Future of Work

How your colleagues affect your home life (and vice versa)

Three colleagues sitting working at a table.

Evidence shows that if you’re happy at work, you’ll be happier at home. Image: UNSPLASH/ Brooke Cagle

Yasin Rofcanin
Reader and Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour & Human Resource Management, University of Bath
Jakob Stollberger
Associate Professor of Organisational Behavior, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam
Mireia Las Heras
Professor of Managing People in Organisations, IESE Business School (Universidad de Navarra)
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Future of Work?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Future of Work is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Future of Work

Loading...
  • New research has established a firm connection between being happy at work and being happy at home.
  • The “gain spiral” is where the benefits of supportive working relationships transfer to an employee’s home life, where these are shared with a partner.
  • Employers should be aware of how a positive and close working environment will improve work-life balance, and improve job performance.

There are benefits to being part of a couple in which both are in paid work. A dual income brings, if not necessarily great wealth, at least an element of greater economic freedom, while the relationship can be a source of love and support.

But such couples also face particular challenges related to their domestic set up and achieving a good work-life balance. There may be greater tension over who does what at home, whether that’s household chores or childcare, and whose career takes priority when it comes to progression, development and time.

Such conflicts might seem to be part of the familiar distinction between home life and work life. But our new research suggests the two are more closely linked than we might think.

For example, we found that someone who benefits from a positive working environment with supportive colleagues, is likely to pass on those benefits to their partner at home. In the other direction, a loving relationship at home is likely to translate into greater dedication and creativity in the work place.

Put more simply, if you’re happy at work, you’ll be happier at home, which in turn will make you better at your job.

We discovered this by studying the everyday experiences of 260 dual income heterosexual couples in the US over a period of six weeks, to understand how their home lives and work lives affected each other. The main goal of our research was to discover where people looked for support, and whether or not they found it.

Previous studies had suggested that someone seeking to address conflicts between their work and home lives (such as asking for more flexible hours) would typically go to a manager or supervisor for help.

But our work revealed the importance of immediate colleagues in resolving such issues by providing vital support and advice. Indeed co-workers at a similar professional level can be seen almost as “work-spouses” for emotionally challenging times.

They are the starting point of what we call a “gain spiral”, in which the benefits of a supportive relationship with colleagues then transfers to an employee’s home life, where they are subsequently shared with a partner.

Taking your work home with you

Essentially this means that employees take the support they receive from co-workers home with them, and in a loving relationship, transfer this support to their partners. This might mean they encourage them to open up about stresses, seek to resolve issues, or make improvements to how they juggle work and family life arrangements.

That support in a loving relationship causes partners to feel happier, more satisfied, and more positive about their own work, where they subsequently become more engaged and productive. Our research highlights the role of these two key relational “resources”: valued colleagues and loving partners. The two appear to be clearly linked and vital elements of a healthy work-life balance.

Rocks balanced on a beach.
A healthy work-life balance relies on having both valued colleagues and loving partners. Image: UNSPLASH/Jeremy Thomas

So perhaps it might be time to re-evaluate your relationship with your colleagues. Rather than seeing them simply as people who share your workspace, think of them as people who have a significant impact on your home life too. (And you on theirs.) This is true whether you share a tightly spaced office or engage with them mostly online.

And while we don’t think employers should meddle with their employee’s personal lives, they may be able to contribute to the quality of relationships at home by putting policies and procedures in place to minimise work-family conflict. This may include limiting excessive working hours and reducing expectations of responding to messages outside of work. They should also be aware that if colleagues get on well, everyone benefits – at work and at home.

Have you read?
Loading...
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Green job vacancies are on the rise – but workers with green skills are in short supply

Andrea Willige

February 29, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum