Employees who don't have a positive work-life balance are more likely to experience higher levels of emotional exhaustion, which leads them to be verbally abusive toward supervisors, co-workers and family members, according to a study recently published online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.
While past research has explored positive attitudes and behaviors related to work-family issues, such as satisfaction and performance, this study is one of the first to investigate the effects of work-family conflict on negative interpersonal behaviors at work and home.
"We wanted to see if people who experience work-family conflict are less able to suppress their dark tendencies and more apt to act out on their aggressive impulses," Chu-Hsiang Chang, one of the study's authors and an associate professor of psychology at Michigan State University, said in a statement.
As part of this study, researchers surveyed 125 employees at five information-technology companies four times each weekday for three consecutive weeks. They found that when family life interfered with work, such as having to miss an important meeting because of a sick child, those surveyed reported more exhaustion, which led to more verbal abuse of those around them. [The Best 25 Companies for Work-Life Balance ]
The key to curtailing this behavior is a boss who is supportive, Chang said.
"It appears that having a supervisor who is aware and supportive of work-family balance may not only reduce the work-family conflict itself but also weaken its downstream effect on verbal aggression," Chang said.
Since sympathetic bosses have a positive effect, Chang recommends businesses make it a higher priority to select and train managers who can provide family support for their workers.
"Supportive managers should model the right behavior," Chang said. "In other words, don't send your employees emails at 11 p.m. and expect them to respond."
The onus isn't totally on bosses, however, as there are several steps employees can take to change their behavior, Chang said. She advises that workers engage in emotional and physical "recovery" activities both at work and at home, such as lunch breaks away from the office or stretching exercises for relaxation.
The study was co-authored by Mo Wang, a professor at the University of Florida; Yihao Liu, a Ph.D. student at the University of Florida; Le Zhou, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota; Jungi Shi, from Sun Yat-sen University in China; and Ruodan Shao, an assistant professor from the City University of Hong Kong.