UCL School of Management is delighted to welcome Jill Perry-Smith, Emory Business School, to host a research seminar discussing ‘The paradox of family structure and plans after work: Why single childless employees may be the least absorbed at work.’
Existing research shows that positive family experiences can affect work positively, however we consider how family can enhance work even when family experiences are not explicitly positive. We draw on boundary theory and cognitive psychology’s current concerns theory to consider how employees’ family structures and associated after-work activities affect their work absorption. Results from a survey of business school alumni (study 1) revealed that single, childless workers reported the lowest work absorption compared to workers with other family structures. Further, a daily diary study of university employees (study 2), showed that employees’ planned after-work activities explained the relationship between family structure and work absorption. Specifically, single childless workers anticipated fewer domestic after-work activities, resulting in lower work absorption. Due to the structural parallels of domestic responsibilities and work tasks – e.g. their obligatory and goal-directed nature – anticipating domestic responsibilities after work reinforces, rather than distracts from, the work mindset, thus keeping employees more immersed psychologically in their work. This suggests that having a spouse and/or children can affect employees’ work absorption positively through the anticipation of domestic duties after work. Thus, our study contributes to developing a more comprehensive view of how employees’ work and non-work lives are connected.