• Scott Behson

How to Cope with Work-Family Conflict and Stress (part 2)

Part 2 of a Series- Informal Work Accommodations to Family

In this series of articles, I’ll look at research and best practices to provide some advice on how to better handle the stress that comes with juggling work-family conflict.

Ever feel like this because of work-family conflict? Maybe Informal Work Accommodations to Family can help.


In part 1 of this series, I described problem-focused coping as a way to reduce the stress that comes from work-family conflict. I’ll give you a minute to go back and refresh youselves… Ok, you’re back? Great. Now for part two.

While knowing about problem-focused coping is useful, those tactics are pretty general. That got me to thinking “wouldn’t it be great if someone figured out some problem-focused coping behaviors specific to people trying to juggle work and family?”

You know what? Someone did… And that person was me! Work-family specific coping strategies were the focus of my dissertation, and I’d like to share a little of this with you today.

For my research, I read a lot of academic articles, interviewed a bunch of folks, and conducted focus groups to come up with a list of actions that employees (mostly professional and white-collar) took when dealing with the work-family juggle. Specifically, I was interested in seeing what people did on an informal and mostly invisible basis to attempt to address family demands while at work. (you may remember I’ve long been an advocate for employees finding small ways to use work flexibility to cope with their conflicts and stress, as opposed to taking formal flextime or performing highly visible compromises of their work to handle family responsibilities).

From this, I developed a set of 15 tactics, labeled Informal Work Accommodations to Family. I then surveyed hundreds of employees and found that:

  1. Virtually everyone faced work-family conflict

  2. Those who faced work-family conflict, but used Informal Work Accommodations felt less stressed out than those who did not

  3. Less-stressed-out employees were more satisfied with both work and family, more committed to their employer and expressed a stronger desire to stay at their employer

  4. Workplaces with more positive work-family cultures gave people more freedom to engage in Informal Work Accommodations

Here are the tactics, broken into a few categories:

Tackling Small Stuff During Work Time– Most people with professional jobs and some discretion over time are allowed to use small bits of time (as well as company email or phones) to take care of small errands or to communicate/coordinate with family. Clearing away some small stuff can allow family time to be more focused on family. Unless abused, most companies and supervisors don’t have much problem with allowing such small morsels of flexibility.

  1. Phoning or e-mailing family members from work

  2. Receiving family-related phone calls while at work

  3. Taking care of household-related tasks while at work, such as paying bills or arranging plans by phone

Time-Shifting– As opposed to formal flexible work arrangements, the following actions help employees informally shift some of their work time to accommodate family needs. By working ahead or making up the work later, these actions have no negative effect on performance. The work still gets done with minimal disruptions, and you are freed up to handle family stuff. Depending on your supervisor and workplace culture, you may want to discuss your occasional need to have some autonomy over your time. If you build up trust and credibility first, this should be little problem.

  1. Leaving work during the day, but completing the work later that night (either at home or at the office)

  2. Leaving work early in order to take care of family responsibilities, but coming in earlier or taking work home to accomplish the needed work

  3. Working during a non-typical work day (e.g., weekend) in order to make up for a day of work you are planning to miss because of family responsibilities

  4. Taking time off during a typical workday, but making it up by working over the weekend

  5. Arranging for a coworker to cover for you or switch duties in order to accommodate a family responsibility

Using “Time Holes”- Most work days have short periods of time for breaks, meals, etc. Using this time to accomplish work or family-related tasks frees up time later for focus on work and/or family. The downside is you may not get to use during-workday downtime to relax or recharge.

  1. Using your lunch time or break time to attend to family matters or run errands

  2. Working through lunch in order to get out of work early or to avoid taking work home

  3. Rearranging your appointments in order to attend to family matter (such as a doctor’s appointment or a soccer game) that takes place during regular work hours

In all, those who faced work-family conflict, but used these Informal Work Accommodations felt less stressed out than those who did not. None of these tactics are huge actions, and none is a magic bullet for dealing with work-family conflict. But, taken together, Informal Work Accommodations can be part of a solution.

Work-family pioneer, Tim Hall stated,

“The most important need for many employees is not to get away from work (through long leaves or part-time work), but to find satisfying ways to combine work and family life… These forms of everyday work flexibility are much more important than the more publicized forms of workplace flexibility such as mommy tracks or daddy tracks…. What we need are less rigid forms of work flexibility… that make it more likely that employees can maintain equal commitments between work and family”

Hall’s words inspired my research into Informal Work Accommodations to Family.

I hope that employees use these tactics to lessen the stress that comes with work-family conflicts. Further, I hope employers understand that allowing relatively small amounts of flexibility to employees can allow their people to proactively develop their own informal accommodations. Productivity remains the same, employee commitment increases, and better yet, employees are less stressed and happier with both work and family. Win-win solutions all around.

So, how have you or could you use these informal tactics to deal with work-family conflict and stress? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

Sources-

  1. Behson, S.J. (2002). Coping with Family to Work Conflict: The Role of Informal Work Accommodations to Family. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 7(4), 324-341. This paper was a finalist for the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research. 

  2. Hall, D.T.  (1990).  Promoting work/family balance: An organization change approach. Organizational Dynamics, 18, 3, 5-18.

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© 2020 by Scott Behson

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