The Work-Life Imbalance

Why and when employees feel work interferes with family life

By In Weekly Email 5 minute read time

The Problem & The Question

The Holidays are now behind us.  Hopefully, you all got to spend time with your family.  But if you’ve got a demanding job, like a really demanding job, maybe you missed a Thanksgiving meal or a trip to the Nutcracker.  Or, maybe, you used your job as an excuse to avoid the in-laws.

We wouldn’t laugh this off after reading the following article by some leading workplace scholars  Essentially, this cadre of researchers wanted to examine what factors cause us to spend more time at work and to see if this time at work interfered with the family. 

Theory & Practice 

While this article wasn’t excessively long, it did contain several hypotheses.  We’re only going to tackle a few because, you know, we need to get back to work. 

First, these scholars asserted that if our identity is tied to our work, we’re likely to devote more time there and, in the process, interfere with family. Next, they argued that when our roles at work are overloaded, we can’t cope and we spend more time at work and, in the process, destroy our families.  Third, they suggested that some organizations and some industries reinforce norms that emphasize time commitment as a job duty in and by itself.  Attorneys at big law firms would fit into this.  Also, they argued that if you perceive yourself as poor and in greater financial need, you’ll hitch on to your job and ignore your family because you need the money.  In all of these relationships, they predicted that these variables affected time on the job, which, in turn, led to interference with the family.  Lastly, and the cherry on top is that all of this would contribute to stress and distress. 

The Samples and Measures

To get at these answers, they surveyed 513 employees at a Fortune 500 firm.   They controlled for gender and race to rule them out as causal contributors.  They were able to capture and measure such variables as: career identity, work overload, parental demands, organizational expectations, work time, work interference with family, and depression.

We Now Open the Kimono!

Yes, Captain Obvious would like this study.  But its merits should not be discounted as there’s a lot to learn. 

Results of structural equation modeling (yawn) indicate that if we define ourselves through our work, we’re going to spend more time at work.  The same can be said for perceived financial need; when we perceive ourselves as poor, we’ll stay a bit later.  These two variables contributed to greater time at work, which, in turn, contributed to interference at home. 

Work overload and the organizational expectation of working a lot contributed directly to interference with the family, irrespective of work time commitments.  These findings are particularly interesting—just the feeling of being swamped, whether we work the extra hours or not, contribute to bad things with the fam.  Similarly, knowing that the organization expects you to be married to your job, whether you put in the extra time or not, still leads directly to interference on the home front.

We tend to be a jovial bunch, but it’s hard to joke about this.  Statistically speaking, work interference with family was significantly and positively related to psychological distress, depression, and health problems. 

What’s the major learning here?  As bosses, we need to be careful not to put a premium on “face time” or “putting in the hours” as opposed to driving actual productivity or results.  One of us here, had a boss that demanded 65 hour weeks, but demanded no actual results or that we hit any real productivity metrics.  In some ways, we were contributing nothing to the bottom line except our time and that’s worthless if we’re not achieving goals. And, this study tells us that’s a recipe for disaster—for the employee and his or her family.  Go easy on inputs and, instead, emphasize outcomes and reward results.       

We’d love to hear your reactions to this research.  Please send your thoughts to   

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