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date: 11 December 2023

Work-Family Conflict and Work-Life Conflictfree

Work-Family Conflict and Work-Life Conflictfree

  • Ellen Ernst KossekEllen Ernst KossekBasil S. Turner Professor of Management, Krannert School of Management, Purdue University
  •  and Kyung-Hee LeeKyung-Hee LeeKrannert School of Management, Purdue University


Work-family and work-life conflict are forms of inter-role conflict that occur when the energy, time, or behavioral demands of the work role conflicts with family or personal life roles. Work-family conflict is a specific form of work-life conflict. Work-family conflict is of growing importance in society as it has important consequences for work, non-work, and personal outcomes such as productivity, turnover, family well-being, health, and stress. Work-family conflict relates to critical employment, family, and personal life outcomes. These include work outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover), family outcomes (e.g., marital satisfaction and family satisfaction), and personal outcomes related to physical health (e.g., physical symptoms, eating and exercise behaviors), and psychological health (e.g., stress and depressive symptoms, life satisfaction). Many different theoretical perspectives are used to understand work-life conflict: starting with role theory, and more recently conservation of resources, job demands and resources, and life course theories. Many methodological challenges are holding back the advancement of work-family conflict research. These include (1) construct overlap between work-family conflict and work-life conflict, and work-life balance measures; (2) measurement issues related to directionality and operationalization; and (3) a lack of longitudinal and multilevel studies. Future research should include studies to (1) advance construct development on linkages between different forms of work-family and work-life conflict; (2) improve methodological modeling to better delineate work-family conflict mechanisms; (3) foster increased variation in samples; (4) develop resiliency interventions that fit specific occupational contextual demands; (5) increase integration and sophistication of theoretical approaches; and (6) update work-family studies to take into account the influence of the growing prevalence of technology that is transforming work-family relationships.


  • Human Resource Management
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Social Issues

The Growing Societal Importance of Work-Family Conflict

Work-family conflict is a growing challenge for modern society, as a vast majority of men and women report that work interferes with their family responsibilities (Glavin & Schieman, 2012). Work-family conflict is rising due to the changing work and family demographic trends in the United States and around the globe, including growing numbers of mothers with children under 18 in the labor force; the rapid rise in elder care demands due to an aging population; and an increase in men’s involvement with family caregiving demands, particularly in developed Western countries (Kossek & Distelberg, 2009; Kossek & Ollier-Malaterre, 2013). Work-family conflict is also growing due to the spread of technology that has increased boundary blurring and the pace of daily life, due to the prevalence of personal electronic communication devices that can keep individuals constantly connected to work and family concerns 24-7 (Kossek, 2016).

Work-family conflict directly and indirectly affects most of the world population. Even single people and those without children—will report having some work-family conflict as all individuals may be sons, daughters, sisters, brothers, or may live with friends who function as family (Casper, Weltman, & Kwesiga, 2007). Work-family conflict also has rising indirect effects as studies show work-family conflicts may cross over to job colleagues (O’Neill et al., 2009) and families (Westman, 2001).

We organize this article by beginning with a definition of work-family conflict and noting that it is a specific form of work-life conflict. Next we discuss why work-family matters: its consequences. Then we consider theoretical perspectives of work-family conflict; methodological issues; and its mechanisms, including antecedents and mediators/moderators; and conclude with future research.

Definitions and Consequences

Work-Family and Work-Life Conflict

Work-family conflict is a form of inter-role conflict that occurs when the energy, time, or behavioral demands of the work role conflicts with those of the family role (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). A key assumption of work-family conflict is that the demands and expectations of work (e.g., working late, travel) often conflict with those of the family (e.g., picking up a child after school to be able to attend their soccer practice or music lesson) or taking a parent to the doctor when they are sick and cannot drive themselves. When an individual’s multiple roles such as work and family become incompatible with each other, role conflict occurs (Kahn et al., 1964).

Work-life conflict is an extension of work-family conflict reflecting the reality that the work role may interfere with individuals’ other personal life roles and interests. Besides the family role, these can range from time for friends, exercise, military service, education, having time for self and recovery (Kossek, 2016), volunteering, or being active in religious organizations. While work-family conflict remains a key factor for many employees, a challenge with current research is that scholars often methodologically and theoretically confound all forms of non-work conflict in the work-family measure (Wilson & Baumann, 2015). Consequently, some researchers such as Siegel, Post, Brockner, Fishman, and Garden (2005) use the term “work-life conflict” to reflect the many additional non-work demands in individuals’ lives that are not restricted to those involving the family. In this article, we use the term work-family conflict and work-life conflict, interchangeably, unless otherwise noted.

Consequences of Work-Family Conflict for Work and Non-Work Roles and Stress

Work-family conflict is related to many critical employment and personal life outcomes. These include work outcomes (e.g., job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and turnover), family outcomes (e.g., marital satisfaction and family satisfaction), physical health (e.g., physical symptoms, eating and exercise behaviors), psychological health (e.g., stress and depressive symptoms), and life satisfaction (Allen & Armstrong, 2006; Allen, Herst, Bruck, & Sutton, 2000; Grandey & Cropanzano, 1999; Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2006; Kossek & Ozeki, 1998; Netemeyer, Boles, & McMurrian, 1996).

Allen and colleagues’ meta-analysis (2000) organized consequences of work-family conflict into three main groups: work-related, non-work-related, and stress-related and ranked the relative effect sizes. Among work-related outcomes, turnover intentions (r = .29) had the strongest relationship followed by job satisfaction (r = −.24), and organizational commitment (r = −.23). The non-work-related outcomes were all significant in this order: life satisfaction (r = −.28) had the strongest relationship, followed by martial satisfaction (r = −.24) and family satisfaction (r = −.17). Many stress-related outcomes were significant from alcohol abuse (r = .17) to all others such as physical health strain and depressive symptoms all being at least r = −.29 and above with burnout being the highest at r = .42.

Theoretical Perspectives

Having discussed the importance of work-family conflict for individuals, families, and organizations, in this section we turn to its theoretical underpinnings. While its theoretical roots are most attributed to role theory, conservation of resources, demands and resources and life-course perspectives have also been used to understand work-family conflict. Role theory focuses on subjective conflict role demands of work and family domains while conservation of resources theory mainly focuses on individual coping strategies to protect depletion of resources. The demands-and-resources approach is often focused at the job level emphasizes the dual processes of job demands and job resources. While sometimes family resources are included, most of the management literature has emphasized the work domain. The conservation of resources theory relies on individual actions to preserve resources while the demands-resources approach emphasizes the importance of perceptions of the work environment. The life-course perspective integrates historical, social, and family contexts into work-family conflict research.

Role Theory

Grounded in role theory (Katz & Kahn, 1978), work-family conflict results from the incompatibility of role demands between work and family from time, strain, or behavior (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). Work role conflict can occur in two directions; from work to family or from family to work (Kossek & Ozeki, 1998). It can be asymmetrical in impact as work variables seems to be more strongly related to work-to-family conflict than family variables seem to be related to family-to-work conflict (Byron, 2005).

Time-based role conflict occurs when the time demands from work and family compete with each other (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985).For example, overtime takes away hours a parent can spend with children (work-to family conflict); and illness of a family member may limit working hours (family-to-work conflict). Recent studies (Clarkberg & Moen, 2001; Dugan, Matthews, & Barnes-Farrell, 2012) suggest that subjective measures of time, namely, work hours preferences or perceptions of time pressures are key aspects to update measures of work-family conflict. Strain-based conflict occurs when strain in one role constrains individuals’ ability to perform another role (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). For example, a study of professionals found that exhaustion and anxiety from work can spill over to family or life domain (work-to-family conflict) limiting individuals’ role performance (Kinman & Jones, 2001). On the other hand, new parents may not get enough sleep, affecting their work performance (family-to-work conflict). Behavior-based conflict occurs when behavior patterns related to work and family are not compatible (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). While some scholars argue that behavior-based work-family conflict may not be relevant to most occupations (Mauno, Kinnunen, & Ruokolainen, 2006), it is clear that certain occupations such as military (Britt, Adler, & Castro, 2006) or prison guards (Kinman, Clements, & Hart, 2017) may require hostile or aggressive interpersonal interactions that may not be suitable in family interactions (work-to-family conflict) (Dierdorff & Ellington, 2008). Similarly, needing to be very nurturing with a preschooler may require behaviors that might not fit with a more hard-nosed environment such as being a CEO that has to downsize and fire people or being a police officer that has to arrest people (family-to-work conflict). Thus, there may be occupational variation in the processes and degree to which work-family processes such as positive and negative crossover of roles may operate.

Conservation of Resources Theory

Work-family conflict is typically conceptualized as a type of stress in conservation of resources theory (Hobfoll, 1989). When individuals are trying to balance the demands of work and family, they may experience or be threatened to experience the loss of resources such as time and energy, leading to stress that is one form of work-family conflict (Grandey & Cropanzano, 1999). Conservation of resources theory is based on the premise that (1) individuals seek to gain and protect objective sources or conditions; and (2) stress occurs when the loss of resources is threatened, and investment of resources does not lead to resource gain (Hobfoll, 1989). Conservation of resources theory often emphasizes protection of resources such as a good marriage, free time, personal health, self-discipline, financial assets, and tangible family help with work tasks (Hobfoll, 1989). Individuals also gain resources by performing a role well (e.g., promotion, higher pay, or self-esteem). However, resource loss has greater impact (negative) on individual outcomes than resource gain (Hobfoll, 2001).

According to the conservation of resources theory, there are several coping mechanisms of work-family conflict. One mechanism relates to the cross-domain investment of resources to prevent resource losses. For example, when individuals experience problems at work (e.g., low performance) or home (e.g., a sick child), they may feel they have to invest more resources in the problem area to prevent resource losses. This may increase stress in one domain that can spill over to the other domain (Grandey & Cropanzano, 1999) or limit resources for the other domain (Halbesleben, Harvey, & Bolino, 2009). A second mechanism relates to when individuals invest large amount of resources to work or experience chronic, minor losses without any return resource gain, and individuals experience personal burnout (Hobfoll, 2001). A third mechanism occurs when individuals may guard against future resource loss through proactive coping, which refers to “efforts undertaken to either prevent a potentially stressful event or modify its form before it occurs (Aspinwall & Taylor, 1997, p. 417). Here, individuals strive to attain, maintain, and invest in new resources to be better prepared for potential future loss. The ability to engage in proactive coping may depend on the initial level of resources. Individuals have to have enough resources to be able to invest to gain new resources (e.g., new skills), ultimately protecting them from the future resource loss (Hobfoll, 2001).

Demands-and-Resources Approaches

Resources-and-demands approaches emphasize the need to examine demands and resources to understand job strain contributing to work-family conflict (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Bakker, Demerouti, De Boer, & Schaufeli, 2003; Voydanoff, 2005a). The job demands-and-resources model assumes that job demands may deplete individuals’ resources, resulting in negative individual and work outcomes. On the other hand, job resources have potential to motivate individuals to perform better, leading to positive individual and work outcomes (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). This approach also suggests that some job resources such as social support, autonomy, and supervisor feedback may act as a buffer between job demands and job strain (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007). For example, Xanthopoulou, Bakker, Demerouti, and Schaufeli (2007) note that high levels of autonomy and support reduce the impact of job demands on burnout among home-care organization employees.

Voydanoff (2005a) extended one-domain demands-and-resources approaches by integrating both work and family domains. Based on person-environment fit theory (Edwards, Caplan, & Van Harrison, 1998; French, Caplan, & Van Harrison, 1982) and boundary theory (Ashforth, Kreiner, & Fugate, 2000), Voydanoff (2005a) proposed that the cross-domain fit (the work demands-family resources fit and the family demands-work resources fit) is the key to decreasing work-family conflict and achieving work-family balance. Fit is achieved when “resources meet, offset, or satisfy” demands (Voydanoff, 2005a, p. 828). There are two mechanisms of work-family conflict. First, the fit between work demands-family resources and the fit between family demands and work resources have direct relationships with work-family conflict. Second, boundary-spanning strategies such as reducing hours, or reducing family or work demands may mediate or moderate the relationship between work-family fit and work-family conflict to enhance fit (Voydanoff, 2005a).

Life-Course Perspective

The life-course perspective (Elder, 1998) provides a unique framework and concepts such as historical time, transitions, or linked lives to examine work-family conflict. First, the concept of historical time and social context captures shifts in workforce and career zeitgeist from the past. Contemporary workers are less likely to spend their whole career and regularly advance in one organization, and feel secure in their jobs than workers from previous decades. Yet they are more likely to customize their timing of retirement, pursue flexible work arrangements such as reduced workload and telework, and seek work-family balance (Greenhaus & Kossek, 2014). Given these historical and life-course changes, it is likely to expect changes in work-life conflict processes. Blair-Loy (2003) found that younger cohorts of female executives reported less work-family conflict than older cohorts, partly because they are more likely to hire someone to do domestic chores. Second, the concept of transition also helps us to understand how changing family demands over time may affect work-life conflict processes. For example, the child care demands for a newborn baby are quantitatively and qualitatively different from those of an adolescent and may require different types of resources. Furthermore, with the growing elderly population, more people provide informal care to elder family members. These elder care responsibilities may delay retirement to ensure financial and health care coverage, which in turn decrease job satisfaction and increase conflict (Dentinger & Clarkberg, 2002). Third, the concept of linked lives allows researchers to examine the crossover effect of family member strain from work-family conflict (Westman, 2001). For example, husbands’ work stress can decrease the sense of work-family balance in wives (Fagan & Press, 2008). Positive crossover effects can also occur as support from a partner can decrease individuals’ work-family conflict (Becker & Moen, 1999; van Daalen, Willemsen, & Sanders, 2006; Thorstad, Anderson, Hall, Willingham, & Carruthers, 2006). Now we turn to methodological issues related to definitions, measurement, and study designs, and then to mechanisms of work-family conflict.

Methodological Issues

Work-Family Conflict vs. Work-Family Balance

One main methodological issue is the issue of construct overlap, such as the work-family conflict and work-life conflict issues noted earlier. Work-family conflict and work-family balance are also closely related concepts. While there seems to be a consensus among scholars that work-family balance is distinct from work-family conflict, empirical evidence is scarce (Greenhaus & Allen, 2010). One recent study (Carlson, Grzywacz, & Zivnuska, 2009) found that work-life balance explained work and family outcomes beyond the variance explained by work-family conflict, supporting the argument that work-family balance is a distinct concept.

Although work-family balance frequently has been defined as the absence of work-family conflict (Grzywacz & Carlson, 2007), a growing number of researchers are conceptualizing work-life balance independent of work-family conflict. Work-family balance is defined as equal commitment to and equal satisfaction in work and family (Greenhaus, Collins, & Shaw, 2003; Marks & MacDermid, 1996). Some scholars focus on satisfaction with work-family balance defined as “an overall level of contentment resulting from an assessment of one’s degree of success at meeting work and family role demands” (Valcour, 2007, p. 1512). However, Grzywacz and Carlson (2007) criticized these definitions arguing (1) that individuals do not seek to achieve equality in their work and family; and (2) that using satisfaction to define work-life balance reinforces the individualist views on work-family balance, making it an individual problem. Instead, they proposed the definition of work-family balance as “accomplishment of role-related expectations that are negotiated and shared between an individual and his or her role-related partners in the work and family domains” (Grzywacz & Carlson, 2007, p. 458).

Conflict and balance are conceptually overlapping because these concepts are defined or imply the absence of the other. Although not overlapping, a new stream of research focuses on work-family enrichment to understand the positive dynamics between work and family to augment the conflict view, which examines negative dynamics. Work-family enrichment is defined by Greenhaus and Powell (2006, p. 73) as “the extent to which experiences in one role improve the quality of life in the other role” Work-family enrichment theory maintains that positive processes and outcomes can occur from being involved in both work and family. They theorize that three possible mechanisms may foster these benefits: the positive additive effects of multiple roles for well-being; the opportunity to buffer roles so that when something is going wrong in one role, the other role can compensate; and the transfers of positive emotions and skills between roles.

Measurement Issues


Since the 1990s, researchers have realized that work-to-family and family-to-work conflict needed to be measured separately (MacDermid & Harvey, 2006). A meta-analysis study (Kossek & Ozeki, 1998) on relationships between work-family conflict and job-life satisfaction found stronger findings for bidirectional measures (work-to-family and family-to-work) than non-directional general measures. It also found stronger work-family relationships for women than men. Another meta-analysis (Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005) concluded that work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict are related but distinct constructs, warranting separate examination. The bidirectional measures have deepened our understanding of work-family conflict. There is evidence that although work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict are correlated and both are associated with individuals’ well-being (Frone, Russell, & Barnes, 1996), work-to-family conflict is more common than family-to-work conflict (Frone, 2003; Kossek & Ozeki, 1998), suggesting asymmetry in impact on general well-being and health. Moreover, in general, work-related variables are more likely to be related to work-to-family conflict and family-related variables are more likely to be associated with family-to-work conflict (Byron, 2005; Frone, Yardley, & Markel, 1997; Michel, Kotrba, Mitchelson, Clark, & Baltes, 2011).

Operationalization and Measures of Work-Family Conflict

The lack of consistency of the operationalization of work-family conflict across studies has been an issue in work-family conflict literature (Allen et al., 2000; Kossek & Ozeki, 1998; Netemeyer et al., 1996). Different operationalization combined with different measures makes integrating and comparing study findings of work-family conflict challenging. Furthermore, after reviewing 67 studies, Allen and colleagues (2000) concluded that single-item measures, measures with unknown validity and measures with different foci were prevalent problems (for detailed list of measures, see Allen et al., 2000; Byron, 2005; Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005). They recommended that measures should be developed that cover both work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict (e.g., Netemeyer et al., 1996) and Greenhaus and Beutell’s (1985) three forms of work-family conflict (time-, strain, and behavior-based conflict; e. g., Carlson, Kacmar, & Williams, 1998; Stephens & Sommer, 1996).

Cross-Sectional vs. Longitudinal Designs

While there have been many studies identifying antecedents, mediators/moderators, and consequences of work-family conflict, scholars cannot assume causal relationships because most are cross-sectional. Although some longitudinal studies have confirmed some causal relationships between antecedents, work-family conflict, and consequences (Dormann & Zapf, 2002; de Jonge et al., 2001; Wong, Hui, & Law, 1998), other studies found reciprocal or reverse relationships. For example, in a one-year longitudinal study (Kinnunen, Geurts, & Mauno, 2004), work-family conflict and well-being variables (job, family, and physical well-being) at time 1 predicted each other at time 2. In another study, general distress predicted work-to-family interference six months later but work-to-family interference did not predict general distress over time (Kelloway, Gottlieb, & Barham, 1999). More longitudinal studies are needed to understand causal processes of work-family conflict.

Yet sometimes longitudinal designs are not always appropriate or practical. There are several issues to consider when deciding to design a longitudinal work-family conflict study: (1) whether the research question is related to continuity and change over time, (2) time involved, (3) money involved, and (4) how to deal with missing data (Crouter & Pirretti, 2006). Work-family conflict also may be episodic as opposed to an on-going continuous phenomenon. Work-family researchers need to more carefully select the most appropriate study design based on the research question and practical issues.

Mechanisms of Work-Family and Work-Life Conflict

Research on work-family conflict has expanded from simply focusing on identifying antecedents and consequences to unveiling mechanisms or processes by identifying mediators and moderators, and using longitudinal design. Mediators help uncover hidden relationships or eliminate false relationships between variables. For example, many studies found a direct relationship between work-family conflict and turnover intention (Grandey & Cropanzano, 1999; Netemeyer et al., 1996). However, a study with 171 IT workers, Ahuja, Chudoba, Kacmar, McKnight, and George (2007) did not find a direct relationship between work-family conflict and turnover intentions, but the relationship was mediated by organizational commitment.

Moderators refine our understanding by highlighting the relationships between antecedent and outcome variables under certain conditions or for capturing variation in levels of sample characteristics. For example, in their study of accountants, Greenhaus, Parasuraman, and Collins (2001) found that the relationship between work-to-family conflict and withdrawal intentions and behaviors were stronger for accountants with lower levels of career involvement than those with higher levels of career involvement. Now we will briefly review antecedents, mediators/moderators, and consequences of work-family conflict separately.

Antecedents of Work-Family Conflict

Individual Characteristics

Meta-analysis studies (Byron, 2005; Kossek & Ozeki, 1998; Michel et al., 2011) identified some individual characteristics including gender, income, coping skills, and personality as antecedents of both work-to-family conflict and family-to-work conflict. Male workers tended to report higher work-to-family conflict while female workers tended to report higher family-to-work conflict. Income was only related to work-to-family conflict (Byron, 2005). Coping skills have not attracted much attention in work-family conflict literature (Kopelman, Greenhaus, & Connolly, 1983) despite some empirical evidence of usefulness in reducing conflict (Burke, 1998; Rotondo, Carlson, & Kincaid, 2003) and the growing interest in work-life interventions (Kossek, 2016). In a meta-analysis study (Michel et al., 2011), coping skills had similar effect sizes to work-to-family and family-to-work conflict (ρ‎ = .12 and ρ‎ = .15, respectively), indicating that positive coping skills are valuable resources.

Some recent studies examine the relationships between personality characteristics (Bernas & Major, 2000; Grzywacz & Carlson, 2007; Stoeva, Chiu, & Greenhaus, 2002; Wayne, Musisca, & Fleeson, 2004) and work-family conflict. These studies generally were designed based on the assumption that some personal characteristics such as hardiness or agreeableness would be helpful in dealing with stress and strain while characteristics such as neuroticism would exacerbate work-family conflict. In fact, different big-five personality traits seem to have different effect on work-family conflict. For example, in a study with a large random sample (Wayne et al., 2004), neuroticism had the strongest positive relationship with both work-to-family and family-to-work conflict among the big-five personality characteristics. While agreeableness and conscientiousness were negatively associated with work-family conflict, extraversion and openness to experience were not. Kossek, Ruderman, Braddy, and Hannum (2012) found that variation in boundary management styles or how people organized work and non-work interruptions predicted work-family conflict with integrators reporting more work-family conflict than separators, a condition that was stronger under conditions of low job control. Kossek and Lautsch (2012) theorized a multi-level model suggesting that the more the organizational culture supported customization of work-family boundary management styles and diversity in boundary management style enactment, the lower the work-family conflict.

Family-Related Variables

Characteristics related to family structure including number of children, the age of children, and marital status have been identified as antecedents of work-to-family and family-to-work conflict. More children and having young children tend to be related to increased work-to-family and family-to-work conflict (Byron, 2005; Michel et al., 2011). Not surprisingly, parents with more children reported more family-to-work conflict than work-to-family conflict. Married workers reported higher work-to-family conflict but lower family-to-work conflict than single workers (Byron, 2005). One weakness of using family demographic measures alone, however, is that they measure role occupancy but not necessarily role involvement or the level of involvement in the family role.

Many variables related to the family role have been identified as antecedents of work-family conflict: (1) role involvement (e.g., hours spent, family involvement); (2) stress (e.g., family stress, family conflict, family overload); and (3) family identity (e.g., family identity salience, family centrality). Antecedents related to the family role such as family role involvement, hours spent, family conflict, family stress, and family role overload tend to be related to increased work-to-family and family-to-work conflict (Byron, 2005; Michel et al., 2011). However, family centrality (prioritizing family over work) was associated with lower levels of work-to-family and family-to-work conflict (Michel et al., 2011), suggesting some individuals may adopt strategies to reduce work-to-family conflict to protect the family role (Kossek et al., 2012) Family support can also be valuable as meta-analytic studies show that social support from family and spouse was negatively associated with both work-to-family and family-to-work conflict in similar magnitude (Byron, 2005; Michel et al., 2011).

Job-Related Variables

Many characteristics related to the job (e.g., organizational tenure, salary, work hours, job autonomy, job authority, job rank, blue collar vs. white collar, self-employment) have been examined as possible antecedents of work-family conflict and family-to-work conflict. However, there are conflicting findings on some of these variables. For example, organizational or job tenure tend to lead greater flexibility, leading to lower work-to-family conflict. Longer job tenure tends to be related to job status in the organization and higher job status tends to be related to more responsibilities and, thus, higher stress. Moreover, higher salary may relate to lower work-family conflict yet higher salary is also highly related to higher job status and more responsibilities (Michel et al., 2011). Thus these variables should not be looked at in isolation but together and family and work-role involvement must be measured simultaneously. Variables related to work-role involvement such as work hours, work demands, job involvement, job role ambiguity, and work identity have been identified as antecedents of work-to-family conflict (Byron, 2005; Dierdorff & Ellington, 2008; Michel et al., 2011; Voydanoff, 2005b).

General support from supervisors and coworkers have been found to be negatively associated with both work-to-family and family-to-work conflict but the association was stronger with work-to-family conflict than to family-to-work conflict in meta-analysis studies (Byron, 2005; Michel et al., 2011; Kossek, Pichler, Hammer & Bodner, 2011).

Organization-Level and Occupational-Level Variables

Family-supportive work environments help workers to reduce work-to-family conflict (Kossek & Ozeki, 1998; Kossek et al., 2011; Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2006). The number of available work-family policies (e.g., flexible work arrangement, family leave, and dependent care assistant) have been the most common indicators of family-supportive work environments. However, without the organizations’ work-family culture, workers may not utilize the policies for fear of negative career consequences (Behson, 2002; Bragger et al., 2005). Thus, some scholars argue that the better indication of family-supportive environment is the perceived access to the work-family policy rather than the number of available policies (Kossek et al., 2011).

Supervisors play an important role in creating family-supportive environments. First of all, they can inform the employees the available work-family policies. In addition, supervisors who help employees to manage work-family demands can indirectly reduce work-to-family conflict by creating the family-supportive work environments. More importantly, family-supportive supervisors are directly associated with less work-to-family conflict (Hammer, Kossek, Bodner, & Crain, 2013; Hammer, Kossek, Yragui, Bodner, & Hanson, 2009). Furthermore, in another meta-analysis study, work-family specific support from supervisors was more strongly associated with work-to-family conflict than general supervisor support (Kossek et al., 2011).

The interest in occupation-level variables is a new development in work-family conflict literature. Dierdorff and Ellington (2008) argued that occupations dictate and shape certain role behaviors, which in turn explains the differences in work-family conflict across different occupations. They found that differences in role behaviors (interdependence and responsibility for others) across occupations explained variance in work-family conflict. Individuals with occupations that required higher levels of interdependence (having to interact with others to perform the job) and responsibility for others reported more work-family conflict than individuals whose occupations required lower levels of interdependence and responsibility for others. Occupations are also linked to access to work-family supports such as flexible work arrangements and job demands that may interfere with family life (Kossek & Perrigino, 2016). For example, professionals have greater access to telework unlike blue collar workers.

National/Cultural-Level Variables

Countries’ structure and culture are important contexts in understanding work-family conflict (for a comprehensive review, see Ollier-Malaterre & Foucreault, 2017). Similar to family-supportive work environments, national culture and policies may have impact on work-family conflict in many different ways. In a recent cross-national study in Europe, den Dulk, Groeneveld, Ollier-Malaterre, and Valcour (2013) found that national policies related to work-family support were strongly related to the extent that organizations adapted family-supportive policies such as dependent care arrangements (e.g., maternal/paternal leaves, family leave, child care support) and flexible work arrangements. The opposite pattern was found in the relationship between cultural centrality of work and organizations’ adoption of family-supportive policies. Organizations in the countries that value work as central to individuals and society adopted family-supportive policies less than those in the countries with lower levels of cultural centrality of work.

Another cultural value that is related to work-family conflict is individualism versus collectivism. Individuals in collectivistic countries tend to report more family-to-work conflict and less work-to-family conflict than those in individualist cultures (Allen, French, Dumani, & Shockley, 2015; Ng & Feldman, 2014). More family-to-work interruptions may explain higher levels of family-to-work conflict (Allen et al., 2015) while considering work as a necessary sacrifice for the family explains the lower levels of work-to-family conflict (Galovan et al., 2010) in collectivistic societies.

Mediators and Moderators of Work-Family Conflict

There is not a clear research literature clarifying identified mediators and moderators of work-family conflict, mostly due to the lack of longitudinal studies. A related issue in work-family conflict research is that the same variables have been used as antecedents and mediators/moderators in different (often cross-sectional) studies, potentially confusing the conceptualization of the mechanisms rather than helping to unveil new mechanisms.

Take personality as an example, which has been identified as an antecedent of work-family conflict. Yet personality has also been included as a mediator and a moderator between antecedents and work-family conflict (Stoeva et al., 2002) as well as between work-family conflict and consequences including job exhaustion and depression (Kinnunen, Vermulst, Gerris, & Mäkikangas, 2003). Stoeva and colleagues (2002) found that trait negativity mediated the relationship between stress and work-family conflict. Trait negativity also moderated the relationship so that the relationship between stress and work-family conflict was stronger for individuals with high negativity than individuals with low negativity. In another study (Kinnunen et al., 2003), emotional stability of fathers moderated the relationship between work-to-family conflict and well-being (e.g., job exhaustion and depression) and agreeableness moderated the relationship between family-to-work conflict and marital satisfaction. The relationships were stronger for emotionally unstable fathers and less agreeable fathers than their counterparts respectively.

Social support has also been included in work-family conflict studies as an antecedent, a mediator, and a moderator. Citing this as a limitation, Carlson and Perrewé (1999) tested four different models (social support as a mediator, a moderator, an antecedent of work-family conflict, and as an antecedent of stress) and confirmed that the antecedent to the stress model fit the data the best. However, their findings are not robust because they used cross-sectional data.

Individualism versus collectivism is another example. The relationships between work-family demands (antecedents) and work-to-family conflict found to be stronger in collectivistic cultures than in individualistic cultures (Lu et al., 2010). Collectivism also moderates the relationship between work-to-family conflict and depression in the same pattern (Fackrell, Galovan, Hill, & Holmes, 2013).

In most studies, individual characteristics such as gender, parental status, and marital status have been used as control variables. However, some meta-analysis studies included these as moderators and some of their findings have practical implications (Byron, 2005; Michel et al., 2011). For example, Michel and colleagues (2011) found that married individuals and parents may benefit more from family-supportive organizations (e.g., coworker social support, work schedule flexibility, family-supportive policies) than their counterparts.

Closing and Future Research

This preceding article suggests the need for more nuanced theoretically-based and longitudinal future research on work-family conflict. First, we need more in-depth research on construct development on linkages between different forms of work-family conflict and work-life conflict. For example, Wilson and Baumann (2015) have developed four new constructs that capture four types of inter-role conflict (work-to-personal, personal-to-work, family-to-personal, and personal-to-family conflict). Further, although there is clear evidence that work-to-family and family-to-work conflict are distinct constructs, they are still sometimes conceptualized and operationalized as one. This leads to the use of less reliable and valid measures and, consequently, hinders integration and comparison of the study findings. More efforts to validate existing measures and to use newer validated and theoretically stronger measures such as the Wilson and Baumann measures noted can help advance theory development and refinement.

Future research should conduct a more fine-grained analysis using these different forms of work-life and work-family conflict. We also need to bring in new measures of work-family balance and link to studies of work-family enrichment that focus on positive work-family relationships.

Second, we need to improve our methodological modeling to better explain and delineate the mechanisms of work-family conflict. While we have ample evidence of the antecedents and consequences of work-family conflict, we lack the understanding of conditions on which the relationships between variables vary. More studies that test mediation and moderation effects are needed. These models also need to consider contexts such as larger organizational, cross-cultural, and societal contexts. Many studies tend to focus on one level and more multi-level research is needed on nested relationships beyond an singular individual and organizational focus. Studies with multiple-level analyses will help us understand how different level variables interact with each other and how certain variables act differently across employee groups.

Although many antecedents and consequences of work-family conflict have been identified, our understanding of the mechanisms of work-family conflict is not complete due to the lack of longitudinal studies and consistent conceptualization. Without longitudinal studies, we cannot infer causal relationships based on study findings. The lack of longitudinal studies also leads to the conceptualization challenges. Because most of the studies that tested mediation or moderation effect used cross-sectional data, it is difficult to interpret or incorporate findings from the studies that used the same variables as antecedents, mediators, or moderators.

Third, we will need to increase the variation in samples and design interventions that fit these samples’ specific occupational contextual demands to better understand how to foster work-life resiliency (Kossek & Perrigino, 2016). Most studies still focus on white collar workers and professionals or overlook variation in the nature of job demands. The results may be different with blue collar workers or low-wage hourly workers because their needs are different. For example, Stanczyk, Henly, and Lambert (2016) observed that many women with an hourly retail job tend to have multiple jobs to compensate for the low wage and it may create additional conflict between work and family because of the scheduling complexity. Given the fact that many hourly workers may not have access to organizational family-supportive benefits such as paid leave and a dependent care assistant, we need to understand more about the work-family conflict processes to find ways to decrease work-family conflict. Research must move beyond simply describing work-family conflict to include interventions in randomized or naturally occurring field experiments to close the research-to-practice gap (Kossek, Baltes, & Matthews, 2011; Kossek, 2016).

Fourth, we need to integrate and have more sophistication in theoretical approaches. Theories that have guided so many studies in work-family conflict literature such as role theory, resource conservation theory, and life-course perspectives all served the field greatly. However, these theories can be complemented with mini theories. For example, challenge and hindrance stress theory (LePine, LePine, & Jackson, 2004) argues that not all stress is the same. They distinguish challenge stress (e.g., new skills, personal growth) form hindrance stress (e.g., role ambiguity, low-value work) and argue that challenge stress may be beneficial to individuals rather than creating negative consequences. Theories like this can help us tease out certain specific conditions that work-family conflict may arise.

Lastly, work-family studies need to catch up with how technology has transformed work-life relationships. With the wide use of smart phones, tablets, and laptop computers, new research is looking at boundary management strategies (Kossek & Lautsch, 2012) used by individuals and how these technologies have created more ways for us to interrupt others and to be interrupted by others both at work and home. Because the technologies created ways to be connected 24/7, some supervisors or families may expect their employees to be reachable any time. Moreover, we can take work to family events or vacations, should the need arise. More multilevel studies are needed to understand the full ramifications of these new communication and computer technologies that have fundamentally changed the relationship between the work and family spheres in the digital age (Kossek, 2016; Kossek & Lautsch, 2012).


Shared first authorship as both authors contributed in equal and distinctive ways to this entry.


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