Do people with kids get more job flexibility?

Feb 23, 2013

Credit mconnors / MorgueFile

A study from Michigan State University says it's not just people with families who have a hard time balancing work and life.

Single people have the same issues, but they may not get the same workplace flexibility as those with kids.

Ann Marie Ryan is a Professor of Organizational Psychology. She says employers need to make sure all workers get a break once in a while.

“The effects of work’s interference with life go beyond that,” Ryan says. “So even when you took into account people who reported some level of work interference, with their family roles, if you looked at work interference with health, with friendships, these other aspects of life, that added to negative effects on their mental health, their well-being and their job satisfaction.”

Hasn’t that always been the case? Isn’t it just part of life?

“That’s exactly what some people said,” Ryan says. “They said, ‘You know, this is what it’s about. This is how it’s going to be. Work takes up a third of your day, if you’re lucky, and it’s certainly going to interfere with your ability to have leisure time, to pursue sports or to hang out with your friends.”

But Ryan says other people talked about their attempts to get balance in one area and how it would push out into another area. For example, if they want to make more time for community involvement, they would find that was interfering with their ability to do their job, or taking time from their family.

“So it’s not just a matter of there’s the work role and there’s the family role, it’s all of these roles interacting with each other,” Ryan says. “Thinking about it more holistically will help individuals, but also organizations if they think about ways in which they can help employees better manage those tensions.”

Ryan says anger and resentment between colleagues and with management can add stress and reduce productivity.

Just because someone doesn’t have children doesn’t mean there aren’t things that they might like or need to get out of work a little bit earlier, for example if they’re training for a marathon or another event. Why is their need any less legitimate than someone who wants to attend a child’s sports game, for example?

“We had a lot of debate as a research team,” Ryan says. “And as a mom, I said if work interferes with your ability to pick up your child, your child is left alone. So I was kind of taking the advocacy position as a mom to say I think work interference with your family has some other ramifications.  So, I’m sorry you didn’t get to go for your run.

And we had a lot of discussion about it, and we did talk about that it’s really about values. A good manager should be able to think of each employee individually, and think about what is important to that particular employee and how can I work with that employee, so they get the job done, they put in the time they need to put in, but at the same time, I show some respect and accommodation for them to have a fulfilling life.”

The study was published in The Journal of Vocational Behavior.