UGA Study: Family Life Can Make You a Better Boss

Leigh Beeson

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic means more time at home for many of us. A new study revealed that for working parents, that increase in quality time with their families may have some unforeseen benefits.

New research from the University of Georgia, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, found that positive interactions with your child during your off hours can make you a better leader. The study examined two samples of 46 and 113 managers, measuring whether participants had experienced positive interactions with their families—such as working together on a project or laughing together, each day after work. The study also looked at whether participants felt connected to their family and satisfied with their family life in general.

The researchers also analyzed leadership practices, asking participants how often they engaged in behaviors such as making sure employees know expectations and helping subordinates strengthen their skillsets. In both studies, the managers completed one survey in the morning and one in the afternoon for 10 days. The results showed links between positive family interactions after hours and more effective leadership during the workday.

“I think we focus so much on the negative things about work-family balance or the demands of a family—people need to meet these family demands, so that’s why sometimes they couldn’t perform well at work,” said Szu Han “Joanna” Lin, lead author of the study and an assistant professor in UGA’s Terry College of Business. “But one thing I think is important to know is that leaders could be more effective because of their family life.”

Plenty of scholarly research on leadership focuses on how family life can negatively impact a person’s career. Studies that do examine positive effects of family life typically focus exclusively on task performance. Lin wanted to examine how positive interactions with family could specifically influence leadership behaviors like showing consideration, marked by things like providing assistance and showing concern for employees, and more change-oriented behaviors, such as helping employees develop their strengths and showing enthusiasm about what needs to be accomplished on a specific workday.

Transformational leadership, which focuses on creating a vision and how teams can work together to achieve it, is considered one of the most effective styles of leadership, Lin said. Through her research, Lin found a connection between showing more of those transformational tendencies and having had a positive family interaction as a parent the day before.

 And the positive interactions don’t have to be something big. Little moments can lead to big changes in attitude the following workday.

“You take your kids out for a walk. You chat about how your day was. These are positive family events that help you feel you connected with your kids,” Lin said. “Your needs are satisfied at home. And on the next day, you’ll be more motivated to help your employees.”

Organizations typically are structured in a way that keep work life mostly separated from employees’ home lives, but Lin suggested companies use this information to transform work culture. Facilitating work events that could involve families or finding other ways to encourage employees to take time to spend with their families could be beneficial for both the workers themselves and the corporation’s bottom line.