Juggling career, life and stress
Eileen Collins is a renowned NASA pilot who is credited to have created history on a number of occasions. She has been a leader amongst women in space, selected as the first pilot astronaut. She also became the first woman pilot of a space shuttle and then went on to become the first woman to command the same. She displayed extraordinary courage to lead the return flight mission after the Columbia disaster. Finally she left NASA to spend more time with family as well as pursue private interests. (Eileen : 2006). The champion astronaut represented what is increasingly emerging as a burning social and legal issue of the modern era, balancing work and family life, avoiding legal recourse to termination of marriage and living away and beyond the divorce. (Greenhaus : 1999). The trend of problems related to work family issues was first observed in the 1990’s. In the post modern era as organizations are performing as networked entities with flexible working hours, heavy work demands, greater accountability and professionalism, maintaining work and family balance is proving to be increasingly difficult. (Greenhaus : 1999).
Work family issues also relate to the positive manner in which rewards can accrue to employees who can balance their roles between occupation and home and thus have a high degree of self fulfillment. This is the juggler, who is able to effectively balance stress at the work place with the needs at home. The younger generation is seen to be increasingly able to juggle the pressures of work and family much better than their fore fathers, probably due to longer exposure to work family crisis with a large number of dual working parents all over the World.
Factors Stress – Work and Family.
Stress has been commonly defined as reactions with the lowest common denominator to exposures, challenges and demands of the environment. It has a number of mechanisms associated with it to include emotional, cognitive, behavioral and physiological pressures. Thus the causes and factors related to stress can be multifarious affecting the very essence of a person’s social conduct. The institution of marriage has been designed by society to create a secure environment for growth of the human species and provides a system of rules for granting of property rights and sustaining family lineage. Modern families have transcended ancient needs of marriage as a convenience for heredity to that of mutual convenience and compatibility between couples. Work regrettably is seen to create stress in this arrangement.
Work family conflict is a form of disagreement in which pressures from an intermix of roles in work and family domains become mutually incompatible, thereby as one role is fulfilled, the other comes under greater pressure. (Foley. Powell : 1997). Work and family domains and roles are assumed to be separate as there are a different set of people that a person meets at the work place and in family life. The family may attempt to pressure the individual to engage in kinship activities, while when at work, there will be pressure to restrict attention to work related tasks. Thus there is a limited understanding of the, “other” role of the individual in each of the domains, be it family or work. This causes stress within the individual as well as in the sphere of marriage. (Foley. Powell : 1997).
The causes for this stress can be easily identified. Women formed 46 percent of the total work force in 1994, 62 percent of the mothers were said to be employed while 40 percent of the families had a dual income in America. (Greenhaus : 1999). This was an exceptionally large number thus it was natural to cause heavy strain on family lives with a society moving towards a culture of double incomes and reduced time at home. Pressure in the work environment can be varied such as long, irregular and unpredictable working hours, travel, excess work, personal conflict, career moves and lack of support of the superior and the organization. On the other hand factors such as newly consummated marriage, young children and responsibility towards them, care of the elderly, conflict within a family and lack of support from the family members towards the career can create pressures for an individual in the family environment. (Greenhaus : 1999).
Some of the factors which have caused these unprecedented stresses are a result of the extraordinary changes in work and family life over the years. The problems were noticed for the first time in the closing decades of the 20th Century and have received continuous attention since then. The basic factors for strain were considered three fold as follows:-
(a) Time Demands. The demands arising from responsibilities at the work place as well as family requirements have placed exceptional demand on time available to people. This made it difficult for one and all to participate in activities related to family or work. The increased professionalisation of the work place meant that more and more time was spent at work and less with the family or the spouse. This has caused great tension between the work and family.
(b) Psychological Strain. Psychological strain was also evident with anxiety , fatigue and irritability leading to excessive strain and causing conflict within the family. (Greenhaus : 1999).
(c) Behavioral Strain. This resulted from lack of expected behavior in the family life due to inappropriate expressiveness and emotional sensitivity.
Those who were able to successfully survive such a crisis are called jugglers, who can manage professional life as well as the personal needs at home. (Miller, Greenhaus : 1999 p 49). The ideal worker was one who could balance his role at work with that at home. However conflict in roles is likely to become grave in case pressures at work and home become incompatible and problems between the two roles are exacerbated. This is increasingly happening in the lives of people particularly in demanding professions as the military and police where regulation mandates a need for greater attention towards the service at the cost of the family. This problem is also significant for women in uniform, who find it difficult to juggle the role of a female soldier and a mother. Thus work-family tension has gradually begun to connote the friction that comes from a person attempting to fulfill responsibilities in two domains simultaneously. (Barnett : 2002). Some people as Elliot Collins prefer to prioritize the family after having fulfilled their professional ambitions. (Eileen : 2006).
Research has also proved that predisposition in individual’s such as negative affectivity can led to experiencing high level of strain, anxiety, anger, disgust and fear. Thus individual personality also has a sizeable impact on work family strain. Other factors include an individual’s value system and the quality of life achieved based on his satisfaction at work which will also lead to work family related stress. (Greenhaus : 1999).
Determinants of Work Family Conflict
Role stress is an effect of the work or family conditions which result in strain due to the need to juggle between the family and the job. The positional conflict resulting from inability to balance the two arises from participation in different roles. These are also known as job stressors or job conditions. Job conditions enable a broad definition of the role to denote its enhancing and positive effect as well as the negative impact of job stress. (Barnett : 2002). Role strain is increasingly seen as the potential result of stress in jobs and family conditions. The outcome is also considered by some social analysts as bidirectional. Thus work family conflict or improvements can cause as well as be caused by the work/family conditions. (Barnett : 2002).
Work family conflict is considered to be highest in servicemen who are deployed for combat duties. There is tremendous pressure on the spouse staying back at home to carry out all activities independently. There is a need to understand these stresses by families and achieve a balance to avoid strain. These tensions are particularly high in women who are deployed for combat as it creates severe parenting stress due to struggle between work and family duties. Women need support of their husbands to avoid work-family related stress. Families including children need to be flexible regarding roles and responsibilities to adapt to such conditions. (Whealin. Pivar. :2006).
A number of studies have confirmed that a large number of variables contained in the job as well as family role can affect work family relationship. Time is one of its important constituents. Thus work hours and marital role become a matter of concern particularly with reference to the large number of low or high control tasks that working women have to perform in the house. This is impacted by the length of the duty hours and turn over. The longer and more irregular the working hours, the greater is the likelihood of marital stress even if the spouse spends reasonable time at home. This is so as there is an optimum level of time requirement for compatibility development which if denied can lead to matrimonial tension. The time spend has to also relate to the biological clock of the family to be of emotional and convivial utility. The state of married life in turn is affected by the duration and length of marriage and the number of children at home. The shorter the duration of marriage, greater will be the need for companionship. Similarly more the number of children at home, greater will be the strain of family life. (Barnett : 2002). This is particularly relevant where the child or children are in a nascent age and require biological support of the mother. Thus nursing mothers are increasingly affected by conflicts related to the family. On the other hand it is also said that at times the burden of child care can be relieved by a challenging job.
Excessive work time is said to be a more common occurrence in men while women complain more about schedule incompatibilities. (Pitzer : 2006). This is probably due to the varied biological requirements of both the sexes and the different responsibilities particularly at home. Men tend to have tasks at home with limited control and thus do not feel restricted by variable schedules of work. While women with a large number of chores at home including preparing food and nursing children are inhibited by variable timings. These factors add to cumulative stress.
Conflict related to time can be increasingly ameliorated by enlightened policies of management such as flextime, part-time or work from home. These do reduce the stress in work family conflict, but a large number of jobs are not amenable to such stimulants for balance and thus continue to cause stress. Lack of work design also affects work family balance. There are a number of additional factors imposed by modern management such as regular performance review, promotion and hierarchical status in the job and attendant benefits which add to stress. Where management fails to take a holistic approach to work family balance, the conflict is likely to increase. (Barnett : 2002).
Work family balance is a diverse issue and there is no single paradigm which can be applied to all individuals, work places or families. Some people opt for a work focused life while others prefer to prioritize the family. A balance is one in which commitments of work and family converges. There are essentially three types of imbalances which have been identified in work family stress. The first is prioritizing work above the family. The second is prioritizing family including even minor commitments over work, while the third is making choices at work due to strong commitments at home. (Moberg : 2004). Balance can be easily achieved if an individual is able to level the time devoted to family and work equally, is psychologically involved in the task and the family role equitably and derives an equal amount of satisfaction from his work and family function. (Greenhaus : 1999).
Apart from factors of excessive working hours and mismatched schedules other issues which add to work family conflict are fatigue and irritability. (Pitzer : 2006). Work life stress can cause mental and emotional strain which will produce tension, fatigue, anxiety leading to depression. In small measures it will cause irritability and apathy even towards close relatives and compatriots leading to difficulty in maintaining a harmonious relationship in marriage and at work. Women are also likely to report of greater fatigue and irritability brought at home from work. Men do not report fatigue at home as they perform fewer tasks in the house. (Pitzer : 2006). Fatigue is an important factor which is contributing to work family conflict. This is also a result of burn out and dissatisfaction at the job. Thus life dissatisfaction, marital discord, substance abuse and other familial conflict can affect work outcome of persons signifying the symbiotic relationship between the two. (Barnett : 2002). Such outcomes are not restricted to women alone, increasingly men too are affected by work related stress and this aspect needs to be factored in examining the work family conflict. The dual marriage responsibility concept denotes the burden of being married to the job as well as the family resulting in prioritizing one over the other. (Barnett : 2002) Double income couples are increasingly subjected to this conflict of interests. (Greenhaus : 1999). The anxieties and insecurities at work are said to be increasing as the economies become 24/7, work hours and weeks lengthen and job insecurity pervades due to constant down sizing of organizations. (Barnett : 2002)
Coping With the Challenge
The challenge to work family conflict in the future will arise from longer working hours especially for knowledge workers, falling birth and divorce rates, availability of large number of personal devices which facilitate communication and thus some balance in work family relations and a growing consciousness of the need to avoid conflict between the home and profession in the younger generation who have a better insight of these issues. (Moberg : 2004). To help people cope with stress related to work and families a number of governments have introduced new rights at the work place such as maternity and paternity leave, emergency leave for crisis situations such as sudden illness in the family and other requirements. (Moore : 2004).
There is ample evidence that employers who actively help their workers balance life and work obtains significant business advantages. Organizations are delineated “family friendly” if they have policies which enable employees achieve an optimal work family balance. These policies may include additional accounts for support of child care or elderly care, flextime, family leave, telecommuting and compressed work sheets. This will overcome the perils of stress in work family life associated with time crunch, emotional deficit and cognitive crises. It would also prove of long term benefit to the organization by having a motivated employee perform at his best levels of competence for longer periods. (Moberg : 2004). The home will invariably be benefited with quality time with children and greater scope of civility and cheer rather than the constant bickering which could lead to a breakup with emotional trauma for the couple as well as the progeny.
Couples faced with the trauma of separation due to work family imbalances also need to consider that the stress due to a divorce can prove greater than that in marriage with an increase in the house hold tasks, burden on finances, relationship with extended families and the responsibility of performing dual parent roles. The need to establish a new identity will also add to the stress. Thus reorganizing work family relationship with active intervention of the employer may prove to be a better option.
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