Work Conflict and Adult Development

Last week I’ve finished my classes for the semester.  The more intellectually enjoyable of these was a Psychology of Adulthood and Aging class which used this textbook by Stacey Whitbourne. During the chapter on Work and Leisure the author discusses the some of the various tensions which exist between home and work life, which fall into two categories.  At the time, the class had a lively discussion about what constituted the “worst job.”  And it’s always fascinating to see that one person’s worst job, is another person’s idea of heaven.

Another concept was that of the spillover model, proposing that attitudes and behaviors associated with one domain (work or home) have an effect on the other.  The second postulated interaction is the role strain model, stating that work and family involvement are inversely related.

I’m not sure I would define as “strain” in terms of a “split.”  Since in life, an inevitable amount of strain is not only likely, but desirable.  The strain of lifting weights leads to strengthened muscles after all.  However, a role sprain could indicate some unnecessary torque that required an evaluation.

The other notion of role strain I dislike is that it pits “work” and “family” as two self contained spheres which shouldn’t mix, and if they do, they are somehow doing a disservice to the other environment.  The only inevitable result of this is conflict.  Conflict, again, is a necessary aspect of life, at least according to my new hero, Georg Simmel, who believes that it’s the balance of superordination and subordination that each person experiences within his relations with the world.  And the only way to destroy a relationship is to withdraw completely from it.  Furthermore, any entirely harmonious group will not partake in any kind of life process. (p. 12. Coser. 1965)

The role strain model also seems to carry the implicit message that it is necessary to divide time either equally between work and family, or that one should focus solely on one domain at a time.  I protest! Not possible!  Not only not possible, but implausible, for no one can be completed by the necessarily somewhat impersonal work relations they undergo on a daily basis, nor the intimate and cloying family relations that occur from the stifling assumptions of people who know you so well they want to change you. (As I once aptly read in Coelho’s The Alchemist. )   Yet, simultaneously, these are the same people that take your work for granted on a daily basis, gloss over your most admirable qualities, and nitpick your insignificant faults. And stop laughing at your jokes.

Perhaps one of the most dissatisfying experiences of this (and well, all) semesters now where I’ve balanced work and life is the dizzying and saddening realization that I can’t do everything I want.  (And not just in a Rolling Stones kind of way), but in that, there will not be time in life to complete all possible pathways.  This is what I would more consider a time strain.  Or, as I was summarily told by my husband, the problem of my own humanity, with which I need to come to grips. 

It seems that the older you get the more you understand the delicate balance of choosing what activities to engage in.  The classes have taken up about 20 hours of my weeks lately, work another 40, and various necessary commitments most of the weekends, and that meant there wasn’t time to look for a couch for our apartment until now.  But, with the end of class, and a lessening of strain, I assume I’ll have a place to sit aside from the bed and the kitchen table fairly soon.  Which will cut down on back strain.  Ha.


Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

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