Work-Family Conflict

Work–Family Conflict, Enrichment, and Balance under “Levels” and“Episodes” Approaches” was recently published in Journal of Management’s OnlineFirst.

Carl P. Maertz, Jr. talks about their article:

Who is the target audience for this article?

As with all articles in JOM the main audience is the research crowd, in particular, researchers in any of the behavioral sciences who are interested in the work-family interface. But, Scott and I also wrote the article with a larger audience in mind, that is, practitioners who are focused on improving the work-family interface by reducing conflict while increasing balance and enrichment across domains. Specifically, we were targeting thoughtful managers and consultants who want to understand work-family conflict at a deeper level than a survey score, and who want more than just a listing of interventions to try.”

What Inspired You To Be Interested In This Topic?

When Scott was a doctoral student and I was an assistant professor at Mississippi State University, he did his dissertation on this topic and I was his chair. Scott already knew a lot, but I had a lot to learn. In short, we did some deep thinking on this popular topic and our discussions carried through into this effort. I must say though, that it was of intrinsic interest to both of us. After all, I think everyone experiences work-family conflict at some point, and we were no exception. So there was some personal interest in better understanding the topic as well.”

Were There Findings That Were Surprising To You?

Since the article is a review with theoretical implications, there were no findings per se, but it was very surprising how many articles address work-family conflict, balance, and enrichment throughout management and all behavioral science literature. There are many hundreds of articles on these topics. It was also surprising that there had been so little real theory about how work-family conflicts actually occur, what they consist of psychologically, and how they are successfully (or unsuccessfully) resolved. We tried to address these issues where earlier studies had not.”

How Do You See This Study Influencing Future Research And/Or Practice?

For researchers, our study suggests a new way of looking at the work-family interface and the potential incompatibilities in a more holsitic way, and it suggests that studying episodes and their progression is the future of the work-family area. The other side of the coin is our conclusion that traditional survey-based studies focusing on correlating these measured “levels” with other variables, the mainstay of most research in the area, has largely outlived its usefulness in terms of offering new insights. As far as practitioners, this article is more of a “jumping off point” to understand the types of incompatibilities between roles, although we do offer some suggestions in the form of a framework of management goals: (1) avoidance of conflict episodes (there is a lot in current practice on this one), (2) facilitating effective resolution of episodes, (3) facilitating enrichment episodes. Because there is little work on these latter two goals, future research must lead the way in validating interventions that work (or work best) to meet these challenges.”

How Does This Study Fit Into Your Body Of Work/Line Of Research?

For Scott it further solidifies his standing as a key, thoughtful researcher in the work-family area. For me as a more general theoretician, it fits very nicely into my work on what I see as a mega-trend of refocusing behavioral science research toward studying proximal causal processes. It underscores the fact that theorizing about and empirically studying episodes is a key vehicle to accomplish this goal across research areas. This all seemed too difficult practically for most of our research history, but with pervasive hand-held technologies, innovative software measures, and enormous processing capacity, we can now collect and successfully analyze data that is closer to the point of action (i.e., causality).”

How Did Your Paper Change During The Review Process?

It changed quite a lot, and for the better. We first approached the paper as a more traditional review, trying to capture as many empirical findings as possible to show good scholarship and be comprehensive. As I mentioned before, there are so many articles (and meta-analyses) out there that this was impossible and not as important of a contribution to the field. The reviewers were very helpful in directing us away from this goal toward focusing on what was new, that is, the episodes approach which had far fewer studies and which needed more development.”

What, If Anything, Would You Do Differently If You Could Go Back And Do This Study Again?

Although we are happy with the contribution of the paper, there is always opportunity for improvement in any publication effort. If we would have had another 20 pages of space, we could have gone into much more theoretical detail. Then again, it may have become completely unreadable. In sum, we have no regrets, at least not yet.”

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