Abstract: A Qualitative Study of Work-Family Conflict Among Low-Wage Parents: The Role of Workplace Climate (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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A Qualitative Study of Work-Family Conflict Among Low-Wage Parents: The Role of Workplace Climate

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Kess Ballentine, MA, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Jihee Woo, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Sara Goodkind, PhD, MSW, Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA
Introduction & Background: Among parents earning low wages, stressors are associated with poor outcomes for them and for their children. These stressors include fluctuating schedules and working long hours at demanding jobs. One less understood pathway of stress to the family system is the role of workplace climate in workers’ experiences of work-family interaction. If workplace climate is positive, lower-wage working parents may find work an important support, but, if negative, they may find work exacerbates stress. The current literature on workplace climate focuses on high-income professionals, while the research on lower-wage workers focuses more on economic job conditions. This research begins to address these gaps by examining under-researched, non-economic working conditions among low-wage workers. Specifically, this study employs the conservation of resources model of stress to examine how parents earning low wages at a relatively-good employer experience workplace climate and how this relates to their experiences of work-family interaction.

Method: Data are drawn from in-depth interviews of parents participating in a larger study investigating the effects of wage increases on lower-wage hospital workers. Trained interviewers used a semi-structured interview guide to conduct interviews with 23 parents. A four-person research team developed a coding scheme by thematically coding transcribed interviews in NVivo qualitative analysis software. The current analysis also involved a second, more nuanced round of coding. Specifically, analysis identified supportive and strain aspects of the workplace climate to understand how workers perceive the relationship between workplace climate and their individual and/or family stress.

Results: Findings reveal three impactful aspects of workplace climate: effectiveness of supervision and management, strength and tenor of coworker relationships, and power of voice in the workplace. The supervision and management theme included the ability of a supervisor to effectively manage staff and supplies, since any worker concerns may be stressful for hospital workers due to their accountability to health standards. Second, negative coworker relationships involved problematic hierarchies, racism, and ineffective teams, while positive relationships involved effective teamwork and mutual aid. Finally, workers described powerlessness in the workplace despite being unionized as stressful.

Workers articulated negative aspects of the workplace as having significant individual and family effects. Individual effects included exhaustion, mental strain, and physical problems. Family effects were related both to stress and time, such as having to work extra hours due to understaffing and lack of energy to participate in family activities. Meanwhile workers who felt they had effective supervisors and teams reported less stress and work spillover than their less-supported counterparts.

Conclusions/ Implications: Even in relatively-good workplaces with strong universal policies, parents still experience workplace conditions that exacerbate stress, which may have negative implications for children. Therefore, one method of addressing family stressors for lower-wage workers may be to address workplace climate. Social workers can play an important role in developing, maintaining, and advocating for positive workplace climates in multiple settings, and social work researchers can continue to explore and document workplace climate as an important determinant of family and child well-being.