Written by Heather Ikin from WorkLife Psychology, a Career Money Life Community member.
Dealing with conflict between work and home responsibilities.
The boundaries between work and home life are getting increasingly blurry, particular as we now see permanent moves to working-from-home arrangements in many organisations. These are new challenges for an old problem – juggling the demands of our work and home lives. In some ways, work flexibility helps us to manage the competing demands of our jobs and families, but there are still risks to manage too, and if not managed well, we may experience feelings of stress, anxiety and burnout.
Does this sound a bit like you? Are you finding it hard to keep all the balls in the air? Let’s explore these issues briefly and consider what we can do about them…
Understanding conflicts between work and family
There are two ways conflict between our competing demands tends to impact us:
- Work-family conflict occurs when our work responsibilities negatively impact our home life, family, personal responsibilities and relationships.
- Family-work conflict occurs when our family responsibilities negatively impact our ability to focus on our work, attend to employment responsibilities, and perform effectively.
It is the work-family conflict that tends to be the most stressful. This is generally more pronounced for women, who tend to carry more of the responsibility for childcare and housework. Research has shown that experiences of both types of conflict negatively impact employee wellbeing and job performance. If we can get the balance right, we will more likely experience a sense of achievement, and this will be motivating and lead to better mental health and work productivity.
The impacts of these conflicts
When we find it difficult to navigate the demands of work and home life and don’t have effective strategies to integrate these domains of our lives, our mental health will suffer. How we experience these demands, the emotions we feel and the thoughts we have about these events have a big impact on our stress levels. If we are self-critical, feel inadequate, or get anxious about not being able to cope with competing priorities, it’s more likely we will become overwhelmed and stressed.
Whilst work flexibility is great, particularly being able to set our work hours to suit our schedules, working from home can prove to be challenging for some. Perhaps the kids are getting home from school right when you’re in the middle of an important meeting, or your partner is also home, talking loudly on the phone in the next room. Maybe you are finding that your employer’s expectations have increased along with working from home arrangements, that there isn’t enough time at the end of the workday to get other things done, or it’s hard to ‘switch off’ at the end of the day when your office and home are one and the same.
So, what can you do if you feel that work-family or family-work conflicts are causing you stress?
WorkLife’s top 3 tips for employees
1. Set goals and priorities – be clear about both your work and family priorities. Set goals to stay on track with what needs to be achieved and by when. Communicate with your manager and colleagues to stay on top of what’s most important and urgent, and know what tasks can be put off for another day. Often the pressure we feel at work is self-imposed, so ensure your expectations line up with those of others.
2. Regulate negative affect – watch out for those negative thoughts and emotions. Be purposeful in how you respond. Challenge any negative self-talk, be kind to yourself, and try to focus on positive elements of your experience, your strengths and abilities.
3. Manage stress levels – adopt strategies to manage stress levels. Ensure you take regular breaks throughout your workday and make time in your weekly schedule to engage in activities you enjoy. Practicing mindfulness, doing brief meditations, or getting exercise are also useful approaches for many people.
WorkLife’s top 3 tips for organisations
1. Support employees to manage workloads – ensure leaders regularly catch up with employees to discuss workloads and any need for support and assistance. Consider what resources employees need to meet their work demands (with consideration for where they are working from) and ensure they aren’t overloaded or working excessive hours.
2. Train employees in emotion regulation – offer personal development opportunities to help employees build self-awareness, identify unhelpful emotions, and manage these through their workdays to enhance their wellbeing and performance.
3. Increase psychological safety – create an environment where employees feel it is safe to speak up without fear of any negative consequences. Employees should be able to talk openly about workloads, stress and pressure, and in teams collectively problem solve and offer each other support.
Not everyone is equipped to deal with life’s curveballs all the time. But when personal troubles remain unaddressed, they affect wellbeing and morale, family life, work performance and engagement, safety, and psychological health. Never be afraid to seek help.
Learn more about Career Money Life’s Employee Assistance Program. Help your people create a unique experience to meet their personal needs and circumstances with our range of contemporary EAP services and EAP counselling support tools.