Issues, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview

An Examination of the Role of Emotional Intelligence in Work and Family Conflict *


Lenaghan, Janet A., Buda, Richard, Eisner, Alan B., Journal of Managerial Issues


Employers need to recognize the constant challenge many employees face in balancing work and family. Recruiting and retaining top workers is essential to the success of the organization; thus, it behooves employers to understand the variables associated with the effective management of the work-family conflict.

One cannot pick up a newspaper or periodical or even turn on the news without being confronted with the issue of balancing work and family. For most, it is a constant struggle to attempt to balance the commitments of work and family life. Some researchers have suggested that work-family balance is an illusive goal and one that is unattainable (Caproni, 1997). The concern is that the more one is committed to work, the more one enjoys the associated benefits, both financial and non-financial, which encourage them to devote even more time and energy to work. Since neither one's time nor energy is limitless, by definition, then, such workers will find themselves far from the balance they originally sought with one of the roles invariably ending up on the losing end.

As a result of an increasingly larger share of the workforce occupying many non-work roles in addition to that of paid worker, organizations need to understand the impact of multiple roles on workers' productivity. Attitudes, behaviors and emotions associated with one role may spill over to the other (Edwards and Rothbard, 2000). In fact, many employers fear that engagement in the family role is accomplished only to the detriment to the work role.

The work-family literature frames this balance in seemingly diametrically opposed views, namely the depletion and enrichment arguments (Marks, 1977). The former is more deeply rooted in the literature and views these roles as conflicting (Friedman and Greenhaus, 2000). One's energy and time are limited, and, as such, the demand in each role depletes resources at the expense of the other. Yet those scholars that view the work-family research through the lens of the enrichment hypothesis suggest that it is the occupancy of multiple roles and the quality of those roles that yield beneficial effects on one's well-being (Barnett and Hyde, 2001). The benefits to individuals provide a net gain over the costs, leading to a positive emotional response and better well-being,

In an effort to explain the competing views in the literature--the depletion or enrichment hypotheses--we propose that the question needs to be examined at the individual level. Specifically, we posit that Emotional Intelligence, a dispositional variable, interacts with work-family conflict to predict one's well-being. Consistent with research conducted by Noor (2003) that resulted in support for the effect of locus of control on the relationship between work-family conflict and well-being, this study expands the link to examine the effect of a broader dispositional measure. Noor (2003) sampled 310 married women with children who were employed full-time in Malaysia. She found that "women with high control beliefs generally were more vulnerable to work-family conflict" and that work-family conflict was positively related to symptoms of psychological distress--women's sense of general well-being" (2003: 658).

This study builds on past models of work and family stress that use individual differences as moderators of the effects of work and family experiences on well-being (e.g., Frone et al., 1997a; Greenhaus and Parasuraman, 1986; Higgins et al., 1992; Parasuraman et al., 1996). In addition, the present study answers the call of Greenhaus and Beutell for more research "to determine the impact of specific personal characteristics on role attitude/behaviors that affect the arousal of work-family conflict" (1985: 83), as well as Carlson's (1999) call for additional study of personality variables such as the "Big Five" to provide further insight into the underpinnings of work-family conflict. We posit that it is not necessarily a general all-encompassing trait that distinguishes the "handlers" from the "non-handlers," but rather it is an individual trait which can cross gender, race, ethnicity, and age. …

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