Dr. Paige Hall Smith

 

Think balancing work and family life is an issue only women face? Think again.

There was “not much difference” between the responses of male and female UNCG employees when surveyed on the work/life balance in their lives, said Dr. Paige Hall Smith, a professor of public health education in the School of Health and Human Sciences. Smith, along with a cohort of graduate students, has completed a study looking at issues that impact employees’ ability to balance their work obligations with their personal lives at the Triad’s biggest university.

The research gives insight to work/life balance stresses faced by employees in jobs in an educational setting and beyond.

Among their findings: That incidents of work/family conflict are very common and impact almost every employee group on campus regardless of their position, gender or whether or not they have children.  Student employees as well as staff and faculty suffer from strains that can come from  finding the time and energy to manage both work and family life.  Women employees, on the other hand, are more likely than men to suffer from role strain, which is a concept that focuses more specifically on the concerns and worries workers have about the welfare of their children while they are at the office.

In their findings, researchers found one variable that had a considerable impact on employees and their ability to find balance: Whether or not an employee had managerial support. “Manager support and (perceived) career consequences were more important than family/friend social support,” according to the report. “Most people believe they have good support, but about 40 percent fear negative consequences (of requesting work/life balance solutions).

“Managerial support for work/life balance issues improve health overall,” Smith, who also serves as the director of the Center for Women’s Health and Wellness at UNCG, added.

The findings have relevance inside the campus community and out, Smith said. During the recent economic downturn, many employers — state agencies included — haven’t increased employee pay. Policies like flexible work scheduling and work locations, which UNCG offers, helps employees balance their lives with minimal expense for the business.  These types of policies ultimately help improve the work environment, Smith said.

The ripple effects of work/life balance issues predate the recession, she explained. “The economic times have made work/life balance more complicated,” she said, due to job losses and the lack of services available to help ease the strain. Yet, even with the job insecurity that has been a hallmark of the nation’s recent economic problems, Smith said work/life balance is still an important, fundamental issue for employers to address, pointing to research which shows that work/life balance impacts health and the quality of life of employees and also has an impact on job satisfaction. Smith notes “in our study we found that workers who are have more conflict and strain have more stress, anxiety, lower perceived health status, less leisure satisfaction and reduced quality of life.”

There’s an overarching question employers need to ask, Smith said. “Do we want a workplace where people have the attitude ‘Thank God I have a job, but I don’t like it here’ or do we want to have a workplace where people want to be?… What kind of workplace do we want to be and how do we want employees to feel about working here?”

For more on this study, visit http://www.uncg.edu/hhs/cwhw/Spr11HEA676.html.