Entries in work (10)


Friendship Dissolution: The Whys and Goodbyes

A friend recently asked me for advice regarding a breakup. I am accustomed to fielding such relationship questions, however, I was surprised by her inquiry because I didn’t realize that she had a significant other. What was even more surprising was that the breakup she wanted advice about was not with a romantic partner, but with a friend.

Because our social circle seems to naturally evolve as we go through transitions in our lives (e.g., new schools, new homes, new jobs, etc.) many of us don’t think about the process of breaking up with friends. Her predicament, however, got me thinking about what happens when we need to let go of a friend during a relatively stable time in our lives. The decision to end the friendship may be because we realize that we have grown apart, no longer have time to devote to one another, or no longer value the connection.

So how do we go about breaking things off? Can we end a friendship, or are we obligated to hold on to friends just because we have had them in our lives for a certain period of time? If we decide to end the friendship, can we “ghost” the other person, or do we owe our friend a more formal ending?

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The Problem with (How we Treat) Highly Disciplined People

Self-control: it’s a skill that most of us wish we had a lot more of. Yet, every once and a while, you meet a person who has a seemingly mystical ability to make themselves do things they ought to do, and resist the urge to do things they ought not to do. It’s that person who walks their dog, eats their oatmeal, picks up coffee for everyone in the office, and still shows up to work by 9am. The person who gets their day’s work done by lunch and then works out during their lunch hour. The person who not only makes homemade cards for their friends and family’s birthdays, but actually gets them mailed on time.

It’s easy to envy such individuals. People who have high self-control are more likely to achieve their goals in a wide variety of domains. Research shows that people with high levels of self-control tend to get better grades in school, they are less likely to engage in problem behaviors such as binge eating and alcohol abuse, and they have better psychological adjustment compared to people with lower levels of self-control.1 High self-control also has important benefits for romantic relationships. For example, married couples with greater combined levels of self-control are more responsive, trusting, and forgiving of one another, they have smoother day-to-day interactions, they have less day-to-day conflict, and they are more satisfied with their relationships on the whole.2

Looking at the literature, it’s tempting to conclude that one simply can’t go wrong by having high levels of self-control, or by having close others with high levels of self-control. However, in a paper that just came out this year, Koval, vanDellen, Fitzsimons, and Ranby3 explored a potential downside to self-control: the high expectations that others might have of high self-control individuals. Below are the three ways we tend to treat high self-control individuals, according to Koval et al.’s research, that might be damaging for our relationships with such individuals.

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Ben Affleck Was Right: Relationships Are Hard Work. And That’s OK.

As many of you are no doubt aware, Ben Affleck got a lot of flack after his infamous 2013 Oscar acceptance speech, in which he thanked his (then) wife Jennifer Garner for the “work” that they put into their relationship. This comment prompted an intense backlash, which has been revisited in light of Ben and Jennifer’s divorce earlier this year. Many thought the writing was on the wall, and some questioned the very idea that marriage and work are synonymous, including this pointed article specifically questioning experts’ wisdom that successful relationships do in fact require work. Here’s a key quote from this opinion piece: 

…maybe if marriage seems like really hard work, there is something that needs a little fixing…. is our marriage work? It can't be. Because I never feel like I need a vacation.”

Well, perhaps it’s time for the Science of Relationships experts to weigh in. I’ll cut right to the chase: Ben was right. Relationships are hard work. And that’s OK.

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For Richer: How Your Spouse Influences Your Job Success

Picking a romantic partner with the “right” characteristics can be difficult, but it is also important. We all want a partner who is smart, funny, kind, and all around fantastic, because the assumption is that such a person makes us happy and will generally lead to a better life overall. But can your relationship partner influence your job success? Researchers Brittany Solomon and Joshua Jackson from Washington University in St. Louis speculated that there are at least three possible ways a partner’s personality could influence job success1:

  1. Outsourcing – Your spouse does things for you that free you up to focus on your job (e.g., your partner does household chores like making dinner or doing your laundry so you have more time for work).
  2. Emulating – You take on your spouse’s positive qualities for your benefit (e.g., your spouse is organized, so by spending time together you become more organized).
  3. Relationship Satisfaction – Your spouse’s charming personality leads to a better relationship that positively influences your work (e.g., your partner is kind, which makes for a better relationship and success work). 

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Longer Commutes Linked to Higher Likelihood of Divorce

Commutes. They’re dull; they’re stressful. They’re even hilariously frustrating, if you’re Ron Livingston in the movie Office Space. But could a commute hurt your relationship?

A 10-year study from Sweden suggests that the answer is yes.1 More than two million married or cohabiting Swedes (from an annually updated database containing the entire Swedish population) were included in this study on long-distance commuting. In the study, a “long-distance commute” was defined as a commute spanning 30 kilometers (approximately 18.6 miles) or more, which in Sweden translates to a one-way commute lasting approximately 45 minutes by car. (The 30-kilometer distance was measured in a straight line, so the actual distances traveled were greater.) The researcher found that couples who had lengthy commutes had a 40% higher risk of separation, compared with non-commuting couples.

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Taking a Pass on Workplace Romance

A co-worker of mine recently asked me if she could set me up with a guy in another department at my university. Since my divorce about 2 years ago, I have only started dating again the last few months, but I have not told her much about my personal life. Although I like one man I have recently started dating a lot (The Consultant), I did not want to tell my co-worker about him quite yet. I am sure her intentions to set me up with a colleague are good, but I tend to shy away from workplace set-ups due to the complications that can arise.

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Can What He Does Tell Me About Who He Is?

A reader recently sent in a comment about the men she was meeting online. She noted that, compared to other occupations, a majority of men who reported having MBAs misrepresented their custody arrangements with their kids (i.e., they claimed to have custody for less time than they actually did), and that lawyers were more likely to report being separated (versus divorced). I’m not sure whether these lawyers were more honest about their marital status than other guys or whether they were more likely to be separated in general, but she does pose an interesting question:

Do our career choices reflect our personalities, and if so, can our careers say something about how we operate and present ourselves in our intimate relationships? In other words, if I meet an MBA, can I draw conclusions about what he is like as a person and how he will act in a future relationship with me?

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Bringing Home More Than Just the Bacon: When Work Life Collides with Home Life

“Leave your troubles at the door.” 

It’s a standard rule of thumb to leave your emotional baggage behind when you clock in at your job. You can’t concentrate on your daily tasks if you’re worried about whether Little Danny will remember his lines in his school play audition. You can’t smile and talk up your proposal to a highly coveted client if last night’s argument with your significant other is still replaying itself, every hurtful word, over and over in your mind. Unless you’re a Method actor or perhaps some incarnation of a brooding songwriter-comedian-artist, your personal life has no place at your job.

The reverse is also true. Imagine you bring your work troubles home...

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Ticking Biological Clocks and Career Aspirations: Managing Incompatible Goals

For as long as I can remember, I wanted to meet the “right” guy and be a mother. The question was, “when?” You see, I also had goals to go to graduate school and get a job as a professor at a university. Sadly, these goals are oftentimes incompatible for anyone in the workforce (click here for more information about this choice). There are many costs involved with motherhood,1 such as loss of wages, decay of skills and lowered productivity, child care expenditures, not to mention losing precious sleep! In fact, for each year of motherhood delay, women can expect a 9% increase in earnings and 3% increase in wages!1 Because of the costs of parenthood and benefits of employment, many women delay motherhood for the sake of establishing their careers. Between 1990 and 2002, birth rates in the U.S. have declined for women under age 30 and increased for women age 30 and over,2 and women aged 40-44 are the only group to have seen increased birth rates thru 2009.3 With the current economic recession, this pattern is likely to continue because many women have decided to delay motherhood due to the bad economy.4

Today, I find myself an assistant professor and a single mom of two amazing toddler boys (unfortunately, Mr. “Right” was not so “right” after all). I was in my mid-thirties when I gave birth to my first child and have not yet secured the holy grail of academia: job security (aka tenure). The choice to have children before tenure was hastened by the potential negative consequences of further delayed motherhood (e.g., increased risk of infertility, birth defects). My story is not unique; many academic women are often forced to choose between becoming mothers and negotiating a very rigid tenure timeline.5 Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons that many women do not pursue academic careers6 or are worried about their future career success.7

What impact does having a family (or not) have on a scientific career? Recently, Elaine Ecklun and Anne Lincoln8 conducted a large scale survey of 3,455 male and female biology and physics graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and faculty members across 31 universities. Women were generally less satisfied than men with their careers. But, importantly, they had similar levels of satisfaction if their non-work life was satisfying. Women were twice as likely as men to have fewer children because of their careers, and the decision to have fewer children because of one’s career goals was associated with greater life dissatisfaction. Interestingly, the decision to have fewer children due to career demands was associated with even greater life dissatisfaction for men than women!

So, delayed parenthood has a number of costs and benefits, not only for mothers, but also for fathers. There is no ‘right’ time to have kids, and researchers recommend making sure that there are family-friendly policies in all workplaces to encourage a healthy work-life balance. Many industrial/organizational psychologists (i.e., psychologists that study the workplace) will tell you: a happy worker, despite work-family stressors, is a productive worker when they work in a supportive organization.9


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1Miller, A. (2011). The effects of motherhood timing on career path. Journal of Population Economics, 24, 1071-1100.

2Sutton, P. D. & Mathews, T. J. (2004, May 10). Trends in Characteristics of Births by State: United States, 1990, 1995, and 2000–2002.  Volume 52, Number 19. Retrieved on August 30, 2011 from http://www.cdc.gov/NCHS/data/nvsr/nvsr52/nvsr52_19.pdf

3Hamilton, B. E., Martin, J. A., & Ventura, S. J. M.A. (2010, December  21). Births: Preliminary Data for 2009. Volume 59, Number 3. Retrieved on August 30th from http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_03.pdf

4Guttmacher Institute. (2009). A real-time look at the impact of the recession on women’s family planning and pregnancy decisions. Retrieved on August 31 from http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/RecessionFP.pdf

5Haynie, A. (2008). Motherhood after tenure: Confessions of a late bloomer. In E. Evans, & C. Grant Grant (Eds.), Mama, PhD: Women Write about Motherhood and Academic Life. pp. 55-60. Piscataway, NJ, US: Rutgers University Press.

6Van Anders, S. M. (2000). Why the academic pipeline leaks: Fewer men than women perceive barriers to becoming professors. Sex Roles, 51, 511-521.

7Kemkes-Grottenthaler, A. (2003). Postponing or rejecting parenthood? Results of a survey among female academic professionals. Journal of Biosocial Science, 35, 213-226.

8Ecklund, E. H., & Lincoln, A. E. (2011). Scientists want more children. PLoS One, 6. Retrieved on August 30, 2011 from http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0022590

9Sidle, S. D. (2007). Pain or gain: Is there a bright side to juggling work and family roles? Academy of Management Perspectives, 21, 80-82.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

image source: thepunch.com.au


The Office Romance: Falling in Love at Work

Employees who observed more workplace romance also perceived greater workplace sexualization such as flirting and innuendo. 42% had observed a workplace romance at some point at their current job. Romances occurred more frequently when there was high sexualization and male-female contact. However, male-female contact alone did not increase workplace romance.

Salvaggio, A. N., Streich, M., Hopper, J. E., & Pierce, C. A. (2011), Why do fools fall in love (at work)? Factors associated with the incidence of workplace romance. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41, 906–937. doi: 10.1111/j.1559-1816.2011.00741.x