Does Materialism Fuel Work-Life Conflict?

By Scott Behson | April 12, 2013 | 0 comments

A new study says materialistic values can worsen conflict between family and work.

Mark Promislo is a husband, father of two young girls, and a management professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ, who recently published a study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology on the effects of materialism on work-family conflict.

Scott Behson: Can you briefly describe your study?

Mark Promislo: During my Ph.D. program I was introduced to a lot of research on materialism—placing high importance on money and possessions—and the negative effects it can have on individual well-being. The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser, for example, had a major impact on my thinking. I suspected that the harmful effects of materialism likely spilled over to the areas of work and family.

After all, if someone feels that it is very important to attain financial rewards and material objects, the place to make that happen is in the workplace! And I wondered whether one’s family life would then suffer as a result, and whether the values that people hold are related to conflict between work and family. Prior to our study, the connection between values and work-family conflict had received little attention.

SB: What were your main findings?

MP: We surveyed 274 adults working in managerial or technical/professional positions. Overall, we found a strong relationship between materialism and work-family conflict, as predicted. This held true for both directions of conflict—work causing conflict with family life, and family causing conflict with work demands.

We also found that work overload was an important factor; people who were materialistic felt more overwhelmed by work demands, which in turn led to more work-family conflict.

SB:How can dads trying to balance work and family use the results of your study?

MP: I think the study speaks to the dangers of dads placing undue importance on money and possessions. Yes, it’s nice to have plenty of money and enjoy the finer things in life. But if the cost to achieve those ends is a great deal of work-family conflict, it’s just not worth it.

Mark Promislo Mark Promislo

It can be difficult to break away from the grip of materialism, but it is possible. Our culture, advertising, and “keeping up with the Joneses” all push us to covet possessions and consume more. Pursuing these things can lead people to undernourish the vital relationships in their lives, and so dads should be mindful (and wary) of these cultural effects.

Another point worth making is the distinction between desiring money and possessions as status symbols versus their ability to achieve other desirable ends. It has been established that desiring money for social comparison and “showing off” makes people less happy, while seeking money for more positive means—such as supporting their families—does not have this effect.

Dads should take an honest self-assessment of their strivings for more material wealth—what are the real motives behind those pursuits?

SB: What is your personal advice in terms of what you do as a busy dad to balance work and family?

MP: This issue is very personal and different for every father. Achieving balance between work and family is not easy and at sometimes seems virtually impossible.

You’ve written in your blog about the importance of finding the right life partner, and I couldn’t agree more. My wife, although she works full time as well, is an amazing woman and helps keep our family priorities straight.

I have learned a lot about balance from my kids, too. Reinforcing the results of the study I just described, I discovered that the most important things that my two young girls need are mom and dad! I have spent entire afternoons with my daughters with just a drawing pad and a puzzle. They couldn’t care less about the size of our house, whether we have a shiny new car in the driveway, or if our kitchen is outfitted with the latest stainless steel appliances. And if they don’t care, then why should I?

At the end of the day, once the basics are taken care of, possessions seem like such an insignificant ingredient in a great family life. I want my kids to be comfortable and to attend great schools, and for these purposes I work hard. That flashy new SUV with all the bells and whistles? No thanks—I’d rather take a walk with my kids to the park.

A slightly different version of this Q&A originally appeared in the blog Fathers, Work, and Family.

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About The Author

Scott Behson, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and author of The Working Dad’s Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home. His blog Fathers, Work, and Family is dedicated to helping fathers better balance work and family demands and to encouraging more supportive workplaces by sharing personal stories and advice for dads, highlighting company best practices, translating academic research and commenting on current events relating to work-family. Contact him on twitter: @ScottBehson.


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