Academic journal article Family Relations

The Impact of Workplace Support on Work-Family Role Strain

Academic journal article Family Relations

The Impact of Workplace Support on Work-Family Role Strain

Article excerpt

Work-family research has demonstrated that a significant proportion of employed parents experience some or a great deal of difficulty coordinating employment and family demands (see review by Friedman, 1987; Hughes & Galinsky, 1988). Coordinating employment and family life appears to be particularly difficult for employed mothers with preschool age children. When compared with employed mothers of older children, employed mothers with younger children are more likely to experience greater work-family interference (Hughes & Galinsky, 1988). In addition, employed mothers of preschoolers have been found to report significantly greater work-family role strain and more health-related symptoms than their male counterparts (Greenberger, Goldberg, Hamill, O'Neil, & Payne, 1983).

Research attention has been directed to ways of coping with work-family difficulties; however, such research typically focuses on how individuals and families manipulate employment and family demands in an attempt to create patterns of relationships and activities that are manageable (see reviews by Hansen, 1991; Menaghan & Parcel, 1990). Although these types of coping strategies may be effective in helping employed parents balance employment and family roles, such solutions have been considered "unsatisfying," as they fail to fully address the complete nature of the difficulties (Menaghan & Parcel, 1930,p. 1089).

Instead of focusing exclusively on what individuals and families can do to cope with employment and family life, increasing attention is being directed to the role that the workplace can play in generating solutions to work-family difficulties. This area of research seeks to answer the question, "What can the workplace do to facilitate the integration of employment and family life for employed parents?"


Although no integrated theory of work-family relationships exists (Voydanoff, 1989), Kelly and Voydanoff (1985) propose an inductive model of work-family role strain that acknowledges "multiple levels of social structure and process" (p. 368). According to the model, work-family role strain is the result of the combined influence of demands and coping resources derived from individual, family, and work-related sources. The authors posit that, whereas the cumulative demands of multiple roles can result in role strain, available resources may prevent or reduce role strain by enabling individuals to cope with these demands.

Empirical investigations of work-family outcomes have typically focused on individual, family, and work-related sources of demands (cf. Voydanoff, 1987), as well as individual and family sources of coping resources (see reviews by Hansen, 1991; Menaghan & Parcel, 1990). Although the potential benefits of various work-related coping resources have been discussed, few studies have analyzed the influence of this type of resource on work-family role strain or have simultaneously identified demands and coping resources from the work setting. The review that follows identifies previous research on work-related sources of coping resources and demands that may combine to influence perceived levels of work-family role strain.

Work-Related coping Resources

Emerging literature on workplace support proposes that workplaces can play an important role in assisting employees with the coordination of employment and family roles (Bowen, 1988; Kamerman & Kahn, 1987; McCroskey, 1982; Voydanoff, 1987). Discussions of supportive or "family-friendly" workplaces typically focus on three types of coping resources that may be valuable to employees: (a) family-friendly organizational culture, (b) supportive supervisory practices, and (c) available family-oriented benefits.

Organizational culture. Organizational culture refers to the philosophy or set of expectations or beliefs characteristic of the business organization. The classification of an organization's culture as family friendly implies that its over-arching philosophy or belief structure is sensitive to the family needs of its employees and is supportive of employees who are combining paid work and family roles. …

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