Workplace support can positively influence parents' well-being

Employers who support working parents and their personal lives can positively influence the well-being of those employees and help them have more positive perceptions of their personal lives, according to a Penn State study.

The findings suggest that workplace support can provide employees with resources that not only enhance their time spent with children but also perceived time for themselves as individuals.

The journal Community Work and Family published the findings Sept. 5.

Specifically, the study showed that a workplace intervention designed to give employees more flexibility and support for family responsibilities increased employees’ daily time spent with their children as well as reports of having adequate time for exercise. The intervention consisted of a three-month process of structural and cultural change, including training sessions for employees and their supervisors. Employees discussed and developed new strategies for increasing their control over when and where they work. In addition, supervisors completed additional computer-based training that taught them ways to provide support to their employees for family and personal needs.

The process resulted in increased time for family and personal life, as reported by employees.

“Increasing the actual schedule control by adding flexibility and other improvements was the intent, but what we actually measured was perceived schedule control, which did change, and in turn affected other beneficial aspects of the intervention, such as reducing work-family conflict,” said Orfeu Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health, and an author of the study.

Researchers interviewed 90 subjects for the study. They were all employed, partnered parents in the information technology division of a U.S. firm, each providing eight-days of diaries about their work and personal life experiences. All participants had children ages 9 through 17.

Employee perceptions of adequate time for children, spouse/partner and self were linked to daily emotional and physical well-being. On days when employees reported that they had inadequate time for their children, partners or themselves, they also reported lower positive affect, greater negative affect, and more physical symptoms than usual.

The researchers recommend that employers and policymakers continue to make efforts to decrease time-related tensions and increase resources, such as flexible schedules, for working parents.

On days when working parents perceived they did not have adequate time to spend with their children, partners or for themselves, they reported lower positive affect, greater negative affect, and more physical symptoms than usual, the researchers said.

“Our results highlight the importance of our perceptions of time for our priorities in our daily lives. The fact that perceived time adequacy significantly predicted better daily well-being, above and beyond the actual amount of time used for these activities, provides evidence that perceived time is not an illusion, but a health indicator,” said lead author Soomi Lee, assistant research professor in biobehavioral health.

She added, “This study builds on a growing body of research that shows when employers provide support and resources to their employees, the employees can improve health and well-being, including sleep.”

Co-authors on the study include Ann C. Crouter, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development and professor of human development; Orfeu Buxton, associate professor of biobehavioral health; Susan McHale, distinguished professor of human development and family studies, professor of demography and director at the Social Science Research Institute, and associate director at the Penn State Clinical and Translational Science Institute; David Almeida, professor of human development and family studies; and Erin Kelly, from the Work and Organization Studies and Institute for Work & Employment Research at the MIT Sloan School of Management in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The research was conducted as part of the Work, Family, and Health Network, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health: Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institute on Aging, Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research, and National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Grants from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the William T. Grant Foundation, Alfred P Sloan Foundation, and the Administration for Children and Families provided additional funding