A supportive marriage can help stressed-out workers maintain a positive outlook on the job, new research shows.
A study conducted by Florida State University professor Wayne Hochwarter revealed that employees with high levels of stress but strong spousal support had 25 percent higher rates of concentration levels at work compared to those without the solid spousal backing. They were also 33 percent more likely to have positive relationships with coworkers, and had a 20 percent higher level of job satisfaction compared to their peers.
The number of employees who returned to the workplace even more agitated because they lacked at-home encouragement is particularly distressing to Hochwarter.
"When you're still angry or upset from yesterday's stress, your workday will likely go in only one direction — down," Hochwarter said.
In addition to on-the-job benefits, those with strong support also saw a number of personal pluses. They had 50 percent higher rates of satisfaction with their marriage, a 25 percent lower likelihood of after-work fatigue and 25 percent higher rates of satisfaction with the amount of time they spend with their children.
But not all support leads to positive outcomes.
"Some attempts to support your stressed-out spouse can backfire, actually making the situation much worse," Hochwartersaid.
The study identifies key factors in distinguishing favorable from unfavorable support, including:
- Awareness of the spouse's daily work demands, such as time pressures, lack of resources, deadlines, and supervisors.
- Understanding that communication lines are open regardless of the circumstances.
- Recognizing that distancing oneself from the family or lashing out is not a practical way to foster help. In fact, it tends to bring out the worst in others.
- The ability to bring a spouse back to the middle — up when down in the dumps and down when overly agitated.
- Not bombarding the family with complaints about minor workplace irritants.
- Not trying to "one-up" each other in terms of who has had the worse day.
- Not being complacent about the problems.
- Remaining rational and not automatically casting the spouse as the "bad guy."
- Not keeping a running tab on who is giving and who is getting.
Most important, though, is the ability for a spouse to offer support on days when he or she needs it just as much, Hochwarter said.
"Generating the mental and emotional resources needed to help when your own tank is empty is often difficult," he said. "Successful couples almost always kept a steady supply of support resources on reserve to be tapped on particularly demanding days."
The study found that men and women differed when it came to the support behaviors that worked best for them. While wives appreciated feeling wanted, receiving expressions of warmth and affection and being cut some slack in terms of household activities, husbands were more likely to respond positively to offers of assistance with errands and feeling appreciated and needed.
"When stress enters any relationship, it has the potential to either bind people together or break them apart," Hochwarter said. "Findings strongly confirm this with respect to job tension. "
Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who spent 10 years working as a newspaper reporter before working in public relations. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cbrooks76.