Summary

There is a common perception that employees with families are less committed to their work than single, childless employees. Single, childless employees tend to be perceived as “ideal workers” because it is assumed they do not have other obligations outside of work. However, this study found that single, childless workers in fact report lower absorption in their work than those with other family structures. The authors discovered that anticipating domestic activities after work, as opposed to leisure activities, can reinforce the “work mindset” and result in higher absorption at work. This is because domestic activities and work tasks are similarly goal-directed and obligatory. Since workers who have a spouse and / or children anticipate more domestic activities after work, their work absorption is higher than that of single, childless workers. This research suggests that employers need to be cautious when making assumptions about employees’ attitudes and dedication to work based on their family and personal lives.

Anticipating domestic activities after work, as opposed to leisure activities, can reinforce the “work mindset” and result in higher absorption at work.

Research

The authors conducted two studies to measure the effect of family structure on employees’ absorption in their work. The first study was an analysis of a survey conducted with 469 alumni from an American university’s business school. The survey asked questions about respondents’ perceived levels of work absorption, such as how much they agreed with the statement “Nothing can distract me when I am working”. It also asked about their family structure, to see if there was a significant relationship between these two variables.

The second study tested how employees’ anticipation of domestic or leisure activities after work affected their work absorption. Domestic activities include tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children, while leisure activities include activities like going out with friends, playing sports, or watching movies. This study was a daily diary survey, where 97 employees of a university recorded their plans after work, and how absorbed they were in their work, for five consecutive days. A supplement to this study was conducted with 196 other working adults. It was also a daily diary survey, but in addition to recording their after-work activities and work absorption, respondents also identified whether they felt their after-work activities were goal-directed, obligatory, or an escape from their routine.

Findings

Results for the first study showed that single, childless employees reported lower work absorption than those with other family structures, even when controlling for other variables like gender, age, and job level.

The second study examined why employees with different family structures have different work absorption. The authors analyzed daily diary survey results and discovered that anticipating domestic activities after work increased work absorption, while anticipating leisure activities after work decreased work absorption. While single, childless workers did not report anticipating a significantly different number of after-work activities than those with other family structures, they did anticipate fewer domestic activities. This resulted in their lower work absorption.

In the supplement to the second study, the authors found that respondents tended to view domestic activities as more obligatory and goal-directed than leisure activities. Perceiving after-work activities as obligator