Given the demands of contemporary society and the need for most families to have dual wage earners, work and family conflicts are inevitable.
New research looks at who is to blame when the conflicts occur — is the job blamed, is the family role blamed or is blame placed on both?
In the recent study, Elizabeth M. Poposki, Ph.D., and her research team looked at day-to-day experiences to determine how blame was assigned.
The study examines real-world incidents of work-family conflict followed by a review of how blame for the conflict was attributed.
The researchers reviewed conflicts that occurred in the life of 269 participants, average age of 43 years. The participants all held bachelor’s degrees and slightly more than half had received graduate degrees.
Study individuals worked an average of 45 hours per week and two-thirds of the research subjects had spouses who worked at least part-time.
In the study of conflict, only three percent of those surveyed blamed both work and family for conflict between the two. Sixty-four percent of those surveyed blamed work, not family, for conflict.
Twenty-two percent blamed only their family role. Five percent blamed external factors other than work or family for the conflict, and only six percent blamed themselves for the conflict.
There were no gender differences in how blame was assigned.
Individuals who attributed conflict to external sources rather than blaming the conflict on themselves were more likely to experience anger and frustration following the conflict.
According to Poposki, anger and frustration on the job are related to many negative workplace outcomes such as employee theft. Preventing such emotions may benefit both employees and employers.
The study is published online in the peer reviewed journal Group & Organization Management.
The placing of blame when a work-family conflict occurs appears to depend on the order in which events were scheduled. Most often, the second event, whether work or family related, was more likely to be blamed than the first.
This type of conflict might be avoided on both the work and home fronts, Poposki says, by scheduling events in advance.
Last-minute office meetings and drop-in visits by relatives were highlighted by those she surveyed as blame targets.
“A lot of research on work-life conflict exists, but most provides an overview which averages many experiences rather than exploring single incidents and reactions to these incidents,” said Poposki.
“This study is valuable because focusing on details helps us better understand the mechanisms and processes of conflict. This understanding may be important to future studies of the negative emotional reactions to work-family conflict including anger, frustration, shame and guilt.”