Compared to other developed countries, the United States of America has the highest number of people experiencing the problem of work-family conflict. This problem is brought about by many factors, but it is majorly caused by the long hours that most people spend working in order to cater for all their needs. The middle class income earners are the ones who are mostly affected as they have to work for extra hours or do two or more jobs in order to live a decent life.
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It is ironical that Americans experience more work-family related conflicts compared to Japan where people are known to die due to overwork. This problem is worsened by lack of enough laws to protect the rights of those who are working and at the same time have families. An example is the lack of paid leave which make many people to opt not to have the leave and end up overworking themselves. This paper will tackle the problem of work-family imbalance using a case study and suggest the possible solutions to the problem.
Formulation of the problem
In the given scenario, Chris is faced by several problems that he needs to address before things get out of hand. Being a young man, he has the challenge of bringing up his son alone and catering for all his needs, i.e., financial and the parental role of being with the child and teaching the other life lessons that can only be taught by parents. Since the son is still young, Chris has to work hard to continue providing for his needs until he is able to fend for himself.
Although his relatives help him take care of the son, he can not rely entirely on them because their help is occasional and he needs to have a long term solution to the problem. The mother of the son lives away from them the son visits her over the weekends. The absence of the mother in the family probably contributes to the work-family imbalance problem that Chris is facing in raising his son.
The greatest problem that he is facing is how to balance his job and the family which constitutes of his son. At the online food retailer where Chris is employed, the working hours are not very regular. As a result of this, Chris is forced to adjust in order to conform to the employer’s demands.
Normally, he is supposed to work for an average of eight hours, i.e., from 9a.m to 5p.m but at times, he has to work until late in the night because this is when the shop gets many customers. This is an advantage to the employer because it is the peak time of the business.
At the work place, Chris has to work cautiously and do his best in order to offer quality services and pass the three tests that ‘ODACO’ uses to measure ‘performance beyond expectation’ which would earn him some extra money and a good reputation too with the employer. Meeting the set targets in his place of work not only earns him extra money which can be used to cater for any extra needs of the son that may arise from time to time but also causes him to have a feeling of satisfaction.
For a period of time, Chris is able to manage this kind of lifestyle and everything seems to be working out in his favor but after some time, things start to change for worse. Chris has to look for a way to balance his life because neither his family nor his job is doing well. His constant worry about his son when at work and his work when with the son is a problem that needs immediate attention because everyone around him is worried that he may not be able to perform his duties at home or at work effectively.
His lack of sleep and constant worry about his ineffectiveness at work and also at home may affect his health if not addressed immediately. The meeting that Chris initiates with his manager after receiving a text message that he is not performing his assigned duties effectively is expected to help him come up with a solution to this problem.
Chris is not the only one who is undergoing such work-family imbalance problems. Williams & Boushey (p 1) estimate that ‘around 90 percent of American mothers and 95 percent of American fathers report work-family conflict’. Work-family imbalance is a major challenge for many working people.
Most middle income earners have to spend a lot of their time working in order to earn enough to support their families. This causes conflict between the family and one’s job. The main challenge is how to be effective in both because most of the people end up failing as much as they try to.
This in turn results to frustration. Families with single parents like Chris’ family are the ones that suffer most although even those with both parents are affected. In such families, the husband may opt to work during the day and the wife at night in order to raise more money. This causes disintegration within the family and there is hardly enough time for the family to spend together. It is therefore important for a lasting solution to be sought in order to reduce occurrence of such cases.
Strategies to reduce work-family conflict and to increase work-family facilitation
The employer should be flexible
The problem of work-family conflict is a rampant one that needs serious measures to be put in place to help alleviate it. Several steps can be taken to mitigate the situation. The family-work imbalance that Chris is facing is not just a personal problem as it has been thought by some in the past.
Most working parents have young children who need their attention and yet they have to offer quality services in their work place which puts them in the same position as Chris is in. Consolidated efforts by the policy makers, the employers and the employees are needed in order to curb the problem.
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One of the things that can be helpful to Chris is assistance from his employer who already understands his problem because Chris chooses to initiate a meeting and inform him. If only the employer would agree to be more flexible and give Chris time to cope with some of the issues that crop up from time to time, may be some of the problems that Chris is facing would be solved.
The employer should be willing to allow him to some of the genuine needs that require his attention without Chris feeling like he is doing something wrong and therefore his reputation may not be good and consequently, he may end up losing his bonuses.
In a family set-up, the employers should understand that there are needs which are very legitimate and especially for the middle class, where Chris seems to belong. Being a single parent, he is faced with the challenge of single-handedly providing for his son who is still young and he is also accountable to his employer who expects him to deliver quality services.
This kind of help from the employer would really help in reducing the increasing levels of anxiety and other negative emotions arising from the dilemma he is facing. This also applies to all other workers who are constantly faced with emergencies which require their immediate attention but lack support from their employers. Flexibility at the places of work should be embraced by all employers in order to allow their employees to attend to legitimate needs.
Paid sick-off and leave
Apart prom the un-foreseen issues that arise in the course of work that call for flexibility by the employers, workers also need to be guaranteed of being away from work for a certain duration of time but still be protected and receive their pay. If this is available in the life of Chris, probably things will change and he will be able to meet all his responsibilities without being worried of failure.
Time off should be part of the employees’ benefits so that they can have time to be with their children and also accomplish other family responsibilities like caring for their elderly or sick relatives. Employees also need time to care for a new born child who needs full time attention of their parents.
Regardless of the social class that one belongs to, it is important to get time off work during which one will receive payment. This is important because workers have not been having this privilege and have ended up overworking themselves in order to cater for their needs. Although The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 gives the workers the right to some weeks off their jobs, very few people utilize it because of the need to continue working to earn enough money to cater for their needs.
The trend is similar across all social classes; although the middle and low classes are bear the greatest burden (Voydanoff, 2007). Fathers have been adversely affected because of the stigma associated with fathers taking leaves to take care of family needs like the young children as this has been seen as the role of the mothers.
In the absence of the mother in the family, like Chris’ case, the father suffers most because he has no one to share the responsibility of bringing up his son with. Policies to protect workers from such laws which do not provide for paid leaves for workers should be formulated and enacted in order to ensure that workers get paid leaves and also sick-offs. If this is done, a significant amount of work related stress, which is brought about by overworking would be reduced which in turn would lead to reduced work-family conflict.
If this is implemented also, workers will be aware that they can have some time away from their job to concentrate on other personal issues without having to worry about where they will get their income during that period. Paid leave can be used as a time for one to be with the family and therefore this can make up for the time that one was not able to dedicate a lot of their time to the family.
Formulation of policies that favor workers
The existing law by The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 which provides for unpaid leave is outdated in the modern day family setting. This is because it seems not to cater for the single parents who would suffer in case they took an unpaid leave. At the time of its formulation, the law seemed to target the married people whereby the woman, who in most cases was earning lesser than her husband would take the unpaid leave while the husband continued working hence there was no much loss incurred by that kind of arrangement.
According to Stebbins, (2001), with the increase in the demand for a better and decent life, which is not easily affordable, more and more people, including the women, are opting to forego the leave and concentrate on the job at the expense of the family. This has led to increased number of work-family related conflict.
Chris is an example of how this arrangement has affected many single parents and hence the need for the policymakers to speed up reforms in the area of paid leave to reduce occurrence of such cases. Paid sick leave should also be accessible to every with no exclusion as is the case currently.
People working in organizations with less the fifteen people are not entitled to the seven days sick off annually. It would also be helpful to the workers if they could get more benefits when working on a part time basis just as the full time workers get because this would reduce the number of people targeting the full time job market due of the benefits it attracts compared to the part time.
Address discrimination at work
Discrimination in the area of family responsibility has also been a challenge which needs to be addressed to reduce cases of work-family conflict. Women who opt to take time off and care for their young children, low income workers and also fathers who shoulder the responsibility of caring for their children are some of the people that face this kind of discrimination.
In Chris’ case, he could be suffering from the work-family conflict because of fear of such discrimination. Fellow employees should offer support to their colleagues who have responsibilities like Chris’ without making him feel as if they are discriminating him. There should be tolerance among the employees so that everyone can have a sense of belonging without feeling as if the rest are discriminating against them (Shelton, 2006).
Affordable childcare institutions
Chris can also try to bring in someone to take care of the son. This could be one of the relatives who he is comfortable with. This is because there are some of the relatives who one may be uncomfortable leaving their children under. This may include a sexually abusive or a negligent relative. According to Kelly (2011), this would help reduce the stress arising from the family and be able to concentrate more on the work without worrying about his son.
In absence of this, he should consider putting his son under affordable childcare institutions. The government should help in setting up affordable institutions where children can be left during the day as their parents continue working. The government has been lax in looking into the matter of affordable childcare institutions and in the case of the existing ones; the employees there are poorly paid. This leads to poor services and in some instances very unaffordable charges in good institutions.
Chris’ case is representation of the problem that majority of the people are facing. The policymakers need to take seriously how life is like for a typical citizen and come up with measures to alleviate the problem.
This would show the people that the government is concerned with the welfare and the needs of her citizens’ contrary to the belief held by many, that the government is uncaring and not concerned with the everyday struggles of its citizens. Work-family conflict cause a lot of emotional instability both at home and in the place of work leading to low output and dissatisfaction which is a key reason why it needs immediate attention.
Kelly, E. L., 2011. Changing Workplaces to Reduce Work-Family Conflict. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota
Shelton, L. M., 2006. Female Entrepreneurs, Work–Family Conflict, and Venture
Performance: New Insights into the Work–Family Interface. Journal of Small Business Management, 2006: 44(2), pp. 285–297
Stebbins, L. F., 2001. Work and family in America: a reference handbook. US: ABC-CLIO.
Voydanoff, P., 2007. Work, family, and community: exploring interconnections. London: Routledge.
Williams, J & Boushey, H., 2011. The Three Faces of Work-Family Conflict: The Poor, the Professionals, and the Missing Middle. California: University of California. Web.