Expert Q&A with Dr. Mark Promislo on Materialism and Work-Family Conflict

(or, The Dangers of Valuing Money More than People)

Mark Promislo is a husband, father of two young girls, and a management professor at Rider University (and a friend, but most importantly an active blog reader and commenter!), who recently authored a great study on the effects of materialism on work-family conflict. I asked him a few questions about his life, his work, and his study– which I think has implications for working dads.

Mark's research shows the negative effects of valuing material possessions on work-family balance and well-being
Mark’s research shows the negative effects of valuing material possessions on work-family balance and well-being

Can you briefly describe your study?

During my Ph.D. program I was introduced to a lot of research on materialism (placing high importance on money and possessions), and the negative effects it can have on individual well-being. The High Price of Materialism by Tim Kasser, for example, had a major impact on my thinking. I suspected that the harmful effects of materialism likely spilled over to the areas of work and family.

After all, if someone feels that it is very important to attain financial rewards and material objects, the place to make that happen is in the workplace! And I wondered whether one’s family life would then suffer as a result, and whether the values that people hold are related to conflict between work and family. Prior to our study, the connection between values and work-family conflict had received little attention.

What were your main findings?

We surveyed 274 adults working in managerial or technical/professional positions. Overall, we found a strong relationship between materialism and work-family conflict, as predicted. This held true for both directions of conflict- work causing conflict with family life, and family causing conflict with work demands.

We also found that work overload (the perception of having too many things to do and not enough time to do them) was an important factor;  people who were materialistic felt more overwhelmed by work demands, which in turn led to more work-family conflict.

How can we, as dads trying to balance work and family, use the results of your study?

I think the study speaks to the dangers of dads placing undue importance on money and possessions. Yes, it’s nice to have plenty of money and enjoy the finer things in life. But if the cost to achieve those ends is a great deal of work-family conflict, it’s just not worth it.

It can be difficult to break away from the grip of materialism (see here for some examples of folks who have done so). Our culture, advertising, and “keeping up with the Joneses” all push us to covet possessions and consume more.  Pursuing these things can lead people to undernourish the vital relationships in their lives, and so dads should be mindful (and wary) of these cultural effects.

Another point worth making is the distinction between desiring money and possessions as status symbols versus their ability to achieve other desirable ends. It has been established that desiring money for social comparison and “showing off” makes people less happy, while seeking money for more positive means- such as supporting their families, does not have this effect.

Dads should take an honest self-assessment of their strivings for more material wealth – what are the real motives behind those pursuits?

I'll let Mark Promilso do the work today while I kick back.
I’ll let Mark Promislo do the work today while I kick back.

What is your personal advice in terms of what you do as a busy dad to balance work and family?

This issue is very personal and different for every father. Achieving balance between work and family is not easy and at sometimes seems virtually impossible.

Scott has written in this blog about the importance of finding the right life partner, and I couldn’t agree more. My wife, although she works full time as well, is an amazing woman and helps keep our family priorities straight.

I have learned a lot about balance from my kids, too. Reinforcing the results of the study I just described, I discovered that the most important things that my two young girls need are mom and dad! I have spent entire afternoons with my daughters with just a drawing pad and a puzzle. They couldn’t care less about the size of our house, whether we have a shiny new car in the driveway, or if our kitchen is outfitted with the latest stainless steel appliances. And if they don’t care, then why should I?

At the end of the day, once the basics are taken care of, possessions seem like such an insignificant ingredient in a great family life. I want my kids to be comfortable and to attend great schools, and for these purposes I work hard. That flashy new SUV with all the bells and whistles? No thanks – I’d rather take a walk with my kids to the park.

Thanks, Mark! Interesting stuff- and a great reminder to really think through our priorities.

What do you all think about the dangers of materialism? Want to share how you have worked out your financial priorities and work-family balance (or are trying to)? Let’s discuss in the comments section.

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Mark D. Promislo, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Management at Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ. His research interests include work-family, ethics and well-being, and values in organizations; his work has appeared in several prestigious management and psychology journals. Dr. Promislo earned his PhD at Temple, and previously worked for Merck & Co.

Suggested Readings

  • Deckop, J. R., Jurkiewicz, C. L., & Giacalone, R. A. 2010. Effects of materialism on work-related personal well-being. Human Relations, 63(7): 1007–1030.
  • Kasser, T. 2002. The high price of materialism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Promislo, M., Deckop, J., Giacalone, R. A., & Jurkiewicz, C. L. 2010. Valuing money more than people: The effects of materialism on work-family conflict. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 83: 935–953.
  • Srivastava, A., Locke, E. A., & Bartol, K. M. 2001. Money and subjective well-being: It’s not the money, it’s the motives. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80: 959-971.
  • Also: this great video on Materialism, based on Kasser’s book: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oGab38pKscw

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