Balancing Act


Topic: Work-Life Balance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology
Article: How job demands affect partners’ experience of exhaustion:  Integrating work-family conflict and crossover theory.
Blogger: Larry Martinez

Have you ever come home from a tough day at the office, ready to kick back and relax, only to find that your loved one also had a bad day, dinner’s not ready, and your kid’s science project is due the next morning?  Yeah, be careful, because your bad day can turn into many more – and not just for you!

According to research in the latest JAP, work-family conflict in dual career families can create vicious cycles for both partners.

Here’s an example: You have a bad day at work, which depletes your cognitive and emotional resources.  This leaves you less prepared to handle the at-home stresses, like dinner, chores, children, and (let’s face it) your spouse/partner. If work overload causes you to take work home with you, you may even spend family time on work responsibilities. Well, the family responsibilities aren’t going to go away, so who gets stuck with them if you’re otherwise engaged? Your partner does. This presents a real problem for dual-career families, in which both partners have careers. If your partner has to pick up your slack at home, his or her cognitive and emotional resources get depleted in doing so, leaving him/her less prepared to take on work responsibilities the next day. Continuation of this pattern puts him or her at particular risk for exhaustion on the job.

So, your bad day at work leads to a bad night at home for your partner, which subsequently leads to a bad day at work for him or her the next day (technically called ‘crossover’). The article makes the assumption that work overload is a chronic condition, but one has to wonder if the extra work at home couldn’t result in an easier day the next day. Of course, your partner would have suffered from having to take on the extra responsibilities the night before, so you might be the one having to pick up his or her slack the next night. Whether the cycle continues and reverses itself isn’t investigated in this article, but it’s an interesting scenario.

Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Dollard, M. F. (2008). How job demands affect partners’ experience of exhaustion: Integrating work-family conflict and crossover theory. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 901-911.