Occupational Psychology PhD student, Naomi Booth Wade explains the “Spill-Over-Effect”  The reasons why shift work can seriously affect  home life.

Are you bringing work stress home with you? Welcome to the Spill-Over-Effect.

Shift work is tough. Not only can shift work hours be unsociable, they can also be stressful. And when it’s stressful at work, it usually gets stressful at home as well. In fact, shift workers of all kinds regularly report that their work negatively influences the quality of their home life.

To put it simply, it’s hard to get away from the shift, even when you go home.

Why are shift workers more stressed at home?

The reason is simple. No matter what work we are in, we tend to bring our work stress home with us and turn it into home stress.

Workplace pyschologists call this the Spill-Over Effect – work-life stress literally “spills” over into the home. 

Research has shown that the Spill-Over Effect is linked to work/life imbalance, stress, lower martial quality/satisfaction and marital risk, distress and dissatisfaction with life.

Add to this, a lack of time and energy, and inconsistent role expectations at work, and we have some classic causes of the Spill-Over Effect.

Bringing it home to your loved ones

Whatever your home and family status, it’s likely that the spill-over effect is affecting you.

Dual career couples – Both of you work shifs

“Me and my husband work opposite shifts and its putting strain on our relationship”

When both of you are on shift work, the stresses are doubled. Partners are trying to pursue simultaneous jobs and remain carers too, are facing new work/life challenges with women having an increased involvement in the workplace. For example, in 2015 approximately 33% of couple households in the UK had two incomes.

Long working hours, job insecurity and unfriendly working environments are causing mental and physical tiredness, increasing strain from work to home life and increasing crossover of stress. This is where stress from one partner crosses over to the other, due to the intimate nature of relationships. What it means is that partners begin to share the feelings and strains of one another.

Dual career couples with kids – Both working and children as well!

“Increasing work pressure is ringing a “time out” alarm for children”

More and more couples are choosing to have children later. In the UK, the number of women having their first child over the age of 35 has increased over the last 30 years. Also, more and more women are now working throughout most stages of family life. Men can also be influenced by this as many men are no longer sole earners and have active roles in childcare.
Dual career couples with children are likely to experience more stress and strain than those without, particularly those with young children.

For example, research has shown that 60% of dual career couples with children under the age of 2 report having less quality time with their children due to increased work pressure and stress. Similar statistics were found for dual career couples with children aged 2-5.

Newly-wed and recently cohabiting couples

Cohabiting couples have been found to have lower wellbeing, life satisfaction and depressive feelings than married couples. This is thought to be due to lower levels of certainty and commitment in cohabiting couples compared to married couples.

Research shows that both men and women have problems with work interfering with home life .

The more spill over, the more depressive feelings they may have and the less satisfied they might feel. It was also found that women whose partner allows work to influence family life feel more depressed than women who’s partners do not.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the wellbeing of couples is related more to the individuals than the spill over or cross over effects. The higher the life satisfaction of your partner the higher your own may become, and the more depressed your partner may be the more depressed you may be, regardless of gender. It is important not to assume that work family/life conflict is the only or main source of problems in relationships.

Dealing with the Spill-Over Effect

There’s lots of support out there. Many organisations are wellbeing oriented and pay attention to work/life conflict. E.g. they might have policies and practices to address the needs of parents, often called Family Friendly Policies (FFPS) or Work-Life Benefits and Programmes (WLBPs) such child care centres at the workplace.

Placing limits on your work hours, for example limiting work done at home, limiting hours worked or turning down work which requires more travel is beneficial to reducing spill over.

This may be difficult if you are not in a position where you feel able to turn down work, or if you haven’t reached a stage in your career where you feel you have discretion on your work without damaging your career.

However, even small changes, such as trying to separate home lfe from work life, can be helpful to decrease work life conflict.
You can also reduce general stress levels using the tips which can be found in our recent article on Coping with Shift Work Stress.