Shift Work Increases Stress, Psychopathology, and Family Conflict and Less Mindful Parenting
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“When you work at night, you’re cut off from friends and family, you have little social support, your diet may not be as healthy.” – David Ballard
Work is very important for our health and well-being. We spend approximately 25% of our adult lives at work. How we spend that time is immensely important for our psychological and physical health. Indeed, the work environment has even become an important part of our social lives, with friendships and leisure time activities often attached to the people we work with. Our work situation can have profound effects on the family and child rearing practices.
It has been shown that low workload and high sleep quality are important to high levels of mindfulness during work which, in turn leads to many benefits for the job and the employee. Keeping workload at a reasonable level should improve both sleep quality and mindfulness which should, in turn, promote better work. It should also promote better family life and more mindful parenting. But there is actually very little systematic research on the effects of the work environment and schedule on the individual’s family life and mindfulness.
In today’s Research News article “Work-Family Conflict and Mindful Parenting: The Mediating Role of Parental Psychopathology Symptoms and Parenting Stress in a Sample of Portuguese Employed Parents.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00635/full?utm_source=F-AAE&utm_medium=EMLF&utm_campaign=MRK_943967_69_Psycho_20190326_arts_A), Moreira and colleagues recruited parents of children of any age up to 19 years online and had them complete an online questionnaire measuring type of employment, work schedule, hours worked per week, work-family conflict, anxiety, depression, parenting stress, and mindful parenting, including subscales of listening with full attention, compassion for the child, non-judgmental acceptance of parental functioning, self-regulation in parenting, and emotional awareness of the child.
They found that the higher the levels of mindful parenting, including each of the 5 subscales, the lower the levels of work-family conflict, anxiety, depression, and parenting stress. They also found that parents with a shift work schedule and also parents working full-time had significantly higher levels of work-family conflict. On the other hand, parents with flexible schedules had significantly higher levels of mindful parenting. In addition, path modelling revealed that higher levels of work-family conflict were indirectly associated with lower levels of mindful parenting through anxiety and depression symptoms and parenting stress. In other words, work-family conflict heightened anxiety and depression symptoms and parenting stress which in turn lowered mindful parenting.
These results are interesting but correlational, so no definitive conclusions regarding causation can be reached. But the results suggest that work scheduling has a large association with the mental health of the parents and as a result with mindful parenting. Shift-work is associated with greater parental mental health issues and lower mindful parenting while flexible work schedules have the opposite effect, being associated with better parental mental health and better mindful parenting.
There is a need in future research to manipulate work scheduling to observe its causal impact. But tentatively, the current research suggests that companies should investigate the implementation of more flexible work schedules for their employees. The improvement of their mental health and the consequent improvement of family life would likely make the employees, healthier, happier, and more productive and loyal to their employer. In addition, the improved mindful parenting would likely improve the well-being of the children.
“We leave decisions about flexibility and the organization of work to individual companies, which means that the decisions of first-line managers in large part create our national family policy.”- Fran Sussner Rogers
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Moreira H, Fonseca A, Caiado B and Canavarro MC (2019) Work-Family Conflict and Mindful Parenting: The Mediating Role of Parental Psychopathology Symptoms and Parenting Stress in a Sample of Portuguese Employed Parents. Front. Psychol. 10:635. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00635
Aims: The aims of the current study are to examine whether parents’ work-family conflict, emotional distress (anxiety/depressive symptoms and parenting stress) and mindful parenting vary according to the type of employment (full-time, part-time, and occasional), the type of work schedule (fixed, flexible, and shift), and the number of working hours per week and to explore whether parental emotional distress mediates the association between work-family conflict and mindful parenting dimensions.
Methods: A sample of 335 employed parents (86.3% mothers) of children and adolescents between the ages of 1 and 19 years old completed a sociodemographic form and measures of work-family conflict, anxiety/depression symptoms, parenting stress, and mindful parenting. The differences in study variables among types of employment, work schedules and number of weekly working hours were analyzed. A path model was tested through structural equation modeling in AMOS to explore the indirect effect of work-family conflict on mindful parenting dimensions through anxiety, depression and parenting stress. The invariance of the path model across children’s age groups (toddlers, preschool and grade school children, and adolescents) and parents’ gender was also examined.
Results: Parents with a shift work schedule, working full-time and 40 h or more per week, presented significantly higher levels of work-family conflict than those with a fixed or flexible schedule, working part-time and less than 40 h per week, respectively. Parents with a flexible work schedule presented significantly higher levels of self-regulation in parenting and of non-judgmental acceptance of parental functioning than parents with a shift work schedule. Higher levels of work-family conflict were associated with lower levels of mindful parenting dimensions through higher levels of anxiety/depression symptoms and parenting stress. The model was invariant across children’s age groups and parents’ gender.
Discussion: Work-family conflict is associated with poorer parental mental health and with less mindful parenting. Workplaces should implement family-friendly policies (e.g., flexible work arrangements) that help parents successfully balance the competing responsibilities and demands of their work and family roles. These policies could have a critical impact on the mental health of parents and, consequently, on their parental practices.