Work, Family, and Organizations: An Untapped Research Triangle



Today, I want to talk about an area of study in which I have no research to present (i.e., no data), an area with which I am
(or was) unfamiliar, and an area that Industrial and Organizational (I/O) Psychologists, in general, have ignored. It is this latter fact that I want to emphasize and perhaps change by presenting this address, — i.e., I/O psychologists generally are ignoring an area of research study that is important, relevant, and one to which we can bring our skills and expertise. If you leave with anything today, it is my hope that I will l have interested you in pursuing and conducting some meaningful research in an area we have generally neglected.

What is this area and problem that I believe sorely need our attention? I will state my message now, at this point: I want I/O psychologists to study the relationships between work, family, and organizations. From my view, this is an untapped research triangle for I/O psychologists. There is a literature on work and family, but we are not part of it and it needs some of our efforts. The thesis of my presentation, and therefore my conclusion, is that (1) families and employing organizations are environments; (2) that tasks, or work, are done in each environment, and (3) that if we want to study how people’s attitudes and/or behavior in one environment influence attitudes and/or behavior in the other environment, we should focus on the tasks performed and their meanings in the two environments. That is, we need to understand one’s relationship to each of his or her environments before we look at the relationship between environments. Note here that I think the “work-family” rubric for this area of research is incorrect; we should not be talking about work-family relationships, but rather we should be talking about work in families and work in employing organizations. The framework that I will offer to study this is one that, for want of a better term, is referred to as a transactional model, in which the employing organization-family connection is the unit of analysis.

Given my view that I/O psychologists have generally ignored this area of research, what I want to do today is the following:

  • state the nature of the research issues as currently studied;
  • offer reasons why the area needs study, and in particular, why I/O psychologists should be involved,;
  • very briefly indicate who has been studying the issues;
  • and because the field is unknown to most of us, I will present an overview of how the problems have been studied? the variables measured , and the theories espoused to explain results. I will do this without citing many, if any, specific research findings or results, and
  • finally, offer a framework by which to study the problems. As I go through these parts of the address, I will be posing a number of questions that I believe need research.