A study published in Personnel Psychology in 2014 addressed these questions. Lieke ten Brummelhuis and her colleagues reviewed the research literature on work-family studies. Their review found:
- Employees with more family conflict tend to be more cynical and exhausted at work.
- Employees with positive, satisfying family lives tend to be more engaged at work.
- Leaders can help followers with work-life issues simply by being and acting with greater understanding, thus increasing followers’ commitment and engagement.
- There was no research on the impact of family-life on leaders themselves.
- There was no research on the consequences of the family-life of leaders on the followers of leaders.
So ten Brummelhuis and her associates addressed these areas where there had been no research. They focused especially on consequences for followers. To do so, they studied about 200 managers and 450 followers of these managers in 260 organizations in New Zealand. Their method was multiple surveys. In the first survey, they sought to determine the degree to which the family life of each leader was enriching or a source of conflict. A month later they measured each leader’s work engagement, burnout, and positive/negative affect. A week after this second leader survey, they surveyed each leader’s followers. The followers answered questions about their work engagement, their burnout, their positive or negative affect, and questions about their supervisor’s supportive behaviors.
- Family conflict was very strongly correlated with leader burnout.
- Leader burnout and negative emotions were strongly correlated with followers’ burnout and negative emotions.
- Leaders with family conflicts appear to have “detrimental effects at work” with their followers having more negative feelings and experiencing less support from their leaders.
- Enriched family experiences were positively related to leader work engagement.
- These enriching family experiences of the leader also were strongly related to positive emotions in followers.
- Leaders with good family life experiences were more likely to have more engaged followers but were not necessarily seen as more supportive.
1. Our lives outside of work impact our work lives. And vice versa. Why should it be any different for leaders? The reality is that people in leadership positions have greater impact on others and their organizations. The research discussed here suggests that a negative family life, a family life with conflicts, can spill over into the workplace, not only affecting the leader but also followers.
2. I find this to be an important research finding, especially if supported by other studies. Perhaps this is one reason some leaders in senior positions appear more stoic, demonstrating less emotion. Emotional leaders may result in enthusiastic, motivated employees – but only if these emotions are positive and affirming. If the emotions are negative, then the workplace can become a difficult place.
3. As leaders we need to consider the impact of our emotions on others, regardless of the source. And as senior leaders, we need to have our antennae up to help leaders below us in the hierarchy when the needs arises. Be mindful and supportive.
Ten Brummelhuis, L., Haar, J. M., & Roche, M. (2014). Does family life help to be a better leader? Cross-over of work attitudes from leaders to followers. Personnel Psychology, 67 (4), 917–949.
"Family Portrait" by Eric Ward. Obtained from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Family_Portrait.jpg
Used with permission: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en
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Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations, coming in May,