Spousal Support Enhances Work-Life Balance, Especially When the Spouse is Also a Coworker

A number of our faculty members in the college are married to one another, and the same goes for several of our coaches, such as our volleyball head coach and her husband, pictured here.  

I have sometimes wondered how this works. I try (often unsuccessfully) to leave work stuff at work, such that when I get home, I can focus on family. But, if my spouse was also a coworker, that would be increasingly difficult. Does this dynamic make establishing work-life balance easier or harder?

New research from Merideth Ferguson and colleagues answers this question.*  There is general support for the notion that supportive spouses can help enhance work-life balance. This is accomplished through four pathways: time spent with one another, sharing a social network, being sensitive to spousal needs, and demonstrating an understanding of work-related issues. It is possible for any spouse to demonstrate this kind of support, but, because they share common space and experiences, a coworker who is also a spouse might be especially well-suited to do so. This might also affect the supporting spouse, too, as stress might decrease when the work experiences are the same or similar. The relationships are shown below. 

To examine these possibilities, Ferguson and colleagues collected data from 1278 people, or 639 pairs of spouses. Of these couples, 503 did not work together, while 136 did. Each person completed a questionnaire online. 

Results show:  

  • When couples worked at different organizations, work-related spousal support was not related to work-life balance; however, when they did work together, an increase in support corresponded with greater balance.
  • As work-life balance increased, so too did satisfaction with family and work. This pattern was stronger for work-linked coupled. 
  • As spousal support increased, relationship tension decreased. This pattern was stronger for work-linked couples.

In discussing their findings, the authors asked why organizations should worry about work-life balance or the support people receive at home. Their data offer an answer to this important question: "there is a growing body of research demonstrating that work and family domains affect one another. In other words, problems at work affect the family and problems with the family affect an employee's life at work." These data clearly demonstrate that relationship and show that work-life balance is a concern for employees and sport managers, alike. 

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* Ferguson, M., Carlson, D., Kacmar, K. M., & Halbesleben, J. R. B. (2016). The supportive spouse at work: Does being work-linked help? Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 21, 37-50.