A recent Harvard Business Review article shared research findings on how men and women effectively juggle work and family pressures and the impact it has on their relationships with others.
It involved a set of two studies that looked at the emotional support men and women received at home or at work from their spouse or co-workers, and how that, in turn, affected the relationship of their family or team.
No matter which gender tends to give more support (bearing in mind these studies looked at 26 couples and 128 employees, and we know there are many men out there who consistently give fantastic support to both their spouses and colleagues), it’s interesting to see the direct impact of home life has on work life, and vice versa.
Bringing a bad day home with you
The first study looked at providing emotional support at home.
Participants were asked to keep a log of two different things – the emotional demands of their jobs on a particular day— dealing with difficult clients, projects, or deadlines — as well as on whether or not they had received emotional support from co-workers. Another log was completed before going to bed, and was a record of participants’ time at home, assessing how much emotional support they had given to their partner by listening to problems or showing affection.
The results showed that the type of workday a participant had directly affected their relationship at home – maybe not so surprising, as anyone that has had a tough day and has come home grumpy and tired will attest to.
But what is interesting is that the impact on home relationships was different for husbands and wives.
When men had stressful days, the emotional support they gave to their wives at home was low, and the overall quality of their family time was ‘poor’.
Women having had a bad day at work, however, seemed to be able to still give the emotional support needed to their husbands at home and maintained a positive quality of family time.
Can colleagues support us emotionally?
The second study did a similar thing but at work – co-workers were asked to keep a log of the emotional support they received from colleagues after having a stressful or emotionally-demanding morning at home before their arrival at work.
The results showed the same gender discrepancy as the first – men who had tough mornings didn’t give much support to their colleagues, and the general team dynamic was poor. Women, however, didn’t change their level of support at work even if they’d had a rough morning, and this resulted in an overall positive team dynamic.
So why the gender gap when it comes to these studies on emotional support?
Surely it’s not just the archaic stereotype of ‘men are hard and tough, women are soft and emotional’ at play here?
The study offers various explanations to these results, including:
- The expectations placed upon men and women are still different, even if slowly changing. Women are still the ones who are generally expected to look after home and family relationships.
- Women, even those with high status jobs, are often still the ‘primary care giver’ at home, and so may be generally more aware and conscious of how their emotional state then affects the rest of the family (and therefore ‘put on a happy face’ at home).
- Another study shows that men identify more with their work roles than their home roles, and so perhaps don’t feel the need to hide their ‘bad day’ when arriving home from work.
Getting rid of the stereotypes
These studies and the gender-discrepant results indicate that we still have a long way to go when it comes to the different expectations we place on men and women and their respective roles at home and at work.
- Are we still considering work to be the father’s domain and the home to be the mother’s domain, even if modern-day parents are increasingly sharing the load with both?
- Are we still expecting mums to look after the family like they don’t work, and work like they don’t have a family?
- And what about our dads – do we expect them to give their all to work, and play a minor part when it comes to their family? If so, it’s no wonder then that men’s uptake on parental leave is still low. If we are expecting men to keep their home and work life completely separate, it makes sense that many may feel awkward when it comes to asking for parental leave or flexibility to accommodate family needs.
Bridging the gap between the office and home
The study concludes by surmising that ‘spouses and co-workers do not always effectively support each other, and that there is a substantial gender divide to bridge. And yet, at the same time, men and women express one remarkably similar need: to be heard by their spouse or co-workers.’ Active listening, the study surmises, is key to feeling supported at home and at work; and will bring both families and work teams closer together.
The more employers support both women and men to balance work with family needs, the richer our co-worker and partner relationships and ultimately our productivity and satisfaction.
Progressive family-friendly workplace policies play a significant role in this, as they allow employees to feel comfortable in integrating family and work, and through implementing these policies, organisations lend a figurative listening ear to their employees’ concerns about balancing the two.
The more organisations offer, promote and support equal access to flexible work and paid parental leave, the more emotionally supported both women and men will feel within their organisations. Which, ultimately, leads to both genders feeling listened to and supported at home and in the office – and better work-life balance for all.
Study results taken from Harvard Business Review’s article ‘Research: When Juggling Work and Family, Women Offer More Emotional Support Than Men’, March 21 2019.