Friday, 14 October 2011

When work and home collide, your take on time matters

Tension between work and family life is an understandable concern for organisations. As research on how it affects organisational commitment has been equivocal, many researchers are looking for individual differences that may mediate these relationships. A recent article suggests one such difference may relate to how you answer the question: what does the future hold?

A research team led by Darren Treadwell drew on the sociological theory of socioemotional selectivity, proposing that a person's motivations are partly guided by their take on the future. If you regard time in your position as expansive or limitless, you possess a deep time perspective, and are more likely to use your time instrumentally to build for the future. A shallow time perspective means you see the end of your tenure as imminent, and are keener to get those rewards you can in the here and now. The team reasoned that these different perspectives may mediate how we feel when work and home collide.

The researchers constructed a survey that looked at two facets of organisational commitment. Questions like "This organisation has a great deal of personal meaning for me" covered the affective facet, whereas the more pragmatic one, called 'continuance commitment', established whether for example "Too much in my life would be disrupted if I decided I wanted to leave my organisation". They also included items on time perspective and degree of inter-role conflict - both work-family conflict (WFC) where work clashes with family responsibilities, and its mirror, FWC.

Survey data was collected from a sample of 291 staff from a retail firm. For participants with a shallow time perspective, continuance commitment was eroded by higher WFC - they were sensitive to disruptions of their out-of-hours 'good life', and more likely to consider the costs and benefits of shipping out. But the attitude of their deep-time colleagues didn't waver under the same conditions.

Affective commitment suffered when WFC was prominent, with participants falling out of love with the job when it hurt their home life. But participants with a deep time perspective also disengaged when family duties impacted work. This seems to reflect a frustration that work ambitions have become difficult to accomplish, leading to disenchantment and a shift to treating the workplace even more instrumentally.

This type of research is crucial in revealing the complex shape of important phenomena like inter-role conflict: why it may lead some employees to withdraw into a transactional relationship, and others to question their very presence in the organisation. As workplace engagement remains high on the agenda so these questions will continue to be front of mind.

ResearchBlogging.orgDarren C. Treadwell, Allison B. Duke, Pamela L. Perrewe, Jacob W. Breland, & Joseph M. Goodman (2011). Time May Change Me: The Impact of Future Time Perspective on the Relationship Between Work–Family Demands and Employee Commitment Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41 (7), 1659-1679 DOI: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00777.x

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