How Office Stress Invades Our Homes

Last Updated Aug 31, 2011 5:04 PM EDT

Former President Bill Clinton was famous for his ability to compartmentalize-to keep stresses from one area of his life from bleeding over into others. Most of us, though, are not so talented. New research from Baylor University shows that work stress-and the inability to leave work problems at the office, where they belong-has a more detrimental impact than we might have expected.

The study, by Merideth Ferguson, of Baylor's Hankamer School of Business, shows that work stress not only comes home with us, but can easily affect our partners, who then bring that stress to their own workplaces. It did not address the effects of that stress on other family members, and whether they carry it in their own lives.

The research studied 190 couples, all of whom worked full time. Three-quarters of them had children living at home with them. The researchers queried both partners independently to determine their stress levels and find out how stress had impacted their relationships. The study focused on stress caused by bullying and other forms of bad behavior such as incivility and ostracism. Among the findings:

  • Stress affects the workload of both partners. When one partner is stressed, the other one often ends up picking up more of the work that has to be done to keep the household running, which often strains the couple's relationship.
  • It only takes one partner's work stress to hurt a marriage. If one partner was experiencing significant work stress, it often affected both partner's marital satisfaction.
Says Ferguson, in an interview with MSNBC:
I didn't expect to have such strong findings in this study. The research shows if we are treated poorly at work, we see the world as a less bright place and it's hard to shake it off... When this happens daily or chronically, it eats away at people's self-esteem and they are less optimistic about their lives and the future.
The study was published online in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Does your work stress come home with you? What are the results?


Image courtesy of flickr user alancleaver_2000
Kimberly Weisul is a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant. Follow her on twitter at
  • Kimberly Weisul On Twitter»

    >> View all articles

    Kimberly Weisul is the co-founder of One Thing New, the free email newsletter for smart, busy women. She was previously Senior Editor at BusinessWeek, responsible for all coverage of entrepreneurship and for launching BusinessWeek SmallBiz, a bimonthly magazine. She is also a freelance writer, editor and editorial consultant.