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Flourishing at Work & at Home: Overcoming a Work Stress Double Cross

June 4, 2019

By Becca Broaddus

Work influences family. Family influences work.

Previous research has shown that family and work crossover to affect each other, but the H.R. Gibson Chair of Organizational Development and Professor of Management Dawn S. Carlson was interested in the next step.

Yes, work affects family. But does the stress that started at work, that crossed over to affect your family, come back to affect your work again? Does it double cross?

According to her recent research article, “Double Crossed: The Spillover and Crossover Effects of Work Demands on Work Outcomes Through the Family,” which was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, the answer is a resounding yes.

“For example, if you had role overload at work, you would feel like you’re juggling too much and managing multiple roles, that probably creates stress and anxiety, “Carlson explained. “We know that’s going to affect your performance at your job, and that’s going to affect your job satisfaction directly. We also know that it’s going to affect your work-family conflict, so when you go home at night, and you interact with your family members, you may, for example, be too tired to interact with them or you may not have time to interact with them. We know when that happens, that affects your attitude. Most likely, when you come back to work the next day, you haven’t been able to fully engage with your family because you haven’t been able to let it go, and you’re thinking about how your job is interfering with your family. Then, you’re frustrated and you’re not as satisfied with your job because it’s causing all this stress that is affecting your family.”

For the article, Carlson and her co-authors, Merideth J. Thompson and K. Michele Kacmar, surveyed nearly 400 American couples in dual career households at three intervals, six weeks apart. Using structural equation analysis, the researchers were able to consider multiple paths at one time to find the double cross effect. (This is the first of four research projects using this robust data set.)

The double cross effect depends on the type of work outcome. Job attitudes, like job satisfaction or role commitment, tend to stay at work and the stress from work has a direct effect. On the other hand, job behaviors, like job performance, absenteeism and organizational citizenship behaviors, tend to be impacted by the family domain. So, the stress from work that interfered with family matter more for things like if you performed well, did extra work or were absent—creating a bounce back effect. Work affected family and came back to work.

“I think it’s a resource issue,” Carlson said. “For example, if you go home and realize you’re yelling at your kids, you may blame it on work. Those job behavior stressors affect the family to the degree that your resources—time, energy, focus, positive feelings—are minimized. If I have no more resources to give to my family and that creates problems at home, that will come back on me when I don’t have enough resources to give back to the organization. My resources are depleted.”

Having a stressful work environment not only affects your family, it affects your work…twice. Organizations shifting to a healthier work environment helps employees on multiple levels.

“The organization can get double the return on investment by creating a good environment for their employees,” Carlson noted.

For the individual, it’s helpful to understand how intertwined the work and family domains are. In addition to a change in organizational environment, individuals can work to better manage the crossover effect with additional resource support or coping in the work and family domains.

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