When family gets in the way of work

Quite possibly the most frequent refrain I convey to my team is that nothing is more important than family. It’s why I’ve written so often about work/life balance such as the benefits of taking a sabbatical, the evidence proving it’s bad for our job when we sacrifice personal friendships and the reasons managers should never penalise employees for requesting flexibility.

So it was with some surprise that I recently read the findings of a fresh study exploring the reverse: when it’s family getting in the way of work and the emotional consequences that ensue.

Frustration, hostility and guilt were common among employees whose home life interfered with work.
Frustration, hostility and guilt were common among employees whose home life interfered with work. Credit:iStock

Among the 236 employees whose experiences were examined in the Journal of Business and Psychology, the three most common negative emotions were frustration, hostility and guilt.

Frustration, felt by 31 per cent of people, was usually associated with distractions. One example, especially relevant for many of us during this COVID-19 year, is this individual who worked from home but kept being interrupted by his family:


“It was like they did not understand I was working and they were more concerned with their immediate needs. It was very frustrating and I told them all the time. I eventually had to quit because my family just wasn’t cooperating. I loved that job.”

In contrast, hostility at 27 per cent tended to arise as a result of family emergencies but were generally exacerbated by the employer’s indifference as per this employee’s situation:

“I once lost a family member to a deadly illness and my work would not give me the time off … to go to the funeral … I expressed angry emotions to them and almost quit. I felt this way because they were being jerks.”

The trigger for guilt (17 per cent) was a sense employees were a burden on their colleagues or were letting the team down, as explained by a father who “felt guilty because [he] had to be late on a weekly basis” due to persistent issues with his child’s schooling that made drop-off hours difficult.

There were of course many other emotional repercussions, particularly sadness, disappointment and regret that especially surfaced when the researchers analysed a further 249 employees who were significantly more concerned with work as the unwelcome factor interfering with family.

In fact, there were twice as many negative emotions among this group.

That’s because employees are understandably more forgiving of family than they are of employers since they know “maintaining [family] relationships is meaningful and important” whereas they “perceive a moral standard has been violated” when their boss is inflexible.

Though less prevalent, it’s also true that positive emotions were present, the most prominent of which were contentedness and joviality, with both arising because employees perceived their family’s intrusion into their work as a much-needed wake-up call. They were prompted to re-evaluate their priorities, leading them to dedicate more of their waking hours to their loved ones.

Their ability to do so, however, was almost always predicated on having a supportive supervisor, the rarity of which explains why only a minority reported a positive experience. They therefore suppressed negative sentiments at work “because they believed expressing their true emotions (particularly to supervisors) was futile”.

This leads to what is arguably the most critical conclusion of the study. Even when family interferes in an employee’s work and subsequently triggers conflict, there is justifiably very strong “resistance to naming and blaming family” for that conflict. It is managers who are held responsible for their limited emotional intelligence, their lack of empathy and their poor planning.

It all forms part of what the scholars colourfully describe as “complex messiness” even though it neither needs to be complex nor messy. Just considerate.

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Source: Thanks smh.com