Story by Bridget Aymar, taken from the Fall 2016 issue of The Carlson School of Management Magazine

Workers who juggle the conflicting demands of work and family tend to have lower work satisfaction, stunted physical and psychological well-being, and smaller salaries.

New research by Professor and The Toro Company-David M. Lilly Chair in Human Resources Theresa Glomb and Associate Professor Colleen Manchester unveils one culprit of these ill effects: people who feel their work is interfering with their family duties struggle to expend energy on complex tasks that fulfill long-term business goals, and bolster their careers.

In studying faculty members at a large public university, the researchers found most workers preferred to spend their time tackling meaningful long-term tasks like conducting research. But despite their good intentions, those faculty members with higher work-family conflict were more likely to become diverted from their priorities. Instead, these employees tended to spend time on simpler tasks that are more likely to bring closure and yield instant gratification.

The researchers posit these faculty members were working with depleted self-regulatory resources: the resources workers draw on in the face of complex tasks with delayed gratification.

“When what we plan to do at work is not aligned with what we actually do at work, you see negative career outcomes,” says Glomb. “People who had greater discrepancy between their intended and actual time allocation had lower work satisfaction, lower psychological well-being, lower physical well-being, and there were also implications for salary.”

To combat these effects, Glomb advises workers to set themselves up for success by structuring their work to ensure key items rise to the top of their to-do lists: a practice she calls “intention management.”

Managers can derive more productivity from employees by structuring and assigning tasks differently: breaking bigger projects into smaller tasks will harness the power of small wins.

“People like work, people like accomplishing their tasks, but sometimes they’re working on things that won’t promote a sense of accomplishment,” says Glomb. “If we can get people to pivot their energy toward those complex, long-term tasks, it will bolster their job satisfaction long-term.”

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