Man and woman at work

Abuse at home spills over into the workplace, new study reveals

Detaching themselves from their family at work lessens the impact of abuse by a partner at home on their jobs for men more than women, new research has found.

08 February 2023

By BPS Communications

According to the study, published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, psychological abuse by a partner at home affects how well both men and women are able to do their jobs.

But men can diminish the effects of abuse on their job performance by mentally distancing themselves from their family at work, whereas the same effect does not occur for women, the study says. 

The research is thought to be the first to show that psychological abuse at home by a partner or spouse spills over into the workplace. It also investigates the effect of this for both husbands and wives individually at work.

A total of 352 people were involved in the American research, that’s 176 married couples with both spouses working. The men were aged, on average, around 48 and the women 47. The majority of both spouses were White and well-educated.

Psychological abuse plays a ‘critical role’ in lowering the self-esteem of men and women, which contributes to reduced job performance, the study says.

However, men’s ability to mentally detach or distance themselves from their family at work, giving them the opportunity to recover from the abuse, reduces the effects of abusive behaviour on men’s self-esteem. Therefore ‘men are able to detach and buffer the effects of abuse on their job performance’.

However, psychological detachment from family did not serve as a buffering mechanism for women, the study states.

Lead researcher Dr Merideth Thompson, Professor of Management at Utah State University, said:

“When we think of partner abuse or domestic abuse, we tend to focus on physical abuse and overlook psychological abuse. However, the effects of psychological abuse last longer than those related to physical abuse.

Further, almost without fail, psychological abuse is a precursor to physical abuse as well as to financial abuse, which can include prohibiting a partner from working, getting to work on time or forcing them to miss work. All of these have an impact on the abused in their non-work lives and in their work lives.

 “With psychological abuse, the person being abused often isn’t sure about what is going on. They don’t realise it is abuse, but just that their partner is treating them badly,

Thus, they ruminate on the abuse and wonder what they are doing wrong.

Having strong and trusting workplace relationships may lead an abused person to share with a colleague or manager what is going on at home.

This then provides an opportunity for that trusted individual to offer a reality check and validate that what the person is experiencing is in fact abuse or domestic violence.

They can also connect them with resources to deal with or leave the abusive relationship.”

Recent research continues to suggest that traditional identities of men as breadwinners and women as homemakers and caregivers remain common, the research states, which may be one explanation for why women detaching from family doesn’t diminish the impact of abuse on their work lives.

Future research should explore what factors or coping mechanisms may help women buffer the influence of partner abuse on their work lives, researchers say.

Read the full study via the Wiley online library

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