The paradox of perceived productivity in working parents

Extracts and summary of the research: 'The Paradox of Family Structure and Plans after Work: Why Single Childless Employees May Be the Least Absorbed at Work'.

Research Authors: Tracy L Dumas and Jill E. Perry-Smith (2018)

Key quotes from the research:

  • ‘single, childless workers reported lower absorption that workers with other family structures’
  • ‘anticipating domestic responsibilities after work reinforces, rather than distracts from, the work mindset, thus keeping employees more immersed psychologically in their work’

Summary of the research: 

Traditional workplace perceptions generally hold that being single is indicative of a person’s ability to be devoted to their work, demonstrating this through longer working hours and less home-based distraction during working hours.

The same general perception is that those who are married and/or have children have family responsibilities that negatively impact devotion to work, productivity and work performance.

This research showcases the opposite to be a better reflection of reality. It found that parents are, in fact, more absorbed in their work during contracted office hours. 

  • Those who are married and/or have children tend to own their houses, take on cleaning and DIY tasks themselves and are more involved in domestic duties. These parents, when anticipating after-work chores, see their work as more fulfilling and compelling than the anticipated home-based tasks after work. They tend, therefore, to be more absorbed in, focused on and productive while at work.
  • Single employees tend to engage in more leisure activities after work. These after-work activities may be more compelling than their work task. This may encourage the mind to wander away from the task at hand, reducing the tendency to be mentally absorbed in their work, resulting in psychological detachment from work earlier in the day.  
  • Research by Hamilton and colleagues (2006) found that single and childless workers tended to experience more work-life conflict because of the expectation and pressures from work to be always available – due to the perception that they are unencumbered and therefore always contactable. They also feel they don’t get the support they would like from work when trying to build a non-work life. 

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