Media Releases

When work calls: study shows that receiving work-related contact at home takes greater toll on women’s well-being

March 8, 2011

TORONTO, ON – Com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nolo­gies that help peo­ple stay con­nect­ed to the work­place are often seen as solu­tions to bal­anc­ing work and fam­i­ly life. A new study, how­ev­er, sug­gests there may be a “dark side” to the use of these tech­nolo­gies for work­ers’ health – and these effects seem to dif­fer for women and men.

Using data from a nation­al sur­vey of Amer­i­can work­ers, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to researchers asked study par­tic­i­pants how often they were con­tact­ed out­side the work­place by phone, email or text about work-relat­ed mat­ters. They found that women who were con­tact­ed fre­quent­ly by super­vi­sors, cowork­ers or clients report­ed high­er lev­els of psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tress. In con­trast, men who received fre­quent work-relat­ed con­tact out­side of nor­mal work hours were less affect­ed by it.

“Ini­tial­ly, we thought women were more dis­tressed by fre­quent work con­tact because it inter­fered with their fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties more so than men,” says lead author Paul Glavin, a PhD can­di­date at U of T. “How­ev­er, this wasn’t the case. We found that women are able to jug­gle their work and fam­i­ly lives just as well as men, but they feel more guilty as a result of being con­tact­ed. This guilt seems to be at the heart of their dis­tress.”

The find­ings show that many women feel guilty deal­ing with work issues at home even when the work-relat­ed con­tact doesn’t inter­fere with their fam­i­ly lives. Men, on the oth­er hand, are less like­ly to expe­ri­ence guilt when respond­ing to work-relat­ed issues at home.

Co-author Scott Schie­man says the find­ings sug­gest that men and women may still encounter dif­fer­ent expec­ta­tions over the bound­aries sep­a­rat­ing work and fam­i­ly life – and these dif­fer­ent expec­ta­tions may have unique emo­tion­al con­se­quences.

“Guilt seems to play a piv­otal role in dis­tin­guish­ing women’s work-fam­i­ly expe­ri­ences from men’s,” says Schie­man, a U of T soci­ol­o­gy pro­fes­sor and lead inves­ti­ga­tor of the larg­er study that fund­ed this research. “While women have increas­ing­ly tak­en on a cen­tral role as eco­nom­ic providers in today’s dual-earn­er house­holds, strong cul­tur­al norms may still shape ideas about fam­i­ly respon­si­bil­i­ties. These forces may lead some women to ques­tion or neg­a­tive­ly eval­u­ate their fam­i­ly role per­for­mance when they’re try­ing to nav­i­gate work issues at home.”

The study appears in the March issue of the Jour­nal of Health and Social Behav­ior.




For more infor­ma­tion on the study, please con­tact:

Scott Schie­man

April Kemick
Media Rela­tions Offi­cer