Revisiting the Work Family Role Conflict. A reflection on the state of the body of knowledge in that area

Term Paper, 2010

35 Pages, Grade: 1,0

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It is well known that the demands associated with paid work can be at conflict with required housework, as well as the leisure aspect of family life. The major demographical changes in the past few decades have seen this issue become increasingly wide spread. Not only has the number of women in the labour force seen an increase, but also the number of dual earner couples in America increased from 35.9% in 1970 to nearly 60% in 2000(Bianchi & Raley, 2003). The proportion of single parent families more than doubled from 11.1% in 1970 to 24.3% in 2000 and the number of working single parents raised in the same period from 53.2% to 71%(Bianchi & Raley, 2003). Furthermore, life expectancy has increased, for example in the USA from 47.3 Years in 1900 to 77.9 years in 2007(Xu, Kenneth, Murphy, & Tejada-Vera, 2010).

The consequence is that an increasing number of employees have to struggle with juggling a variety of roles like being a parent, a student, a spouse and caring for elderly parents. If an individual is unable to adequately meet the demands of these different roles, role conflicts—and in particular work-family role conflicts—are the inevitable result(Hammer & Thompson, 2009). The aim of this essay is therefore to explore the work-family role conflict (wfc) area.

Firstly, the methods used to find the relevant literature will be presented. Afterwards, the field of wfc issues will be introduced by examining definitions and a theoretical framework will be outlined. A focus will be set on Merton’s theory of role conflict, due to the fact that until now this theory has not been connected in any great detail with the wfc topic. The question, what is the explanatory power of Merton’s theory of role conflicts in regard to the topic wfc’s will be answered after presenting his theory and connecting it with the wfc field. Afterwards, a literature review reflects the major theory in the field of wfc area. The theory is called the theory of role dynamics (also called organizational role theory) and was developed by Kahn and Katz(1978). I will compare this theory to Merton’s theory of role conflicts and some limitations will be named for both. A short part on other theories in the wfc field, will close the reflection on theories. Then, the presentation of major research fields and the naming of important findings in that area reflect the state of knowledge in the wfc field. This attempt is important to uncover recent research gaps. The question, which will be answered after this part is: What are areas, which require further research attempts? Finally, I will summarize my results and give a conclusion concerning this essay.

Like it was said above, this essay begins with a reflection on the process of literature search.

At first it was necessary to think about the specific topic and to develop a raw question. The decision was made to focus on wfc’s, because this is a topic of high interest for me and, furthermore, of general importance due to demographic changes. The first question posed was, what is the relevant body of knowledge in regard to that topic? More specifically, one could ask, what are major areas of research and which theoretical models are used? To start the search I decided to first “google” the terms “work-family role conflict” to identify other relevant terms such as role, role theory, stress, strain and multiple roles. After I had now collected some relevant terms, connected with the topic, I started a more specific literature search in some of the databases provided on the website of the library of the Auckland University of Technology (AUT) (e.g. ScienceDirect, Sage Full Text Collections, Social Services Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts and Scopus) and in the electronic journal “Work & family life“. Out of this search I found more useful keywords such as Work-family linkage, Model of wfc, work-family theory, the abbreviation WFC, the German term Arbeiten-Familie Konflikt and started to combine different terms to get more relevant search results.

Most of the literature I found in the databases, were studies in the wfc field. After reading some abstracts, I had a good overview about the topic and examining the references uncovered the relevant literature these authors were using. At this point, I also decided to look for Merton’s role conflict theory in connection with wfc literature, because I have already used Merton’s theory in the past and it seemed to be quite useful for the wfc topic. I also found other literature, which combines theoretical models with fieldwork aspects, but nothing of that literature dealt with Merton’s theory in any significant detail.

The limitation of the search in databases and e-journals was that not all texts were available because some of them were only printed in books. So I decided to have a look at the catalogue of the AUT library. This search gained interesting results because the AUT library had some summarizing handbooks, which reflect the state of the body of knowledge to that topic. Unfortunately, not all interesting books were available, so the search was extended to the Auckland City Libraries, where further literature was found. The final steps included the review of the founded literature and the organising of that literature by using the bibliographic management software Endnote.

I think that my search strategies were good to find out the state of body of knowledge in that topic, albeit that not all texts could be sourced due to a lack of time or availability.

After having summarized my literature search strategies, I will now take a more specific look at that research area itself and give some introductive definitions.

The topic work-family role conflict became popular in the 1970s when the number of women in the labour forces started to increase and different disciplines like psychology, sociology, occupational health and organisational behaviour focused on the positive and negative outcomes of women’s multiple roles(Rosalind Chait Barnett, 2008, p. 75). Following Greenhaus & Beutel a work-family role conflict is “a form of inter-role conflict in which the role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some respect. That is, participation in the family (work) role is made more difficult by virtue of participation in the work (family) role”(1985, p. 77). They suggest that wfc can be behaviour based, strain based and time based. Behaviour based conflicts arise when incompatible behaviours from competing roles lead to a conflict. The second kind of conflict, strain based conflicts, describe the fact that experiences in one domain influence the effective performance in another domain, also resulting in conflicts. The last type of conflict is, following Hammer(2009)the most common one in the wfc area. Time based conflicts occur “when role pressures stemming from two different domains compete for the individuals time”(Hammer & Thompson, 2009).

To delve deeper into this issue, we must examine the question what are roles or role conflicts and how do they arise? I will explain this by using Merton’s theory of role conflict and give some examples out of the wfc area.

The term role is discussed in social science for more than 100 years by different sociologists such as Georg Simmel, Talcott Parsons and Ralph Dahrendorf. But also the American sociologist Robert King Merton, in order to create a role theory he devised the construct of role set as well as the theory of role conflict. His aim was to construct a middle-range theory(Abels, 2009, p. 111)—a theory about a limited range of social phenomena.

Based on Ralph Linton’s “The study of Man”(1936), he used the terms status, which means “a position in a social system occupied by designated individuals” and role, which stand for the “behavioural enacting of the patterned expectations attributed to that position”(R. K. Merton, 1968, p. 423)for developing his theory. He suggested that one can have different statuses, like being a carpenter and a husband but these statuses are, in contrast to Linton’s suggestion, associated with an array of roles like being a colleague and a boss at work or a friend and a partner for leisure activities for the spouse. The combination of different social positions, like being a carpenter, a spouse and a father, which a person is holding is called status set and the “complement of role relationships which persons have virtue of occupying a particular status”(R. K. Merton, 1968, p. 424)is called role set. That means the carpenter has a specific role set in the work domain with his boss, his colleagues and his customers. If now people coming together from different social status, with different “values and moral expectations from those held by a (particular status) occupant”(R. K. Merton, 1968, p. 425), structural instabilities in the role set can occur. An example could be that some person emphasise punctuality as a social value, others do not. These conflicts can occur on two different levels(R. Merton, 1957, p. 112). If a status occupant should solve different expectations connected with one role, an intra-role conflict can be the result. For example a father who has problems with his son must be strict to bring his son up properly, but should also be relaxed to keep a good relationship. The second sort of conflict is an inter-role conflict. This kind of conflict is caused by different expectations on one status occupant in different roles. The father, who wants to go home to share leisure time with his family, but also feels the need to stay at work to help his colleagues finishing the lot of work, can face an inter-role conflict. At this point the problem arises that different mechanisms are needed, to remove the conflicts and keep the status and role structure working.

Therefore Merton uncovers six “social mechanisms for the articulation of roles in the role-set”(R. K. Merton, 1968, p. 426).

The first one, the mechanism of differing intensity of role-involvement among those in the role-set describes the fact that some role relationships are not of equal importance for all people, because they are more or less involved in it. This means that the problems of other colleagues can be less important for the carpenter and as a consequence he will not care so much about them to not get involved in their conflicts.

The mechanism of differences in the power of those involved in a role-set describes that every participant in a role set has different power on the occupant of a status. This is clear if one thinks of the fact that it makes a difference if a good friend gives us an advice or a person, which we do not really know well. Probably we would tend to follow more the advice of our spouse, to come home and help with the housework than following the idea of a former colleague to go out for a drink.

The mechanism of insulating role-activities from observability by members of the role-set illustrates the fact that not all members of a role set interact with each other. Furthermore, Merton points out that some degree of privacy is important to develop self-determination in an individual. Otherwise the individual would continuously try to meet the expectations of the others. For example, the carpenter could not phone his sick wife at hospital if he would be observed constantly by his boss, who do not like it when his employee phones for private issues during work. That would cause conflicts for him, because he cannot contact his wife after her having a bad car accident.

The mechanism making for observability by members of the role-set of their conflicting demands upon the occupants of a social status suggests that sometimes the demands of some members in a role set are incompatible with the demands of other members in the role set. As soon as the members become aware of these differences, it is their task to solve these differences, either by struggle or by some degree of compromise. An example is that the daughter as well as the son of the carpenter would like to play with their dad at the same time, but different games. So they have to organize with whom her father can play first and who is the second one.

The mechanism of social support by others in similar social statuses with similar difficulties of coping with an unintegrated role-set illustrates that there are organisations consisting of occupants with a similar status. These organisations experience social support by the other status peers, so that the individual can cope with the conflict easier. Such organisations are for example wife’s who support their husbands by conducting the housework while he is working. But also workers’ organizations can share the employees will, making it easier for them to get what they want.

The last mechanism, abridging the role-set: disruption of role-relationships seems to be last way to keep the role-set going, because it describes that some relationships are just broken off after the occurrence of incompatible demands. This can mean that the father leaves the demanding work place to spend more time with his family or vice versa. The role-sets at work remain for the other peoplee who stay also if the father is leaving the work place.

Each of these mechanisms can come into operation if an individual faces an intra-role conflict(Abels, 2009, p. 116). Merton points out, that the longer the society works, the more mechanisms, like the aforementioned ones, will be developed to cope with conflicts in the role-sets. These mechanisms are necessary because, role systems tend to work less efficient after every conflict and something like a residual conflict always remains(R. K. Merton, 1968, p. 435). That is why it is important to prevent conflicts before they occur.

After having presented Merton’s role conflict theory, I will now discuss the transferability of this theory to the topic of this essay. First of all I think that his idea of structural sources of instabilities fits well with how conflicts arise in the work and family surrounding. If a person is confronted with different expectations on his behaviour, no matter if we talk about expectations in one (e.g. employee) or different roles (employee and mother), some kind of role conflict could always be the consequence. Especially when people with different roles (e.g. father, mother and children) come together with different expectations on a status occupant (e.g. the father), conflicts are quite common in work-family surroundings, because they do not necessarily share the same values (e.g. family time vs. money). Alongside this, the concept of inter- and intra-role conflicts fit very well, because I think these are the kinds of conflicts people face in the work-family constellation, as explained with the examples above. Finally, I think that his concept of residual conflicts is pretty transferable to the wfc topic, because one could imagine that there can be a positive correlation between the increasing number of wfc’s and divorces. This would mean that many conflicts lead to more residual conflicts, what results in a disruption of the role-relationship at some level.

The social mechanisms of articulation of roles in the role-set are in my eyes not that useful, because Abels(Abels, 2009, p. 116)pointed out that they work on the intra-role conflict level; But as Greenhaus & Beutel(Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985, p. 77)suggest, wfc’s are inter-role conflicts. Nevertheless one could imagine that a lot of conflicts in the work-family relation are also on an intra-role level and some conflict solving procedures can be explained by Merton’s mechanisms. According to Merton’s mechanisms, Hans Peter Dreitzel showed in his book “Die gesellschaftlichen Leiden und das Leiden der Gesellschaft”(1968), that also inter-role conflicts can be stabilized by special mechanisms. The main problem of his proposed mechanisms is that they only focus on the separation of the areas of action, so that the individuals do not face an inter-role conflict. But these areas cannot always be just separated to predict inter-role conflicts. That’s why I think that these proposed mechanisms are not that useful in general.

Another problem in Merton’s theory of role conflicts is that the individual seems to follow only the expectations of others. Something like the self, as suggested by Goffman(1959), which stands beside the role expectations of others, does not seem to be important in his theory. I would suggest that individuals also follow their own intuitions instead of only the expectations of others. So the self could also play an important role in the explanation of role expectations. Over all I want to point out that until yet Merton’s theory, was only rarely used in the wfc area, also if the theory seems to be useful for explaining conflict phenomena. However, I also have to admit that this theory could be a little bit too unspecific for the wfc field and would need some supplements to get a higher explanatory power, like a stronger focus on organizations as well as improved explanations of the mechanisms to stabilize inter-role conflicts.

After having presented Merton’s theory of role conflict and showing some interfaces to the wfc topic, I will now present the major theory in the wfc field and discuss its limitations afterwards.

The most common theory in connection to wfc as mentioned by different authors(Biddle, 1986; Duxbury, Lyons, & Higgins, 2008; Leaptrott & McDonald, 2010; Parker & Wickham, 2005)is the theory of role dynamics (also called organizational role theory) by Kahn et al.(Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964; Katz & Kahn, 1978). In this theory roles are defined as a set of expectations (role expectations) of one or different people (role senders) upon the behaviour and activities of an individual (focal person) they interacting with in a certain position. Roles are generated by normative expectations within an organization but they are also associated with identified social positions(Biddle, 1986). These multiple sources for norms could lead to role conflicts for the focal person. It will be impossible for the focal person to meet all the different roles, like being a good employee but also fulfil the demands of here mother role, it is more than likely that the expectations of her child and her boss differ in some way, what could lead to a role conflict. Kahn et al. explain the term role conflict as “a situation in which differing role expectations result in an incompatible role pressure, resulting in psychological conflict for an individual as the pressures and role forces compete and conflict.”(Kahn, et al., 1964, p. 65). They identified four different categories of role conflict: The intra-sender conflict, in which incompatible expectations are held by a member of a role set. In an inter-sender conflict, the incompatible expectations are held by two or more members of a role set. The inter-role conflict describes a conflict between two or more roles held by one focal person and finally, the person-role conflict draw on the incompatibilities between the requirements of a role and the values of the person holding it(Katz & Kahn, 1978). This theory was applied by different researcher who focused on the role of organizations for the development of wfc, like Tammy Allen(2001)in the field of vocational behaviour or Dawn Carlson & Michele Kacmar(2000)in the management field.

The greatest advantage of that theory is that it is very specific for the wfc area, due to the fact that the working surrounding are usually organizations and the focus of the theory is set on the influence of an organizational surrounding on an individual. Furthermore, two more categories of role conflict (intra-sender conflict and person-role conflict) were added to that theory in comparison to Merton’s theory of role conflict. Through the intra-sender conflict Kahn points out that one person could have conflicting role expectations of the focal person and the person-role conflicts suggest that the focal person also have different values, which are incompatible with external demands. Both concepts are not mentioned in Merton’s theory, but can make a significant explanation to the emergence of conflicts. Otherwise, I think that Kahn’s inter-sender conflict is similar to Merton’s intra-role conflict and the explanations for inter-role conflicts are identical in both theories.

The major limitation of this theory is that it spotlights organizations as stable and rational entities and suggests that all conflicts within them are role conflicts. This view is limiting because other roles beside the organization, which could create role conflicts, such as being a mother and a spouse, are not focused in this theory. Such a broader view could be applied to Merton’s theory. Furthermore, in contrast to Merton’s theory the theory of role dynamics assumes that individuals will be happy, once the role conflict is resolved. Whereas, Merton mentions that there will always be a residual conflict, which is understandable, because one could suggest that a role set does not work properly after conflicts. Beside these differences, both theories apply the view that roles are generated by normative expectations and do not take a look at the role of the self, as already mentioned for the theory of role conflicts.

Other theories in the wfc area are the ecological systems theory from Urie Bronfenbrenner(1989), which emphasis that a person’s development is lifelong and could be “best understood by examining the interaction between the characteristics of that person and the characteristics of his or her environment, with each affecting the other in turn”(Bellavia & Frone, 2005, p. 119). This theory is applied in diverse fields such as occupational health(Grzywacz & Marks, 2000)and for research on family issues(Hill, 2005). On the other hand, one should mention the border theory or boundary theory(Ashforth, Kreiner, & Fugate, 2000), which build on the organizational role theory and suggests that “each of a person’s roles takes place within a specific domain of life, and these domains are separated by borders that may be physical, temporal, or psychological.”(Bellavia & Frone, 2005, p. 120). Literature in that area mainly introduces this relatively new theory, like Clark(2000)or Desrochers & Sargent(2004). But due to the fact that the ecological systems theory is not that often used in the wfc area and the border theory is pretty new and literature which deals with this theory is more introductive and less application oriented, both theories are only mentioned for the sake of completeness.

At this point I also want to state that I found a lack of integration of the theories in the empirical research literature. A lot of theories have only been touched in the research texts due to the fact that the focus was mainly sat on methods and findings of the studies.

After reflecting the theoretical perspectives relevant to the topic, I will now give an overview over the areas of research and major findings in the wfc field. Furthermore, I will name some limitations in the specific fields and propose future research needs.

There are three major research areas in the field of wfc. One area concentrates on the factors that are associated with wfc. Another area mainly focuses on the outcomes and the last one, primary emphasis on the premise that multiple roles create strain. All three areas will be discussed in more depth in the following text.

A big part of literature has emphasised the importance of understanding the factors that are associated with wfc. Bellavia and Frone(2005)summarize in their comprehensive work on wfc’s that predictors of such conflicts occur on three different levels: on the individual level, in the family role environment and in the work role environment. On the individual level several studies found out that demographic characteristics such as sex, family status and job type are significant predictors of wfc’s. In regard to sex, Gutek et al.(1991)points out, that women experience more wfc than men do, also if they tend to work less long hours. Barnett assumes that they follow several other tasks beside work and family commitments, which “put them on increased level of distress”(1998, p. 132).

Conflicts in the family role environment occur when employees have to meet care responsibilities beside the job. In fact, employees who have to care for young children or dependent elders seem to experience more often high levels of role overload and mention more often wfc’s(Duxbury, et al., 2008; Fursman & Zodgekar, 2008; Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985).

Also the work role environment is a potential source for wfc’s as confirmed by different studies. With focus on the influence of the job type Barnett suggest that part-time and full-time workers experience different levels of wfc’s. She found out that part-time working is connected to a lower salary, less job security and less demanding tasks what could lead to dissatisfactions and wfc’s(1998, pp. 137-138). Furthermore, jobs which require a high coordination with others as well as the intensive use of technology to communicate between the work and home domain, could lead to wfc’s(Batt & Valcour, 2003).

It may appear that these predictors could be causes of wfc’s, but Bellavia and Frone emphasis that studies in that area “have not been able to establish causal relations”(p. 123), due to lack of longitudinal studies and the unknown influence of further test variables. Another limitation in that research area is the fact, that no single study was able to measure the direction of conflicts (work-to-family or family-to-work) separately, what emphasises the importance of improving measurement issues.

As mentioned above, another focus in the wfc area is set on outcomes. As well as the predictors, the outcomes can be divided in to those that affect the individual, those that affect the family and those that affect the working area.

On the individual level several studies uncovered negative mental and well-being effects of wfc. Problems like life dissatisfaction, higher levels of stress and depressive symptoms in general were reported in the study of Galinsky(2005)who focus on outcomes of overworked people in America. But also a high level of medication, cigarette and alcohol use seems to be a consequence of wfc on the individual level(M. Frone, Barnes, & Farrell, 1994). Bellavia suggested that these mental effects of wfc can also cause “physiological effects that lead to physical health problems such as hypertension and high cholesterol”(2005, p. 128).

In regard to negative outcomes for the family, the literature emphasised a lower family satisfaction(Coverman, 1989; Crouter, Bumpus, Head, & McHale, 2001; M. Frone, et al., 1994)and a decreased performance in family roles, e.g. increasing of absenteeism and less emotional support(Adams, King, & King, 1996).

With focus on work related outcomes the literature review suggested that wfc also predict lower levels of job satisfaction, a lower job performance and a higher rate of absenteeism(M. Frone, et al., 1994). Especially when people facing conflicts spilling over from the work to the family domain, the tendency to leave the job is significantly higher(M. R. Frone, 2003). When people facing conflicts the other way around (family to work), they usually express a need for greater work flexibility and family supportive programs to meet their family demands(Fursman & Zodgekar, 2008, pp. 48-49).

In regard to the literature about wfc outcomes it is obvious that similar problems like in predictors part above occur. For example it is still unclear if a low life and/or work satisfaction leads to wfc or if wfc leads to a low life and/or work satisfaction. To measure the direction of outcomes the measurement methods needs to be improved.

The last important body of literature I want to reflect in this review deals with the assumption that multiple roles create strain. The underlying idea, as suggested by role theory(Katz & Kahn, 1978), is that differing role expectations lead inevitable to role pressures, and resulting in psychological conflicts for individuals. The concept of role overload(Kahn, et al., 1964, p. 20), a type of conflict in which different people have expectations (external role pressures) which are incompatible to the individuals concept due to lack of time, is associated with a wide range of negative outcomes. Especially, the idea that demanding jobs associated with long work hours lead to role overload and wfc is widespread in the literature(Crouter, et al., 2001; Geurts & Demerouti, 2003). However, against the main stream ideas, Barnett(2008)points out that this concept is not straight forward, because other variables like the degree of flexibility and control over work schedule plays a more important role than the hours worked. She also goes one step further and introduces her Expansionist theory, which argues that “multiple roles […] are, in general beneficial for women and men as reflected in mental health, physical health and relationship health.”(2008, p. 80).

The literature on the effects of multiple roles on the individual suggests that the focus in that area has changed from a primary view on negative outcomes to a broader view on positive and negative outcomes for men and women. In my eyes this change of perspective is quite necessary, because things cannot only change worth, like it is suggested in some literary works. I think changes should always be examined from more than one perspective, because they usually do also have positive aspects. To give a conclusion on that body of literature I would recommend to follow Barnett’s suggestion and focus future research on the “understanding of how personal, familial, and organizational factors influence the ways multiple roles are experienced at the work-family interface.”(2008, p. 90). Thus, this understanding could have practical implications because optimizing the benefits of multiple roles would have advantages for the individual, their families and organizations as well.

Over all I see a research need for longitudinal studies, due to the fact that the levels of work-family conflict fluctuate over time for many people, as mentioned by Bellavia(2005). Through longitudinal studies we would have the chance to evaluate the circumstances (e.g. political changes, wars or even environmental disasters) which interact with personal characteristics, and lead to more or less wfc.

After presenting the areas of research and major findings in the wfc field, I will now give a short summary on this essay as well as a conclusion concerning my presented results.

The starting point of this work was an extensive literature review with the aim to deepen into that area and uncover strengths and weaknesses of current theoretical and empirical works.

A theory was proposed, which could be used for future research approaches in this specific field. Furthermore, common theories were named, which are already been used in the field. Alongside this, it was shown that all presented theories have specific limitations, which emphasise the importance of a more explicit, explanatory, propositional theory in that field, which is e.g. not limited to an organizational focus or to unspecific for the wfc field. Also if this sounds overly simplified, the problem is that all the different disciplines in that research field have diverse concepts and definitions and even in sociology it is discussed whether role theory describes the focus on the person as an individual (symbolic interactionist view) or as a representative of a social position (functionalist and structuralist view). These circumstances make the development of a comprehensive theory more difficult.

The second focus in this essay was set on areas of research and major findings in the wfc field. It was reviewed that important findings were archived in previous research attempts but also major limitations, like measurement issues (e.g. directionality of conflicts, what are causes and consequences) need to be resolved for future research projects. Furthermore, it should be aimed to take a deeper view on how wfc’s can be predicted. For example, how family supportive workplace policies can be improved or in which way members of the work and family domain can help to reduce people’s wfc’s.

Wfc is a problem, that not only affects the people that experiencing it, but also associated family members, colleagues and organizations. I have illustrated that the consequences can lead to multiple problems (e.g. depression, drug consumption and divorces) for the whole society. The prime aim should be that individuals, organizations and the government collaborate to prevent wfc and give solutions for a better balance of work and family life.


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Geurts, S. A. E., & Demerouti, E. (2003). Work/non-work interface: A review of theories and findings. In C. L. Cooper (Ed.), The handbook of work and health psychology (2 ed., Vol. 2, pp. 279-312). London, UK: Wiley Online Library. doi:10.1002/0470013400

Goffman, E. (1959). The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. New York: Anchor Press.

Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources of conflict between work and family roles. Academy of Management Review, 10 (2), 76-88. doi:10.2307/258214

Grzywacz, J. G., & Marks, N. F. (2000). Reconceptualizing the work-family interface: an ecological perspective on the correlates of positive and negative spillover between work and family. Journal of occupational health psychology, 5 (1), 111-126.

Gutek, B., Searle, S., & Klepa, L. (1991). Rational versus gender role explanations for work-family conflict. Journal of Applied Psychology, 76 (4), 560-568.

Hammer, L., & Thompson, C. (2009). Work-family role conflict. Encyclopedia. Boston College. Sloan Family Work and Research Network. Accessed on, 25.

Hill, E. (2005). Work-family facilitation and conflict, working fathers and mothers, work-family stressors and support. Journal of Family Issues, 26 (6), 793-819. doi:10.1177/0192513X05277542

Kahn, R. L., Wolfe, D. M., Quinn, R., Snoek, J. D., & Rosenthal, R. A. (1964). Organizational stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity. New York: Wiley.

Katz, D., & Kahn, R. L. (1978). The social psychology of organizations. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Leaptrott, J., & McDonald, J. M. (2010). The conflict between work and family roles: the effects on managers’ reliance on information sources in dealing with significant workplace events. Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business, 2.

Linton, R. (1936). The study of man. New York: D. Appleton-Century Co.

Merton, R. (1957). The role-set: Problems in sociological theory. British Journal of Sociology, 106-120.

Merton, R. K. (1968). Social Theory and Social Structure. New York, NY: Free Press.

Parker, M., & Wickham, M. (2005. Organizational role theory and the multi-faceted worker. Paper presented at the meeting of the ANZAM 2005, Canberra, Australia.

Xu, J., Kenneth, D., Murphy, S. L., & Tejada-Vera, B. (2010). National Vital Statistics Report: Division of Vital Statistics.

Work-family role conflict - an annotated bibliography

1. Articles, reports, government documents and web resources in the wfc field

Adams, G. A., L. A. King, et al. (1996). "Relationships of job and family involvement, family social support, and work and family conflict with job and life satisfaction." Journal of Applied Psychology 81 (4): 411-420.

A model of the relationship between work and family that incorporates variables from both the work–family conflict and social support literatures was developed and empirically tested. This model related bidirectional work–family conflict, family instrumental and emotional social support, and job and family involvement to job and life satisfaction. Data came from 163 American workers who were living with at least 1 family member. Results suggested that relationships between work and family can have an important effect on job and life satisfaction and that the level of involvement the worker assigns to work and family roles is associated with this relationship. The results also suggested that the relationship between work and family can be simultaneously characterized by conflict and support. Higher levels of work interfering with family predicted lower levels of family emotional and instrumental support. Higher levels of family emotional and instrumental support were associated with lower levels of family interfering with work. (abstract author)

Alexander, M. and J. Baxter (2005). "Impacts of work on family life among partnered parents of young children." Family Matters. Retrieved 24.09., 2010, from

An increasing number of mothers with young children are in paid employment and the effect of this on family life is of increasing policy and scientific interest. Based on the first wave of the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children, this paper investigates potential sources of work-to-family strain for partnered parents of young children. The analysis identifies the importance of gender, job characteristics such as flexibility and autonomy, non-standard hours and long work hours, and the nature of the family environment - parental roles, supportive husband wife relationship - in exploring how working parents experience negative spillover between their work and family lives. (abstract authors) no comment on sample issues given on the web page (own note)

Batt, R. and P. M. Valcour (2003). "Human Resources Practices as Predictors of Work Family Outcomes and Employee Turnover." Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society 42 (2): 189-220.

Drawing on a non-random sample of 557 dual-earner white-collar employees, this article explores the relationship between human resources practices and three outcomes of interest to firms and employees: work-family conflict, employees’ control over managing work and family demands, and employees’ turnover intentions. We analyze three types of human resources practices: work-family policies, human resources incentives designed to induce attachment to the firm, and the design of work. In a series of hierarchical regression equations, we find that work design characteristics explain the most variance in employees’ control over managing work and family demands, whereas human resources incentives explain the most variance in work-family conflict and turnover intentions. We also find significant gender differences in each of the three models. Our results suggest that the most effective organizational responses to work-family conflict and to turnover are those that combine work-family policies with other human resources practices, including work redesign and commitment-enhancing incentives. (abstract authors)

Bianchi, S. M. and S. Raley (2003). Changing work and family demographics. Workplace/Workforce Mismatch: Work,Family, Health and Wellbeing. S. M. Bianchi, L. M. Casper, K. E. Christensen and R. B. King. Washington, DC., NIHCD.

This study examines trends in labor force involvement, household structure, and some activities that may complicate the efforts of parents with young children to balance work and family life. Next I consider whether employer policies mitigate or exacerbate these difficulties and, since the policies adopted in the United States diverge dramatically from those in many other industrialized countries, provide some international comparisons before speculating on possible sources and effects of the differences. (abstract authors) (own description: no information on sample size or were the study took place could be found)

Carlson, D. and K. Kacmar (2000). "Work & family conflict in the organization: do life role values make a difference?" Journal of Management 26 (5): 1031- 1054.

The values an individual places on various life roles may have implications for experienced work–family conflict. Using an integrative model of work–family conflict, comparisons between 314 state government employees who highly valued work and those who highly valued family (measured by centrality, priorities, and importance) revealed a variety of differences with respect to the antecedents and consequences of experienced work–family conflict. These differences suggest that the addition of life role values to the study of work–family conflict offers a unique and potentially important contribution. (abstract authors)

Coverman, S. (1989). "Role overload, role conflict, and stress: Addressing consequences of multiple role demands." Social Forces 67 (4): 965-982.

Previous studies provide contradictory evidence regarding the relationship between multiple role demands and psychological well-being. Some of the inconsistency in this research may stem from the conceptual confusion surrounding the concepts of role overload and role conflict. This study clarifies these concepts in order to examine their effects on stress-related outcomes. A model is tested which specifies that role overload (e.g., domestic and paid work time expenditures) and role conflict (e.g., perceptions of work-family interference) affect satisfaction with various role domains (e.g., job satisfaction and marital satisfaction) which in turn influences stress (e.g., psychophysical symptoms and well-being). Covariance structure models are estimated for 320 employed, currently married women and men. As expected, marital and job satisfaction strongly affect both psychophysical symptoms and well-being. Findings also suggest that role conflict decreases both sexes' job satisfaction and men's marital satisfaction and increases women's psychophysical symptoms. Role overload does not affect role satisfaction or stress for either sex. It is concluded that perceived role conflict decreases women's psychological health, but role overload does not. (abstract author)

Crouter, A. C., M. F. Bumpus, et al. (2001). "Implications of overwork and overload for the quality of men's family relationships." Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (2): 404-416.

This study examined the implications of men's long work hours and role overload for the quality of their relationships with their wives and their firstborn (M = 15 years) and secondborn adolescent offspring (M = 12.5 years) in a sample of 190 dual-earner families. Holding constant men's occupational self-direction and level of education, long hours were related to less time spent with the wife but were unrelated to spouses' love, perspective-taking, or conflict; high levels of role overload consistently predicted less positive marital relationships. In contrast, the combination of long hours and high overload was consistently associated with less positive father-adolescent relationships, a pattern that was similar for older and younger adolescents and for sons and daughters. (abstract authors)

Dockery, A., J. Li, et al. (2009). "Parents' work patterns and adolescent mental health." Social Science & Medicine 68 (4): 10.

Previous research demonstrates that non-standard work schedules undermine the stability of marriage and reduce family cohesiveness. Limited research has investigated the effects of parents working non-standard schedules on children's health and wellbeing and no published Australian studies have addressed this important issue. This paper contributes to bridging this knowledge gap by focusing on adolescents aged 15-20 years and by including sole parent families which have been omitted in previous research, using panel data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia Survey. Multilevel linear regression models are estimated to analyse the association between parental work schedules and hours of work and measures of adolescents' mental health derived from the SF-36 Health Survey. Evidence of negative impacts of parents working non-standard hours upon adolescent wellbeing is found to exist primarily within sole parent families. (abstract authors)

Duxbury, L., C. Higgins, et al. (1994). "Work-family conflict." Journal of Family Issues 15 (3): 449-466.

The objective of this research was to examine the relationships between the dependent variable of work-family conflict (operationalized as overload, work to family interference, family to work interference) and the independent variables of gender, family type, and perceived control. The sample consisted of 1,989 single-parent and dual-income employees with children ages 6 through 12. The findings indicated that individuals with higher perceived control have lower levels of overload and interference. Women had higher levels of overload and interference than did men. Single parents had similar levels of overload and interference from family to work as married individuals.(abstract authors)

Duxbury, L., S. Lyons, et al. (2008). Too Much to do, and Not Enough Time: An Examination of Role Overload. Handbook of work-family integration : research, theory, and best practices. K. Korabik, D. S. Lero and D. L. Whitehead. Guelph, Ontario, Canada, Elsevier : 125-140.

This chapter introduces the theoretical underpinnings of role overload, describes current conceptualizations and antecedents. Finally, some key findings from the national work-life study, with data from 31,000 working canadians will be illustrated. (own abstract)

Frone, M., G. Barnes, et al. (1994). "Relationship of work-family conflict to substance use among employed mothers: The role of negative affect." Journal of Marriage and the Family 56 (4): 1019-1030.

Little research has examined the relationship between work-family conflict and alcohol or cigarette use among women. Building on affect regulation theory and recent research on work-family conflict and negative emotions, this study tested a model relating work-family conflict to heavy alcohol use and cigarette use via domain-specific (i.e., job- and family-related) and general negative affect. Data were obtained through household interviews with a random sample of 366 employed mothers of adolescents. As hypothesized, work-family conflict was indirectly related to both heavy alcohol use and cigarette use via negative affect. (abstract authors)

Fursman, L. (2009). "Parents’ long work hours and the impact on family life." Social Policy Journal of New Zealand: 55-67.

This article reports on findings from a multi-method study on long working hours and their impact on family life. It draws on data from the New Zealand 2006 Census, a review of the literature, and a small qualitative study involving in-depth interviews with 17 families with dependent children in which at least one partner was working long hours. The study found that parents' working hours were driven by the requirements of their jobs, income, and the cultures of their workplaces, as well as the satisfaction work provided. Many parents felt unable to reduce their hours, despite believing that their hours had a variety of negative impacts on family life. A number of factors mediated the impact of long hours of work, including the availability of extended family for childcare and support; having flexible work arrangements and control over hours of work (including both the number of hours and when hours were worked); and how satisfied spouses were with both the number of hours of paid work and the impact of these hours on the availability of the long-hours worker to spend time with children and to do a share of the household chores. The article concludes by noting that long hours are just one factor among many that affect family functioning and wellbeing. (abstract author)

Fursman, L. and N. Zodgekar (2008). "Making it work: The impacts of flexible working arrangements on New Zealand families." Social Policy Journal of New Zealand(35): 43-54.

The demand for "quality flexible work" is increasing, both in New Zealand and internationally. However, there has been limited research in New Zealand on the family factors that influence the amount or type of flexibility needed to support families in different circumstances, or on the impacts that the use of flexible work arrangements can have on family life. This article is based on the results of research the New Zealand Families Commission undertook in 2007/08, which explored how flexible working arrangements can best support family wellbeing and the barriers and success factors relating to the take-up of flexible work. A mixed method approach was adopted, comprising 11 focus groups, 15 case study interviews, and a 15-minute telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,000 people. Findings included the identification of a range of positive impacts that access to flexible work arrangements have for families, and the barriers to the use of flexible working arrangements. The study also found that many people choose their work to fit around family responsibilities. This article provides a summary of the research, with a focus on the findings that relate to the impact of flexible work on family life. (abstract authors)

Galinsky, E., J. T. Bond, et al. (2005). Overwork in America: When the way we work becomes too much. New York, NY, Families and Work Institute.

A new study released today by Families and Work Institute, Overwork in America: When the Way We Work Becomes Too Much, reports that one in three American employees are chronically overworked, while 54 percent have felt overwhelmed at some time in the past month by how much work they had to complete. The study of more than 1,000 wage and salaried employees identifies for the first time why being overworked and feeling overwhelmed have become so pervasive in the American workplace. “Ironically, the very same skills that are essential to survival and success in this fast-paced global economy, such as multi-tasking, have also become the triggers for feeling overworked,” reports Ellen Galinsky, president of Families and Work Institute and a lead author of the study. “Being interrupted frequently during work time and working during non-work times, such as while on vacation, are also contributing factors for feeling overworked.” Employees’ priorities have an effect on their state of being overworked as well. Employees who are work-centric are more likely to be overworked than those who maintain a dual-centric lifestyle, giving equivalent priority to their lives on and off the job. Possibly contrary to expectation, employees with greater family responsibilities were no more likely to be overworked than those without these responsibilities, except for elder care. Because there is a great deal of interest in vacations in relation to reducing work stress, the study explored this issue in depth. Researchers found that 79 percent of employees had access to paid vacations in 2004 and that more than one-third of employees (36 percent) had not and were not planning to take their full vacation. On average, American workers take 14.6 vacation days annually with more than one-third (37 percent) taking fewer than seven days. Only 14 percent of employees take vacations of two weeks or more. In addition, while employees report that it takes three days on average to begin to relax, the data shows that the longer employees take off at any one time, the more likely they are to return to work feeling more relaxed and energized. For example, among employees who take one to three days off (including weekends), 68 percent return feeling relaxed compared with 85 percent who take seven or more days (including weekends). “Perhaps the most important finding from the study related to vacations is that the more one works during vacations, the more overworked one is. Although one might hypothesize that employees who work during vacations are doing themselves a favor in avoiding a pile-up of work when they return,“ says Terry Bond , Vice President of Families and Work Institute and an author of the study, “the opposite seems to be true. Sometimes being truly away from work helps employees return less overwhelmed and more able to engage energetically in work.” In a culture where being overworked is seen as both a “red badge of courage” as well as a source of anxiety, being overworked should be taken seriously by employers. Employees who are more overworked are more likely to make mistakes at work, to be angry with their employers for expecting them to do so much and to resent coworkers who don’t work as hard as they do. In addition, nearly half of employees who feel overworked report that their health is poor. For example, only 8 percent of employees who are not overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked. (abstract author)

Gutek, B., S. Searle, et al. (1991). "Rational versus gender role explanations for work-family conflict." Journal of Applied Psychology 76 (4): 560-568.

Two conflicting frameworks for understanding work–family conflict are proposed. According to the rational view, conflict is related linearly to the total amount of time spent in paid and family work. According to the gender role perspective, gender role expectations mute the relationship between hours expended and perceived work–family conflict, and gender interacts with number of hours worked and work–family conflict. Two measures of work–family conflict were used to assess, respectively, work interference with family and family interference with work. Two separate samples of employed people with families were used: a systematically selected sample of psychologists and a volunteer sample of managers. The results generally support (a) the usefulness of separate indicators of work–family conflict and (b) aspects of both the rational view and the gender role view. (abstract authors) no information on sample size and population was given (own note)

Haar, J. M. (2004). "Work-family conflict and turnover intention: exploring the moderation effects of perceived work-family support." New Zealand Journal of Psychology 33 (1): 35-39.

The influence of perceived employer family support on the work-family conflict/job-outcomes relationship, is poorly understood. This study of 100 New Zealand local government employees tested work-family conflict as a predictor of turnover intention, and explored the moderator effects of perceived work-family support, which measures the extent employees see their employer providing policies and programmes supportive of families. Direct associations were found between two types of conflict (work-family and family-work) and turnover intention. However, perceived work-family support held no significant interaction effects. Hence, employee perceptions of how supportive their employer is towards work-family aspects had no effect on whether employees are encouraged to leave their organisation when conflict levels from the home and office increase. Implications are that conflict from the office and home does increase turnover intentions, and that perceived work-family support has little effect on these relationships. (abstract author)

Hayman, J. R. (2009). "Flexible work arrangements: exploring the linkages between perceived usability of flexible work schedules and work/life balance." Community, Work & Family 12 (3): 12.

The relationship between the perceived usability of flexible work schedules and work/life balance was explored with 710 office-based employees. Direct linkages were found between perceived usability of flexible work schedules and the three dimensions of work/life balance (work interference with personal life, personal life interference with work, and work/personal life enhancement). In addition, employees operating under flexitime work schedules displayed significantly higher levels of work/life balance than their counterparts utilising traditional fixed-hour schedules. However, non-significant differences in the levels of work/life balance were found between two other flexible work schedules (flexiplace and job share) and fixed-hour work schedules. Consequently, while individual flexible work schedules may have a marginal overall positive impact on employee work/life balance, the perceived usability and availability of these work schedules appears to be a key element in achieving work/life balance for many office-based employees. The implications for employees, organisations, and future research are discussed. Adapted from the source document. (abstract authors)

Leaptrott, J. and J. M. McDonald (2010). "The conflict between work and family roles: the effects on managers’ reliance on information sources in dealing with significant workplace events." Journal of Behavioral Studies in Business 2: 1-12.

Decisions made by managers in response to common workplace events often have important consequences. These decisions can include dealing with issues related to personnel, resources or procedures. A logic-based decision-making process requiring substantial information search and analysis can be very complex and time consuming. Managers frequently face conflicting demands for time and cognitive resources from their family and their occupational roles that adversely affect their ability to perform both roles effectively. Adverse effects of these conflicting roles that impede the decision-making processes can result fromreduced time, energy and attention available to properly gather and analyze information for each major business or family decision and by increasing the number of major decisions to be made. This study assessed the effect of conflict between family and work roles on the information search behavior in a sample of credit union executives. The study found evidence of significant relationships between the amount of work-family and family-work conflict and the effect certain personal and impersonal information sources had on the actions these executives took in dealing with events that were both important and commonly encountered in the workplace. The significant relationships were primarily positive, contrary to expectations and were more frequently related to impersonal information sources. A total of 143 instruments were provided to attendees and 109 usable surveys were returned. A 76% response rate was achieved using this protocol. (abstract author + note on sample)

Nomaguchi, K. M., M. A. Milkie, et al. (2005). "Time strains and psychological well-being do dual-earner mothers and fathers differ?" Journal of Family Issues 26 (6): 756-792.

Using data from the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce, these authors examine gender differences in feeling time strain for children, spouse, and oneself and in the association of these feelings with psychological well-being among dual-earner parents. Fathers are more likely than mothers to report feeling time deficits with their children and spouse; however, it is primarily because fathers spend more hours in paid work than mothers. Yet feelings of time deficits with children and spouse are associated with lower well-being only for mothers. In terms of time for oneself, mothers more than fathers feel strains, net of the time they spend on free-time activities. Mothers and fathers who feel a time shortage for themselves express lower well-being, although for some measures, the relationship is stronger for fathers. (abstract authors)

Rothbard, N., K. Phillips, et al. (2005). "Managing multiple roles: work-family policies and individuals' desires for segmentation." Organization Science 16 (3): 243-258.

As workers strive to manage multiple roles such as work and family, research has begun to focus on how people manage the boundary between work and nonwork roles. This paper contributes to emerging work on boundary theory by examining the extent to which individuals desire to integrate or segment their work and nonwork lives. This desire is conceptualized and measured on a continuum ranging from segmentation (i.e., separation) to integration (i.e., blurring) of work and nonwork roles. We examine the fit between individuals’ desires for integration/segmentation and their access to policies that enable boundary management, suggesting that more policies may not always be better in terms of job satisfaction and organizational commitment. Using survey methodology and a sample of 460 employees, we found that desire for greater segmentation does moderate the relationship between the organizational policies one has access to and individuals’ satisfaction and commitment. People who want more segmentation are less satisfied and committed to the organization when they have greater access to integrating policies (e.g., onsite childcare) than when they have less access to such policies. Conversely, people who want greater segmentation are more committed when they have greater access to segmenting policies (e.g., flextime) than when they have less access to such policies. Moreover, the fit between desire for segmentation and organizational policy has an effect on satisfaction and commitment over and above the effects of demographic characteristics such as age, gender, marital status, income, number of children, and the ages of those children. (abstract authors)

2. Books and reviews in the wfc field

Barling, J., E. K. Kelloway, et al. (2005). Handbook of work stress. New York, NY, Sage Publications.

Questions about the causes or sources of work stress have been the subject of considerable research, as well as public fascination, for several decades. Earlier interest in this issue focused on the question of whether some jobs are simply more inherently stressful than others. Other questions that soon emerged asked whether some individuals were more prone to stress than others."The Handbook of Work Stress" focuses primarily on identifying the different sources of work stress across different contexts and individuals. It affords the most broad and credible perspective on the subject of work stress available. The editors are all prominent researchers in the field of work stress, and have been instrumental in defining and developing the field from an organizational-psychological and organizational-behavior perspective. International contributors are included, reflecting similarities and differences from around the world. Chapter authors from the United States, Canada, England, Sweden, Japan, and Australia have been invited to participate, reflecting most of the countries in which active research on work stress is taking place. "The Handbook of Work Stress" is essential reading for researchers in the fields of industrial and organizational psychology, human resources, health psychology, public health and employee assistance. (content publisher)

Barnett, R. C. (1998). "Toward a review and reconceptualization of the work/family literature." Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs 124 (2): 125-182.

Research on work/family issues is currently being done by investigators from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, occupational health, sociology, and, less centrally, organizational behavior. Such energy and diversity might be expected to yield significant advances; however, for the most part, this promise has not been realized. Progress has been hampered by the lack of an inclusive model for understanding the processes by which work and family variables influence one another, a model that is theoretically grounded and integrates the major paradigms from these several disciplines. In an effort to develop a more inclusive and theoretically-grounded research model, I have organized this review around three critical theoretical issues that strongly shape the research literature and that need to be addressed in any proposed model. (content publisher)

Barnett, R. C. (2008). On Multiple Roles: Past, Present, and Future. Handbook of work-family integration : research, theory, and best practices. K. Korabik, D. S. Lero and D. L. Whitehead. Guelph, Ontario, Canada, Elsevier : 75-93.

The chapter On Multiple Roles: Past, Present, and Future. by Rosalind Barnett describes problems and chances of people's occupying multiple roles and how these where discussed in the past and present and what future research should be aware of. (own abstract)

Bellavia, G. and M. Frone (2005). Work-family conflict. Handbook of work stress. J. Barling, K. Kelloway and M. R. Frone. New York, NY, Sage Publications, Inc : 113-147.

This chapter focus on work-family conflicts. It reflects major theoretical modells, major empirical studies and known predictors as well as outcomes in regard to work-family conflict. (own abstract)

Frone, M. R. (2003). Work-family balance. Handbook of occupational health psychology. J. C. Quick and L. E. Tetrick. Washington, DC, American Psychological Association : 143-162.

Handbook of Occupational Health Psychology" brings together an international group of scholars to address a wide variety of topics relevant to this rapidly growing field. From issues of workload and workplace safety, to work schedules and social environments to job future and content, this handbook offers tools intended to combat risks at their source. This is an important resource forscholars, researchers, and practitioners in occupational health psychology, public health, and medicine. (content publisher) In Frones part on work-life balance a detailed discussion of work-family conflict outcomes can be find. (own note)

Geurts, S. A. E. and E. Demerouti (2003). Work/non-work interface: A review of theories and findings. The handbook of work and health psychology. C. L. Cooper. London, UK, Wiley Online Library. 2: 279-312.

This article summarizes findings in the work/non work interface. This includes theoretical perspectives, prevalences, antecedentes and consequences of the work/non work-interface. Furthermore, strategies to improve this interface and limitations in current research are shown. (own abstract)

Greenhaus, J. H. and N. J. Beutell (1985). "Sources of conflict between work and family roles." Academy of Management Review 10 (2): 76-88.

An examination of the literature on conflict between work and family roles suggests that work-family conflict exists when: (a) time devoted to the requirements of one role makes it difficult to fulfill requirements of another; (b) strain from participation in one role makes it difficult to fulfill requirements of another; and (c) specific behaviors required by one role make it difficult to fulfill the requirements of another. A model of work-family conflict is proposed, and a series of research propositions is presented. (abstract authors)

Hammer, L. and C. Thompson (2009). "Work-family role conflict." Encyclopedia. Boston College. Sloan Family Work and Research Network. Retrieved 21. November, 2010, from

This introductive article reflects some basic concepts and definitions from the work-family role conflict field. Furthermore, the state of body of knowledge is described shortly. (own abstract)

3. Article and books on role theory

Abels, H. (2009). Rolle. Einführung in die Soziologie 2: Die Individuen in ihrer Gesellschaft. H. Abels. Wiesbaden, Germany, VS Verlag : 101-133.

This book offers an interesting overview over different, important sociological terms like institution, individualism and role. Especially the part on roles including Parsons, Merton, Dahrendorf and Habermas is useful to understand the different socialogical concepts in regard to role theory. (own abstract)

a. Theory of role conflicts

Merton, R. (1957). "The role-set: Problems in sociological theory." British Journal of Sociology: 106-120.

In this book Merton describes the concepts of his theory of role conflicts in more detail. Especially he emphasis intra- and inter-role conflicts. (own abstract)

Merton, R. K. (1968). Social Theory and Social Structure. New York, NY, Free Press.

In the part on role-sets, status-sets and status-sequences Merton describes the basic concepts of his theory of role conflicts. (own abstract)

b. Organizational role theory

Allen, T. (2001). "Family-supportive work environments: The role of organizational perceptions." Journal of Vocational Behavior 58 (3): 414-435.

The present study examines global employee perceptions regarding the extent their work organization is family-supportive (FSOP). Data gathered from 522 participants employed in a variety of occupations and organizations indicated that FSOP responses related significantly to the number of family-friendly benefits offered by the organization, benefit usage, and perceived family support from supervisors. FSOP responses also explained a significant amount of unique variance associated with work–family conflict, job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover intentions above and beyond the variance explained by the number of family-friendly benefits available by the organization and supervisor support. Results indicated that FSOP mediates the relationship between family-friendly benefits available and the dependent variables of work–family conflict, affective commitment, and job satisfaction. FSOP also mediated the relationship between supervisor support and work–family conflict. The results underscore the important role that perceptions of the overall work environment play in determining employee reactions to family-friendly benefit policies. (abstract author)

Biddle, B. (1986). "Recent development in role theory." Annual review of sociology 12: 67-92.

Role theory concerns one of the most important features of social life, characteristic behavior patterns or roles. It explains roles by presuming that persons are members of social positions and hold expectations for their own behaviors and those of other persons. Its vocabulary and concerns are popular among social scientists and practitioners, and role concepts have generated a lot of research. At least five perspectives may be discriminated in recent work within the field: functional, symbolic interactionist, structural, organizational, and cognitive role theory. Much of role research reflects practical concerns and derived concepts, and research on four such concepts is reviewed: consensus, conformity, role conflict, and role taking. Recent developments suggest both centrifugal and integrative forces within the role field. The former reflect differing perspectival commitments of scholars, confusions and disagreements over use of role concepts, and the fact that role theory is used to analyze various forms of social system. The latter reflect the shared, basic concerns of the field and efforts by role theorists to seek a broad version of the field that will accommodate a wide range of interests. (abstract author)

Kahn, R. L., D. M. Wolfe, et al. (1964). Organizational stress: Studies in role conflict and ambiguity. New York, NY, Wiley.

Organizational Role Theory (ORT) provides insight into the processes that affect the physical and emotional state of an individual in the workplace that affects their workplace behaviour. As employee behaviour is directly related to their work performance, understanding the determinants of employee’s behaviour in the workplace can allow organizations to maximize employee performance. (content publisher)

Katz, D. and R. L. Kahn (1978). The social psychology of organizations. New York, NY, John Wiley & Sons.

This book has its origin in the program of research on human relations in organizations launched by Rensis Likert in 1947 as one of the major programs of the survey research centre of the University of Michigan. From its inception, this series of researches has been concerned with problems of morale and motivation, productivity and effectiveness, power& control, and leadership and change processes in large organizations. The book is an attempt to extend the description and explanation of organizational processes we have shifted from an earlier emphasis on traditional concept of individual psychology and interpersonal relationship. The interdependent behaviour of many people in their supportive and complementary actions takes on a form or structure which needs to be conceptualized at a more appropriate stage. Hence the effort has been directed at the utilization of an open system point of view for the study of large scale organization. (content publisher)

Parker, M. and M. Wickham (2005). Organizational role theory and the multi-faceted worker. ANZAM 2005. Canberra, Australia.

The focus of this research is to expand the explanatory power of Organisational Role Theory, and in particular, identify the non-work roles that impact on an employee’s working-life and understand how this can inform the tenets of Organisational Role Theory. This exploratory research comprised two stages. The first stage included a questionnaire-survey that focused on the issues surrounding ORT’s assumptions. The questionnaires were completed by full-time employees from anarray of firms in the Hobart business community. The surveys were structured using open-ended questions that allowed the respondents to provide qualitative feedback regarding the non-work roles they felt impacted on their working-life. The recurrent issues arising from this questionnaire were then explored in more depth in the second stage of the research, which comprised semi-structured interviews. The semi-structured interviews consisted of standard questions to allow for comparison across respondents, but also allowed latitude for exploration of issues that were unanticipated. Consequently, allowing respondents to comment on issues that they considered important to them within the scope of this research. (abstract author) No information on sample issues are given in this paper. (own note)

c. ecological systems theory

Grzywacz, J. G. and N. F. Marks (2000). "Reconceptualizing the work-family interface: an ecological perspective on the correlates of positive and negative spillover between work and family." Journal of occupational health psychology 5 (1): 111-126.

Ecological theory was used to develop a more expanded conceptualization of the work-family interface and to identify significant correlates of multiple dimensions of work-family spillover. Using data from employed adults participating in the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (N = 1,986), negative spillover from work to family, positive spillover from work to family, negative spillover from family to work, and positive spillover from family to work were found to be distinct work-family experiences. Analyses indicated that work and family factors that facilitated development (e.g., decision latitude, family support) were associated with less negative and more positive spillover between work and family. By contrast, work and family barriers (e.g., job pressure, family disagreements) were associated with more negative spillover and less positive spillover between work and family. In some cases, results differ significantly by gender. (abstract authors)

Hill, E. (2005). "Work-family facilitation and conflict, working fathers and mothers, work-family stressors and support." Journal of Family Issues 26 (6): 793-819.

Work-family research frequently focuses on the conflict experienced by working mothers. Using data from the National Study of the Changing Workforce (N = 1,314), this study also examined work-family facilitation and working fathers. Ecological systems, family stress, family resilience, and sex role theories were used to organize the data and create hypotheses. Work-to-family facilitation was positively related to job satisfaction and life satisfaction, and negatively related to individual stress. Family-to-work facilitation was positively related to marital satisfaction, family satisfaction, and life satisfaction, and negatively related to organizational commitment. Working fathers reported long work hours (49 hours/week), major involvement in household responsibilities (46 hours/week), and a work culture less supportive of their family life than working mothers reported. However, working fathers reported less work-family conflict, less individual stress, and greater family satisfaction, marital satisfaction, and life satisfaction than working mothers. The results support including facilitation and gender in future work-family research. (abstract author)

d. Border theory

Ashforth, B., G. Kreiner, et al. (2000). "All in a day's work: Boundaries and micro role transitions." Academy of management review 25 (3): 472-491.

We focus on everyday role transitions involving home, work, and other places. Transitions are boundary-crossing activities, where one exits and enters roles by surmounting role boundaries. Roles can be arrayed on a continuum, spanning high segmentation to high integration. Segmentation decreases role blurring but increases the magnitude of change, rendering boundary crossing more difficult; crossing often is facilitated by rites of passage. Integration decreases the magnitude of change but increases blurring, rendering boundary creation and maintenance more difficult; this challenge often is surmounted by boundary work. (abstract authors)

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1989). Die Ökologie der menschlichen Entwicklung: natürliche und geplante Experimente. Frankfurt a.M., Germany, Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.

The chapter on border theory suggest that each of a person’s roles takes place within a specific domain of life, and these domains are separated by borders that may be physical, temporal, or psychological. (own abstract)

Clark, S. (2000). "Work/family border theory: A new theory of work/family balance." Human Relations 53 (6): 747-770.

This article introduces work/family border theory - a new theory about work/family balance. According to the theory, people are daily border-crossers between the domains of work and family. The theory addresses how domain integration and segmentation, border creation and management, border-crosser participation, and relationships between border-crossers and others at work and home influence work/family balance. Propositions are given to guide future research. (abstract author)

Desrochers, S. and L. Sargent (2004). "Boundary/border theory and work-family integration." Organization Management Journal 1 (1): 40-48.

Researchers have long recognized that work and family are not “separate spheres”, but are interdependent domains or roles with “permeable” boundaries (Kanter, 1977; Pleck, 1977). Some have gone beyond recognizing this linkage to advocate initiatives that allow working families to integrate these domains (e.g., Bailyn, Drago, & Kochan, 2001). But others have expressed concerns over the blurring boundary between work and family that workers can experience if there is too much work-family integration in their lives, which can occur if arrangements such as working at home and using mobile technologies tend to keep work constantly accessible (Chesley, Moen, & Shore, 2001; Galinsky & Kim, 2000; Shamir, 1992). Work-family border theory (Clark, 2000) and boundary theory (Ashforth, Kreiner, & Fugate, 2000) address the integration and blurring of boundaries in work and family life. These theories contribute to the study of work-family linkages by describing the conditions under which varying degrees of work-family integration are likely to improve or diminish individual well-being. Both address how people construct, maintain, negotiate and cross boundaries or borders, the “lines of demarcation” (Clark, 2000) between work and family. Next, we examine the theories more closely.

Boundary theory is a general cognitive theory of social classification (Zerubavel, 1991; 1996) that focuses on outcomes such as the meanings people assign to home and work (Nippert-Eng, 1996) and the ease and frequency of transitioning between roles (Ashforth et al., 2000). In contrast, work-family border theory is devoted only to work and family domains. The outcome of interest in this theory is work-family balance, which refers to “satisfaction and good functioning at work and at home, with a minimum of role conflict” (Clark, 2000, p. 751). It also differs from boundary theory in that its definition of borders encompasses not only those psychological categories but also tangible boundaries that divide the times, place and people associated with work versus family. (abstract authors)

35 of 35 pages


Revisiting the Work Family Role Conflict. A reflection on the state of the body of knowledge in that area
University of Auckland  (Social Science)
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Work Family Conflict, role conflicts, Work, life, body of knowledge, Merton, statistics, theory of role dynamics, demography
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Christoph Rechenberg (Author), 2010, Revisiting the Work Family Role Conflict. A reflection on the state of the body of knowledge in that area, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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