CLEMSON — The struggle for work-life balance exacts a toll on individuals and their families, but co-workers also bear the brunt of that stress and women are the most likely to dish it out, according to Clemson University researchers.

Career-And-Family-newBusiness management and psychology experts from Clemson and St. Louis universities found that bad behavior directed at co-workers is often a byproduct of stress perceived to be caused by the workplace, and women are more likely than men to vent their resulting frustration at work.

“This study found women experiencing work-family conflicts are more likely to respond negatively at the root of the perceived problem because they tend to be more protective of their family role than men,” said Kristin Scott, associate professor in the department of management at Clemson. “Men, on the other hand, tend to be more protective of the work role and are less likely to blame the employer for their inability to meet family or personal obligations.”

Scott was joined in the research by Clemson management colleagues Tom Zagenczyk, associate professor, and Amy Ingram, assistant professor; and Mindy Shoss, assistant professor of psychology at St. Louis University.

This type of stress is generally manifested in nonviolent mistreatment of co-workers and not necessarily directed at supervisors or subordinates, according to Zagenczyk.

“The retaliation isn’t typically against someone who can sanction their actions, but targets co-workers, for instance, who often stay late or respond to emails after hours.”

Scott, Zagenczyk and Ingram said research shows work-life balance is something many people never achieve. Surveys conducted by human resources groups reveal that as many as 90 percent of employees consider work-life balance a problem, with upwards of 50 percent considering it a significant problem.

The researchers said women more so than men who experience work-life balance stress will react negatively at the source of the problem. They may feel their sense of identity, loyalty and commitment to the company has been weakened, and perceive they are not a good fit for the organization.

Conversely, “if an employee feels a strong relationship with their employer, they are less likely to vent frustrations in the workplace,” said Ingram, “but if the relationship with the company has broken down, one is more likely to act out.”

The bad behavior can be dealt out in different ways, such as undermining colleagues, sabotage and gossiping.

“The more frustrated and irritable people become they find ways to release the tension and people you work with are frequently the ones who are blamed,” Ingram added.

Though women have a higher probability than men of venting frustration in the workplace in the face of work-life conflict, they go about it differently than men, according to the researchers.

“Past research would indicate women engage in more indirect, or passive-aggressive, behavior than men, who have more of a tendency to exhibit direct or overt aggression,” Scott said.