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Journal of Applied Psychology © 2014 American Psychological Association

2014, Vol. 99, No. 6, 1173–1187 0021-9010/14/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0036674

A Work–Family Conflict/Subjective Well-Being Process Model:

A Test of Competing Theories of Longitudinal Effects

Russell A. Matthews Julie Holliday Wayne

Bowling Green State University Wake Forest University

Michael T. Ford
University at Albany, State University of New York
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

In the present study, we examine competing predictions of stress reaction models and adaptation theories
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regarding the longitudinal relationship between work–family conflict and subjective well-being. Based
on data from 432 participants over 3 time points with 2 lags of varying lengths (i.e., 1 month, 6 months),
our findings suggest that in the short term, consistent with prior theory and research, work–family
conflict is associated with poorer subjective well-being. Counter to traditional work–family predictions
but consistent with adaptation theories, after accounting for concurrent levels of work–family conflict as
well as past levels of subjective well-being, past exposure to work–family conflict was associated with
higher levels of subjective well-being over time. Moreover, evidence was found for reverse causation in
that greater subjective well-being at 1 point in time was associated with reduced work–family conflict at
a subsequent point in time. Finally, the pattern of results did not vary as a function of using different
temporal lags. We discuss the theoretical, research, and practical implications of our findings.

Keywords: work–family conflict, subjective well-being, longitudinal, strain-stressor, adaptation theory

According to role theorists, individuals juggle multiple roles, (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964), the job
such as work and family, and work–family conflict occurs when demands-resources model (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007), and con-
the demands of functioning in the two domains are incompatible in servation of resources theory (Hobfoll, 1989). With these para-
some respect (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985) wherein work can digms framing the majority of work–family research, most studies
interfere with family (work-to-family conflict) and vice versa have examined the stressor-strain hypothesis with stress reaction
(family-to-work conflict). Recent estimates indicate that 52% of models (Frese & Zapf, 1988). These models assume that the effect
employees experience work-to-family conflict and 43% of em- of the stressor (i.e., work–family conflict) accumulates over time
ployees experience family-to-work conflict (American Psycholog- as a function of the sum of current and past exposure and creates
ical Association, 2007). Scholars have conducted a tremendous strain (i.e., reduced well-being). Thus, across studies that draw on
amount of research examining the conflict that can arise between stress reaction models, the primary hypothesis is that work–family
work and family (Eby, Casper, Lockwood, Bordeaux, & Brinley, conflict is negatively related to subjective well-being both concur-
2005) and have found that work–family conflict is negatively rently (i.e., within a single time point) and longitudinally, such that
related to indicators of subjective well-being, including satisfac- the more work–family conflict one is exposed to over time, the
tion with important life domains such as work and family and life lower one’s overall subjective well-being.
in general, affective reactions, and self-assessments of psycholog- Of interest, though, work–family research has been divorced
ical health (Diener & Ryan, 2009). from temporally sensitive theories and findings of the subjective
Because work–family conflict is a primary driver of well-being, well-being literature. Prominent among these are theories on ad-
understanding how its effects on subjective well-being develop aptation (Bowling, Beehr, Wagner, & Libkuman, 2005; Brickman,
over time is important. Various theoretical paradigms have been Coates, & Janoff-Bulman, 1978; Diener, Lucas, & Scollon, 2006),
used to explain the relationship between work–family conflict and which posit that individuals adapt to stressors after a period of
subjective well-being; prominent among them are role theory exposure and eventually experience more positive levels of sub-
jective well-being as diminishing, lasting negative effects of the
stressor. This adaptation has been used to explain why people
generally report relatively high levels of subjective well-being,
This article was published Online First April 28, 2014. despite the prevalence of life stressors (Diener & Diener, 1996).
Russell A. Matthews, Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State
Thus, adaptation models (also called adjustment models; Zapf,
University; Julie Holliday Wayne, School of Business, Wake Forest Uni-
versity; Michael T. Ford, Department of Psychology, University at Albany,
Dormann, & Frese, 1996) suggest that, in the short term, stressors
State University of New York. will relate to lower subjective well-being; however, over time,
Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Russell most individuals adapt and return to more positive levels of sub-
A. Matthews, Department of Psychology, Bowling Green State University, jective well-being (even though the stressor is still present). This
Bowling Green, OH 43403-0001. E-mail: ramatth@bgsu.edu occurs even for some of the most traumatic life-changing events

(Luhmann, Hofmann, Eid, & Lucas, 2012). Extending adaptation stressor-strain hypothesis (i.e., work–family conflict negatively
theory to the work–family literature suggests that although indi- influences well-being) and the less-often studied strain-stressor
viduals experience short-term decrements in well-being when they hypothesis (i.e., subjective well-being negatively influences work–
experience work–family conflict, over time, they adapt and even- family conflict). If support were found for the strain-stressor
tually experience more positive well-being. In other words, if hypothesis, this would suggest that improving subjective well-
adaption does take place, a positive cross-lagged (i.e., longitudinal) being directly is another avenue to prevent or attenuate the expe-
effect between work–family conflict and subjective well-being rience of work–family conflict. As noted in the literature, there are
should be observed, after accounting for concurrent levels of trade-offs between targeted interventions (i.e., reducing work–
work–family conflict and past levels of subjective well-being (see family conflict; Hammer et al., 2011) and more holistic interven-
Kelloway & Francis, 2013, for a discussion of testing longitudinal tions designed to increase general well-being (i.e., Richardson &
models). This prediction runs counter to those of the stress reaction Rothstein, 2008). Our study provides greater insight into the mu-
perspective that larger cumulative exposure to stressors results in tual relations between work–family conflict and subjective well-
poorer well-being over time. Collectively then, stress reaction and being from which to weigh these trade-offs.
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adaptation theories produce conceptually conflicting views and To examine these issues, we analyze three waves of data col-
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different predictions regarding the longitudinal work–family con- lected from 432 respondents with varying lags (i.e., 1 month, 6
flict/subjective well-being relationship. months) between waves. As we later discuss, there is considerable
Another important shift in the subjective well-being literature is inconsistency across studies regarding the longitudinal work–
the recognition that assumed causal relationships are not unidirec- family conflict/subjective well-being relationship, which may be
tional. Although stressors influence evaluations of subjective well- due, in part, to the time lag used between assessments. By pur-
being, subjective well-being also influences the experiences and posefully incorporating variable lags into our design, we examine
interpretations of stressors (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2008; Ly- the role of time in this relationship. Thus, a final contribution is
ubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005), referred to as strain-stressor that we make recommendations regarding the appropriateness of
hypotheses, or reverse causation (Zapf et al., 1996). Few work– different temporal lags (Tetrick & Buffardi, 2006).
family studies have investigated the role that subjective well-being
plays in influencing experiences of work–family conflict (cf.
A Work–Family Conflict/Subjective Well-Being
Innstrand, Langballe, Espnes, Falkum, & Aasland, 2008). To fully
Process Model
and accurately understand the conflict/well-being relationship, we
need to consider the mutual influence they may have on one Subjective well-being is generally conceptualized as a multidi-
another, particularly if intervention and prevention of work–family mensional evaluation including both cognitive and affective com-
conflict continue to be a goal for scholars and practitioners. ponents (Eid & Diener, 2004), and there is a long-standing tradi-
In light of these theoretical questions, in our study, we make tion of its being used in the examination of issues pertaining to
several important contributions to the work–family literature. Pri- quality of life (e.g., Campbell, Converse, & Rogers, 1976). Sub-
mary among these, we contrast propositions based on stress reac- jective well-being is often conceptualized in terms of one’s general
tion models (e.g., Hobfoll, 1989) with predictions grounded in mental health, such as the degree of one’s somatic symptoms,
adaptation theory (e.g., Diener et al., 2006). Such theoretically anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and social dysfunctions
grounded comparisons are important to fully understand whether (Diener et al., 2006). Thus, we define subjective well-being in
work–family conflict has negative long-term consequences on terms of one’s self-assessments of psychological health (Diener &
subjective well-being, as theorized in the work–family literature Ryan, 2009). As mentioned above and explained below, stress
(e.g., Hobfoll, 1989), or whether individuals are able to adapt reaction and adaptation models make similar predictions regarding
effectively to experiences of work–family conflict and maintain the negative relationship of work–family conflict and subjective
positive subjective well-being in the long term, as posited in the well-being in the short term. These types of short term (i.e.,
well-being literature (e.g., Diener et al., 2006). If our results concurrent) effects are generally tested with cross-sectional de-
support the stress reaction model, the strength of our design (i.e., signs. Yet, as explained below, these theoretical models offer
accounting for issues of reverse causation and examining these competing predictions regarding the work–family conflict/subjec-
effects over multiple lagged assessments) would give greater con- tive well-being relationship over time (i.e., longitudinal).
fidence in these theoretical propositions. However, if our results
support predictions of adaptation theory, this would have impor-
Concurrent Effects
tant implications for how work–family scholars conceptualize the
work–family stressor-strain process. Beyond theory, these results In discussions of temporal stressor-strain effects, concurrent
would have significant practical implications for determining the effects are conceptualized as short-term relations between the
appropriate target of intervention studies (e.g., Hammer, Kossek, stressor (i.e., work–family conflict) and the strain outcome (i.e.,
Anger, Bodner, & Zimmerman, 2011) intended to improve em- subjective well-being). Conservation of resources (COR) theorists
ployee well-being. If adaptation models hold true within a work– propose that individuals seek to acquire and maintain resources,
family conflict framework, this would open the door for consid- and stress occurs when resources are lost or threatened (Hobfoll,
eration of factors that may help individuals to adapt more quickly 1989). Thus, when time and energy resources are lost in the
to various types of stressors. process of juggling work and family roles (i.e., work–family
Another contribution is that we examine the relationship be- conflict), this leads to poor subjective well-being. Conservation of
tween work–family conflict and subjective well-being as a process resources and other stress-reaction models, therefore, posit that
that unfolds reciprocally over time. Thus, we test both the standard when individuals experience higher levels of work–family conflict,

due to resource losses, they will experience immediate decreases in mig (2011) used a 6-year time lag and found a negative relation-
subjective well-being (i.e., at the same time point; Hobfoll, 1989). ship between work–family conflict and subsequent changes in
Consider an employee who has a demanding client who frequently health satisfaction. Of interest though, Demerouti, Bakker, and
contacts her during nontraditional work hours and requires quick Bulters (2004), drawing on COR, found no support for the argu-
turnaround. Managing such a client’s demands is likely to result in ment that work-to-family conflict is followed by increases in
a concurrent loss of resources (i.e., time and energy) and experi- exhaustion. Rantanen, Kinnunen, Feldt, and Pulkkinen (2008)
ence of work–family conflict, which is likely to have an immediate found, in studies with 1- and 6-year lags, that work-to-family
negative impact on her subjective well-being. Similarly, adaptation conflict did not have the hypothesized reciprocal relation to job
theory suggests that positively and negatively valenced events exhaustion, marital adjustment, parental stress, or psychological
temporarily influence subjective well-being (for reviews, see Die- distress. Similarly, Kelloway, Gottlieb, and Barham (1999) found
ner et al., 2006; Fredrick & Loewenstein, 1999). Thus, adaptation no lagged effect of work-to-family conflict on stress symptomol-
theory suggests that managing a demanding client and doing so ogy over a 6-month period. These mixed results suggest that the
during one’s non-work time is a negatively valenced event and, longitudinal nature between work–family conflict and subjective
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given the hedonic component to well-being, that it will negatively well-being should be reconsidered and tested more systematically
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influence concurrent subjective well-being (Diener et al., 2006). from multiple time points.
Concurrent effects of work–family conflict on subjective well- Adaptation theory offers another perspective from which to
being are well documented; meta-analytic results suggest that consider these conflicting findings. The driving premise of adap-
work–family conflict is related to such subjective well-being in- tation theory is that, although different-valenced events temporally
dicators as job, family, and life satisfaction; general psychological influence subjective well-being (Diener et al., 2006; Fredrick &
strain; depression; and burnout (Allen, Herst, Bruck, & Sutton, Loewenstein, 1999), people eventually return to the preexisting
2000; Ford, Heinen, & Langkamer, 2007; Michel, Mitchelson, levels of subjective well-being (i.e., a set point). This can be
Kotrba, LeBreton, & Baltes, 2009). Thus, COR and other stress considered a form of regression to the mean wherein individuals
reaction models, as well as adaptation models, predict that work– regress to previous levels of subjective well-being. Implicitly then,
family conflict is negatively related to subjective well-being within an individual’s emotion system adjusts or adapts to current life
a given time point. conditions such that they become the “new normal.” Consider the
earlier example of an employee who, because of a demanding
Hypothesis 1: (a) Work-to-family conflict and (b) family-to- client, currently experiences work–family conflict and a corre-
work conflict are negatively related to subjective well-being sponding reduction in well-being. Adaptation theory suggests that,
within a specified time point (i.e., the concurrent effect is over time, this employee is likely to cognitively, emotionally, and
negative). behaviorally adapt to these demands (e.g., engender family or
organizational support, reframe events, alter time use) and, in
doing so, experience a corresponding increase in well-being over
Longitudinal Effects
Hobfoll (2001) proposed that those with limited resources are Although adaptation theory suggests people adapt to a stressor
more susceptible to resource loss, and, thus, when sustained de- (e.g., work–family conflict) and return to “baseline” levels of
mands or resource loss occurs over time, “loss spirals” develop. well-being, in a typical work–family study, as in the current study,
Consistent with the notion of loss spirals, stress reaction theories researchers may not capture a true baseline in terms of conducting
generally posit that, over time, work–family conflict will result in assessments before the onset of a stressor and corresponding
reduced subjective well-being. Thus, over time, the threat to or changes in well-being immediately and over time. Pragmatically,
consumption of resources results in reduced subjective well-being individuals experience ongoing conflict between their work and
(i.e., the cross-lagged relationship between work–family conflict family roles, and, given the frequency and fluctuation of minor to
and subjective well-being is negative), and continuous exposure to moderate demands (e.g., increased work or family responsibilities,
resource drain results in further reduction in subjective well-being. short-term personal or family or coworker illnesses) and the un-
This view is consistent with the public health dose-response effect, predictability of certain major demands (e.g., promotion or job
which occurs when the total exposure to a risk factor, not just loss, significant health changes, divorce), getting a true baseline
whether one is currently exposed, predicts health risk (Chandola, may be impractical. Instead, much as they do for typical tests of
Brunner, & Marmot, 2006; Landsbergis, Schnall, Pickering, War- concurrent effects where no particular stressor onset is presumed,
ren, & Schwartz, 2003). For example, the risk for cancer is not just adaptation theorists assume that, whatever the current level of the
dependent on whether one is currently smoking cigarettes but also stressor (i.e., work–family conflict), higher levels will be associ-
on how long this exposure to cigarettes has occurred and the ated with short-term decrements to well-being. Further, adaptation
number of total cigarettes smoked. theorists suggest that, because of adaptation, the stressor (i.e.,
Drawing from COR and other stressor-strain theories, several work–family conflict) will be associated with greater well-being
studies have sought to examine how work–family conflict and over time. Thus, support for adaptation theory would be indicated
indicators of subjective well-being are related over time. Using by a positive cross-lagged relationship between work–family con-
COR, Innstrand et al. (2008) tested three possible causal relation- flict and well-being, even though a return to baseline is not
ships between work–family conflict and burnout across a 2-year measured.
time period. They found significant positive reciprocal relations, Several lines of evidence support and extend tenets of adapta-
such that work–family conflict was followed by increases in ex- tion theory. Large-scale opinion surveys have found that 80% to
haustion and disengagement. Knecht, Bauer, Gutzwiller, and Häm- 84% of people experience positive levels of subjective well-being

(for a discussion, see Diener et al., 2006), suggesting that individ- stressor hypothesis, most studies have focused on the relationship
uals tend to adapt to stressors. Meta-analyses and individual stud- between work–family conflict and exhaustion, which is a specific
ies of responses to stressful life events also show a general pattern form of strain. Further empirical examination is needed of the
of adaptation and return toward more positive levels of well-being relationship between work–family conflict and more general sub-
(e.g., Lucas, 2005; Lucas, Clark, Georgellis, & Diener, 2003, jective well-being, which covers a broader content domain.
2004; Luhmann et al., 2012). Thus, the general premise that people We propose, consistent with Demerouti et al. (2004) and their
adapt to stressors and, over time, experience more positive sub- use of COR, that a reciprocal causal relationship exists between
jective well-being has considerable support (Diener et al., 2006). work–family conflict and subjective well-being. Hobfoll (1989)
In other words, results support adaptation theory; this suggests proposed that individuals with greater resources are less vulnerable
that work–family conflict would concurrently decrease subjective- to resource loss and that initial resources beget further resource
well-being, but, as individuals adapt, this effect will wane. Thus, gain (i.e., a gain spiral). We propose that individuals who experi-
we would expect that a positive cross-lagged relationship will be ence higher levels of subjective well-being are more likely to feel
observed between work–family conflict and subjective well-being. they have the necessary resources to deal with conflicts between
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This positive relationship should not be interpreted such that work and family and thus, over time, experience lower levels of
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work–family conflict is “causing” greater well-being, but rather work–family conflict.

that after accounting for someone’s preexisting (e.g., Time 1)
levels of well-being, as well as accounting for new (e.g., Time 2) Hypothesis 3: Subjective well-being has a negative cross-
experiences of work–family conflict, this positive relationship lagged effect on (a) work-to-family conflict and (b) family-
reflects a person’s adaptation to pervious experiences of work– to-work conflict.
family conflict. Stress reaction and adaptation theories then set up
competing hypotheses for the cross-lagged relationship between
The Role of Temporal Lags
work–family conflict and subjective well-being.
Constructs such as work–family conflict and subjective well-
Hypothesis 2, Option A: Based on conservation of resources being develop over time, not because of time (Pitariu & Ployhart,
theory, work–family conflict has a negative cross-lagged re- 2010). In terms of empirical examination of this process, there has
lationship with subjective well-being. been a steady increase in the use of longitudinal designs in the
Hypothesis 2, Option B: Based on adaptation theory, work– work–family literature (e.g., Demerouti, Taris, & Bakker, 2007;
family conflict has a positive cross-lagged relationship with Hammer, Cullen, Neal, Sinclair, & Shafiro, 2005; Innstrand et al.,
subjective well-being. 2008). Work–family researchers have typically used longitudinal
designs to examine the relationship between stressors (at Time 1)
Reverse causation. Consistent with prior research and the with strain/outcome (at Time 2), with time lags ranging from a few
stressor-strain hypothesis, our hypotheses have focused on the weeks or months (e.g., Demerouti et al., 2007; Leiter & Durup,
effect of work–family conflict on subjective well-being. Though 1996) to a few years (e.g., Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1997).
seldom considered in the literature (Zapf et al., 1996), reverse Although the commonly used stressor time 1–strain time 2 design
causation is also plausible in that strain outcomes may predict (Zapf et al., 1996) is useful for examining predictions grounded in
experiences of stressors (i.e., the strain-stressor hypothesis). For stress-reaction models, it does not allow for a full examination of
example, the loss (or gain) spiral phenomenon outlined in the COR adaptation theory; nor does it allow for reverse causation, because
model also suggests that, over time, resource loss (or gain) will it fails to capture more than two time points. Research designs
beget resource loss (or gain). In other words, poorer/greater sub- would ideally include three or more time points with varying time
jective well-being will relate to greater/lower work–family con- lags (Kelloway & Francis, 2013) to examine the dynamic nature of
flict. stressor-strain relationships and their replication.
A small number of work–family studies have examined issues To date though, there is no one “right” temporal lag that can be
of reverse causation. Kelloway et al. (1999), using a 6-month lag, universally recommended, because setting assessment intervals is
demonstrated that after controlling for strain-based work-to-family a function of a variety of factors (Menard, 2002). One factor is the
conflict at Time 1, stress (i.e., feelings of being overwhelmed by stability of the constructs of interest. With more stable outcomes
things and unable to cope) predicted strain-based work-to-family (e.g., turnover intentions), a longer lag may be necessary to allow
conflict at Time 2. Rantanen et al. (2008), using two separate time for the relationship to manifest (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984).
samples, one with a 1-year lag and the other with a 6-year lag, Factors relating to predictors (e.g., frequency, severity, exposure)
found that neither job exhaustion nor marital adjustment had must also be considered. Within the work–family literature, re-
cross-lagged effects on work–family conflict. However, Demer- searchers have used a myriad of temporal lags including 1-month
outi et al. (2004) examined the strain-stressor hypotheses within a (Demerouti et al., 2007), 3-month (Leiter & Durup, 1996),
loss-spiral framework, which proposes that stressors lead to strains 6-month (Kelloway et al., 1999), 1-year (Hammer et al., 2005),
that, in turn, lead to further increases in stressors, facilitating a 2-year (Innstrand et al., 2008), and 4-year lags (Frone et al., 1997).
spiraling loss of resources. Demerouti et al. collected data at three Deeper consideration and empirical examination is needed for the
time points with 6 weeks between assessments. In support of the time lags used when studying work–family conflict and its corre-
loss spiral (and reverse causation) framework, after accounting for lates over time.
temporal stability effects of work-to-family conflict, they found Although studies employing longer lags (e.g., 1 or 2 years) are
that exhaustion demonstrated a cross-lagged effect on work-to- informative, some have suggested that shorter intervals between
family conflict. Although there is mixed support for the strain- assessments must be considered (Tetrick & Buffardi, 2006), and

varying time lags may help explain why null effects are often 2 survey (response rate ⫽ 74%); 703 participated in the Time 3
found in longer lagged studies. Studies with longer lags may miss survey (response rate ⫽ 72%), and 488 participated in the Time 4
the manifestation window and thus underestimate the true relation- survey (response rate ⫽ 50%).
ship between constructs or, when effects are found, may simply The surveys at Times 2, 3, and 4 contained the focal measures
reflect that the relationships under study are very stable in nature. of the current study (work–family conflict and subjective well-
Thus, we use two lag alternatives within our design (i.e., a 1-month being). For clarity, we refer to these as Assessments 1–3 (or A1,
lag and a 6-month lag), which is consistent with the rationale A2, and A3, respectively) in the remainder of the article. Data were
developed by Demerouti et al. (2007). included from respondents who provided complete responses to all
The use of different lengths of lags allows us a unique oppor- three assessment points (N ⫽ 432); 69.0% were female, 62.0%
tunity. In particular, it is possible that, in situations with shorter were married or living with a partner, 36.6% reported having
lags between assessment, results may be more consistent with children, and 14.8% reported elder-care responsibilities. The ma-
predictions grounded in stress-reaction models. That is, using a jority of the sample was Caucasian (88.2%). The average age of
shorter lag (i.e., 1 month) may not allow enough time for someone the sample was 41.59 years (SD ⫽ 10.96), and the average orga-
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to begin the adaptation process; thus, there may be a negative nizational tenure was 7.86 years (SD ⫽ 8.21). On average, respon-
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lagged effect between work–family conflict and subjective well- dents reported working 40.56 hr a week (SD ⫽ 10.85), and 64.8%
being across shorter time lags. However, it may be that with a of the participants worked a day shift. Half the sample reported
longer lag (i.e., 6 months), individuals may have had sufficient working in an hourly position; the other half worked in a salary- or
time to adapt to experiences of work–family conflict such that commission-based system. Approximately 25.0% reported work-
there is a positive cross-lagged relationship with subjective well- ing in professional and related occupations, and 19.0% reported
being. working in office and administrative occupations. Another 16.4%
reported working in management, business, and financial opera-
Research Question: Does the pattern of results observed be- tions; 9.0% reported working in sales; and 22.7% reported working
tween work–family conflict and subjective well-being vary as in service, production, construction, and other related occupations.
a function of the length of time (i.e., lag) between
Method Work–family conflict was assessed with a measure by Fisher,
Bulger, and Smith (2009). Work-to-family conflict was assessed
with five items. A sample item is “I come home from work too
Participants and Procedure tired to do things I would like to do.” Family-to-work conflict was
Data from this study were collected as part of a larger data assessed with six items. A sample item is “My work suffers
collection effort (see DeArmond, Matthews, & Bunk, 2013). Par- because of everything going on in my personal life.” Participants
ticipants were recruited via an online participant recruitment panel were asked to consider the past month when responding and
managed as part of an institutional review board approved, responses were made on a 5-point frequency scale (1 ⫽ Not at all
university-based research study intended to provide diverse sam- to 5 ⫽ Almost all the time).
ples for a wide range of research studies (www.studyresponse Subjective well-being was assessed with the 12-item General
.com). Participants were entered into drawings for monetary prizes Health Questionnaire (Banks et al., 1980). Items were rephrased to
in return for their participation. allow for a single response scale to be applied. Participants were given
An initial prescreening survey was sent to approximately 8,000 the following instructions, “Thinking about the past 30 days, please
panel members to assess willingness to participate in the larger indicate how often you have done each of the following . . .” Sample
research study. These panel members were all U.S. residents and items include “been able to concentrate on what you’re doing?” and
had previously indicated that they were working at least 15 hours “felt constantly under strain?” Items were recoded, with higher scores
a week in an organizational setting. A total of 1,513 panel mem- indicating positive subjective well-being. Responses were made on a
bers participated in the prescreening survey (response rate ⫽ 5-point response scale (1 ⫽ Never 5 ⫽ Always).
18.9%). Respondents were excluded if they failed to complete the
screening survey, were not working at least part time, or indicated Results
they were not interested in participating in the proposed research
project. Initially, 1,365 respondents were identified for inclusion Preliminary Results
and sent an invitation for the Time 1 survey. Two reminder e-mails
were sent to nonrespondents 1 and 2 weeks after the initial invi- Means, standard deviations, reliabilities, and correlations are
tation. A total of 973 respondents participated in the Time 1 survey reported in Table 1.
(response rate ⫽ 71%), which contained sample demographics Sample differences. With four waves of data collection, at-
(e.g., gender, age, tenure, work hours) and a five-item measure of trition is to be expected. Additionally, our sample was not intended
negative affectivity (Mroczek & Kolarz, 1998). One month and 2 to be representative of a particular population (i.e., the national
months after the Time 1 survey, these 973 respondents were population). However, potential systematic biases within our data
invited to complete the Time 2 and Time 3 surveys, respectively. may place boundary conditions around our results (Kossek, Baltes,
Reminder e-mails were sent to nonrespondents. Six months after & Matthews, 2011). To examine these issues, we conducted a
the Time 3 survey, respondents were invited to participate in the series of one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) tests on demo-
Time 4 survey. A total of 720 respondents participated in the Time graphic variables and negative affectivity from Time 1. Mean

Table 1
Correlations, Means, Standard Deviations, and Internal Reliability Coefficient Estimates (N ⫽ 432)

Variable M SD 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Assessment 1
1. Work-to-family conflict 2.42 0.98 (.90)
2. Family-to-work conflict 1.90 0.82 .45ⴱⴱ (.89)
3. Subjective well-being 3.84 0.77 ⫺.50ⴱⴱ ⫺.50ⴱⴱ (.92)
Assessment 2
ⴱⴱ ⴱⴱ
4. Work-to-family conflict 2.37 0.97 .83 .36 ⫺.47ⴱⴱ (.91)
5. Family-to-work conflict 1.92 0.84 .40ⴱⴱ .79ⴱⴱ ⫺.54ⴱⴱ .45ⴱⴱ (.90)
6. Subjective well-being 3.85 0.78 ⫺.47ⴱⴱ ⫺.44ⴱⴱ .86ⴱⴱ ⫺.51ⴱⴱ ⫺.54ⴱⴱ (.92)
Assessment 3
ⴱⴱ ⴱⴱ ⴱⴱ ⴱⴱ ⴱⴱ
7. Work-to-family conflict 2.38 0.97 .73 .36 ⫺.41 .74 .38 ⫺.44ⴱⴱ (.91)
8. Family-to-work conflict 1.97 0.83 .35ⴱⴱ .66ⴱⴱ ⫺.44ⴱⴱ .37ⴱⴱ .72ⴱⴱ ⫺.46ⴱⴱ .48ⴱⴱ (.89)
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9. Subjective well-being 3.78 0.80 ⫺.44ⴱⴱ ⫺.44ⴱⴱ .77ⴱⴱ ⫺.42ⴱⴱ ⫺.49ⴱⴱ .79ⴱⴱ ⫺.47ⴱⴱ ⫺.56ⴱⴱ (.92)
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Note. Internal reliability coefficient estimates are reported along the diagonal.
p ⬍ .01.

differences in three groups were tested: (a) our sample (n ⫽ 434); conflict, and subjective well-being were tested for discriminant
(b) participants who participated only at Time 1 (n ⫽ 169); and (c) validity. More specifically, discriminant validity confirmatory fac-
respondents who participated in two or three waves of data col- tor analyses (CFA) were conducted to help ensure that each
lection but not all four (n ⫽ 370). No group differences were found construct was distinct across assessment points (e.g., work-to-
in terms of elder care, work hours, or negative affectivity; how- family conflict at A1 is distinct from work-to-family conflict at A2
ever, some differences were found in terms of age, gender, and and at A3) rather than tapping into a stable, trait-like, construct. To
child-care responsibilities (see Table 2). The analysis sample was do so, we conducted a baseline CFA for each construct in which all
slightly older, with a larger proportion of men, and without child- scale indicators for the given construct (e.g., work-to-family con-
care responsibilities, as compared to the respondents who partici- flict) were loaded on three wave-specific latent factors (A1, A2,
pated only in the Time 1 data collection. However, the effect sizes and A3), which were loaded on an overarching latent construct.
for all three of these analyses were small (see Table 5, Cohen, Then, we conducted another CFA for each construct in which we
1988). Further, these demographic variables and negative affec- loaded all items measuring that construct (e.g., work-to-family
tivity were included in our initial analyses as control variables conflict) on a single latent factor, regardless of assessment period.
(with negative affectivity set to have lagged effects on work– For each construct, the baseline model consistently fit the data
family conflict and subjective well-being); however, their inclu- better than did the single-factor model (see Table 3), supporting
sion did not meaningfully influence the pattern of results observed.
the argument that, although highly related, each of the constructs
Because of these results and arguments against the use of negative
demonstrated discriminant validity across time.
affectivity as a control variable in well-being research (Carlson &
As an additional test of discriminant validity, the confidence
Wu, 2012; Spector, Zapf, Chen, & Frese, 2000), we excluded these
intervals around the observed correlations between the con-
variables from further analyses. Collectively, these results suggest
struct measures were examined at each of the three time points.
that, although the two groups differ in some respects, there do not
The correlations between the three latent constructs were based
appear to be any systematic biasing effects due to attrition and
on the baseline CFA model reported in Table 3 (these models
were revised such that the second order factor was removed and
the latent constructs were set free to correlate). Ninety-nine
Longitudinal Construct Validity
percent confidence intervals were calculated for each correla-
Given the relatively high over-time correlations for each of the tion. The correlations between the three latent constructs for
respective constructs, work-to-family conflict, family-to-work work-to-family conflict were A1-A2, r ⫽ .87, 99% CI [.84,

Table 2
Sample Differences

Analysis sample Time 1 only participants Multiple timepoint participantsa

Variable (n ⫽ 434) (n ⫽ 169) (n ⫽ 370) F df Partial ␩2

Age 41.65 37.31 39.82 8.86ⴱⴱ (2, 943) .02

Genderb 1.69 1.79 1.76 4.46ⴱⴱ (2, 931) .01
Child-care responsibilitiesc 1.36 1.52 1.41 6.28ⴱⴱ (2, 945) .01
Elder-care responsibilitiesc 1.15 1.11 1.14 .73 (2, 939) .00
Work hours 40.49 39.85 40.6 .19 (2, 942) .00
Note. Bold estimates were significantly different based on Scheffe post hoc analysis at p ⬍ .05. df ⫽ degrees of freedom.
Respondents who participated in two or three waves of data collection but not all four. b 1 ⫽ male, 2 ⫽ female. c 1 ⫽ no, 2 ⫽ yes. p ⬍ .01.

Table 3
Longitudinal Construct Validity: Discriminant Validity, Configural and Metric
Invariance Testing

Construct and test ␹2 df CFI RMSEA ⌬␹2 ⌬df

Work-to-family conflict
Baseline CFA 118.55ⴱⴱ 72 .99 .04
Discriminant validity CFA 852.76ⴱⴱ 75 .86 .16 734.21ⴱⴱ 3
Configural invariance CFA 122.83ⴱⴱ 74 .99 .04 4.28 2
Metric invariance CFA 132.75ⴱⴱ 82 .99 .04 9.92 8
Family-to-work conflict
Baseline CFA 273.20ⴱⴱ 114 .97 .06
Discriminant validity CFA 1,135.27ⴱⴱ 117 .82 .14 862.07ⴱⴱ 3
Configural invariance CFA 283.66ⴱⴱ 116 .97 .06 10.46ⴱⴱ 2
Metric invariance CFA 300.15ⴱⴱ 125 .97 .06 16.49 9
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Subjective well-being
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Baseline CFA 27.86ⴱ 15 .99 .05

Discriminant validity CFA 607.56ⴱⴱ 18 .86 .28 579.70ⴱⴱ 3
Configural invariance CFA 28.98ⴱ 17 .99 .04 1.12 2
Metric invariance CFA 37.03ⴱ 21 .99 .04 8.05 4
Note. The chi-square difference tests for both the discriminant validity and configural invariance are compared
against the baseline confirmatory factor analyses (CFA). The chi-square difference tests for the metric invariance
CFA is compared against the configural invariance CFA. df ⫽ degrees of freedom; CFI ⫽ comparative fit index;
RMSEA ⫽ root-mean-square error of approximation.

p ⬍ .05. ⴱⴱ p ⬍ .01.

.90]; A2-A3, r ⫽ .78, 99% CI [.73, .82]; and A1-A3, r ⫽ .77, is observed to be a state that demonstrates meaningful change
99% CI [.72, .82]. The correlations between the three latent over time (Kinnunen et al., 2010). Taken together, the findings
constructs for family-to-work conflict were A1-A2, r ⫽ .84, in this and prior studies indicate adequate discriminant validity
99% CI [.80, .87]; A2-A3, r ⫽ .76, 99% CI [.70, .81]; and of our measures across time and are consistent with theoretical
A1-A3, r ⫽ .69, 99% CI [.62, .75]. The correlations between the treatment of these constructs as having both state and trait
three latent constructs for subjective well-being were A1-A2, components.
r ⫽ .90, 99% CI [.87, .92]; A2-A3, r ⫽ .82, 99% CI [.78, .86]; Next, we examined issues of configural and metric invariance
and A1-A3, r ⫽ .80, 99% CI [.75, 84]. (Ployhart & Vandenberg, 2010). Configural invariance examines
These results are consistent with current conceptualizations of whether measures taken at different points in time represent the
subjective well-being as a construct with a trait and state compo- same underlying construct, and metric invariance is the degree to
nent. Subjective well-being scales such as the one used in this which indicator items for the same construct function similarly
study are intended to capture well-being across an entire month; across measurements (Vandenberg & Lance, 2000). In the config-
thus, they minimize moment-to-moment and day-to-day fluctua- ural invariance CFA, the loadings for the three latent factors were
tion while capturing month-to-month variability. Test–retest cor- constrained to be equal to examine if they relate to the same
relations for such scales have been found in other research using
overarching construct. In the metric invariance CFA, the same
similar time frames to be similar to those observed here (Eid, &
items across the three latent factors were constrained to be equal to
Diener, 2004; Lucas, Diener, & Suh, 1996; Pavot & Diener, 1993).
test that they function similarly across time periods. Given model
Researchers have also found that occasion-specific variance of this
complexity, separate CFAs were run for the three constructs.
magnitude does indeed reflect meaningful change in subjective
These models were then compared to the baseline CFA models;
well-being. For example, alongside the stable component of sub-
results are reported in Table 3.
jective well-being, within-person changes have been found to
correlate with other indicators of emotional well-being, such as In general, the three constructs were found to be configural and
affect (Eid & Diener, 2004), providing construct validity evidence metric invariant. However, based on chi-square difference tests,
for occasion-specific variance. This suggests that the within- family-to-work conflict demonstrated some configural variance.
person variance observed here also reflects true meaningful change The baseline configural CFA loadings for A1 (␤⫽ .96) were
in psychological states to go alongside a relatively strong trait significantly stronger than the A2 (␤⫽ .87) and A3 (␤⫽ .80)
component. loadings (p ⬍ .01), giving rise to the configural variance results.
Similarly, work–family conflict also has a state and trait Nevertheless, because all three constructs had strong loadings and
component. The relative stability of work–family conflict over the fact that ␹2 tests are sensitive to sample sizes, results suggest
time observed here is consistent with earlier findings (Kelloway that the effects of the configural variance for family-to-work
et al., 1999; Kinnunen, Feldt, Mauro, & Rantanen, 2010). Cho, conflict are likely minimal.
Tay, Allen, and Stark (2013) found a trait-like disposition to Finally, as reported in Table 3, results for the three baseline
experience spillover that accounted for some stability over a CFA models provide psychometric evidence for the three con-
10-year interval. Yet, the literature also suggests that conflict is structs; all three demonstrated good initial CFA models, with
explained by nontrait, or situational, factors (Byron, 2005) and good item loadings across the three waves of data collection.

Conceptual Model Testing Figure 2. Although not depicted, the correlated errors between
work-to-family and family-to-work conflict were .45 for Assess-
Consistent with past research (Demerouti et al., 2004), a series
ment 1, .38 for Assessment 2, and .36 for Assessment 3 (p ⬍ .01,
of models was used to examine the study hypotheses. Given model
complexity, a path analytic approach within Amos 21 (Arbuckle,
All the temporal stability effects (i.e., autoregressive effects)
2012) was used to test the four nested models described below.
were significant in the expected direction. For example, subjective
Model 1 included the temporal stability effects between con-
well-being at Assessment 1 significantly predicted subjective well-
structs. For example, subjective well-being in Assessment 1 was
set to predict subjective well-being in Assessments 2 and 3, and being at Assessment 2 (␤ ⫽ .76. p ⬍ .01; 1-month lag) and
Assessment 2 was set to predict Assessment 3. The same was done Assessment 3 (␤ ⫽ .33. p ⬍ .01; 7-month lag), and subjective
for work-to-family and family-to-work conflict. Within each time well-being at Assessment 2 predicted subjective well-being at
point, work-to-family and family-to-work conflict were also set Assessment 3 (␤ ⫽ .43, p ⬍ .01; 6-month lag).
free to correlate. The work-to-family and family-to-work conflict concurrent ef-
Model 2 extends Model 1 with the addition of concurrent fects on subjective well-being were all significant (Hypothesis 1
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(within time point) effects. Specifically, within each assessment supported). Work-to-family conflict had a negative concurrent
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point, work-to-family and family-to-work conflict were set to effect on subjective well-being at all three time points (A1,
predict subjective well-being. ␤ ⫽ ⫺.35, p ⬍ .01; A2, ␤ ⫽ ⫺.19, p ⬍ .01; A3, ␤ ⫽ ⫺.12, p ⬍
Model 3 extends Model 2 with the addition of cross-lagged .05); family-to-work conflict had a negative concurrent effect on
effects from work-to-family and family-to-work conflict to sub- subjective well-being at all three time points (A1, ␤ ⫽ ⫺.34; A2,
jective well-being assessed in the next time point. For example, ␤ ⫽ ⫺.14; A3, ␤ ⫽ ⫺.29; p ⬍ .01 respectively).
work-to-family and family-to-work conflict at Assessment 1 were The next set of hypotheses revolved around testing predictions
set to predict subjective well-being at Assessment 2. of lagged effects of work–family conflict on well-being, based in
Model 4 extends Model 3 with the addition of the cross-lagged conservation of resources theory versus adaptation theory (Hy-
effects of subjective well-being on work-to-family and family-to- pothesis 2). Results support arguments grounded in adaptation
work conflict. For example, subjective well-being at Assessment 1 theory (Hypothesis, Option B). After accounting for prior experi-
was set to predict work-to-family and family-to-work conflict at ences of subjective well-being and concurrent experiences of
Assessment 2. work–family conflict, there was a positive cross-lagged effect of
It was expected that model fit would improve, in a statistically work–family conflict on subjective well-being (i.e., individuals
significant manner, as model complexity increased and that Model who previously experienced greater work–family conflict reported
4 would demonstrate the best statistically significant overall fit higher levels of subjective well-being over time than those who
because it best represents theoretical arguments drawn from both previously experienced lower work–family conflict). Specifically,
stress reaction and adaptation theories (as depicted in Figure 1).
work-to-family conflict at Assessment 1 had a positive effect on
Improvement in model fit was assessed based on a chi-square
subjective well-being at Assessment 2 (␤ ⫽ .09, p ⬍ .05; 1-month
difference test for the successive nested models. Additional mea-
lag) as did family-to-work conflict (␤ ⫽ .08, p ⬍ .05; 1-month
sures of model fit (i.e., comparative fit index [CFI], root-mean-
lag). Furthermore, work-to-family conflict at Assessment 2 had a
square error of approximation [RMSEA], standardized root-mean-
positive effect on subjective well-being at Assessment 3 (␤ ⫽ .05,
square residual [SRMR]) were also examined. A CFI value of .95
or higher, a RMSEA value of .06 or lower, and a SRMR value of p ⬍ .05; 6-month lag) as did family-to-work conflict (␤ ⫽ .15, p ⬍
.08 or lower are indicative of good model fit (Hu & Bentler, 1999). .01; 6-month lag).
Results of the nested model testing are reported in Table 4. Model Finally, subjective well-being demonstrated a protective effect
4 demonstrated significant incremental fit over the preceding mod- on future experiences of work–family conflict (Hypothesis 3 sup-
el(s) and the best overall fit and serves as the bases for our ported). Subjective well-being at Assessment 1 had a negative
hypotheses testing. Given that Model 4 is nested and least con- cross-lagged effect on work-to-family conflict at Assessment 2
strained, it will necessarily demonstrate better fit than previous (␤ ⫽ ⫺.07, p ⬍ .05; 1-month lag) and family-to-work conflict
models, although it is not given that this improvement in fit will be (␤ ⫽ ⫺.18, p ⬍ .01; 1-month lag). And subjective well-being at
statistically significant. Given the results provided in Table 4 and Assessment 2 had a negative cross-lagged effect on family-to-
in particular that RMSEA, which has a parsimony correction, work conflict at Assessment 3 (␤ ⫽ ⫺.10, p ⬍ .01; 6-month lag),
noticeably improved in Model 4, it serves as the basis for our as well as work-to-family conflict at trend level (␤ ⫽ ⫺.06, p ⬍
hypotheses testing. Standardized path coefficients are reported in .10; 6-month lag).

Assessment 1 Assessment 2 Assessment 3

Work-Family Subjective Work-Family Subjective Work-Family Subjective

Conflict Well-being Conflict Well-being Conflict Well-being

Figure 1. The work–family conflict/subjective well-being process model.


Table 4
Fit Statistic Information for Nested Model, Identifying Best Model for Hypothesis Testing

Model ␹2 df CFI RMSEA SRMR ⌬␹2 ⌬df

Null model 3,254.15 36
Model 1: Stability effects 352.82ⴱⴱ 24 0.90 .18 .30 2,901.33ⴱⴱ 12
Model 2: Concurrent direct effects 78.68ⴱⴱ 18 0.98 .09 .05 274.14ⴱⴱ 6
Model 3: Lagged effects 44.85ⴱⴱ 14 0.99 .07 .05 33.83ⴱⴱ 4
Model 4: Reverse causation effects 6.34 10 1.00 .00 .01 38.51ⴱⴱ 4
Note. df ⫽ degrees of freedom; CFI ⫽ comparative fit index; RMSEA ⫽ root-mean-square error of approximation; SRMR ⫽ standardized root-mean-
square residual.
p ⬍ .01.
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Research Question: Examination of Temporal Lags immediate impact of work–family conflict on subjective well-
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being. And, it is valuable to continue research using concurrent

We proposed that the pattern of the work–family conflict/well- designs to examine means to reduce the short-term consequences
being results may vary as a function of lag length between assess-
of work–family conflict on well-being. Yet, few studies have
ments. To examine this issue, we conducted a series of chi-square
systematically examined the work–family conflict/well-being re-
difference tests to see if the cross-lagged beta weights varied signif-
lationship over time using appropriate controls and multiple time
icantly in strength between Assessment 1 ¡ Assessment 2 and
lags, as done in the present study. We extend prior research by
Assessment 2 ¡ Assessment 3. The results of these analyses are
demonstrating that, over time, after accounting for the initial
reported in Table 5. The data suggest that although the temporal
reduction in well-being and concurrent levels of work–family
stability coefficients do trend down as a function of time lag length
conflict, prior experience of work–family conflict was associated
(they are weaker for the longer lag), neither the direct effects nor the
with higher levels of subsequent subjective well-being. Of impor-
reverse causation effects vary statistically in strength.
tance, this effect was replicated over two different time lags,
giving us greater confidence that the positive relationship between
Discussion work–family conflict and subsequent subjective well-being is a
Our results complement and extend previous research on the reliable phenomenon. Moreover, evidence was found for reverse
relationship between work–family conflict and subjective well- causation in that greater subjective well-being at one point in time
being. Our key findings suggest that in the short term, consistent was associated with reduced work–family conflict at a subsequent
with prior research and theory (e.g., the COR model; Hobfoll, point in time. Of interest, the pattern of results did not vary as a
1989), work–family conflict has an immediate, negative effect on function of using different time lags (1 vs. 6 months). Next, we
subjective well-being. Thus, the present study underscores the discuss implications of these findings for theory, research, and
importance of previous research identifying factors that reduce the practice.

Assessment 1 Assessment 2 Assessment 3

(One month lag) (Six month lag)

Work-to-Family .38** Work-to-Family

Conflict Conflict
.79** Work-to-Family .39**
-.35** -.19** -.06†

.76** .43**
Psychological Subjective
Well-being .33** Well-being

.08* -.10**
.71** Conflict .49**
Family-to-Work Family-to-Work
Conflict .22** Conflict

Figure 2. Empirical results of the work–family conflict/subjective well-being process model. The correlated
errors between work-to-family and family-to-work conflict within each time point are not reported for reasons
of parsimony. † p ⬍ .10. ⴱ p ⬍ .05. ⴱⴱ p ⬍ .01.

Table 5
Chi-Square Difference Test of Cross-Lagged Effects by Lagged Condition

Assessment 1 ¡ Assessment 2 ¡
Assessment 2 Assessment 3
Effect (One month lag) (Six month lag) ⌬␹2 (1 df)

Temporal stability effects

Work-to-family conflict ¡ Work-to-family conflict .79ⴱⴱ .39ⴱⴱ 43.83ⴱⴱ
Family-to-work conflict ¡ Family-to-work conflict .71ⴱⴱ .49ⴱⴱ 17.82ⴱⴱ
Subjective well-being ¡ Subjective well-being .79ⴱⴱ .43ⴱⴱ 30.76ⴱⴱ
Direct effects
Work-to-family conflict ¡ Subjective well-being .09ⴱ .08ⴱ 0.01
Family-to-work conflict ¡ Subjective well-being .08ⴱ .15ⴱⴱ 1.27
Reverse causation
Subjective well-being ¡ Work-to-family conflict ⫺.07ⴱ ⫺.06† 0.00
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Subjective well-being ¡ Family-to-work conflict ⫺.18ⴱⴱ ⫺.10ⴱⴱ 2.85

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Note. df ⫽ degrees of freedom.

p ⬍ .10. ⴱ p ⬍ .05. ⴱⴱ p ⬍ .01.

Theoretical and Research Implications long-term trait component to subjective well-being through state
fluctuation and recovery.
One of the primary contributions of the present study is that it Consistent with the positive psychology movement (Seligman &
tests theoretically grounded predictions of the longitudinal rela-
Csikszentmihalyi, 2000), future theoretical explanation of the
tionship between work–family conflict and subjective well-being.
conflict/well-being longitudinal relationship needs to consider
Our findings run counter to traditional predictions of work–family
workers’ adaptivity. Humans have the remarkable ability to with-
research and stress reaction theories (e.g., COR; Hobfoll, 1989),
stand serious setbacks and ultimately achieve a quality of life at or
which suggest that, with increased exposure time, work–family
exceeding their previous level (Taylor, 1983). Drawing on re-
conflict depletes resources and harms subjective well-being.
search with individuals who have experienced a personally threat-
Rather, our findings are consistent with adaptation theories (Brick-
ening event (e.g., patients with cancer), Taylor identified three
man et al., 1978). Although people experience work–family con-
themes of the cognitive readjustment process: a search for meaning
flict as a stressor that negatively affects well-being in the short
in the experience, effort to regain mastery over the event or life
term, they tend to be adaptive in that, over time, people returned to
more generally, and effort to enhance one’s positive self-
more positive levels of subjective well-being.
evaluations. Adaptation theory points to cognitive and emotional
Other research and hypotheses regarding general life stressors
has found results compatible with these. For example, Dienstbier’s adaptation as well as to behavioral adaption to stressors over time,
(1989) “toughening” hypothesis points to the physiological and all of which facilitate a return to subjective well-being set points
psychological resilience resulting from moderate stressor expo- (Brickman et al., 1978).
sure. Seery, Holman, and Silver’s (2010) recent analysis of expo- Extending this line of thinking to the work–family interface, theory
sure to adverse life events found a U-shaped relationship between should incorporate and researchers should measure cognitive (e.g.,
adverse events and several indices of psychological adjustment, reframing, search for meaning), emotional (e.g., positive and negative
indicating that individuals do become more resilient after moderate affect), and behavioral (e.g., coping skills, use of social networks)
or intermittent exposure to stressful circumstances. These theoret- adaptive processes that may explain or mediate the lagged work–
ical perspectives and empirical findings are consistent with those family conflict-well-being effects observed in this study. Researchers
presented in this study, suggesting that individuals tend to be could also target employees prior to experiencing a new, major
adaptive after exposure to demanding life circumstances, such as stressor (e.g., return to work following the birth of a child, marriage,
work–family conflict. major promotion, experienced layoffs with the company) and assess
Our findings are theoretically important because they suggest their experience of work–family conflict, their adaptive processes, and
that although current models of the work–family interface, which well-being, using multiple waves of data collection. Such significant
are based in stress reaction theories (e.g., COR, Hobfoll, 1989), events take on particular interest in that, given past research (Lucas,
may adequately account for short-term (e.g., concurrent) work– 2005; Lucas et al., 2003, 2004), they may actually represent subjective
family conflict/well-being relationships, they may not accurately well-being “reset” points. That is, given the magnitude of significant
reflect the long-term processes by which work–family conflict life events, the adaptive process may be significantly extended or may
affects subjective well-being (and vice versa). Our results provide actually reach a point wherein an individual’s baseline level of sub-
an empirical basis for why, despite the experience of conflict jective well-being changes. From a conservation of resources theory
between work and family roles, many workers’ subjective well- perspective, these major life events may result in such a significant
being remains resilient in the long run. In the short term, work– and prolonged consumption of resources that it becomes nearly im-
family conflict was associated with poorer well-being, but, through possible for the individual to replace them. The result is a change in
some form of adaptation, increases in subjective well-being ensued “baseline” subjective well-being. Following a significant event such
in our sample. This suggests many workers maintain long-term as divorce, for example, it may be that the individual never quite
stability in their well-being via temporary changes, explaining a returns to his or her original level of well-being; yet, this new set point

becomes his or her normal level of well-being from which the indi- behavioral adaptive processes). Methodologically, these findings
vidual evaluates future stressful experiences. again highlight a limitation of cross-sectional designs and the
From a research design standpoint, our findings suggest that importance of testing reverse causation in longitudinal designs.
cross-sectional “snapshots” of relationships may tell a different
story than the fuller narrative obtained in longitudinal designs
Time Lag Between Assessments
(Ployhart & Vandenberg, 2010). Moreover, a daily diary study or
time series design is consistent with the episodic approach recom- A final noteworthy contribution is that our study extends prior
mended for studying work–family conflict (Maertz & Boyar, work by considering the temporal nature of the work–family
2011). Latent class analysis of adaptation profiles could be used to conflict/subjective well-being process. As others have noted re-
examine how the adaptation process might differ for men and garding health (e.g., Frese & Zapf, 1988; Zapf et al., 1996), very
women or for those in different types of employments (e.g., little is known regarding the time frame in which work–family
part-time vs. full-time) or family situations (e.g., children present conflict affects subjective well-being or when adaptation might
vs. not). Building on the foundation provided here, future theory occur. It is interesting to note just how stable experiences of
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and research can delve into the processes by which people adapt to work–family conflict, as well as subjective well-being, were over
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work–family conflict experiences over time. the course of the study. The relative stability of these constructs is
Although our findings are consistent with the notion that, on not surprising in that it replicates existing research. For example
average, people readjust and return to more positive levels of well- Rantanen et al. (2008) reported lagged effects of .69 and .73 for
being, prior research tells us that not all do (Taylor, 1983). An work-to-family conflict based on 1- and 6-year lags, respectively.
individual difference approach might provide a rich theoretical per- Kelloway et al. (1999), on the basis of a 6-month lag, reported lags
spective to explore who is more likely to adjust to work–family ranging from .65 to .73 for both work-to-family and family-to-
conflict and recover to more positive well-being as well as who is work conflict. And Demerouti et al. (2004) reported lagged effects
more vulnerable to lasting decrements in well-being. For example, ranging .51 to .54 for work-to-family conflict using a 6-week lag.
trait resilience, or the ability to bounce back from stressful events, is Cho et al. (2013) also found support for a dispositional work–
a personal resource that enhances individual adaptation and may family spillover factor that was distinct from other personality
moderate recovery effects (Windle, Bennett, & Noyes, 2011). An- traits and may reflect an individual tendency to allow or facilitate
other factor that might influence adaptation is the severity of the spillover across domains, thus explaining some of this stability.
work–family conflict. The more severe an event, the longer it takes for Yet, in each of these studies, there was still some meaningful
people to recover (e.g., Lucas, 2005; Lucas et al., 2003, 2004). Thus, change in work–family conflict over time. In our study, the auto-
in cases of chronic and/or severe work–family conflict, adaptation correlation across 1-month lags was .79 for work-to-family con-
back to more positive levels of subjective well-being may be hin- flict and .71 for family-to-work conflict. Over the longer, 6-month
dered, resulting in more of the U-shaped relationship between stres- lag, the autocorrelation was .39 for work-to-family conflict and .49
sors and adjustment observed in Seery et al.’s (2010) analysis. for family-to-work conflict (accounting for Assessment 1 effects).
Alternatively, one’s tendency to experience positive or negative Although these results suggest that there is a good deal of stability
emotional states (i.e., trait negative or positive affectivity) may be in the perceived experiences of work–family conflict from month
an important substantive variable to consider. As discussed by to month and that the nature of the work–family interface may be
Allen et al. (2012), individuals high in trait negative affectivity more stable than dynamic, there does appear to be ample room for
may be more predisposed to experience work–family conflict and people to have time-varying experiences as well.
also more likely to be negatively influenced by its occurrence. As With these results in mind, it was interesting to note that our
such, beyond being an antecedent of work–family conflict, nega- empirical investigation of multiple time lags revealed there was no
tive affectivity may moderate the effect of work–family conflict on statistical difference in the cross-lagged effects between constructs
subjective well-being, both concurrently and in terms of lagged for the 1-month lag versus the 6-month lag. These results tenta-
effects. In terms of the adaptation process, trait negative affectivity tively suggest that in the study of the work–family conflict/well-
may impede an individual’s ability to recover from experiences of being relationship, processes are fairly consistent whether the time
work–family conflict. That is, compared to people high in trait lag is quite brief (1 month) or a bit longer (6 months). Other recent
negative affectivity, those who are low in it may adapt to and research on the role of time lags in stress reactions has been
recover from experiences of work–family conflict more quickly. similarly inconclusive about differences across time lag length.
Our findings also provide evidence of a reverse causal relation- Meier and Spector (2013) found no significant difference in the
ship, with subjective well-being predicting the experience of effects of stressors on counterproductive behavior across time lags
work–family conflict (i.e., strain-stressor hypothesis). In other covering five different measurement points ranging from 2 to 8
words, subjective well-being not only is an outcome of work– months apart. A recent quantitative review of longitudinal studies
family conflict but subjective well-being also serves as a resource on occupational stressor-strain relationships found a weak positive
that can reduce conflict’s future occurrence. In terms of theory and relationship between time lag length and lagged effect size up to a
consistent with the notion of a loss spiral (Hobfoll, 2001), these lag of around 2 to 3 years (Ford et al., 2014). However, there was
findings support the idea that work–family conflict negatively considerable variability across studies and types of stressors, and
influences assessments of subjective well-being, which in turn the magnitude of this trend was not large, making it difficult to say
affects individuals’ subsequent interpretations or experiences of when the effects of work–family conflict should peak. However, if
work–family conflict. Future research might extend this study by future research confirms these findings, it would suggest that
testing for reciprocal relations and/or testing the processes by shorter, 1-month lags, which may be more feasible to obtain, are
which reverse causation might occur (e.g., cognitive, emotional, or reasonable and likely to find effect sizes that are similar to those

found in studies with longer lags. Given this trend, we would result of a work–family conflict-based intervention would need to
recommend that shorter time lags may be practical in detecting the include comparison groups or take other efforts to account for
causal relationship between work–family conflict and well-being natural adaptations to work–family conflict that would occur over
(at least for indices of well-being that are not extremely stable over time.
time). Positive psychology interventions (i.e., those aimed at raising
Theories used in the work–family literature do not typically positive feelings, positive cognitions, or positive behavior, as
consider time lags, and time lags do not seem to naturally or opposed to interventions aiming to reduce symptoms, problems or
deductively emerge from logic or theory. Thus, to advance theory, disorders) are associated with moderate improvements in subjec-
more inductive research on the use of varying time lags (e.g., daily, tive well-being (Bolier et al., 2013). These findings are consistent
weekly, monthly, 3– 6 months, 1–2 years) and fluctuations in with the processes outlined by adaptation theory as to how people
work–family constructs such as conflict, enrichment, and balance might adjust cognitively, emotionally, and behaviorally to stres-
is warranted. In the end, theory should guide the testing of differ- sors (Brickman et al., 1978). Empirical work examining these
ent temporal lags to ensure that the underlying causal mechanism theorized processes and individual difference variables would in-
This article is intended solely for the personal use of the individual user and is not to be disseminated broadly.

is correctly assessed (Mitchell & James, 2001). Our findings may form development of these interventions by identifying relevant
This document is copyrighted by the American Psychological Association or one of its allied publishers.

be a function of our index of well-being, and the appropriate time content (e.g., specific cognitions, emotions, and/or behavior) and
lag might differ for other outcomes such as health, depression, the most appropriate participants (e.g., those with less resiliency).
performance, or burnout. As noted in the subjective well-being Results of the present study should not be interpreted to imply
literature, some indices of subjective well-being are more resistant that organizations need not concern themselves with or seek to
to change, and different outcomes may have different temporal address employee experiences of work–family conflict. Organiza-
trajectories (Tucker, Smith, MacDonald, & Folkard, 1998). For tions should strive to address the causes of work–family conflict at
example, work–family conflict may have a relatively proximal its source, given the immediate negative impact on well-being. Just
effect on employee attitudes but may take longer to affect physical as organizations should endeavor to reduce physical risk factors
health or behaviors such as role performance. As such, longer lags that may cause physical harm, organizations should also seek to
might be needed for different criteria. Similarly, future research address psychosocial risk factors that may contribute to experi-
might examine whether temporal effects differ based on the type of ences of work–family conflict (e.g., abusive supervision, role
work–family conflict; time-based conflict could potentially show conflict, socially isolating work, and schedule inflexibility). How-
more immediate effects on outcomes such as well-being, whereas ever, we recognize that not all stressors linked to work–family
behavior-based conflict might take longer to manifest. Examining conflict (e.g., long work hours, rotating shifts, required travel) can
these sorts of issues provides concrete avenues in which to build be addressed in a preventive way. In such instances, and consistent
“time” into theories of work–family conflict. with these results, organizations should work to better equip em-
ployees with the resources needed to facilitate the adaptation
process when these stressors arise.
Practical Implications
Practically, our findings offer potential good news for the ma-
Limitations and Conclusion
jority of employees who experience work–family conflict (Amer-
ican Psychological Association, 2007). Although work–family Though our multiwave study is an improvement over cross-
conflict has an immediate, negative impact on their well-being, sectional or even stressor time 1 ¡ strain time 2 designs, the
over time, many will adapt and continue to experience positive contributions of the present study should be considered in the
subjective well-being. Considering the many negative outcomes context of the study’s limitations. First, though we use multiple
associated with work–family conflict in the short term, it is reas- time lags of 1 and 6 months, our design did not allow us to
suring that people can successfully adapt to work–family conflict compare these to shorter (i.e., daily, weekly) or longer (i.e., 1 year)
over time. It is also good news that when people experience assessments, which we recommend for future research. Because
subjective well-being, they may be better equipped to respond to our analysis sample differed from those who completed assess-
and manage future work–family experiences. Accordingly, in ad- ments only at Time 1 (albeit with a small effect size), these
dition to interventions designed to reduce work–family conflict sociodemographic variables (e.g., age, gender, children) may put
(e.g., training in family-supportive supervisor behaviors; Hammer boundary conditions on and limit the generalizability of our find-
et al., 2009), other interventions may also be designed to improve ings. Although the size of our effects is small, this is typical due to
subjective well-being more directly. the multicausal nature of stressor-strain relationships (Zapf et al.,
Our findings also suggest, however, that interventions to reduce 1996). Additionally, our measure of family-to-work conflict did
work–family conflict and/or improve well-being may have limited not demonstrate configural invariance. However, we would argue
long-term effects. That is, when a stressor is removed or a well- that this finding is more a result of our relatively large sample;
being intervention implemented, after an initial reduction in work– based on the observed factor loadings, the same construct (family-
family conflict or improvement in well-being, consistent with to-work conflict) underlies the three measures (Ployhart & Van-
adaptation theory, workers may regress back to their earlier levels denberg, 2010).
of subjective well-being. As such, interventions may need to focus In conclusion, our central theoretical contribution is that we
on resources that help people adapt more quickly when stressors bring together stress reaction models, typically used in the work–
are experienced. Our findings also inform practice-based research family literature (e.g., Hobfoll, 1989), and adaptation models,
designed to evaluate the efficacy of these interventions. For ex- typically used in the well-being literature (Brickman et al., 1978),
ample, researchers examining improvements to well-being as a to test competing predictions about the longitudinal relationship

between work–family conflict and subjective well-being. Our rig- national Journal of Stress Management. Advance online publication.
orous design, including multiple waves of data collection with doi:10.1037/a0034803
varying time lags, enables effective tests of these competing pre- Demerouti, E., Bakker, A. B., & Bulters, A. J. (2004). The loss spiral of
dictions as well as reverse causation. A key theoretical insight is work pressure, work– home interference and exhaustion: Reciprocal
that people tend to adapt to work–family conflict; as such, it is relations in a three-wave study. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 64,
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