It’s no secret that a supportive boss can play an important role in your ability to thrive at work and at home. In this piece, the authors take this finding a step further. Their research highlights how your boss can also indirectly influence your co-parent’s ability to thrive as well. Although choosing your supervisor isn’t always an option, by understanding how this process works, you can take steps to more consciously navigate complex work, parenting, and partnership decisions to opportunities for you and your co-parent to grow in all areas of life will be maximized.
A new one Washington Post article highlights a seemingly obvious, but critically important finding from RESEARCH REVEALS by Maureen Perry-Jenkins: When parents work in more supportive environments, they become more effective in their parenting roles. This, in turn, leads to better developmental outcomes for their children. It’s no surprise that this news article quickly made the rounds on social media for parents — it expresses what many working parents feel: that our experiences at work shape the experiences of our lives at home.
While writing Parents Lead, one of us (Alyssa) has heard countless examples of dual-career parents describing the invasive, negative impact that an unsupportive work environment (think micromanaging bosses, lack of family-supportive policies, presenteeism culture) can be done by the whole family. It’s common to hear a parent complain about their spouse’s work and how the resulting extra burden at home means they can’t fully participate in the work themselves. And, happily, we also heard the positive side of this story. When one parent is meaningfully supported at work, their co-parent feels better able to perform fully as a parent and in their own career.
As a group of researchers and working parents ourselves, we set out to investigate this question: How our co-parenting support (or lack thereof) in the work environment influences our ability to -progress at home and at work?
To answer this question, we identified 100 dual-career couples with children and surveyed them at several time points over a year and a half during the pandemic. We asked each parent to tell us about the extent to which their work environment supports their lives outside of work. We ask these questions about many aspects of the work environment — their direct supervisor, their co-workers, and the broader organizational culture. We also asked both parents about their home lives, including the extent to which their partner was a supportive co-parent. Finally, we asked them to describe the extent to which they felt they were making progress at work and at home. From an academic perspective, Successfully defined as two distinct but related psychological states – vitality and learning. When you thrive, you feel energized, motivated, and a sense of continuous growth and learning. In addition to endurance, we want to know why some working parents have been able to thrive (especially during the pandemic, which has put a lot of pressure on the family system).
Our findings support our first hypothesis that when a co-parent has a supportive work environment, it is more likely that their co-parent can thrive at home and in their own lives. career. Diving deeper into the data yielded some interesting findings.
First, we found that not all types of job support are equally important. Support from one’s supervisor has a greater impact on co-parents and their spouses than other forms of workplace support (from co-workers or organizational culture, more broadly). In other words, even after controlling for your own employer’s support, your co-parent’s employer’s support affects how likely you are to thrive at work and at home.
Second, as organizational psychologists, we want to understand how this process occurs. We found that partners with supportive supervisors, in turn, were more supportive of their co-parent at home. Having a supportive supervisor allows individuals to bring more time and energy into their home lives. They take on more parenting and household responsibilities, as well as being a more focused, engaged, and patient co-parent. Simply put, if you have an unsupportive employer, it will be difficult to show up fully for your family. As a result, the demands of managing the home domain fall disproportionately on your co-parent, draining them of the capacity to fully thrive in their home and work lives. This effect remains true regardless of the parent’s gender and number of children.
While much remains to be unpacked about how the work environments of the couples in our study affect their children and spouses, these initial findings present important takeaways for working parents.
1. Identify and manage spillover.
Although we like to believe that we can “turn off” work stress when we’re off the clock, our research suggests that this is often not the case. Work-family scholars call this “spillover” — when experiences at work affect your ability to fully participate at home, both positively and negatively.
After a good day at work, you’re more likely to be an energetic parent and partner. But, after a debilitating and disappointing experience, negative feelings don’t necessarily disappear immediately. By becoming more aware of this process, you can develop tools for harnessing positive energy and minimizing the transference of negativity. For example, the development of a commuting ritual (even if it’s just from desk to couch) can be a useful tool for spillover management.
2. Practice a conscious division of labor.
When we examine the research on how a partner’s boss affects their co-parenting, one of the key drivers is the extent to which unsupportive bosses are associated with less equal parenting. While demanding work roles may mean that not all chores or tasks can be shared 50/50, it emphasizes the importance of intentionally and jointly determining how to distribute family responsibilities. Experimenting with new ways of dividing and managing responsibilities is an important strategy for dual-career parents to improve satisfaction and performance both at work and at home.
3. Get the right employer first.
Although we have no control over who we work with and with, there are times of career transition when we have the capacity to prioritize different areas of our future roles. In those instances, recognize the potential impact a supportive supervisor can have on your life, and find a supportive boss.
Since choosing your direct supervisor isn’t always an option, it’s important to be proactive in managing the relationship with the boss you have. Research suggests you can management to facilitate greater alignment, communication, and support in your relationship with your direct supervisor. And, if your co-parent feels stuck, you can help them figure out strategies for doing the same, too.
5. Develop communities of support.
While our research focused on workplace support, only one dimension of our lives affected our family. However, most of us focus only on work and family as potential levers of support, overlooking our wider community. By developing a wider support network around you – whether from relatives, neighbors, friends, community or school resources – you may find that you are no longer dependent on the support of your direct supervisor to facilitate the health of your career and home. By creatively building and using support in other domains of your life, you strengthen your ability to thrive in challenging situations.
It’s no secret that a supportive boss can play an important role in your ability to thrive at work and at home. Our research takes this finding a step further by highlighting how your boss can also indirectly influence your co-parent’s ability to thrive, as well. Although choosing the ideal supervisor isn’t always an option, by understanding how this process unfolds, you can take steps to more consciously navigate the complex decisions of work, parenting, and relationships. with to maximize opportunities for you and your co-parent to thrive. in all areas of life.