“It’s all about quality of life and finding a happy balance between work and friends and family” – Philip Green
The world has come full circle from enabling work-life balance to now tackling work-life conflict. This inter-role conflict occurs when the energy, time, or behavioural demands from an individual at work and at home collide, thereby triggering psychological unrest, dip in productivity, and unpleasant interpersonal relations both at work and home.
This article explores the depths of work-family conflict fueled by the incompatible role expectations of an individual within the domains of work and family, and addresses how employees and their managers can be better equipped to address the worrisome conflicting priorities and expectations.
Incompatible role expectations fueling work-family conflict
A study conducted by a student at Universiti Putra Malaysia identified key factors triggering the work-life conflict. The study notes ‘Role involvement’ - which is the number of hours spent in family involvement, family stress, family conflict, or the increasing hours spent at the workplace, rise in job expectations, workplace conflicts - as a crucial element in understanding work-family conflict. Often, the strain experienced from one constraints the individuals’ ability to perform another role.
Work related factors including organizational tenure, salary, work hours, job autonomy, job authority, job rank, blue collar vs. white collar, self-employment, often take up a considerable amount of time, leaving little time for individual’s to concentrate on personal responsibilities and worries. Similarly, those with extensive personal responsibilities to fulfil face a dilemma in fulfilling their responsibilities on the personal front vs meeting their work deliverables within expected timelines.
The pandemic has further deepened these concerns, fueling a greater work-family conflict for many which has had a negative impact not just on their ability to work, but also on their well-being as well as professional and personal relationships
What factors are deepening the work-life conflict
Workaholism is a growing problem, finds a study. Spending a vast amount of time in work-related activities limits the time in hand to form and maintain relationships within the family, impacting the ability to invest time and energy in crucial family, social, and recreational activities. And while workaholism is one end of the spectrum that restricts an individual’s ability to strike a work-life balance, it is more intrinsic. On the other hand, organizations failing to extend flexible work schedules to working parents contribute to the ongoing work-life conflict.
Unsurprisingly, married professionals experience work-family conflict as expectations at work and home collide. The collision intensifies when childcare gets added in the mix. A 2019 study found that parents with a shift work schedule, working full-time and 40 h or more per week, presented significantly higher levels of work-family conflict than those with a fixed or flexible schedule, working part-time and less than 40 h per week, respectively. Parents of dependent young children, especially mothers, have higher family demands, posing a challenge in managing work and personal responsibilities without compromising one for the other. On the flip side, parents with a flexible work schedule presented significantly higher levels of self-regulation in parenting.
The challenges differ but prevail for all employee groups.
Interestingly, work-family conflict was the main factor influencing employee well-being in South-East Asian countries due to the change in workforce demographics and increasing female participation.
Often unpredictable demands, often involving caregiving responsibilities make managing work and home commitments difficult. And the circumstances created by the pandemic has only made managing these commitments more challenging with mounting expectations both at the workplace and at home.
Gender as a significant factor
Another dimension is the role of gender which is a significant factor in the work-family domain, given that often a person’s gender influences their role expectations in the home or the workplace. A study found that work hours over the past 30 years changed most dramatically for mothers, although once again patterns vary by family income.
While women in the workforce may be "inaccurately perceived to have less commitment to their organizations than their counterparts” due to increasing demands from the family - causing workplace inequities, when it comes to being considered for growth opportunities, key projects, and promotions - the patriarchal mindset leads to perceptions about men being more dedicated to the workplace on the basis of the belief that they are the breadwinners, and not caregivers. While this perception does open more doors for men at the workplace, it impacts their personal life.
Age-old stereotypes that predispose individuals to certain expectations and associations on the basis of their gender continue to be highly instrumental in the rising work-family conflict.
Several reports have brought forth how remote work during the pandemic led to an unequal distribution of work among men and women. In a majority of households, women were burdened solely with managing household chores and family demands, in addition to their professional commitments, while men were concentrating on their work.
Enabling a harmonizing and stabilising environment for employees
People need jobs to sustain themselves and their families, but the imbalance between work and family expectation often causes individuals to have to let go one for the other.However, if companies, supervisors and policies are supportive, the work environment would then be less stressful for the employee. Creating a family-supportive work environment most importantly, family-supportive supervisors has a direct impact on work-life conflict.
Work-family conflict can be diminished by establishing family-friendly policies in the workplace. Some of these policies include:
- Gender-neutral parental leaves
- Caregiving leaves
- Flexible work schedules
A 2014 study from the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) initiative at the corporate headquarters of Best Buy Co., Inc., found that schedule control and supervisor support for family and personal life may help employees manage the work-family interface.
An often unavoidable scenario where employees have to give preference to one domain over the other, causes suffering and backlash in the other domain. COVID-19 has contributed to making this scenario an everyday reality for the workforce.
While it’s likely that support at their homes - be it physical space or someone to share the responsibility of chores and caregiving - is fairly limited, irrespective of employees living with families or by themselves, how organizations step up to support the workforce and their families in these times will be instrumental in upholding the well-being and ability of employees to function effectively.
Just as employers have been able to identify and reward resilient employees who stepped up to help the organization navigate rough uncharted waters, empathetic employers will stand out too, gaining loyalty, commitment and a high-performing workforce.