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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Appendix

This research draws on family systems theory to examine the influence of the significant other on employees’ job search behaviours. Data from 102 matched pairs of employees and their significant others showed that significant others’ perception of the employee's work-to-family conflict was positively related to the employee's job search activity after controlling for employee self-reported work-to-family conflict. Contributions and implications are discussed.


Background

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Appendix

Research demonstrates the deleterious effects of work–family conflict (WFC, Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005), which occurs when the demands of one domain (e.g., work) negatively affect meeting the demands of another domain (e.g., family), or vice versa (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). Although one's own experience of WFC is related to a variety of withdrawal behaviours (e.g., turnover), family members’ perceptions of an employee's WFC may be an additional source of influence on employee work withdrawal behaviours. To advance theory and research on organizational withdrawal behaviours, it is important to consider the influence of those external to the work environment. Because family members operate in a system in which their attitudes and behaviours are affected by one another (Day, 1995), the perceptions that family members hold about another's job may affect that person's work-related behaviours. Our objective is to examine the influence of significant other perceptions of the focal employee's WFC, which refers to the extent to which one individual views the other's job as interfering at home (Boswell & Olson-Buchanan, 2007), on that employee's job search activity.

Family systems theory (Bronfenbrenner, 1977; Day, 1995) suggests that individuals’ attitudes and behaviours are, in part, influenced by the attitudes of their family members. We propose that a significant other's perception of the focal employee's WFC is directly related to the employee's search for alternative employment, beyond the effect of the employee's own WFC. Job search activity is an indicator of an employee's withdrawal from the organization, as it reflects interest in and actions directed at leaving the organization (Griffeth, Hom, & Gaertner, 2000). We focus on employee job search activity as it has theoretical relevance and practical implications to understand work-related negative consequences of WFC and, specifically, the role of family member perceptions in influencing employee withdrawal behaviour. We suggest that a significant other's perception of the focal employee's WFC may motivate him or her to search for another job.

Theoretical framework and hypotheses

WFC occurs because the time and/or energy expended in one role (e.g., work) is drained from another role (e.g., family, Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985), and it is likely to foster negative work attitudes and work withdrawal (for a review, see Allen, Herst, Bruck, & Sutton, 2000). Given our interest in understanding the role of a significant other's perception of the focal employee's work as a source of interference with the family, we focus on work-to-family conflict rather than family-to-work conflict in this study.

Family systems theory

Individuals operate within a larger system in which those immersed interrelate with and are affected by each other (Bronfenbrenner, 1977). Although employees’ attitudes and behaviours can be influenced by those with whom they work such as their peers and supervisors (e.g., Salancik and Pfeffer, 1978; Zalesny & Ford, 1990), family members also play a pivotal role in employees’ work-related decisions (e.g., Smith & Moen, 1998). Family systems theory states that family members have an influence on the attitudes and behaviours of other family members (Day, 1995). In particular, we posit that family members can have an effect on how employees react to their jobs.

Research has paid little attention to the influence of family members on employee work withdrawal behaviours. Yet, family members may influence what a person thinks about his/her job and work-related activities (e.g., Smith & Moen, 1998; Streich, Casper, & Salvaggio, 2008). Extending this, we expect that a significant other has knowledge and feelings regarding how the focal employee's job intrudes on the home domain, and that these perceptions can help facilitate an employee's decision to leave his/her job. This can be explained by crossover effects, which occur when one person's experiences are transferred to another person of a dyad (e.g., Green, Bull, Schaefer, MacDermid, & Weiss, 2011; Westman & Etzion, 2005). Crossover effects can happen when partners talk, engage in household duties together, or simply share the same space (Larson & Richards, 1994). Empirical studies indicate that a partner's WFC (i.e., WFC experienced by the partner in his/her own job) is positively related to the spouse's own WFC (Ilies et al., 2007) and subsequent strain (e.g., Bakker, Demerouti, & Dollard, 2008).

We construe significant other perceptions of the focal employee's WFC as the extent to which the former views the employee's job as interfering at home (Boswell & Olson-Buchanan, 2007). For example, a significant other may perceive that the employee is experiencing WFC if the significant other perceives that the employee's work demands are imposing on the family (e.g., missing family functions). We argue that the significant other's concerns regarding the employee's work may, in a sense, ‘crossover’ to the employee (Takeuchi, Yun, & Tesluk, 2002), ultimately helping to shape his/her withdrawal behaviours. Bretz, Boudreau, and Judge (1994) defined job search as ‘the specific behaviours through which effort and time are expended to acquire information about labor market alternatives’ (p. 278). People may be ‘pushed’ (Bretz et al., 1994) to search for another job because they are uncomfortable or dissatisfied with their current work situation (Lee & Mitchell, 1994). As research has indicated that individuals who are unsatisfied with their work–family balance are more likely to seek alternative employment (Bretz et al., 1994), we propose that employees who have significant others who are unsatisfied with the focal employee's work–family balance may also be inclined to search for another job. We argue that a significant other has an influence above and beyond the employee's perceptions. Thus, a significant other's perception of the employee's job interfering in their mutual personal domain will ‘push’ that employee to initiate a search for a job perhaps more conducive to satisfying both family and work demands. This assertion indicates that a significant other could be a driving force behind an employee's search for alternative employment.

  • Hypothesis 1 : 
    A significant other's perception of the focal employee's WFC is positively related to the focal employee's job search activity beyond the focal employees’ perception of WFC.

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Appendix

Data and sample

The research was conducted in two phases with a 2-month time lag. Employees working as contractors with a government agency located in the southern United States were recruited. A total of 824 employees who participated in the research project indicated that they were married, engaged, or in a long-term relationship (29% of the sample population). Employees were given the option to fill out an online survey or a paper survey (returned to the researchers in a prepaid envelope). With both online and paper surveys, each employee received a randomly generated employee code and was asked to fill it out in the survey. During Phase 1, employee demographic information was collected and employees were asked to give a separate survey and a prepaid envelope to their significant others or provide their significant others’ email addresses so that a web survey could be sent to their significant others. The significant other was also given the employee code of their partners for the purpose of matching. After approximately 2 months, the second employee survey was administered and data on employee perceptions of WFC and job search activity were collected. We received 102 (12.4%) matched employee-significant other surveys.1 Respondents were primarily male (82%), married (93%), and had children (86%). Most respondents were Caucasian (78%). The majority (56%) reported completing at least a college degree. Ninety two percent were between 25 and 54 years of age.2

Measures

We used Gutek, Searle, and Klepa's (1991) 4-item work interference with family scale to assess the significant other's perception of the focal employee's WFC. Following Boswell and Olson-Buchanan (2007), the items were framed to capture the individual's perspective regarding his/her significant other's (i.e., the focal employee's) WFC (α= .92). Employee job search activity was measured using Blau's (1993) 4-item job search intensity scale (α= .91). All items were rated on a 7-point Likert scale (1 =Strongly Disagree, 7 =Strongly Agree, see Appendix).

Control variables3

We controlled for employee gender (1 = male, 0 = female), age (1 = 24 and under, 2 = 25–34, 3 = 35–44, 4 = 45–54, 5 = 55–64, and 6 = 65 and over), satisfaction with marriage/relationship (‘To what extent are you satisfied with your marriage/relationship?’ 1 =Strongly Dissatisfied, 7 =Strongly Satisfied), job demands, job security, and employees’ self-perception of their WFC. Employee job demands were measured with a 5-item scale drawn from Quinn et al. (1971; α= .88). Job security was measured with Oldham, Kulik, Ambrose, Stepina, and Brand's (1986) 4-item scale (α= .91). WFC reported by the focal employee was measured by Gutek et al.'s (1991) 4-item scale (α= .83). Finally, we controlled for the employment status of the significant other (1 = employed, 0 = not employed).

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Appendix

Means, standard deviations, and correlations of the variables are reported in Table 1. The significant other's perception of the focal employee's WFC was positively related to the focal employee's job search activity (r= .25, p≤ .05).4

Table 1.  Means, standard deviations, and correlations of study variables
VariablesMeanSD12345678
  1. Note. WFC, work–family conflict. N= 102; p≤ .10; *p≤ .05; **p≤ .01.

  2. a WFC (self): Focal employees’ self-perceived work-to-family conflict.

  3. b WFC (SO): Significant others’ perception of the focal employees’ work-to-family conflict.

1. Gender.83.38        
2. Age3.731.10.19       
3. Satisfaction with marriage/relationship5.791.89−.02.11      
4. Job demands4.551.31.05−.12−.12     
5. Job security3.901.58−.28**.16.12−.06    
6. Significant other work.77.43.01−.09.03−.03−.10   
7. WFC (self)a3.631.66.07.03−.29**.48**−.24*.07  
8. WFC (SO)b3.791.52.03.09.03.33**−.19−.05.44** 
9. Job search activity2.891.47.19−.04−.12.04−.12.24*.39**.25*

We tested our hypothesis with hierarchical linear regression. Results in Table 2 show that a significant other's perception of the focal employee's WFC was positively related to the focal employee's job search activity (β= .29, p≤ .05), even after controlling for the employee's self-perception on WFC. Our hypothesis was supported.

Table 2.  Regression results
 DV = Job search activity
Step 1Step 2
  1. Note. WFC, work–family conflict.

  2. N= 102; p≤ .10; *p≤ .05; **p≤ .01.

  3. Standardized regression coefficients were reported.

  4. a WFC (SO): Significant others’ perception of the focal employees’ work-to-family conflict.

  5. b WFC (self): Focal employees’ self-perceived work-to-family conflict.

Control variables
 Age−.09−.11
 Sex.26*.25*
 Job demands−.20−.28*
 Job security.09.14
 Satisfaction with marriage/relationship−.02−.07
 Significant other employment.24*.26*
 WFC (Self)b.46**.36**
Independent variables
 WFC (SO)a .29*
F (df1,df2)4.27**4.76**
 (7, 67)(8, 66)
R2.31.37
Adj. R2.24.29
R2 change.31**.06*

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Appendix

Based on family systems theory, we proposed and found that family members are an important source of influence on an employee's search for alternative employment beyond the employee's own perceptions (e.g., self-reported WFC) and work experiences (e.g., job demands). In other words, we suggested that employee behaviours are, in part, shaped by the attitudes of their significant others because the significant other's perceptions could crossover to influence employee work behaviours. We further the recent work of Green et al. (2011) by demonstrating the influence of individuals external to the organization (i.e., the significant other's perceptions of the focal employee's WFC) on employee workplace outcomes. Specifically, our findings suggest that employees may search for alternative employment if their current job interferes with the family, as perceived by the significant other.

Notably, the influence of the significant other's perceptions was over and above employee-reported job demands and job security, further reinforcing the crossover effect beyond employee's own job experiences. An interesting result is worth noting. Contrary to existing literature, employees’ perceived job demands were negatively related to their job search activity (β=−.28, p≤ .05). One explanation is that the sample respondents were engaged in important work at a highly regarded organization. Because the respondents may have taken pride in the demands that their work entailed, high job demands may indicate to employees their level of importance in the organization, resulting in a lower willingness to seek alternatives. Yet, as shown by our results, when WFC was experienced, employees were more likely to search for alternatives because of the employees’ presumed concern for the family.

Practical implications

The current study offers important practical insight on managing WFC and employee retention. Due to increased level of employee work stress, many employers are implementing coping assistance programs for their employees, such as Employee Assistance Programs and employee counselling (e.g., Hartwell et al., 1996; Maiden, 1988). Findings from the current study suggest that it may be valuable for employers to direct coping assistance towards employees’ significant others. WFC not only affects the employees, but affects employees’ family members as well. The significant other's perception of the focal employee's work may be a catalyst to the employee's decision to search for another job. This is consistent with many international corporations’ approaches to preparing expatriates for their overseas assignments by providing training for expatriates’ family members, especially spouses. Further, our findings indicate that it would be prudent for organizations to consider family members in employee retention endeavours. For example, activities could be held to involve significant others and more comprehensive climate survey could be administered so that organizations would have a better understanding of the employees’ jobs and perhaps be better positioned to thwart the detrimental effects of WFC on withdrawal behaviours.

Limitations

Our study has several limitations. First, the current sample only comprised workers who reported that they had a significant other as defined in this study. It is likely that other family members, such as parents, children, or close friends could influence employee's work behaviours. We also note the relatively small sample size. Given the difficulties of collecting matched data from couples, it is understandable that our response rate and sample size were low. Further, inclusion of other withdrawal behaviours (e.g., absenteeism, turnover) would allow for a more comprehensive understanding about the extent of a significant other's influence on an employee's work-related behaviours.

In conclusion, our research shows that based on employees’ WFC, family members can influence employees’ job search. This study contributes new insight to the WFC and job search activity literatures by examining the role that those external to the organization may play in shaping employee's work withdrawal behaviours. Further, our results showed an influence of the significant other's perceptions over and above employee-reported job demands and job security, suggesting the views and influence of a significant other extend beyond work-related factors as experienced by the employee. We hope that our study prompts future work investigating how WFC as perceived by asignificant other influences employees.

Footnotes
  • 1

    We examined sample representativeness by comparing demographics and study variables of the 102 employees to those employees who indicated having a significant other but had no matched significant other data (N = 722). Results showed that these two groups were not significantly different in gender, age, or study variables (i.e., focal employees’ WFC, job search), suggesting that our final sample was representative of the target sample of employees who had significant others.

  • 2

    The majority of the significant other participants were female (68%), worked outside the home (77%), and had not completed a college degree (53%). Most significant other respondents were Caucasian (79%).

  • 3

    We created three dummy variables to control for the four different contracting agencies that participated in our study. However, given our sample size, and the fact that the dummy variables did not change our results, we did not include them as control variables in the analyses presented here.

  • 4

    Confirmatory factor analysis was conducted to examine the discriminant validity of employee self-reported WFC, significant other-reported employee WFC, and job search activities. The results were satisfactory, demonstrating that employee self-reported WFC and that reported by their significant others were two distinct constructs. Due to space limitation, results were not reported here.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Appendix

Appendix

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Background
  4. Methods
  5. Results
  6. Discussion
  7. References
  8. Appendix
Employee self-reported WFC (work-to-family conflict):

1. My work takes up time that I’d like to spend with family/friends.

2. My family/friends dislike how often I am preoccupied with my work while at home.

3. After work, I come home too tired to do some of the things I’d like to do.

4. On the job, I have so much to do that it takes away from my personal interests.

Significant other report of the focal employee's WFC:

1. My significant other's work takes up time that I’d like him/her to spend with me.

2. I dislike how often my significant other is preoccupied with work while at home.

3. After work, my significant other comes home too tired to do some of the things we’d like to do.

4. My significant other has so much to do for his/her job that it takes away from his/her personal interests.