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What is Stress? 

Stress types (Acute Stress, Episodic Acute Stress, Chronic stress)1

Acute Stress can be caused by demands of the recent past and/ or the near future. This can be exciting if in small doses. Common symptoms include emotional distress, tension headache and upset stomach.

Episodic acute stress referes to when people  'suffer acute stress frequently’ and cannot ‘organize the slew of self-inflicted demands clamoring for their attention’. Professional  help may be necessary to facilitate individuals to cope with stress.

Chronic Stress is caused by ‘unrelenting demands and pressures for seemingly indeterminable periods of time’. It may be due to poverty, dysfunctional families, working environments, etc. Traumatic early childhood experiences can potentially have long-lasting effect, affecting attachment styles and belief systems. People may get habituated to chronic stress. However, it may lead to mental health problems (e.g. anxiety, depression), violence, chronic physical illness (e.g. heart attack and stroke).



Work Stress and Family Stress 

 Work-related stress (Leka, Griffiths and Cox, 2004)

Leka, Griffiths and Cox (2004, p.4) suggested that ‘a healthy job is likely to be one where the demands on employees are appropriate in relation to their abilities and resources, to the amount of control they have over their work, and to the support they receive from people who matter to them’ and ‘a healthy working environment is one in which there is not only an absence of harmful conditions but an abundance of health-promoting ones’.


Causes of work-related stress, include, but not limited to :

  • Long and unsocial hours
  • Excessive demands which are not commensurate with the workers’ knowledge and abilities 
  • Lack of support  from supervisors and colleagues
  • Little control over their work and participation in decision making


Effects on individuals, include:

  • Lead to maladaptive unusual and dysfunctional behavior at work
  • Contribute to poor physical and mental health 
  • May engage in unhealthy activities, such as smoking, drinking and drug abuse
  • May dampen the immune system, impairing people’s ability to fight against infections


Work-Family Conflict

In Hong Kong, a survey revealed that about 45% of the respondents experienced a great deal of/ some stress in balancing the competing demands of work and family in 2013 (Policy 21 Limited, 2014). Work-family conflict was shown to be associated with lower job and life satisfaction (Kossek and Ozeki, 1998), and  greater likelihood of depression (Hammer, Saksvik, Nytro, Torvatn, & Bayaziet, 2004), and positively related to having a mood, anxiety, and substance dependence disorder (Frone, 2000).

Lau et al. (2012) showed that, in Hong Kong, over half of the respondents (total: 1002 respondents) felt work-family conflict, reflected by the following two items:

  • 57.7% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that because they felt exhausted after work, they failed to do some of the things they would like to do at home (Lau et al. 2012, p.89); and
  • 50.5% agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that ‘My work takes up time that I would like to spend with family’ (Lau et al. 2012, p.89)

This study suggested that a higher level of work-family conflict may be detrimental to ones’ mental health and family functioning, and limits the amount of time and energy that could be devoted to family leisure activities. It also revealed that when organising family leisure activities, 15.9 % working adults felt addtional stress and 21.3% of them reported an average level of stress. Moreover, we note that a significantly greater stress was found in (i) working mothers with children under 18, a lower level education level and family income, compared to their female peers ; (ii) male respondents, compared to female respondents. This indicated the influence of economic status and gender on work-family conflict.

However, Schwartzberg and Dytell (1996, p. 217), studied U.S. dual-earner families, suggested that ‘it is not the conflict between the demands of these two spheres (work and family) that is the problem but the stress within each domain.’



Gender Difference in Couples – Influences of Work Stress and Family Stress on Psychological Well-being

Schwartzberg and Dytell (1996) suggested that gender difference exists in the sources of stress that influence working mothers’/ fathers’ psychological wellbeing, including:

(i) Work stress was more crucial in determining self-esteem of mothers while family stress was more crucial in determining depression for fathers;

(ii) Mothers were more sensitive to the lack of task sharing in the family and the lack of support from child while fathers were more sensitive to the lack of spousal support

However, greater self-esteem (as one of the psychological well-being indicators) of both working mothers and fathers were associated by a lower level of work role insignificance# (one of the work stressors).

 #: The questions used to evaluate the level of work insignificance (Schwartzberg and Dytell, 1996, p.222):

1. ‘I do not feel my job is meaningful.’
2. ‘I believe that I am doing something important. [Item scoring is reversed.]’
3. ‘My work is boring.’
4. ‘I can see the results of my work. [Item scoring is reversed.]’

Work vs. Family?

Greenhaus and Powell (2006, p.73) proposed a theoretical model of ‘Work-Family Enrichment’. They mentioned that ‘participation in multiple roles – often referred to as role accumulation -- can produce positive outcomes for individuals (Voydanoff, 2001)’. This means participation in both work and family roles can ‘improve the quality of life in the other role’ through ‘additive effects’, ‘moderator effects’ (buffering ‘individuals from distress in one of the roles) and/ or ‘a transfer of positive experiences from one role to the other role’ (Greenhaus and Powell, 2006, pp.72-73).

Moreover, Shaw (1992, cited in Lau et. al, 2012, p.83) showed that ‘having family activities in which the whole family participated was more common among dual earner families and the least common in families with a fulltime homemaker’.


Family-friendly Practices at the Workplaces 

A study in New Zealand (Stevens, Dickson, Poland and Prasad, 2005, p.41) revealed a range of factors which affect the extent of satisfaction of work-family balance in families with a dependent child/ children.

Table 2.3  A range of factors that affect the extent of satisfaction of work-family balance in families with a dependent child/ children.

Higher Satisfaction
Lower Satisfaction
Shared parenting

Sole parenting

Supportive employers Unsupportive employers
Income benefits outweigh costs in time with family Costs in time with family outweigh income benefits
Part-time employment Lower income

Source:Stevens, Dickson, Poland and Prasad, 2005, p.41


Family-friendly practices, such as flexible working hours, would relieve work-family conflict. Pew Research Center (2013) showed that, in the U.S., 70% of working mothers with children under 18 agreed that ‘having a flexible schedule’ is ‘extremely important’ to them while there are only 43% of working women without children under 18 shown this preference. The study also showed that working fathers (48%) had the same tendency, compared to male with no children under 18 (only 36% of them). Studies showed that both male and female employees reported fewer stress symptoms (Halpern, 2005) and female reported a higher level of job satisfaction (Scandura and Lankau, 1997) under time flexible work practices.

Moreover, family-friendly practices can be beneficial to employers. When offering flexible working hours, employees had a higher level of organizational commitment/ commitment to their employer (Halpern, 2005; Scandura and Lankau, 1997)

Other family-friendly practices include 2 :

(i) Family leave benefits (e.g. paternity leave, parental leave, special causal leave)
(ii) Flexible work arrangements (e.g. five-day workweek, home-based work)
(iii) Employee support schemes (e.g. medical protection to employees and their family members, child care services, counseling services on stress)




[1]  American Psychological Association. Stress: The different kinds of stress, from, accessed on 8 October, 2014

[2] HKSAR, GovHk, Family-friendly Employment Practices, from , accessed on 27 October 2014



American Psychological Association. Stress: The different kinds of stress, from, accessed on 8 October, 2014

Frone, M. R. (2000).Work–family conflict and employee psychiatric disorders: The national comorbidity survey.Journal of Applied Psychology, 85(6), pp.888-895

Greenhaus, J. H., Powell, G. N. (2006). When Work and Family Are Allies: A Theory of Work- Family Enrichment. The Academy of Management Review, 31(1), pp.72-92

Hammer, T. H., Saksvik, P. O., Nytro, K., Torvatn, H., & Bayaziet, M. (2004). Expandingthe psychosocial work environment: Workplace norms and work–familyconflict as correlates of stress and health. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology,9pp.83–97.

Halpern, F.D. (2005). How time-flexible work policies can reduce stress, improve health, and save money. Stress and Health, 21, pp. 157–168

HKSAR Government, GovHk, Family-friendly Employment Practices, from, accessed on 27 October 2014

Lau, Y. K., Ma, J. L. C., Wan, P.S., Wong, T.K.Y., Lai, L.Y. (2012). Work-family conflicts, family leisure activities, and family functioning in Hong KongInternational Employment Relations Review, 18(1)pp. 82-100

Leka, S., Griffiths, A., Cox, T. (2004). Work Organization & Stress: systematic problem approaches for employers, managers and trade union representatives, World Health Organization, downloaded from, 22 October 2014

Kossek, E. E., Ozeki, C. (1998).Work–Family Conflict, Policies, and the Job–Life Satisfaction Relationship: A Review and Directions forOrganizational Behavior–Human Resources Research.Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(2), pp.139-149

Policy 21 Limited (2014). Family Survey 2013 (commissioned by Family Council), downloaded from, accessed on 24 October, 2014

Lau, Y. K., Ma, J. L. C., Wan, P.S., Wong, T.K.Y., Lai, L.Y. (2012). Work-family conflicts, family leisure activities, and family functioning in Hong KongInternational Employment Relations Review, 18(1)pp. 82-100

Pew Research Center (2013). Modern Parenthood: Roles of Moms and Dads Converge as They Balance Work and Family, downloaded from, accessed on 24 October, 2014

Scandura, T. A., Lankau, M.J.(1997). Relationships of gender, family responsibility and flexible work hours to organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 18, pp. 377-391

Schwartzberg, N.S., Dytell, R.S. (1996).Dual-Earner Families: The Importance of Work Stress and Family Stress for Psychological Well-Being, Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 1(2), pp. 211-223

Shaw, S. M. (1992), ‘Dereifying family leisure: An examination of women’s andmen’s everyday experiences and perceptions of family time’, LeisureSciences, 14(4), pp. 271-286.

Stevens, K., Dickson, M., Poland, M., Prasad, R. (2005). Focus on Families: Reinforcing the Importance of Family, downloaded from, assessed on October, 2014

Voydanoff, P. (2001). Incorporating community into work and family research: A review of basic relationships. Human Relations,54, pp. 1609–1637.

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