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Work-Family Conflict

Jeffrey H. Greenhaus
Drexel University

Summary of Main Points

It is generally recognized that extensive pressures arising from the work environment and
from the family environment can produce high levels of work-family conflict for many
employees.

In this talk, I shift the emphasis from the environment to the individual, and I illustrate
various ways in which individuals affect the degree of conflict they experience between
their work and family roles.

I also discuss ways by which individuals can influence the degree of enrichment or
facilitation they experience between work and family roles.

I hope to provide a balanced view of the factors that produce work-family conflict and
work-family enrichment. Employees should be encouraged to recognize the effect of
their own behavior, attitudes, and feelingsas well as the environmenton work-family
conflict and work-family enrichment.
Work-Family Conflict

Work-family conflict occurs when participation in the work role and the family role is
incompatible in some respect. As a result, participation in one role is made more difficult
by virtue of participation in the other role.

Work-family conflict can arise from:

The time demands of one role that interfere with participation in the other role.

The stress originating in one role that spills over into the other role detracting
from the quality of life in that role.

Behavior that is effective and appropriate in one role but is ineffective and
inappropriate when transferred to the other role.

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There are two directions of work-family conflict:

Work-to-family conflict occurs when experiences at work interfere with family


life.

Family-to-work conflict occurs when experiences in the family interfere with


work life.

Examples of factors in the environment that produce extensive work-family conflict:

Pressures in the work environment: extensive, irregular, or inflexible work hours;


extensive travel; work overload and other forms of job stress; interpersonal
conflict at work; career transitions; unsupportive supervisor or organization.

Pressures in the family environment: presence of young children; primary


responsibility for children; elder care responsibilities; interpersonal conflict within
the family unit; unsupportive family members.
Where Does the Individual Fit In?

Decisions regarding the allocation of time to work and family activities are based partly
on individual preferences and values.

Perceptions of stress in work and family roles arise partly from individual predispositions
to experience stress.

Individuals differ in their ability to cope effectively with stressful work and family
environments.

The inappropriate transfer of behavior from one role to another role is likely due in part
to an individuals lack of awareness of the impact of his or her behavior on other people.

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Illustrations of the Role of the Individual


in Producing Work-Family Conflict

Illustration I: Personality and Work-Family Conflict

Negative affectivity (NA) is an individuals predisposition to experience high levels of


subjective distress, depression, nervousness, anxiety, and feelings of anger, contempt,
disgust, and fear.

Stoeva, Chiu, and Greenhaus (Journal of Vocational Behavior, 2002) studied the
relationship between NA and work-family conflict among 148 senior civil servants in
Hong Kong.

As shown in Figure 1, we found that high-NA individuals experience more work-tofamily conflict and more family-to-work conflict than low-NA individuals. Why?
Because high-NA individuals experience more job stress and family stress than low-NA
individuals do, and because job stress and family stress contribute to extensive work-tofamily conflict and family-to-work conflict respectively.

We also found that the negative effect of family stress on family-to-work conflict is more
severe for high NA-people than it is for low-NA people.

Implication: an individuals personality plays a role in the amount of work-family


conflict that he or she experiences. Of course, personality characteristics like negative
affectivity are not the only factors that produce job stress, family stress, or work-family
conflict, but they are factors that should not be ignored.

Illustration II: Values and the Allocation of Time to Work and Family Activities

Gary Powell and I conducted a laboratory experiment in which MBA students were
required to choose whether to attend a birthday party for their parent or attend a
competing project team meeting at work, neither of which could be rescheduled
(Greenhaus & Powell, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, in
press).

In hypothetical cases or vignettes, we manipulated the pressure from ones manager to


participate in the work activity (high pressure or low pressure) and the pressure from
ones spouse to participate in the family activity (high pressure or low pressure). We also
measured the salience or importance of work and family roles for each MBA student.

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Not surprisingly, we found that pressures from the environment had a substantial effect
on how individuals allocated their time:

84% selected the family activity (birthday party) when there was strong pressure
from their spouse to attend the party and weak pressure from their manager to
attend the project team meeting.

73% selected the work activity (project team meeting) when there was strong
pressure from their manager to attend the project team meeting and weak pressure
from their spouse to attend the party.

However, the salience or importance an individual attaches to his or her work and family
roles also had a substantial effect on how individuals allocated their time. As Figure 2
shows, 72% of the individuals chose to participate in the work activity (that is, only 28%
chose the family activity) when work was highly important to them and family was not.
When work and family roles were equally important or equally unimportant, individuals
were more likely to participate in the family activity than the work activity.

Implication: individuals who place more psychological importance on their work than
their family forego family activities to engage in work. They therefore allow their
work responsibilities to interfere with their family life.

Illustration III: Work-Family Balance and Quality of Life

Greenhaus, Collins, and Shaw (under review) studied the relationship between workfamily balance and quality of life for professionals employed in public accounting.

We measured three types of work-family balance:

Time balance: when individuals devote an equal amount of time to their work role
and their family role

Involvement balance: when individuals display an equal level of psychological


involvement in their work role and their family role

Satisfaction balance: when individuals derive an equal level of satisfaction from


their work role and their family role

Note that time balanceto some extentand involvement balanceto a greater


extentare under the control of the individual.

We also measured individuals reports of their overall quality of life, their degree of
work-family conflict, and the amount of stress they experience in their lives.

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What did we find?

When individuals invest relatively little of their time or their psychological


involvement in their combined work and family roles, their level of work-family
balance is NOT related to their quality of life.

However, balance IS related to quality of life when individuals invest a great deal
of their time or a great deal of their psychological involvement in their combined
work and family roles (see Figures 3 and 4). However, quality of life is highest
for those who are substantially more engaged in their family than in their work,
and is lowest for those who are substantially more engaged in their work than in
their family. Unexpectedly, the quality of life of balanced individuals fell
between these two extremes.

Why? Because individuals who invested more time or more psychological


involvement in their work than their family experienced the highest levels of
work-to-family conflict and life stress, which ultimately reduced their quality of
life. Individuals who invested more time or psychological involvement in their
family than their work experienced the lowest levels of work-to-family conflict
and life stress, which ultimately enhanced their quality of life. Balanced
individuals were right in the middle.

Implication: the amount of time and psychological involvement that individuals decide to
invest in their work and family lives has consequences for their level of work-family
conflict and stress, and ultimately how they experience the quality of their lives.
Work-Family Enrichment
The Extent to Which Experiences in One Role
Enhance the Quality of Life in the Other Role

The Importance of Resources to Work-Family Enrichment (Findings from Friedman &


Greenhaus, 2000. Work and familyallies or enemies? What happens when business
professionals confront life choices. New York: Oxford University Press)

Resources from work that can enhance the quality of family life

Individuals who earn a high income are more satisfied with childcare and have
healthier children.

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Individuals who have a great deal of autonomy on the job are more satisfied with
childcare, have healthier children, and have children with fewer behavioral
problems.

Individuals who engage in substantial networking are more satisfied with their
family, are more satisfied with childcare, and have children who do better in
school and are healthier.

Individuals who work for family-supportive employers spend more time on home
chores and with their children, experience fewer work-family tradeoffs,
experience fewer work-family conflicts, and perform better as a parent.

Resources from the family that can enhance the quality of work life

Individuals whose partner helps with children achieve a higher level in the
organization, earn a higher income, achieve a higher level of job performance,
and receive more coaching at work.

Individuals whose partner provides extensive personal support have more


autonomy on the job, receive more coaching, achieve a higher level of job
performance, feel more accepted at work, and are more satisfied with their career.

Individuals whose partner provides extensive career support have more


autonomy on the job, receive more developmental assignments, receive more
coaching, engage in more networking, feel more accepted at work, and are more
satisfied with their career.

The Role of the Individual in Receiving Support from Work and Family Environments

Many of the resources from the work and family environments come in the form of
supportive relationships with other people.

Although support arises in the work environment and/or the family environment, the
individual plays a role in the provision and the utilization of the support in several ways.

Some individuals do not want support.

Some individuals cannot ask for support.

Some individuals do not know what type of support will be most useful.

Some individuals cannot accept support from others without feeling resentful.

Some individuals are unwilling or unable to provide support to others.

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Three Principles to Help Individuals Manage the Work-Family Interface


From Friedman and Greenhaus (2000)

First, individuals should clarify what is important in their lives. Individuals vary in the
relative importance they attach to different parts of their self-identity (e.g., family, work,
leisure, and community service), and some people are more aware of their underlying
values than others. Self-awareness is crucial for managing the relationship between work
and family roles because it helps individuals make effective decisions about the
allocation of time and emotion to different roles and the application of resources from
one role to enhance the quality of life in the other role.

Second, individuals should recognize and support the whole person. This requires a
realization of how participation in different life roles can enrich ones life. It also
involves building supportive relationships with individuals in different roles such as
work, family, and community.

Third, individuals should continually experiment on how goals are achieved. This
experimentation requires periodically reexamining goals, developing new strategies to
accomplish these goals, and adopting new perspectives on ones work and personal life.
It involves an openness to change and a willingness to question what is important in life
and what approaches are necessary to achieve desired outcomes.

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Figure 1

The Relationship between Negative Affectivity and Work-Family Conflict


From Stoeva, Chiu, and Greenhaus (2002)

Job Stress

Work-to-Family
Conflict

Family Stress

Family-to-Work
Conflict

Negative
Affectivity

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Figure 2
How Work Salience and Family Salience Influence the Decision
To Participate in a Family Activity or a Work Activity

Likelihood of Choosing the Family Activity

Adapted from Greenhaus and Powell (in press)

0.7

0.62

0.65

0.65

Low Work
Salience
High Family
Salience

High Work
Salience
High Family
Salience

0.6
0.5
0.4
0.28

0.3
0.2
0.1
0
Low Work
Salience
Low Family
Salience

High Work
Salience
Low Family
Salience

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Figure 3
The Relationship between Work-Family Balance and Quality of Life
For Individuals who are Highly Involved in their Work and Family Roles

Quality of Life

Adapted from Greenhaus, Collins, and Shaw (under review)

3.85
3.8
3.75
3.7
3.65
3.6
3.55
3.5
3.45
3.4
3.35
Family Greater

Balanced

Work Greater

Involvement in Work and Family Roles

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Figure 4

The Relationship between Work-Family Balance and Quality of Life


For Individuals Who Spend a Great Deal of Time in their Work and Family Roles

Adapted from Greenhaus, Collins, and Shaw (under review)

4
3.9
Quality of Life

3.8
3.7
3.6
3.5
3.4
3.3
3.2
3.1
Family Greater

Balanced

Work Greater

Time Spent on Work and Family Roles