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What does science say about work-family conflicts…
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What does science say about work-family conflicts among dual earners?

Two earners are the norm in our society today. According to the most recent figures, an estimated 65% of families in Flanders consist of two working partners (Bourdeaud'hui et al., 2019). Combining a busy work week and children in the home is not always easy for couples. Dual earners with young children are more sensitive to stress and regularly experience conflict between work and family responsibilities (Allen & Finkelstein, 2014). Recent Flemish research also shows that becoming a mother or father is highly impactful with implications for returning to work (Abraham, 2022). How do we best address this?
Jacobs Sofie
by Sofie Jacobs, PhD
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What does science say?

To adjust, partners must negotiate how to prioritize their careers and share family obligations. This requires a shift from parallel, independent careers to interdependent careers.

This is accompanied by some common pitfalls (Petriglieri, 2019):

  1. The couple focuses exclusively on the practical issues. One looks for logistical solutions, such as additional childcare, for example. This focus is understandable, but it prolongs the struggle because tensions remain unresolved.
  2. Decisions are based primarily on money. People focus on economic gain when making decisions about career and child care. However, this often means that decisions are at odds with other values and desires of the couple.

Whatever decisions are made, as long as they are consistent with the couple's values and they openly discuss and explicitly agree to their options, they can indeed feel fulfilled in both their career and their relationship at the same time. There is also a spillover effect between work and family. For example, negative experiences at work during the day are associated with poorer interactions within the family at night. Both conflicts and positive experiences regarding work and family, affect the emotional experiences of individuals. Thereby, it appears that positive aspects related to the workplace contribute more to a sense of balance between work and family, while negative aspects create an imbalance (Lo Presti et al., 2020).

What does this mean for the organization?

Both organizations and individuals clearly benefit from reducing work-family related conflicts while enriching positive experiences in that area. This creates positive affectivity, which one also transfers to one's partner and other colleagues. Positive affectivity among employees also leads to more prosocial behavior among employees, better performance and a higher level of work-family balance (Landolfi et al., 2022).

It is therefore important for organizations to focus on positive experiences related to work-family aspects and promote a culture with attention to emotions. For example, by improving listening and comprehension skills of employees and colleagues, proactively addressing family life in career discussions, and clearly identifying policy efforts to integrate work and family in a positive way.

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  • Abraham, E. (2022). Een nieuw normaal met een eerste kind. LoopbaanVisie, januari 2022, p. 11-15.
  • Allen, T., & Finkelstein, L. (2014). Work-family conflict among members of full-time dual-earner couples: an examination of family life stage, gender, and age. Journal of Occupational Psychology, 10(3), 376–384.
  • Bourdeaud’hui, R., Janssens, F., & Vanderhaeghe, S. (2019). Vlaamse werkbaarheidsmonitor 2019 - werknemers (pp. 1–71). Stichting Innovatie & Arbeid.
  • Landolfi, A., Brondino, M., Molino, M., & Presti, A. L. (2022). Don’t worry, be happy! Positive affect at work, greater balance at home. A daily diary study on work-family balance. European Review of Applied Psychology, 72(1), 100715.
  • Lo Presti, A, Molino, M., Emanuel, F., Landolfi, A., & Ghislieri, C. (2020). Work-family organizational support as a predictor of work-family conflict, enrichment, and balance: Crossover and spillover effects in dual-income couples. Europe's Journal of Psychology, 16(1), 62.
  • Petriglieri, J. (2019). Couples That Work. Harvard Business Review Press

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