Krista Brumley, Wayne State University

“Mixing Paint…it’s all the same color:” Work-Family Conflict during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Krista Brumley


Winter 2024
Lecture Time: 
Friday, January 12, 2024 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 

R0220, Ross building


The COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered work and family lives. Whereas some couples faltered under the pressure of balancing work and family during the height of the pandemic, others thrived. Shaping these experiences was the widespread adoption of remote work which gave rise to various possible work from home configurations among couples. Further, the closures of daycare centers and schools created added strain on the lives of dual-earning couples with young children. This presentation is two-fold. First, using survey data from August 2020-March 2021 with both members of 343 heterosexual, dual-earning U.S. couples, I examine whether the extent of remote work at home distinctly affects men and women’s own behavioral work-family conflict, and how this crosses over to their partner’s behavioral work-family conflict. I also discuss if the actor and partner effects vary for parents and childfree couples. Most work-family conflict research uses perceptual scales to measure effects of time, energy, strain, and behavior (e.g., Carlson et al. 2000; Greenhaus et al. 2006; Netemeyer et al. 1996). However, long-standing perceptual measures have not distinguished “between subjective and behavioral role conflict” (Clark et al. 2019: 40). This study provides a unique opportunity to analyze specific instances of work-family conflict (e.g., less engaged, less attentive, frustrated, or short-tempered with family or co-workers), regardless of expected behaviors in either domain. Second, using interview data from 37 dyads (subset of survey dyads), I provide a phenomenological account of how the couples made sense of their pandemic work/family experiences. Using data from both spouses, an inductive account of what work-family conflict "looked" like in the family reveals that some view it as compartmentalized and others as unified. Others framed managing work-family conflict either as heroes, responding to a serious, often unexpected situation that requires immediate reaction or a victim, which involves or results in someone or something adversely affected by an external force or agent. Those couples that are emotionally close seem to work together as a team and communicate about their needs. Those that are emotionally distant couples seem to value work above family, leaving each spouse to cope on their own. By examining what couples were saying and doing, we can consider how work-family conflict manifests within the context of COVID-19.

Recording & Additional Notes