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Dwelling on work-family conflict leads to health problems: study

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Corvallis, OR – Repeatedly thinking about conflicts between work and personal life puts people at risk for physical and mental health issues, according to a study from Oregon State University.

Researchers examined data from 203 adults ages 24 to 76. About 67 percent of participants had at least one child, and all participants were in a relationship. They received a score based on whether they had any of 22 health problems, such as diabetes or stroke. They also were asked to rate their perceived health based on a five-point scale.

Results showed that thinking repeatedly about work-family conflicts led to negative results in six health categories: health conditions, perceived health, life satisfaction, fatigue, positive affect and negative affect.

Dwelling on conflicts between work and personal life – such as missing a child’s sporting event because of a meeting – prevents recovery from stress by keeping the stressor active, the researchers said. Focusing on the present – known as mindfulness – can help workers deal with stress from work-family conflicts, and employers should acknowledge that their employees have lives beyond work, they added, noting that policies enabling workers to balance life and work can especially benefit lower-income workers.

“There needs to be strategies at the organizational level as well as the individual level,” Kelly D. Davis, study lead author and assistant professor in the university’s School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences, said in a press release. “For example, a business could implement mindfulness training or other strategies in the workplace that make it a more supportive culture, one that recognizes employees have a life outside of work and that sometimes there’s conflict. There can be a good return on investment for businesses for managing work-family stress, because positive experiences and feelings at home can carry over to work and vice versa.”

The study was published online Oct. 6 in the journal Stress & Health.

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