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Reconciling Work and Family Obligations to Increase Wellbeing
Reconciling Work and Family Obligations to Increase Wellbeing

 

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2010 the average worker spent over a third of their time working, just under a third of their time sleeping, and then squeezed everything else, everything from cooking dinner for the family, driving the kids to a soccer game, exercising, relaxing, going to the doctor, into what little time they had left (www.bls.gov). In two-parent, two-child families, nearly 50 percent of mothers worked eight hours a day and almost 90 percent of fathers worked nine hours a day. 

Work. Sleep. Everything else.

For the most part, we all have to work. We have responsibilities assigned to us by employers, and we have responsibilities to our families. Balancing the two can be like walking a tightrope without a safety net. One slip—a sick elderly parent, or the birth of a child, perhaps—that requires a leave of absence from work and the wellbeing of an entire family can come crashing down.

This fall can be especially damaging to the more than 19 million families with children who now have a mother as the primary source of income, or for the 70 percent of families in which all adults are in the workforce (www.hrw.org). According to the Human Rights Watch February 2011 report: “Failing its Families: Lack of Paid Leave and Work-Family Supports in the U.S.,” among 190 countries, just three offered no legal guarantee of paid maternity leave: Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States. The report goes on to state that while family medical leave is legally guaranteed to workers under U.S. law, only California and New Jersey have state-paid family leave insurance programs.

Undoubtedly, the lack of workplace practices such as paid family leave has had an effect on the wellbeing and health of employees and their families.

Occupational Health Psychologist and Professor of Psychology at Portland State University, Dr. Leslie Hammer has built a career around studying these effects and developing innovative ways to address the lack of beneficial workplace practices we see so clearly here in the U.S.

According to the Society for Occupational Health Psychology (OHP), the goals of OHP are to promote psychological research on theoretical and practical questions related to occupational health, to encourage the applications of findings from research related to workplace health, and to educate and train those who might put the research to good use.

“This is a part of what I do,” Dr. Hammer said. “My background is as an organizational psychologist. I know the workplace and I apply that knowledge to understand how we can change the workplace and have beneficial outcomes for workers.”

As Director of the Center for Work-Family, Stress, Safety, and Health and Associate Director of the recently established Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, Dr. Hammer is on the front line of work, family, and health issues. Working with grants from such agencies as the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which provided a $30 million grant for a work-life intervention study done in part by Dr. Hammer and other researchers at PSU along with other universities and institutions for the Work, Family, and Health Network (www.workfamilyhealthnetwork.org), and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which funded the Oregon Healthy Workforce Center, Dr. Hammer is working, in her words, “to make a difference in how we intervene at the workplace, specifically to reduce stress and increase wellbeing.”

One way Dr. Hammer plans to make this difference is with Family Supportive Supervisor Training.

“I focus on targeting, teaching, and training supervisors to help them develop family supportive behaviors, to change organizational culture at the level where such a change would be most effective.”

Some of this focus is put to use in the Oregon Healthy WorkForce Center (ORhwc), where Dr. Hammer, the Center’s Director, Kent Anger, and a team of other PSU and OHSU faculty and staff members have made it the theme of the ORhwc to focus on “team- and technology-based interventions to promote and protect health,” and “improved social support and reduced job stress—that will in turn produce improved lifestyle choices, safer work practices, and better psychological and physical health” (www.ohsu.edu/xd/research/centers-institutes/croet/oregon-healthy-workfor...).

“There are few evidence-based interventions in occupational health that have an impact and that understand how work and the workplace psychologically impact workers. I think the Oregon Healthy WorkForce Center will become a regional hub for the translation of our research into workplace interventions,” Dr. Hammer said.