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Work-Family Conflict Can Impact Employee Safety

December 16, 2015

safety-risk.jpgAs I’ve mentioned in my past blog on women’s injuries in the workplace, work-family conflict (WFC) is a form of role conflict in which the pressures from one’s work and family situations are incompatible in some way, which causes one’s work/family situation to negatively impact job performance, or vice versa1. WFC can go in either direction, meaning that an employee can experience:

  • Work interference with family (WIF), which occurs when one’s obligations at home disrupt the completion of one’s job demands (e.g., leaving work to take a sick child to the doctor)

  • Family interference with work (FIW), which occurs when one’s obligations at work disrupt ones’ responsibilities at home (e.g., missing a child’s baseball game to meet a work deadline)

While many people know this type of conflict can cause stress and other life challenges, we don’t often discuss how it can impact employee safety, even though there is research showing a clear link between the two1.

To understand WFC, however, we must first recognize its causes. There are three broad types of conflict:

  • Time-based: when spending excess time on home responsibilities limits the amount of time one can spend on work obligations

  • Strain-based: when the stress of meeting home duties inhibits one’s ability to complete work duties

  • Behavior-based: when the behaviors required to fulfill one’s requirements at home are discordant with the behaviors required to fulfill one’s requirements at work

The first published research on the relationship between WFC and employee safety2 found that employees who experienced FIW were less likely to comply with safety policies and participated in fewer optional safety meetings than employees who did not. More recently, a study3 using a sample of healthcare workers reported that WFC was associated with increased distress, which in turn led to more frequent workplace injuries. In addition, the occurrence of a workplace injury has been found to further exacerbate employees’ perceptions of their WFC4.

Managers must walk a fine line of making efforts to improve employee safety performance but avoid interfering with employees’ personal lives. However, there are strategies that we can utilize to help employees reduce their WFC and consequently improve their safety performance:

  • Social support: supervisors who engage in the Acts as a Coach factor of the L.E.A.D. model of SafetyDNA by listening and showing empathy to their employees can help their employees reduce the felt stress of WFC, which can improve their safety behaviors.

  • Stress management training: incorporating this into development or general training programs can provide employees with tools to manage their WFC, thus improving job focus and adherence to safety guidelines

  • Knowing each employee’s SafetyDNA profile with respect to the Stays In Control factor, which is highly related to how one manages and reacts to stress, can help supervisors to be more proactive about who is most likely to be at risk when experiencing WFC

  • Organizational policies: when possible, organizations should add programs aimed at reducing the potential for WFC, such as on-site daycare and flextime options

Recent years have seen a sharp increase in the number of dual-earner families, and the stresses of trying to balance one’s work and family roles can have a disastrous impact on employee safety. Although there may be no way to fully eliminate WFC, managers and safety leaders must take every available step to control employee stress levels and reduce the potential for stress to result in safety incidents and injuries.

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1 Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources of conflict between work and family roles. Academy of Management Review, 10, 76-88.

2Cullen, J. C., & Hammer, L. B. (2007). Developing and testing a theoretical model linking work-family conflict to employee safety. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 266-278.

3Turner, N., Hershcovis, M. S., Reich, T. C., & Totterdell, P. (2014). Work-family interference, psychological distress, and workplace injuries. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 19, 715-732.

4Lawrence, E. R., Halbesleben, J. R. B., & Paustian-Underdahl, S. C. (2013). The influence of workplace injuries on work-family conflict: Job and financial insecurity as mechanisms. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 18, 371-383.

Craig White Craig White is a doctoral student in the industrial/organizational psychology program at Texas A&M University. His research domains include selection test development, training, and team processes and performance. He has been closely involved in applied safety and health research projects at the Michael E. DeBakey VAMC Health Services Research and Development CoE in Houston, TX.