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How to Resolve Work-Family Conflict

Achieving a Healthier Work-Life Balance

Have you ever encountered this scenario?

You've promised your son or daughter that you'll make it to their important event. Then, you get an email from your boss — there's an urgent deadline or meeting, and now everyone needs to stay late.

It's a perfect example of a work-family conflict, and as a result you feel stressed, anxious, and conflicted.

What are work-family conflicts?

Work-family conflicts happen when the demands between work and family are incompatible, leaving you feeling as though it's impossible to excel in either role. You don't feel like a star employee or a star family member.

You don't have to be a parent to understand the pain, either. Work-family conflicts can happen to anyone. It's a situation I've counseled many of my patients through over the years, and today I'm going to share some of the advice I've given them.

Problem-focused coping versus emotion-focused coping

When it comes to coping with stress there are two main strategies we can use: emotion-focused coping and problem-focused coping. Research has found one method to be far more effective than the other , but let's look at what each term means first.

With emotion-focused coping , an individual facing stress tries to reduce the negative emotional response associated with the stress. There are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope emotionally: meditation, journaling , use of drugs and alcohol, suppression of thoughts and emotions, and distraction are all emotion-focused coping techniques.

In contrast, problem-focused coping strategies remove or reduce the cause of the stressful experience. Examples of coping with stress from a problem-focused perspective include making a plan and following through, brainstorming solutions, seeking help from someone who can change the situation, and similar action-focused techniques.

When trying to resolve work-family conflict, get problem-focused

Both types of coping have their place, but problem-focused coping is far more effective. Of course you want to acknowledge and process your emotions about frustrating work-family conflicts (and methods like journaling or meditating can even help you discover problem-focused solutions to try), but it's more effective to attempt to solve the problem at hand.

Everyone's work and family situations are different, but here are some problem-focused coping solutions that you might try or modify to suit your own needs:

  • If no family-friendly policies exist in your workplace, spearhead the initiative to get those policies on paper. You could approach your boss with curated research about the benefits of such policies for maximum efficacy.

  • See if telecommuting is an option.

  • Try having a candid conversation with your boss or team about the conflict you're experiencing. Explain that you're still dedicated to your work, but you also need time for family. Sometimes communication is all it takes, because your boss may not even know about the struggle you're experiencing.

  • Similarly, be candid with your family about the stress you're feeling. They might even have some problem-focused solutions for you to try.

  • Use down time, such as a lunch break or other break, to handle family tasks like making doctor's appointments and paying bills so that you have more family time when you're at home.

  • Or, work through lunch breaks so that you can leave early with all of your work finished.

  • When you have to leave early or come into the office late, offer to come in early or stay late the next day.

  • If you share responsibilities with a coworker ask if you can switch duties when needed, and offer to do the same for them.

This short list of ideas is just the beginning to solving your work-family conflicts. Now that you have some ideas, try to think of more solutions you might try, because being proactive is often the best way to solve these types of conflicts.