Understanding experiences of work-family conflict in Australian parents

Work-family conflict is typically understood as the competing demands from the work and home sphere, such that simultaneously fulfilling both roles is challenging. It can be experienced as both the sense that your work interferes with your ability to meet your family-related responsibilities and the sense that your family responsibilities interfere with your work. Research has suggested that this experience of work-family conflict can be associated with a range of negative psychological states such as guilt, depression, and anxiety. What is interesting, though, is that the amount of work-family conflict experienced by any individual is not simply predicted by how many hours they are at work, or how demanding their work role is. By the same token, there is not a very strong relationship between how much work-family conflict a person perceives and whether or not they have a negative emotional response, such as guilt. This suggests that there are other factors that might explain why someone might be juggling a lot of competing work and family demands, yet still maintain their psychological well-being and feel a sense of being in control, while another person with the same number of competing demands experiences significant psychological distress. Understanding these factors has never been more important. We know that in this time of significant disruption to working arrangements, parents, in particular, are experiencing unprecedented challenges in balancing work and family responsibilities. It is critical that we develop an understanding of how parents successfully navigate these challenges so that we can minimise negative psychological outcomes and improve employee mental health and productivity.

Our research team, led by Psychologists Dr Areana Eivers and Dr Brooke Andrew, has established a novel program of research aimed at understanding the factors that help parents optimise their work-life balance. We have data from a large, ongoing survey of both working Australian mothers and fathers which allow us to explore the key elements that might suggest whether a person is more likely to experience negative psychological consequences, such as guilt, as a result of their competing work and family demands. These elements include relevant demographic and employment characteristics, as well as other important considerations such as beliefs about good parenting, sense of competence as a parent, and how both the ‘doing work’ of running a household and the ‘thinking work’ or ‘mental load’ of supporting family life is negotiated in a family. This allows us not only to better understand why someone might be more likely to experience guilt or poor mental health when balancing work and family commitments but also to identify some key targets where we might intervene to make these negative outcomes less likely or less severe.

Other Team Members

Ms. Elyse McNeil (PhD student)