Researchers are calling for employers to promote a healthier work-life balance, after a new study found demanding jobs affects worker’s family time and the mental health of their children.
Conducted by the Australian National University (ANU) and La Trobe University, the Growing Up in Australia study observed around 2,500 working couples and their children over 10 years.
Lead researcher Dr Huong Dinh from ANU said children were at the highest risk when both parents experienced conflict between their job and family time, and this most often happened if they worked in jobs with heavy workloads, long hours and job insecurity.
She said six out of 10 working couples had at some time struggled to manage work and family commitments, and one in seven experienced prolonged periods when one parent was not managing these commitments well.
"When parents struggle to juggle family and work responsibilities, they become tired, stressed, cranky and unhappy, which has an impact on family relationships and their children's wellbeing," Dr Dinh said.
"We show that when employment and family are in conflict with each other, this undermines the health of both parents and their children - and this occurs when either fathers or mothers are in very demanding or inflexible jobs."
Co-researcher Professor Lyndall Strazdins from ANU said this was one of the first studies to show that a parent's work-life imbalance affected their children's mental health, which was reported on by the parent who knew the child best - mostly mothers.
She said the reports included an assessment of children's emotional symptoms, behavioural problems, hyperactivity or inattention, and relationships with peers.
"The onset and persistence of conflicts between parents' work and family life led to greater mental health problems in children, including withdrawal and anxiety, compared to children of parents with little or no work-life challenges," Professor Strazdins said.
"The good news is that children's mental health improves when their parents' work-life balance improves."