The growth of two-income families and increasing levels of job stress are two of the most significant work trends affecting American businesses and families in recent years. Having just one stressed-out spouse can harm couple's work and home lives - but what about when it's both?
A new study conducted by Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration in the Florida State University College of Business, examines the role of support in households where daily stress is common to both spouses.
"Given that a lack of support from one's spouse represents a major cause of both divorce and career derailment, this research is needed to address issues that affect both home and work," Hochwarter said.
More than 400 working couples, in both blue- and white-collar occupations, participated in Hochwarter's research. Those who reported high levels of stress but strong spousal support - as compared to stressed-out employees without such support - experienced the following positive benefits:
- 50 percent higher rates of satisfaction with their marriage;
- 33 percent greater likelihood of having positive relationships with co-workers;
- 30 percent lower likelihood of experiencing guilt associated with home/family neglect;
- 30 percent lower likelihood of being critical of others (spouse, children) at home;
- 25 percent higher rates of concentration levels at work;
- 25 percent lower likelihood of experiencing fatigue at home after work;
- 25 percent higher rates of satisfaction with the amount of time spent with their children;
- 20 percent higher views that their careers were heading in the right direction; and
- 20 percent higher level of job satisfaction.
The number of employees who returned to the workplace even more agitated because they were unable to generate coping support at home 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," he said.
Further, Hochwarter identified key factors distinguishing favorable from unfavorable support.
"Some attempts to support your stressed-out spouse can backfire, actually making the situation much worse," he said.
Support that had a deep and far-reaching impact had several common characteristics, which included:
- Awareness of one's spouse's daily work demands (i.e., time pressures, lack of resources, deadlines, and supervisors).
- Not "forcing support."
- 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 - and even causes the supporting spouse to become distant and act out as well.
- Being able to bring one's 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" one's spouse in terms of who has had the worse day.
- Not being complacent - continuing to work at it.
- 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.