Business Research

Work-Life Balance Can Affect Job Promotion Chances

The Internet is teeming with "how to" articles on maintaining a "healthy work-life balance." This research looks at integration of work and life as a "how to" achieve that balance, but it may come at a cost - being promoted.

"Historically, work and family have been very separate. Employees need to be aware integrating these two domains may be a way to obtain that work-life balance," H. R. Gibson Chair in Management Development and Associate Professor of Management Dawn Carlson said. "Managers need to realize there are benefits of integration in the workplace. If it's managed well, it can be a great value to the organization."

Integrating boundary management, also referred to as "integration," is the idea that the boundaries between work and family are blurred. It is a strategy employees use to manage the demands of work and life, such that a person switches easily between the domains (i.e., taking a call from a spouse at work or checking work email at home).

One of Carlson's recent articles, "The Work-Family Interface and Promotability: Boundary Integration as a Double-Edged Sword," which was co-authored by Samantha C. Paustian-Underdahl, Jonathon R. B. Halbesleben and K. Michele Kacmar, explores the effect of this work-family integration on an employee's ability to be promoted. The Journal of Management published the article online in October 2013, and the print version is forthcoming.

"It's all about how work affects family and how family affects work," Carlson said. "This article looks at the positive side of the work-family interface, enrichment, rather than conflict."

Family to work enrichment is when the experiences from the one domain [family] improve the quality of life in another domain [work]. In other words, resources accumulated from one area of life can impact the other area positively.

This research found people who use a strategy of integration are more likely to transfer those resources from the family to the work domain.

"For example, having a picture of your family on your desk is a form of integration," Carlson explained. "If you're having a bad day and you look at a photo of your family, you're going to have feelings of love or happiness, and it may make what you're working on seem more manageable or it may just interrupt a negative experience. Regardless, it has a positive impact on your work environment."

When the resource of positive feelings toward family enters the work domain, it can be beneficial. Family involvement leads to greater enrichment and then subsequently, influences the perception of a person's ability to be promoted by the supervisor.

"There is one caveat to the research, and that is, integration at work helps unless your supervisor saw the integration and interpreted it negatively," she said. Integration strengthens the positive influence of family involvement on familyto- work enrichment (FWE), but weakens supervisor perceptions of the employee's qualifications for a promotion. The team hypothesized that integration would enhance the workplace by creating more enrichment while hurting the chances of promotion.

"'Double-edged sword' is in the title of the article because integration helps people get more resources transferred from the family to work, but if the person's boss sees that transfer as interfering with work, it can have a negative effect," she said. "The supervisor plays a very critical role. We were surprised supervisors still have a hard time helping employees manage those boundaries and how supervisors react to those boundaries being integrated."

The research recommends employees who integrate their family and work domains should do so in a way that is less overt, so as not to give the perception of interruption, in order to preserve chances of promotion.

Also, the study suggests it is important managers be made aware of the benefits of an integrating style for employees who have high family involvement, as it may help reduce the impulse to primarily reward employees who strictly separate their personal lives from their work lives.

Dawn Carlson
Baylor University