When Work and Family Collide

    Paula Fulghum

    Managers and supervisors have probably all experienced the good and the bad of work-family interactions. There are workers that come in bubbling over with joy from their sparkling home lives, and their work reflects the same qualities. There are also those that may be dealing with a divorce or rebellious teenage children that keep his or her attention on everything besides work. With home life being such a private ordeal, some employers may think why would I bother trying to intervene? Can you really do anything to help an employee’s home life or the resulting effects on work life? You definitely can’t go into an employee’s home and assess what’s going on and offer your wisdom, but you can help the employee to have a better work and non-work life by encouraging positive stress management strategies, incorporating family friendly policies, and not making home life seem like an inappropriate matter to come into work life. The truth is work life can be hindered by an employee’s family life, but it can also be facilitated.

    Many research studies have focused on assessing the effects that work-family conflicts have on performance and employee well-being. Employees may easily take their work home with them, leading to stress at home, and/or bring their home life issues to work, adding to stress in the workplace. When employees occupy multiple life roles, it can become easy for those roles to conflict. Some propose that multiple roles compete for a limited amount of cognitive, emotional, or physical resources. When resources are used up in one realm of life, it could leave fewer resources for others. This can be a concern for organizations if it seems that an employee is draining his or her resources in home issues, leaving little time, energy, or mental investment for the workplace. A particular study examined work to family and family to work conflicts, and how those conflicts led to detriments in performance in customer service employees[1] . From their research, the authors suggested that managers should be trained to acknowledge and treat employees as family members, with the responsibilities that go with such. Employers have to understand that employees don’t simply step into a new being when they come into the workplace, but have characteristics and events going on beyond work life. Managers can work to reduce negative impacts of work-family or family-work spillover by caring about their employee’s personal lives, encouraging employees to balance work and family life, implementing family-friendly programs to show support for family life, and even alter the work itself if needed to fit better with multiple role demands of workers.

    It’s easy to say that workers need to perform well, and “it’s not my problem if they have issues at home”. In fact, many managers probably take on this attitude when faced with employees withdrawing from work because of family issues. This could be a very unwise attitude. Not only does it give employees the impression that you only consider them a replaceable part of the organization that doesn’t have a life outside of work, but also ignores the possibility of positive effects that family may have on work. Recent research efforts have looked towards finding how work and family may facilitate each other and yield positive effects. A particular study found that work-family interactions can have positive interactions with one another[2]. Family can have positive effects on workers for example, making them manage time at work more efficiently to stay within time restrictions caused by multiple roles, provide more energy when coming into work, provide employees with skills from outside work that are applicable in work, and give employees broader perspectives from their range of life experiences. Researchers from the particular referenced study suggested that companies should try to take advantage of benefits the family can offer. By aiming to encourage positive spillover from family to work, employers can attempt to increase the well-being and performance of employees. Regardless of whether family seems to be helping or hurting employees, the realm of family isn’t disappearing. Managers and employers at large need to recognize that family and work life interact extensively. This relationship can be used to benefit employee life and the organization’s productivity as a whole. A family-friendly workplace will be one in which employees will feel comfortable and supported in their life beyond the workplace, and will hopefully be able to manage their multiple roles in ways that facilitate success in their job.

    [1] Netemeyer, R.G., Maxham, J.G., & Pullig, C. (2005).  Conflicts in the work-family interface:  Links to job stress, customer service employee performance, and customer purchase intent.  Journal of Marketing, 69, 130-143.

    [2] Van Steenbergen, E.F., Ellemers, N., &  Mooijart, A. (2007).  How work and family can facilitate each other:  Distinct types of work-family facilitation and outcomes for women and men.  Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 279-300.

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