Parents’ work stress can spill into the home

Sydney Morning Herald June 20, 2007
Poor quality jobs can affect the wellbeing of the whole family, not just the adults who work in them, research shows. Parents who lack job security and control over their work are much more likely to suffer psychological distress than workers in better quality jobs. And they are also more likely to report behaviour and emotional problems in their children. The research, based on a sample of 4600 working parents with children aged four to five, will be presented at a national conference on family wellbeing – and how to measure it – in Canberra today.

It shows lack of job security and autonomy at work is an often overlooked aspect in the debate on family-friendly workplaces. The stress caused to workers who lack these conditions may spill over into family life and affect their children. “We need to redefine family friendly to include not just leave and flexibility but job security and control on the job,” said Lyndall Strazdins, a research fellow at the National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health at the Australian National University.

The study found a strong association between good mental health and good working conditions. Parents who enjoyed four optimum conditions – job security, a say in how they did their jobs, flexible working hours and paid family leave – were more likely to report the best mental health. The fewer of these conditions parents enjoyed, the more their wellbeing deteriorated. More worryingly, there was a consistent association between job quality and parents’ reports of their children’s wellbeing and behaviour. “The better the quality of the job, the better the parents’ mental health and the more likely they are to say their kids are doing well,” Dr Strazdins said.