1. Study suggests how we balance work, family life may be learned from our parents

    August 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Queen Mary University of London press release:

    The extent to which we prioritise work versus family life may be shaped by our childhood experiences in the family home, according to a study co-authored by Dr Ioana Lupu from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL).

    Previous work-life balance research has focused more on the organisational context or on individual psychological traits to explain work and career decisions. However, this new study, published in Human Relations, highlights the important role of our personal history and what we subconsciously learn from our parents.

    “We are not blank slates when we join the workforce — many of our attitudes are already deeply engrained from childhood,” according to co-author by Dr Ioana Lupu.

    The study argues that our beliefs and expectations about the right balance between work and family are often formed and shaped in the earliest part of our lives. One of the most powerful and enduring influences on our thinking may come from watching our parents.

    The research is based on 148 interviews with 78 male and female employees from legal and accounting firms. Interviewees were sorted into four categories by the researchers: (1) willingly reproducing parental model; (2) reproducing the parental model against one’s will; (3) willingly distancing from the parental model; (4) and distancing from the parental model against one’s will.

    The study shows a number of differences between women and men who grew up in ‘traditional’ households where the father had the role of breadwinner while the mother managed the household. Male participants who grew up in this kind of household tended to be unaffected by the guilt often associated with balancing work and family.

    Male participant in the study: “I’ve always had a very strong work ethic drilled into me anyway, again by my parents, my family. So, I never needed anyone looking over my shoulder or giving me a kick up the backside and telling me I needed to do something — I’d get on and I’d do it. So, I found the environment [of the accountancy firm] in general one that suited me quite well.” (David, Partner, accountancy firm, two children).

    Women on the other hand were much more conflicted — they reported feeling torn in two different directions. Women who had stay-at-home mothers “work like their fathers but want to parent like their mothers,” says Dr Lupu.

    Female participant in the study: “My mum raised us…she was always at home and to some extent I feel guilty for not giving my children the same because I feel she raised me well and she had control over the situation. I’m not there every day … and I feel like I’ve failed them in a way because I leave them with somebody else. I sometimes think maybe I should be at home with them until they are a bit older.” (Eva, director, accountancy firm, two children).

    Women who had working mothers are not necessarily always in a better position because they were marked by the absence of their mothers. A female participant in the study remembers vividly, many years later how her mother was absent whereas other children’s mothers were waiting at the school gates.

    Female participant in the study: “I remember being picked up by a child-minder, and if I was ill, I’d be outsourced to whoever happened to be available at the time . . . I hated it, I hated it, because I felt like I just wanted to be with my mum and dad. My mum never picked me up from school when I was at primary school, and then everybody else’s mums would be stood there at the gate . . . And it’s only now that I’ve started re-thinking about that and thinking, well isn’t that going to be the same for [my son] if I’m working the way I am, he’s going to have somebody picking him up from school and maybe he won’t like that and is that what I want for my child?” (Jane, Partner, law firm, one child and expecting another).

    An exception was found in female participants whose stay-at-home mothers had instilled strong career aspirations into them from an early stage. In these cases, the participants’ mothers sometimes set themselves up consciously as ‘negative role models’, encouraging their daughters not to repeat their own mistake.

    Female participant in the study: “I do remember my mother always regretting she didn’t have a job outside the home and that was something that influenced me and all my sisters. […] She’d encourage us to find a career where we could work. She was quite academic herself, more educated than my father, but because of the nature of families and young children, she’d had to become this stay-at-home parent.” (Monica, director, AUDIT, one child)

    “We have found that the enduring influence of upbringing goes some way towards explaining why the careers of individuals, both male and female, are differentially affected following parenthood, even when those individuals possess broadly equivalent levels of cultural capital, such as levels of education, and have hitherto pursued very similar career paths,” says Dr Lupu.

    She says the research raises awareness of the gap that often exists between unconscious expectations and conscious ambitions related to career and parenting.

    “If individuals are to reach their full potential, they have to be aware of how the person that they are has been shaped through previous socialisation and how their own work?family decisions further reproduce the structures constraining these decisions,” says Dr Lupu.


  2. Women, men report similar levels of work-family conflicts

    August 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    Contrary to public perception and many media accounts, women and men report similar levels of work-family conflicts, both in the form of work interfering with family and family interfering with work, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

    Researchers spent several years examining the findings from more than 350 studies conducted over three decades that included more than 250,000 participants from across the world. The results were surprising, said lead researcher Kristen Shockley, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Georgia. The research was published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

    “We essentially found very little evidence of differences between women and men as far as the level of work-family conflict they report,” she said. “This is quite contrary to the common public perception. The way this issue is presented in the media frames the way we think about it, and it creates a perpetual cycle. Women hear that other women are struggling with this issue, so they expect they will experience greater work-family conflict. There also is some socialization for it being OK for women to talk more about it than men.”

    Some previous research has found that men often do not feel comfortable discussing work-family concerns because of fears of being stigmatized, threats to their masculinity or negative career repercussions. But men may feel more open discussing those conflicts in anonymous, confidential surveys, such as those included in the studies that this research was based on, Shockley said.

    “I do think it’s harming men, who are silently struggling and are experiencing the same amount of work-family conflict, but no one is acknowledging it,” she said.

    In recent years, men also have increasingly become primary caregivers for young children, and fathers on average are spending more time caring for their children and completing household chores, although women still spend more time on both tasks. A study by the Pew Research Center found that fathers were just as likely as mothers to say that parenting is extremely important to their identity. Women also may face career penalties because of stereotypes that they are more family-oriented and less committed to their careers.

    Approximately half of the studies included in the meta-analysis were conducted in the United States, while the remainder were spread mostly across countries in Europe and Asia. The researchers also examined ratings of gender equality for the countries where the studies were conducted, and they were surprised to find that men and women reported similar levels of work-family conflict regardless of the level of gender equality in their country. However, few studies on work-family conflicts have been conducted in the Middle East, where vast gender inequality is common, which could produce different findings there, Shockley said.

    Some minor differences were detected between men and women about work-family conflict when the data were divided into different subgroups, but none of them were large in magnitude, Shockley said. Mothers reported slightly greater family interference with work than fathers, as did women in dual-earner couples. Men in dual-earner couples reported slightly greater work interference with family, as did women when the sample was restricted to men and women in the same occupations. While some of the included studies were conducted decades ago, approximately half were published in 2010 or later.

    Men and women may experience the same level of work-family conflict but perceive it differently, Shockley said. Women may feel guiltier about work interference with family because of traditional expectations that mothers are caretakers, but there has been little research on that issue and there weren’t enough studies to include in the meta-analysis, Shockley said. A father’s traditional role has been as the primary breadwinner so men may feel they are fulfilling their family responsibilities by working, resulting in less guilt, she added. But both of those gender roles are changing in the United States as more women enter the workforce and more men assume larger responsibilities in rearing children.

    Company and government policies should provide greater support for work-family policies that benefit both women and men, including flexible work arrangements, child care support and both paid maternity and paternity leave, Shockley said. Only 9 percent of workplaces in the United Sates offer paid paternity leave, compared to 21 percent with maternity leave, with the United States ranking near last in the world on both issues. The United States, Suriname and Papua New Guinea are the only countries that don’t guarantee any paid maternity or paternity leave.

    In the United States, fathers on average take only one day of paternity leave (paid or unpaid) for every month of maternity leave mothers take, with 96 percent of fathers taking two weeks of leave or less after the birth of a child. Increased paternity leave could improve mothers’ well-being, and father-infant bonding has long-term positive benefits for children as well as an equal division of labor between spouses, Shockley said.


  3. Can parents’ tech obsessions contribute to a child’s bad behavior?

    June 4, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Michigan Medicine – University of Michigan press release:

    Fatigue. Hunger. Boredom.

    Those are often on the list of reasons parents mention if their child whines, has tantrums or acts out.

    Researchers are now asking if such negative behaviors could be related to something else: parents spending too much time on their smartphones or tablets.

    A small study from University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and Illinois State University found that heavy digital technology use by parents could be associated with child behavior issues. The findings were published in the May 2017 online issue of Child Development.

    Researchers analyzed surveys completed separately by both mothers and fathers from 170 two-parent households. Mothers and fathers were asked about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops and other technology — and how the devices disrupted family time (a disturbance that lead author Brandon T. McDaniel coins ‘technoference.’) Interruptions could be as simple as checking phone messages during mealtime, playtime and routine activities or conversations with their children.

    Might a few stolen moments used to check a couple text messages have a deeper effect?

    While more research is needed, the study suggests it might: Even low or seemingly normal amounts of tech-related interruption were associated with greater child behavior problems, such as oversensitivity, hot tempers, hyperactivity and whining.

    “This was a cross-sectional study, so we can’t assume a direct connection between parents’ technology use and child behavior but these findings help us better understand the relationship,” says senior author Jenny Radesky, M.D., a child behavior expert and pediatrician at Mott. “It’s also possible that parents of children with behavioral difficulties are more likely to withdraw or de-stress with technology during times with their child.”

    But she adds “We know that parents’ responsiveness to their kids changes when they are using mobile technology and that their device use may be associated with less-than-ideal interactions with their children. It’s really difficult to toggle attention between all of the important and attention-grabbing information contained in these devices, with social and emotional information from our children, and process them both effectively at the same time.”

    McDaniel, who designed and carried out the study, says researchers hope to learn more about the impact of increasing digital technology use on families and children.

    “Research on the potential impact of this exposure lags far behind,” says McDaniel, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences at Illinois State University.

    “It’s too early to draw implications that could be used in clinical practice but our findings contribute to growing literature showing an association between greater digital technology use and potential relationship dysfunction between parents and their children.”

    Parents in the study were asked to rate how problematic their personal device use was based on how difficult it was for them to resist checking new messages, how frequently they worried about calls and texts and if they thought they used their phones too much.

    Participants also were asked how often phones, tablets, computers and other devices diverted their attention when otherwise engaged with their children.

    On average, mothers and fathers both perceived about two devices interfering in their interactions with their child at least once or more on a typical day. Mothers, however, seemed to perceive their phone use as more problematic than fathers did.

    About half (48 percent) of parents reported technology interruptions three or more times on a typical day while 17 percent said it occurred once and 24 percent said it happened twice a day. Only 11 percent said no interruptions occurred.

    Parents then rated child behavior issues within the past two months by answering questions about how often their children whined, sulked, easily got frustrated, had tantrums or showed signs of hyperactivity or restlessness.

    The researchers controlled for multiple factors, such as parenting stress, depressive symptoms, income, parent education as well as co-parenting quality (how supportive partners were of each other in parenting their child), which has been shown to predict child behavior.

    The study joins other research and advocacy groups contributing to a larger debate about technology and its effect on child development.

    Some professional societies, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Zero to Three, recommend “unplugged” family time. But they haven’t tested whether lessening or changing digital technology use during parent-child activities is associated with improved child behavior.

    McDaniel and Radesky advise parents to try to carve out designated times to put away the devices and focus all attention on their kids.

    Reserving certain times of the day or locations as being technology-free — such as mealtime or playtime right after work — may help ease family tensions caused by the modern blurring of outside worlds with home life, they say.

    “Parents may find great benefits from being connected to the outside world through mobile technology, whether that’s work, social lives or keeping up with the news. It may not be realistic, nor is it necessary, to ban technology use all together at home,” Radesky says. “But setting boundaries can help parents keep smartphones and other mobile technology from interrupting quality time with their kids.”


  4. Study looks at pros and cons of workday interruptions

    May 25, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Baylor University press release:

    Consider these scenarios.

    You’re focused on an important project at work and your phone rings. It’s your spouse.

    You’ve just finished dinner with your family and you’re cleaning up the table. Your phone buzzes. An email from your boss.

    Are these interruptions of your work and family time harmful or helpful?

    Yes and no, according to a new study from Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business. The study, published in the Journal of Management, analyzed daily diaries kept by 121 employees, who agreed to log their activities for 10 days as part of the research. Each participant worked at least 35 hours per week during traditional business hours, such as 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, and was in a committed relationship, living with a spouse or partner.

    “Our results demonstrate that the effect of interruptions in the work and home domains are twofold: On one hand, they may lead to unwelcome consequences, including obstruction of goals, negative affect, decreased satisfaction with investment in work and family and work-family conflict,” researchers wrote. “On the other, greater integration of work and family may afford workers increased positive affect, as these interruptions help them meet certain work or family goals.”

    Emily Hunter, Ph.D., associate professor of management in Baylor University’s Hankamer School of Business, served as lead author on the study. She said technology is blurring the boundaries between work and family, and this can have daily consequences on workers.

    “When you give to one domain, you must take from the other. There are only so many hours in the day,” Hunter said. “Interruptions from family ‘take’ from work in the form of work goal obstructions, negative emotions and lower satisfaction with investment in work.”

    She said that proper planning could turn these interruptions into benefits that help employees meet work and family goals.

    The study shows that boundary violations at work were relatively common, and the researchers suggest managers and employees seek strategies to actively manage work and family boundaries.

    “For example, employees could set aside specific times in their workday when they invite and initiate communication with family, such as lunch time or a midafternoon break when their children arrive home from school,” researchers wrote. “In this way, they allow their work boundary to be permeable to family violations at certain times while setting limits on family interruptions that would otherwise interfere with workflow. Not only does this minimize work goal obstruction, but it also may generate positive outcomes for their family members.”

    When work invades family time, employees can use that to their advantage as well, Hunter said.

    “Workers who work from home in off-job hours can also benefit from managing co-worker expectations about availability after hours, setting aside time after children go to bed to accomplish work tasks with minimal obstruction to their family role and setting limits on hours of smartphone use for work purposes,” she said.

    In the study, researchers suggest workers request that coworkers or supervisors contact them after hours using communication mediums with varying levels of urgency: emergencies only by phone call or text message whereas matters that can wait until morning via email.


  5. Maintaining an active sex life may lead to improved job satisfaction, engagement in work

    March 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Maintaining a healthy sex life at home boosts employees’ job satisfaction and engagement at the office, underscoring the value of a strong work-life balance, an Oregon State University researcher has found.

    A study of the work and sex habits of married employees found that those who prioritized sex at home unknowingly gave themselves a next-day advantage at work, where they were more likely to immerse themselves in their tasks and enjoy their work lives, said Keith Leavitt, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Business.

    “We make jokes about people having a ‘spring in their step,’ but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it,” said Leavitt, an expert in organizational behavior and management. “Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for.”

    The study also showed that bringing work-related stress home from the office negatively impinges on employees’ sex lives. In an era when smart phones are prevalent and after-hours responses to work emails are often expected, the findings highlight the importance of leaving work at the office, Leavitt said. When work carries so far into an employee’s personal life that they sacrifice things like sex, their engagement in work can decline.

    The researchers’ findings were published this month in the Journal of Management. Co-authors are Christopher Barnes and Trevor Watkins of the University of Washington and David Wagner of the University of Oregon.

    Sexual intercourse triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward centers in the brain, as well as oxytocin, a neuropeptide associated with social bonding and attachment. That makes sex a natural and relatively automatic mood elevator and the benefits extend well into the next day, Leavitt said.

    To understand the impact of sex on work, the researchers followed 159 married employees over the course of two weeks, asking them to complete two brief surveys each day. They found that employees who engaged in sex reported more positive moods the next day, and the elevated mood levels in the morning led to more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction throughout the workday.

    The effect, which appears to linger for at least 24 hours, was equally strong for both men and women and was present even after researchers took into account marital satisfaction and sleep quality, which are two common predictors of daily mood.

    “This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it’s important to make it a priority,” Leavitt said. “Just make time for it.”

    Twenty years ago, monitoring sleep or daily step counts or actively practicing mindful meditation might’ve seemed odd but now they are all things people practice as part of efforts to lead healthier, more productive lives. It may be time to rethink sex and its benefits as well, he said.

    “Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage,” he said. U.S. employers probably won’t follow the lead of a town councilman in Sweden who recently proposed that local municipal employees be allowed to use an hour of their work week for sex. The councilman’s hope is to boost the town’s declining population as well as improve employee moods and productivity.

    But employers here can steer their employee engagement efforts more broadly toward work-life balance policies that encourage workers to disconnect from the office, Leavitt said. The French recently enacted a law that bars after-hours email and gives employees a “right to disconnect.”

    “Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it’s probably better to unplug if you can,” he said. “And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours.”


  6. Employers need to do more to encourage staff to switch off at home

    January 9, 2017 by Ashley

    From the British Psychological Society (BPS) media release:

    Computer UserLess than half of UK businesses and organisations provide employees with guidance on how to switch off from work when they go home.

    This is one of the findings from a survey conducted by Dr. Almuth McDowall (Birkbeck, University of London) and Professor Gail Kinman (University of Bedfordshire) who will present their results today, Friday 6 January 2017, at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference being held in Liverpool.

    Dr Gail Kinman said: “From January 1st, French workers have the right to disconnect from email to avoid the intrusion of work into their private lives and protect them against burnout. We wanted to know what are UK organisations doing to protect employees against the risks of being always on?”

    Over 370 UK organisations across a range of sectors took part in the survey. Findings revealed that less than 50 per cent of organisations surveyed provided their employees with guidance on how to switch off. Surprisingly, more than half also had no formal policies in place to help their employees balance work demands with personal life in general.

    While some respondents acknowledged that using devices such as smartphones could improve communication at work and boost productivity (24 per cent), the negative effects of technology on relationships at work (21 per cent) and wellbeing (27 per cent)) were also highlighted.

    Dr Gail Kinman commented: “Our findings clearly show that organisations are not helping their staff accommodate to the changing world of work which is likely to have a negative impact on their wellbeing, their work-life balance and their effectiveness. Many individuals we surveyed clearly feel under great pressure not to switch off, leading to intense pressure, poorer performance and worry about what the immediate future holds.

    “It’s time to take a more proactive approach to helping employees and organisations become more ‘e-resilient’ and to manage technology in a more healthy and sustainable way.”