Parents take note! Having a sense of control over your professional life may help boost the health of your children, a study suggests."If you can decide how you are going to do your job, rather than having that imposed on you, it is better for children," said Christiane Spitzmueller, a professor at the University of Houston in the US.
The good news, she said, is that there are things organisations can do to provide employees with that sense of control. The researchers collected data from both parents and children in Lagos, Nigeria, targeting one group of low-income families and a second group of more affluent families.
In the study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, teenage children from both groups were surveyed at their schools and asked to assess their own health. While the low-income group included people living in dire poverty, Spitzmueller noted that their responses did not differ markedly from those of the wealthier group.
"Economic resources were not as much of a buffer as we would have thought," she said.
Instead, feelings of autonomy in the workplace accounted for the difference between families where the parents' work-family conflicts played out in health problems for the children and those whose children fared better. The researchers looked at so-called "self-regulatory resources," or the amount of self-control parents bring to parenting, including the ability to act in a more reflective manner. "If a parent has too many stressors, it reduces your self-control," Spitzmueller said.
Parental self-control was linked to better health outcomes for children. In other words, how we parent when we experience high levels of stress is probably fundamentally different from how we parent when we are coping well.
"At lower levels of job autonomy," the researchers said, "employees likely have to rely more on self-regulatory resources to compensate for the impact of limited control over one's job on one's personal life.
"At higher levels of job autonomy, freedom and more decision-making opportunities are likely to motivate the person to engage; however, self-regulatory resources would be less needed," they said.
The impact was most pronounced when job demands are high and job autonomy is low, and Spitzmueller said that allows for potential interventions and policies to address the issue. Some are relatively simple, including teaching parents to take a few minutes to recharge before plunging from the workplace into parenthood. Practicing mindfulness, she said, can allow parents to "replenish their resources."