Michael Szeman, B.S. Psychology, Winthrop University; Tracy Griggs, Ph.D., Winthrop University (corresponding author)

For several decades, work-family research has focused primarily on the interplay between work and family, with relatively little attention to the time spent outside these two life domains. Only recently have studies begun to explore the benefits of time spent in leisure on the work-family relationship, with evidence suggesting that leisure engagement may facilitate recovery from work-family conflict (WFC) and related stressors (e.g., Sonnentag, 2001; Kuykendall, Tay, & Ng, 2015; Newman, Tay, & Diener, 2014). Even fewer studies have examined leisure in relation to work-family balance (WFB). This longitudinal study contributes to existing literature by further exploring the benefits of leisure on daily and weekly retrospective reports of stress, affect, and work-family outcomes (WFC and WFB).

We hypothesized that time spent in leisure would be related to perceptions of both WFC and WFB and that these relationships would be mediated by stress, positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA). To test our hypothesis, we studied participants across several days, examining both within-day effects, cross-lagged relationships between T1 (e.g. day 1) leisure and T2 (e.g. day 2) outcome variables. Consistent with previous research using a levels approach, we also examined relationships between overall weekly retrospective reports of leisure and weekly retrospective reports of work-family outcomes.

Several studies suggest that leisure may act as a coping resource which facilitates the work-stress recovery process (Demsky, Ellis, & Fritz, 2014; Molino et al., 2015; Moreno-Jiménez et al., 2009; Sanz-Vergel, Moreno-Jiménez, Demerouti, & Mayo, 2010). However, the explanatory role of stress and affect (NA and PA) in these relationships is still not well understood. Additionally, although leisure has been studied in connection with WFC and WF enrichment, it has not been well studied in relation to WFB, which is an empirically and conceptually distinct construct. We tested a mediated model of leisure to work-family outcomes (both conflict and balance) using affect and stress as mediators (see Figure 1). Finally, this study answers the call for greater clarity on the temporal nature of WF relationships (Allen et al., 2019) by estimating effects within and across days and using weekly retrospective reports over the duration of the week.

Participants in this study were 76 full-time working adults, most of whom were university employees. Most were Caucasian (84%) and female (77%). Mean age was 25-35 years. This study occurred over a period of six days. Surveys were administered online with prompts sent out via text message at 7pm. On day one, participants completed an online pre-study survey which captured basic demographic information and their typical time spent at work, with family, and in leisure (defined as “time spent free from compulsory participation in work or other duties (employment, household chores, education), but not including time spent eating and sleeping)”. On days two through five, participants completed a daily survey reporting their total time spent at work, with family, and in leisure, as well as their perceptions of stress, PA, NA, WFC and WFB. On day six, participants completed a post-study survey reporting their estimated total leisure time for the week along with their retrospective estimates of weekly stress, PA, NA, WFC and WFB.

Hypotheses were partially supported. Daily leisure time was significantly and negatively related to daily WFC (r = -.32, p < .05). More specifically, we found an inverse relationship between reported daily leisure time and daily work interference with family (WIF). These relationships were not mediated by the measures of subjective wellbeing (stress, PA nor NA).

Results of cross-lagged analyses did not show that leisure time at T1 was significantly related to stress, PA, NA, WFC, or WFB at T2 (i.e. on the next day). When averaging daily measures into a single composite, only “average daily leisure time” (the average of leisure across all 4 days) was significantly correlated with average daily work interference with family (WIF), r = -.33, p < .05.

Finally, weekly retrospective accounts of leisure were significantly related to weekly retrospective reports of stress, as well as both WFC (WIF and FIW) and WFB but not to weekly retrospective reports of PA and NA.

Since few daily longitudinal studies have examined the benefits of leisure on subjective wellbeing and work-family outcomes, this study contributes to a growing body of research supporting the relationship between time spent in leisure and work-family outcomes. However, the time period used for the measurement of variables appeared to significantly impact the validity of the modeled relationships. A strong relationship between “average daily leisure time” and “average daily WFC” across 4 days suggests that engaging in leisure may be a way to prevent conflict between work and family. However, results of within day effects do not indicate that there is a strong relationship between daily hours spent in leisure and reports of daily subjective well-being nor daily WF outcomes. This suggests that stress and affect may not be the explanatory mechanisms by which leisure reduces WIF within the period of a single day. It is possible that when considered apart from the demands (e.g. daily workload) and resources (e.g. social support) across life domains, leisure time alone, may not be the key indicator of subjective well-being within a daily measurement period. Finally, effects between weekly retrospective measures of leisure, SWB and WF outcomes were consistent with previous literature, which suggests that levels data may be inherently capitalizing on a general impressions of variables rather than episodic or momentary reports.

In summary, weekly leisure is related to both weekly WFC and weekly WFB. The validity of the tested mediation model differ depending on the period in which participants were asked to report their experiences. Future research should consider the role of time by testing daily, weekly and longer term retrospective reports on overall subjective well-being and WF outcomes.

Tags: Applied research, Fit; Balance; Conflict; Spillover; and Enrichment, Psychological and Biological Effects of Job Stress, Theoretical and Conceptual Issues in Job Stress, Work - Life - Family, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery