How Work-Family Conflict Leads Employees to Fall Short of Intentions

How Work-Family Conflict Leads Employees to Fall Short of Intentions

Thursday, June 9, 2016

“People show up at work with these intentions for what they hope to accomplish and how they want to allocate their work time. The notion that work-family conflict can knock them off those intentions may help us understand why work-family conflict is harmful.” 

—Theresa Glomb

Workers who juggle the conflicting demands of work and family tend to have lower work satisfaction, stunted physical and psychological well-being, and smaller salaries.

New research by Professor Theresa Glomb and Assistant Professor Colleen Manchester unveils one culprit of these ill effects: people who feel their work is interfering with their family duties struggle to expend energy on complex tasks that fulfill long-term business goals, and bolster their careers.

In studying faculty members at a large public university, the researchers found most workers preferred to spend their time tackling meaningful long-term tasks like conducting research. But despite their good intentions, those faculty members with higher workfamily conflict were more likely to become diverted from their priorities. Instead, these employees tended to spend time on simpler tasks that are more likely to bring closure and yield instant gratification.

The researchers posit these faculty members were working with depleted self-regulatory resources: the resources workers draw on in the face of complex tasks with delayed gratification.

“When what we plan to do at work is not aligned with what we actually do at work, you see negative career outcomes,” says Glomb. “People who had greater discrepancy between their intended and actual time allocation had lower work satisfaction, lower psychological wellbeing, lower physical well-being, and there were also implications for salary.”

To combat these effects, Glomb advises workers to set themselves up for success by structuring their work to ensure key items rise to the top of their to-do lists: a practice she calls “intention management.”

“Think about ways you can ‘park downhill’ and get ready for the day to avoid getting sucked into those tasks that aren’t at the top of your list,” she says.

Managers can derive more productivity from employees by structuring and assigning tasks differently: breaking bigger projects into smaller tasks will harness the power of small wins.

“People like work, people like accomplishing their tasks, but sometimes they’re working on things that won’t promote a sense of accomplishment,” says Glomb. “If we can get people to pivot their energy toward those complex, long-term tasks, it will bolster their job satisfaction long-term.”

Watch the researchers describe their findings:

"Work-Family Conflict and Self-Discrepant Time Allocation at Work"
Dahm, Patricia C.; Glomb, Theresa M.; Flaherty Manchester, Colleen; Leroy, Sophie, Journal of Applied Psychology (2015)