Work–family conflict

Work–family conflict occurs when there are incompatible demands between the work and family roles of an individual that makes participation in both roles more difficult.[1] Accordingly, the conflict takes place at the work–life interface. Conflict between work and family is important for organizations and individuals because it is linked to negative consequences. For example, conflict between work and family is associated with increased occupational burnout and job stress, and decreased health, organizational commitment and job performance.[2]

Forms of conflict

Conceptually, conflict between work and family is bi-directional. Most researchers make the distinction between what is termed work–to-family conflict, and what is termed family–to-work conflict. Work-to-family conflict occurs when experiences at work interfere with family life, like extensive, irregular, or inflexible work hours, work overload and other forms of job stress, interpersonal conflict at work, extensive travel, career transitions, unsupportive supervisor or organization. For example, an unexpected meeting late in the day may prevent a parent from picking up his or her child from school. Family-to-work conflict occurs when experiences in the family interfere with work life like presence of young children, primary responsibility for children, elder care responsibilities, interpersonal conflict within the family unit, unsupportive family members. For example, a parent may take time off from work in order to take care of a sick child.

Although these two forms of conflict–work interference with family (WIF) and family interference with work (FIW) are strongly correlated with each other, more attention has been directed at WIF more than FIW. This may because work demands are easier to quantify; that is, the boundaries and responsibilities of the family role is more elastic than the boundaries and responsibilities of the work role. Also, research has found that work roles are more likely to interfere with family roles than family roles are likely to interfere with work roles. This is largely attributed to the idea of what Arlie Russel Hochschild termed "the ideal worker".[3] Hochschild astutely points out that the image employers have of an "ideal worker" already rests on some unrealistic assumptions about how the family should operate. Many employers expect that employees with families have someone tending to everything at home, leaving the worker unencumbered. Despite the fact that a majority of families in the U.S. are dual earning, the image of the "ideal worker" persists and causes work–family conflict by demanding too much of working parents.

Within work–to–family conflict and family–to–work conflict, three subtypes of conflict have been identified: time-based, strain-based, and behavior-based. Time-based conflict entails competing time requirements across work and family roles, strain-based conflict entails pressures in one role impairing performance in the second role, and behavior-based conflict entails an incompatibility of behaviors necessary for the two roles.[4]


Work can conflict with one's home and family life. However, workaholism can lead to adverse effects on one's relationship with his or her partner. Workaholism is "an individual difference characteristic referring to self-imposed demands, compulsive overworking, an inability to regulate work habits, and an overindulgence in work to the exclusion of most other life activities (Robinson, 1997)." Workaholism can affect a person's private life since it includes exclusion of other activities including spending time with spouses which is significant to any healthy, happy relationship. When there is a strain on a relationship due to a partner's workaholism, both partners can become stressed and less supportive of one another resulting in negative behavior.Individuals, who work a lot to the point of interference with the rest of his or her life, tend to perceive their family as having less of a strong communication background. These individuals also perceive their families as having family roles that are not as clearly defined as they would like them to be. Workaholism isn't the only dynamic that can be a factor in work–family conflicts. Family alone demands enough from an individual, but in this new millennium where more than one individual or spouse is working to support a family, the demands of upholding family life and maintaining a career or job are immense.

Role of gender

At the top of the organizational hierarchy, the majority of individuals are males, and assumptions can be made regarding their lack of personal experience with the direct and indirect effects of work–family conflict.[5] For one, they may be unmarried and have no thought as to what "normal" family responsibilities entail. On the other hand, the high-level manager may be married, but his wife, due to the demands of the husband's position, has remained at home, tending solely to the house and children. Ironically, these are the individuals creating and reforming workplace policies.[6]

Workplace policies, especially regarding the balance between family/life and work, create an organizational norm in which employees must fall into. This type of organizational behavior, according to Dennis Mumby, "contribut[es] in some ways to the structuring of organizational reality, and hence organizational power."[7]

The reality of what employees experience, specifically in regards to work–life balance, is a direct result of power operating covertly through ideological controls. This is seen in the ideological norm of the "ideal worker." Many organizations view the ideal worker as one who is "committed to their work above all else".[8] "Ideal workers" are those that demonstrate extra-role behaviors, which are seen as positive attributes.

Alternatively, those who are perceived as having to divide their time (and their commitments) are seen not as dedicated to the organization. As research has shown, a manager's perception of a subordinate's commitment to the organization is positively associated with the individual's promotability. Hoobler et al.'s (2009) findings mirrored the perceived commitment-to-promotability likelihood.[9]

Often, these perceptions are placed on the female worker. Managers who perceived their female employees of maintaining high work–family conflict were presumed as not as committed to the organization, therefore not worthy of advancement. This negatively impacts working mothers as they may be "inaccurately perceived to have less commitment to their organizations than their counterparts, their advancement in organizations may be unfairly obstructed".[8]

Working mothers often have to challenge perceptions and stereotypes that evolve as a working woman becomes a working mother. Working mothers are perceived as less competent and less worthy of training than childless women.[10] Another study, focusing on professional jobs, found that mothers were 79 percent less likely to be hired and are typically held to a higher standard of punctuality and performance than childless women.[5] The moment when she becomes a mother, a working woman is held at a completely different norm than her childless colleagues. In the same Cuddy et al. (2004) study, men who became fathers were not perceived as any less competent, and in fact, their perceived warmth increased.[10]

The ways in which corporations have modelled the "ideal worker" does not compliment the family lifestyle, nor does it accommodate it. Long hours and near complete devotion to the profession makes it difficult for working mothers to participate in getting ahead in the workplace.[6] A Fortune article found that among the most powerful women in business (female CEOs, presidents and managing directors of major corporations), 29 percent were childless compared to 90 percent of men who were parents.[6][11]

Should a woman seek a position of power within an organization, she must consider the toll on other facets of her life, including hobbies, personal relationships and families. As Jeffrey Pfeffer states: "Time spent on the quest for power and status is time you cannot spend on other things, such as … family…The price seems to be particularly severe for women".[12] Many executive jobs require a substantial amount of overtime, which as a mother, many cannot devote because of family obligations.[6] Consequently, it is nearly impossible for a working mother in a top management position to be the primary caretaker of her child.[6] Work life balance should be maintained for an efficient and effective life.

Similar discrimination is experienced by men who take time off or reduce working hours for taking care of the family. For many employees today—both male and female—their lives are becoming more consumed with a host of family and other personal responsibilities and interests. Therefore, in an effort to retain employees, it is increasingly important for organizations to recognize the balance.[13]

According to Kathleen Gerson, Sociologist, young people "are searching for new ways to define care that do not force them to choose between spending time with their children and earning an income" and "are looking for definition of personal identity that do not pit their own development against creating committed ties to others"[14][15] readily. Young adults believe that parents should get involved and support the children both economically and emotionally, as well as share labor equally. Young people do not believe work–life balance is possible and think it is dangerous to build a life dependent on another when relationships are unpredictable. They are looking for partners to share the house work and family work together.[15][16] Men and women believe that women should have jobs before considering marriage, for better life and to be happy in marriage. Young people do not think their mother's generations were unhappy. They also do not think they were powerless because they were economically dependent.

Reducing conflict

Work–family conflict can be diminished by establishing family-friendly policies in the workplace. Certain policies can include telework and telecommuting policies where employees have the ability to work from home,[17] and schedule flexibility policies where employees have control over their schedules.[18]

Family-work conflict can also be diminished by establishing workplace family-friendly policies. Some of these policies include maternity, paternity, parental, and sick leaves,[19] providing child care options either on-site child care center at the business, references to close child care centers, or supplemented child care incomes for the families placing their children in a child care center,[20] and health care insurance.[21]

To allow these policies to work one needs to make sure that your employed managers and supervisors are supportive and allowing for employees to use the policies.[22]

With advances in technology, individuals who work outside of the home and have intense schedules are finding a way to keep in touch with their families when they can not physically be with them. Cell phones and mobile devices make it so that family members and loved ones are at the finger tips of working individuals. "Technology has provided a bit of an upper hand, allowing them unprecedented control and creativity in maneuvering the tenuous balance between work and family" (Temple 2009).

Beyond conflict

Main article: Work–life balance

Work and family studies historically focus on studying the conflict between different roles that individuals have in their society, specifically their roles at work, and their roles as a family member. Recent studies have gone beyond the mere "conflict" view of work–family relationship and have extended the domain to explaining the "balance" view of work–family relationship.[23] Boundary theory and border theory are the two fundamental theories that researchers have used to study these role conflicts. Other theories are built on the foundations of these two theories.[24] According to an extensive historical study of work family relationship by Lavassani & Movahedi (2014), the seven major and commonly suggested theories for explaining work and family relationships are:[25]

Work-family Segmentation-Integration Continuum[26]
  1. structural functioning,
  2. segmentation,
  3. compensation,
  4. supplemental and reactive compensation,
  5. role enhancement,
  6. spillover, and
  7. work enrichment model.

These seven theories are categorized into three groups based on their view of the work–family relationship as displayed in the Work–family Segmentation–Integration Continuum table adopted from Lavassani & Movahedi (2014). These three dominant views are: Conflict, Compensation, and Balance. The "gap" in the model Work–family Segmentation–Integration Continuum identifies the period where no dominant view could be identified in the literature and "overlap" identifies the period that more one view was dominant.

See also


  1. Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources and conflict between work and family roles. Academy of Management Review, 10(1), 76-88.
  2. Amstad, F. T., Meier, L. L., Fasel, U., Elfering, A., & Semmer, N. K. (2011). A meta-analysis of work–family conflict and various outcomes with a special emphasis on cross-domain versus matching-domain relations. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 16(2), 151-169. doi: 10.1037/a0022170
  3. Hochschild, Arlie Russell. 1997. The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work. New York: Metropolitan Books.
  4. Greenhaus, J. H., & Powell, G. N. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work-family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 25, 178–199.
  5. 1 2 Williams, J. & Boushey, H. (2010). The three faces of work-family conflict the poor, the professionals, and the missing middle center. Center for American Progress, Hastings College of the Law.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 Williams, J. (2000). Unbending gender: Why family and work conflict and what to do about it. New York, NY: Oxford University Press
  7. Mumby, Dennis K. Communication and Power in Organizations: Discourse, Ideology, and Domination. Norwood, NJ: Ablex Pub., 1988. Print.
  8. 1 2 King, E. (2008). The effect of bias on the advancement of working mothers: Disentangling legitimate concerns from inaccurate stereotypes as predictors of advancement in academe. Human Relations, 61, 1677–1711. doi:10.1177/0018726708098082
  9. Hoobler, J., Wayne, S. & Lemmon, G. (2009). Bosses' perception of family-work conflict and women's promotability: Glad ceiling effects. Academy of Management Journal, 52, 5, 939–957.
  10. 1 2 Cuddy, A., Fiske, S. & Glick, P. (2004). When professionals become mothers, warmth doesn't cut the ice. Journal of Social Issues, 60, 4, 701-718.
  11. Gilbert, N. (2008). A mother's work. New Haven: Yale University Press.
  12. Pfeffer, Jeffrey. Power: Why Some People Have It--and Others Don't. New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2010. Print.
  13. Kenexa Research Institute Finds That When It Comes To Work/Life Balance, Men and Women Are Not Created Equal at the Wayback Machine (archived October 14, 2007)
  14. Gerson, Kathleen. Moral Dilemmas, Moral Strategies, and the Transformation of Gender. The Kaleidoscope of Gender, 2011, p. 399.
  15. 1 2 "Natalie Jolly". Retrieved 2011-01-25.
  16. Gerson, Kathleen. Moral Dilemmas, Moral Strategies, and the Transformation of Gender. The Kaleidoscope of Gender, 2011, p. 402.
  17. Pitt-Catsouphes, Marcie; Casy, Judi; Shulkin, Sandee; Weber, Julie; Curlew, Mary. (2009). Telework and Telecommuting: Policy Briefing Series. Boston: Sloan Work and Family Research Network.
  18. Estes, S. B., & Glass, J. L. (1997). The Family Responsive Workplace. Annual Review of Sociology, 289–310.
  19. Waldfogel, J. (2001). International Policies Toward Parental Leave and Child Care. Caring for Infants and Toddlers, 99–110.
  20. Waldfogel, J. (2001). International Policies Toward Parental Leave and Child Care. Caring for Infants and Toddlers, 99–110.
  21. Waldfogel, J. (2001). International Policies Toward Parental Leave and Child Care. Caring for Infants and Toddlers, 99–110.
  22. Estes, S. B., & Glass, J. L. (1997). The Family Responsive Workplace. Annual Review of Sociology, 289–310.
  23. Lavassani, K. M., & Movahedi, P. (2014). DEVELOPMENTS IN THEORIES AND MEASURES OF WORK-FAMILY. Contemporary Research on Organization Management and Administration, 2, 6–19.
  24. Lavassani, K. M., & Movahedi, P. (2014). DEVELOPMENTS IN THEORIES AND MEASURES OF WORK-FAMILY. Contemporary Research on Organization Management and Administration, 2, 6–19.
  25. Lavassani, K. M., & Movahedi, P. (2014). DEVELOPMENTS IN THEORIES AND MEASURES OF WORK-FAMILY. Contemporary Research on Organization Management and Administration, 2, 6–19.
  26. Lavassani, K. M., & Movahedi, P. (2014). DEVELOPMENTS IN THEORIES AND MEASURES OF WORK-FAMILY. Contemporary Research on Organization Management and Administration, 2, 6–19.


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