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Research Brief of Hu et al.’s (2023) …How Working from Home Affects Dual-Earner Couples’ Work-Family Experiences

Nichelle Carpenter & Abbey Davis

The authors investigated questions about how dual-career couples (i.e., committed partners who both work) manage their home and work responsibilities, and each other, as a result of working from home (WFH) versus at the office. The authors were specifically interested in how WFH affected couples’ work task completion, family task completion, and the effects of work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict on psychological withdrawal from and feeling guilty toward either work or family. Two studies were completed to explore these effects.

The sample for Study 1 included 165 Chinese married heterosexual couples with at least one child (married an average of about 11 years) located in mainland China who worked in a variety of industries. The sample for Study 2 included 57 couples from South Korea (both with and without children and married an average of 8 years). Both the husband and wife in each couple completed an initial survey that collected their demographic information, plus two surveys a day for 14 days asking questions about their WFH status that day, work and family task completion, work–family conflict, guilt toward family, and psychological withdrawal from work.

Summary of Findings

There are several main takeaways from the two studies.

  1. Across both studies, the results indicated that for both husbands and wives, working from home, as opposed to at the office, increased one’s own family task completion (measured as the number of family tasks completed that day). Neither study showed a significant relationship between wives’ working from home and their work task completion (measured as the number of work tasks completed that day), and only Study 1 found a significant relationship for husbands.
  2. When wives worked from home, husbands completed fewer family tasks. Interestingly, this effect was not found for wives: When husbands worked from home, there was no effect on the wives’ family task completion.
  3. As they completed more work tasks, they were more likely to perceive greater work-interfering with-family conflict (WFC), which also led to increased withdrawal from family among husbands and wives and feelings of guilt toward family among wives.
  4. Similarly, for husbands and wives who worked from home, completing more family tasks led to greater perceptions of family-interfering-with-work conflict (FWC) and increased withdrawal from and guilty feelings towards work.
  5. Last, Study 2 showed that whether one’s spouse had a flexible work schedule (measured as whether they could determine their own workload and schedule that day) influenced their work in interesting ways. Wives completed more work tasks when WFH when their spouse had a flexible schedule that day (but this pattern was not shown for husbands). However, husbands completed more family tasks when wives had less work flexibility when WFH (this effect was not shown for wives).

Practical Implications

These studies had several practical implications for both workers and employers. On WFH days, the studies supported that workers could complete more family tasks that day, which may help employees better balance work and family responsibilities. However, this effect can also increase feelings of guilt toward work. Knowing this may help dual earner couples understand how to mentally prepare for working from home, and how spouses can work together to support both work and family task completion. If couples have flexibility to determine when they can work from home, they can better offer support to each other during periods when work or family commitments are greater. From an employer perspective, these studies may help organizations understand the pressure dual earner couples face when trying to balance both work and family tasks along with the corresponding negative emotions that can be felt, such as guilt. Employers may be interested in determining ways to help workers navigate these pressures through flexible work options because these are persistent challenges dual earner couples face. Additionally, in line with the finding noted above in Point 5, employers could provide and encourage more flexibility for their male employees to offer more support to their families especially when their wives are working from home.

Limitations

There were some limitations with this research that should be recognized when interpreting the findings. First, the authors intend for the effects of their studies to apply to dual earner couples with and without children; however, only Study 2 included heterosexual couples without children, and it was a relatively small sample size. In addition, the two studies were conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but at different stages, which could have impacted outcomes as many nonessential businesses were open during Study 2 but not Study 1. Last, the samples collected were from more collectivistic cultures (China and South Korea), which may not be generalizable to more individualistic cultures, such as in North America. For example, research by Wang and colleagues (2004) found that WFC has a stronger positive effect on employees’ job withdrawal intentions in individualistic cultures, whereas FWC has a stronger positive effect on job withdrawal intentions in collectivistic cultures suggesting that cultures differ on the value placed on family versus work.

For more information, please read the full article:

Hu, J., Chiang, J. T. J., Liu, Y., Wang, Z., & Gao, Y. (2023). Double challenges: How working from home affects dual‐earner couples’ work–family experiences. Personnel Psychology, 76(1), 141-179.

Nichelle Carpenter and Abbey Davis were members of the 2023–2024 Scientific Affairs Committee (chaired by Maria Kraimer)

Reference

Wang, P., Lawler, J. J., Walumbwa, F. O., & Shi, K. (2004). Work-family conflict and job withdrawal intentions: The moderating effect of cultural differences. International Journal of Stress Management, 11(4), 392–412. https://doi.org/10.1037/1072-5245.11.4.392

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