Workplace factors associated with family dinner behaviors

Workplace factors associated with family dinner behaviors

Journal of Vocational Behavior 73 (2008) 336–342 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Journal of Vocational Behavior journal homepage: www.else...

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Journal of Vocational Behavior 73 (2008) 336–342

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of Vocational Behavior journal homepage:

Workplace factors associated with family dinner behaviors Tammy D. Allen *, Kristen M. Shockley, Laura F. Poteat Department of Psychology, The University of South Florida, 4202 East Fowler Avenue, PCD 4118G, Tampa, FL 33620-8200, USA

a r t i c l e

i n f o

Article history: Received 13 May 2008 Available online 22 July 2008 Keywords: Family meals Family dinner Work–family conflict Fast food

a b s t r a c t This study investigated relationships between workplace factors and family dinners. We examined two aspects of the family dinner, the frequency that the entire family typically has dinner together each week and the frequency that children eat fast food for dinner. Participants were 220 parents who worked at least 20 h a week and had at least one child living at home. Results indicated that work interference with family (WIF) mediated the relationship between family-supportive supervision and family dinner frequency. Greater flexplace (i.e., telecommuting) availability was associated with less frequent use of fast food for children’s dinner. Ó 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction Work–family conflict and its outcomes have been a topic of considerable research interest during the past several decades (Allen, Herst, Bruck, & Sutton, 2000). Organizational behavior research has focused on work-related outcomes with limited attention on outcomes residing in the family domain (Eby, Casper, Lockwood, Bordeaux, & Brinley, 2005). However, work– family scholars have begun to articulate compelling arguments for why employers need to be concerned with family-related outcomes such as child health, and children have been referred to as the unseen stakeholders at work (Friedman & Greenhaus, 2000; Major, Allard, & Cardenas, 2004). In the present study, we focus on an important, but virtually unexplored topic in the work–family literature, family dinners. We examined two aspects of the family dinner, the frequency the entire family has dinner together and the frequency children eat fast food for dinner. These two variables are important because of their links with child health outcomes. For example, more frequent family dinners have been associated with reduced teen risk for smoking, drinking, aggressive behaviors, and illegal drug use (e.g., CASA, 2005;Fulkerson et al., 2006) and with more healthy dietary habits (e.g., more fruit and vegetable intake) (e.g., Gillman, et al., 2000). Greater fast food intake by children has been associated with poor dietary quality, placing children at risk for obesity (Bowman, Gortmaker, Ebbeling, Pereira, & Ludwig, 2004). Despite the positive benefits associated with family dinners, research suggests that they have been on the decline. Total time spent on meal preparation has decreased (Bianchi, 2000) while the number of meals eaten outside the home of poor nutritional value has increased (e.g., Blisard, Lin, Cromartie, & Ballenger, 2002). Most parents (94%) who have fewer than 3 dinners with their families in a typical week report the desire to have more frequent family dinners (CASA, 2005). Additionally, 98% of parents of adolescents agree that it is important for families to have at least one meal a day together (Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Ackard, Moe, & Perry, 2000). These findings suggest that there is a willingness to dine together as a family, but that there are barriers to doing so. It seems likely that obstacles to the family dinner reside within the workplace. The primary objective of the current research is to investigate linkages between workplace factors, work interference with family (WIF), and family dinner

* Corresponding author. Fax: +1 813 974 4617. E-mail address: [email protected] (T.D. Allen). 0001-8791/$ - see front matter Ó 2008 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.jvb.2008.07.004

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behaviors among a sample of employed parents. We focused on workplace characteristics previously associated with employee ability to manage work and nonwork responsibilities, including paid employment hours, family-supportive supervision, and flexible work arrangements availability (e.g., Allen, 2001; Thomas & Ganster, 1995). We examined direct relationships between these variables and family dinner behaviors as well as indirect relationships through WIF. 1.1. Workplace factors 1.1.1. Overview Several theoretical perspectives provide the groundwork as to why workplace factors may be associated with family dinner behaviors. The ecological framework articulated by Brofenbrenner (1979) suggests that the individual is related to the family system, the work system, and the work–family system and that each of theses systems influence each other. Therefore, behaviors occurring within the family such as those related to meals can be understood by examining factors within the work system such as work hours and supportive supervision. Interactions between the two systems can result in conflict. As noted by Grzywacz (2000), work–family conflict is a good example of the ecological concept of ‘‘mesosystem” proposed by Brofenbrenner. Role theory also suggests that the competing demands on time and energy needed to fulfill both the work and the family role can result in conflict and strain (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). Employed parents face multiple demands (Voydanoff, 2005). Demands may be grounded in time, such as number of working hours, or grounded in strain, such as the conditions under which time is spent. Aspects of unsupportive work conditions include lack of flexibility and supervisors who are unsupportive of employee family needs. Family work also involves multiple demands that include care for spouses, children, and completion of domestic tasks. One frequent family task is feeding (DeVault, 1991). Home meal preparation typically involves food acquisition, storage, preparation, cooking, service, clean-up, and consumption. One way that employed parents can try and cope with work demands is to reduce time spent engaged in family demands. Specific to the context of the current study, this may be accomplished through fewer family dinners and/or by reducing the time necessary for meal preparation through the use of fast food. In the next sections, we outline rationale for relationships between specific workplace demands and family dinner behaviors. 1.1.2. Employment hours Kanter (1977) noted that occupational time demands are among the most obvious ways that work life affects family life. Because time is a finite resource, time spent in paid employment restricts the time available to participate in family activities. In interviews with working mothers, time scarcity was identified as a factor contributing to the decline in family dinners and to an increase in fast food consumption (Jabs et al., 2007). Greater time spent in paid labor inevitably results in less time for meal preparation. Neumark-Stainer, Hannan, Story, Croll, and Perry (2003) reported that the mean frequency of family meals was greatest among mothers not employed and lowest among mothers employed full time. In a qualitative study of low-income parents, Devine et al. (2006) found that many employed parents used take out and fast food meals as a strategy to cope with excessive time demands. In sum, long employment hours make it difficult to prepare meals and to participate in family dinners. Hypothesis 1a. Greater employment hours are associated with less frequent family dinners. Hypothesis 1b. Greater employment hours are associated with children eating fast food for dinner more frequently.

1.1.3. Flexible work arrangements The benefits of flexible work arrangements (FWA) availability have been touted frequently. Two popular forms of FWA are flextime and flexplace. Flextime refers to flexibility in the timing of work. Flexplace involves flexibility in the location where work is completed, often referring to work conducted at home (also known as telework or telecommuting). Research indicates that workplace flexibility contributes positively to time spent in domestic tasks. Specifically, schedule flexibility has been significantly associated with time devoted to housework (Bohen & Viveros-Long, 1981) and to time spent with family members (Winett, Neale, & Williams, 1982). Telecommuting has also been positively linked to greater housework (Hill, Ferris, & Märtinson, 2003) and to family interaction (Silver, 1993). Using qualitative methodology, McDonald, Guthrie, Bradley, and Shakespeare-Finch (2005) observed that employed mothers benefited from flexible scheduling by being able to spend more time with children, gaining better coordination of family responsibilities with their partners’ varying work schedules, and being able to leave work to attend to children’s activities. Finally, Devine et al. (2006) reported that flexibility at work helped manage food choices and behaviors at home. Hypothesis Hypothesis Hypothesis Hypothesis

2a. 2b. 3a. 3b.

Greater flextime availability is associated with more frequent family dinners. Greater flextime availability is associated with children eating fast food for dinner less frequently. Greater flexplace availability is associated with more frequent family dinners. Greater flexplace availability is associated with children eating fast food for dinner less frequently.


T.D. Allen et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 73 (2008) 336–342

1.1.4. Family-supportive supervision An important aspect of an organization’s work environment is managerial support for employees’ family needs (Allen, 2001; Thompson, Beauvais, & Lyness, 1999). Studies have demonstrated that supervisor support relates to employee outcomes such as work–family role strain (Warren & Johnson, 1995), and job attitudes (Allen, 2001; Thomas & Ganster, 1995). Supervisors who lack concern for employee family needs may demand late nights and greater face time in the office. Employees with unsupportive supervisors may fear that their career may suffer or that they will be perceived as less committed if they leave the workplace at an hour that enables meal preparation and dining with family members. Previous research has shown that social support at work relates to healthy food choice intentions (Sorensen, Stoddard, & Macario, 1998). Thus it seems likely that family-supportive supervisors enable employees to make family dinners together a priority. Hypothesis 4a. More family-supportive supervision is associated with greater frequency of family dinners. Hypothesis 4b. More family-supportive supervision is associated with children eating fast food for dinner less frequently.

1.2. WIF Work–family conflict is a form of interrole conflict in which demands from work and family roles are mutually incompatible in some respect (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). Work–family conflict has been operationalized as bidirectional with two dimensions: work interfering with family (WIF) and family interfering with work (FIW). In the present study, we focus on WIF, as research suggests that its predictors reside in the work domain and its outcomes reside in the family domain. In most current models of work–family conflict, work–family conflict is viewed as a mediating variable that links factors associated with one role (work or family) with outcomes associated with the other role (family or work) (e.g., Voydanoff, 2004). Previous research has shown that each of the predictors we have hypothesized as associated with family dinner behavior have been associated with WIF. Specifically, in a meta-analytic study, Byron (2005) found that longer paid work hours, less schedule flexibility, and less work support were all significantly associated with greater WIF. Thus, we expect that WIF mediates the relationship between the workplace factors and the family dinner variables. Hypothesis 5a. The relationship between workplace factors (paid work hours, FWA, family-supportive supervision) and family dinner frequency is mediated by WIF. Hypothesis 5b. The relationship between workplace factors (paid work hours, FWA, family-supportive supervision) and the frequency children eat fast food for dinner is mediated by WIF.

2. Methods 2.1. Participants Participants were 220 parents living in the United States with at least one child living at home and who worked at least 20 h a week. Their average age was 37.04 (SD = 7.68). Median level of education was a 4-year college degree. The majority of the participants were female (78.2%), Caucasian (90.4%), and married or living with a partner (84.4%). Participants were from a variety of industries and held diverse job titles such as Strategic HR Advisor, Senior Software Engineer, Teacher, Charge RN, and Letter Carrier. 2.2. Procedure Data were collected as part of a larger work-life study using survey methodology with a snowball sampling approach. Snowball sampling has been used in previous organizational research with success (e.g., Zickar, Gibby, & Jenny, 2004). Participants were told that the study concerned lifestyle and work–family balance experiences. We solicited participants using multiple methods. Personal and professional colleagues were contacted and provided with a link to an online survey used for data collection. Contacted colleagues were asked to forward the survey request and link to other contacts. Internet discussion forums for parents were identified, and the survey link and invitation to participate in the study were posted. Finally, the survey link and invitation to participate were sent to an email distribution list for human resource professionals. 2.3. Measures 2.3.1. Family dinner frequency Participants were asked to report, ‘‘How many times does your entire family have dinner together in a typical week?” Response options ranged from 0 to 7.


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2.3.2. Fast food for dinner frequency Participants were asked to report, ‘‘If you have children, how many times in a typical week do your children eat the dinner meal from a fast food, cafeteria, or ‘‘take out” restaurant.” Response options ranged from 0 to 7. 2.3.3. Paid employment hours Participants reported how many hours they typically work in a week. 2.3.4. Access to flexible work arrangements Based on the measures developed by Hyland (2000), access to flextime was assessed with two items representing flexibility in terms of time (e.g., I have the freedom to vary my work schedule), and access to flexplace was measured with two items representing flexibility in terms of place (e.g., I have the freedom to work wherever is best for me—either at home or at work). Responses were set on a five-point scale that ranged from entirely not true to entirely true. Higher scores indicated greater flexibility. The correlation between the two flextime items was .74 and the correlation between the two flexplace items was .83. 2.3.5. Family-supportive supervision Family-supportive supervision was measured with eight items (e.g., My manager accommodates me when I have family or personal business to take care of—for example, medical appointments, meeting with child’s teacher, etc.). The measure was created for this study based on items used in previous research (Bond, Thompson, Galinsky, & Prottas, 2003; Thomas & Ganster, 1995). A five-point Likert-type scale was used with responses that ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Higher scores indicated more support. Coefficient a was .91. 2.3.6. Work interference with family WIF was assessed using the nine-item measure developed by Carlson, Kacmar, and Williams (2000) (e.g., I am often so emotionally drained when I get home from work that it prevents me from contributing to my family.”). Response options were based on a five-point scale that ranged from strongly disagree to strongly agree, with higher scores representing greater work–family conflict. Coefficient a was .89. 2.3.7. Control variables To rule out alternative explanations for our results five variables that could potentially relate to the dependent variables were included. Education was an eight-point ordinal variable that ranged from less high school education (1) to graduate degree (8). Participants reported their annual household income on a 10-point scale that ranged from (1) less than $10,000 to (10) $150,000 or more. Participants reported their age and the number of children living at home. Gender was dummy coded ‘‘0” for men and ‘‘1” for women. 3. Results Means, standard deviations, and correlations are presented in Table 1. Hypotheses 1 through 4 were tested with multiple regression. To account for the shared variance among the predictors and therefore provide a strong test of the hypotheses, we entered all independent variables in the regression equation in one block. The control variables were entered at Step 1. Because income was not related to either of the dependent variables (see Table 1), it was excluded from the analyses. Paid

Table 1 Means, standard deviations, and intercorrelations 1



1. Family dinner 2. Children fast food 3. WIF 4. Paid employ. hrs 5. Flextime 6. Flexplace 7. Manager support 8. Number children 9. Income 10. Education 11. Age 12. Gender

— .18** .26** .14* .10 .14* .19* .11 .06 .01 .19** .16*

— .08 .26** .07 .17* .10 .33** .12 .18** .10 .08

— .23** .32** .17* .46** .08 .14 .12 .03 .05


4.45 2.09

1.18 1.25

2.78 .77

* **

p < .05. p < .01.










— .61** .32** .13 .30** .20** .04 .04

— .13* .05 .23** .26** .08 .03

— .15 .05 .05 .04 .03

— .11 .19** .04 .18**

— .42** .27** .06

— .15* .02

2.04 1.13

3.51 .91

3.41 .75

1.80 1.28

7.31 1.86

6.29 1.41

37.04 7.68

— .04 .05 .26** .26** .18** .06 .31** .38** 41.25 9.63




T.D. Allen et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 73 (2008) 336–342

Table 2 Hierarchical multiple regression results (N = 220) Family dinner frequency B Step 1 Number children Education Age Gender Step 1 R2


Children fast food for dinner B




0.15 0.05 0.04 0.36

0.18 0.11 0.02 0.40

0.06 0.04 0.18* 0.07 (.04)

0.16 0.13 0.02 0.21

0.10 0.07 0.01 0.07

0.11 0.15 0.15 0.07 (.07)*

Step 2 Paid employment hours Flextime Flexplace Manager support Step 2 change in R2

0.01 0.02 0.24 0.42 (.05)*

0.02 0.16 0.17 0.18

0.03 0.01 0.13 0.19*

0.02 0.11 0.20 0.03 (.03)

0.10 0.09 0.10 0.11

0.14 0.10 0.18* 0.02

Total R2 F

(.09) 2.30*

(.10) 2.58*

bs are standardized regression weights for the final equation. Changes in R2 are in parentheses. * p < .05. ** p < .01.

employment hours, flextime, flexplace, and family-supportive supervision were entered at Step 2. Results are shown in Table 2. Hypotheses 1a and 1b involved paid employment hours. Although the zero order correlations were significant for both dependent variables, the effects were not significant when controlling for the variance associated with the other independent variables. Regression results indicated no relationship between employment hours and family dinner frequency (b = .03, ns) or between employment hours and fast food for dinner (b = .14, ns). Hypotheses 2a and 2b concerned flextime availability. Flextime was not related to family dinner frequency (b = .01, ns), nor was it related to fast food frequency (b = .10, ns). Hypotheses 3a and 3b concerned flexplace availability. Although a significant bivariate relationship between flexplace availability and family dinner frequency was observed, the relationships were not significant in the regression equation (r = .14, p < .05). However, flexplace was significantly associated with less fast food for dinner (b = .18, p < .05). Hypotheses 4a and 4b concerned family-supportive supervision. Results indicated that more family-supportive supervision was associated with more frequent family dinners (b = .19, p < .05). Family-supportive supervision was not associated with fast food frequency (b = .02, ns). Hypotheses 5a and 5b concerned WIF. In support of Hypothesis 5a, results indicated that greater WIF was associated with fewer family dinners (r = .26, p < .01). However, WIF was not associated with fast food frequency (r = .08, ns), providing no support for Hypothesis 5b. 3.1. Mediation Hypotheses 5a and 5b proposed that WIF mediates the previously posed relationships. WIF was added to the third step of the regression equation to test for mediation. Results regarding family dinner frequency indicated that family supportive supervision was no longer significant after WIF was added to the equation (b = .10, ns). WIF was significantly associated with family dinner frequency (b = .25, p < .01). Thus, the results are consistent with the hypothesis that WIF mediates the relationship between family-supportive supervision and family dinner frequency. With regard to fast food for dinner, results indicated that flexplace remained significant after WIF was entered in the equation (b = .18, p < .05). WIF was not significantly associated with fast food for dinner (b = .04, ns). 3.1.1. Supplementary analyses Because of the gendered role of meal preparation (e.g., DeVault, 1991), we conducted exploratory analyses to determine if our results were consistent across men and women. We ran a series of 10 regression analyses in which gender was investigated as a moderator of each of the relationships examined in the study. None of these analyses yielded significant results. 4. Discussion The results of the current study provide initial cross-sectional evidence that workplace factors relate to the frequency with which families dine together and the frequency children eat fast food at dinner. First, we find that work hours, flexplace availability, and family-supportive supervision all demonstrate bivariate relationships with the frequency with which participants report that the entire family typically dines together. Additionally, these workplace factors relate to family dinner

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frequency through WIF, as evidenced by the mediation findings. However, when controlling for the variance shared between the workplace factors, only family-supportive supervision related to dinner frequency. Supervisors are likely the main conduit through which employees can negotiate flexibility and other supportive work conditions. Thus, the presence of a familysupportive supervisor seems to be key to the facilitation of family dining. By engaging in supportive behaviors that help employees avert WIF, supervisors can potentially encourage family dinners. In future studies, it would be interesting to more precisely identify the supervisory behaviors involved in reducing WIF and increasing family dinner frequency. For example, supervisors who act as role models by leaving work themselves to engage in family dinners may encourage such behaviors among employees (Hammer, Kossek, Zimmerman, & Daniels, 2007). The findings were somewhat different regarding fast food frequency. Although the bivariate results suggested that both longer employment hours and flexplace availability significantly relate to children’s fast food dinner frequency, only flexplace availability remained significant in the multivariate regression analysis. Time scarcity may be the contributing factor when it comes to choosing fast food. Flexplace offers individuals the ability to work from home, eliminating commute time. Lack of a commute not only increases the time available to engage in home-meal preparation, but it may also reduce the temptation to stop at a fast food restaurant. That is, because individuals are already in their home it is simpler to prepare a meal than to exit the home and drive to a fast food location. Moreover, when drive time is eliminated, employees are not exposed to pervasive roadside advertisements for fast food franchises (e.g., billboards and large golden arches). There are several implications associated with the present study. Our research has the potential to supplement knowledge regarding the factors that contribute to the adult and childhood obesity epidemic. Obesity has been recognized as a leading public health concern in the United States (Ogdenet al., 2006). Family meal frequency has been positively associated with fruit and vegetable intake, and negatively associated with soft drink intake among adolescents (Gillman et al., 2000; Neumark-Stainer et al., 2003). Additionally, fast food consumption has been implicated as a contributing factor to overweight and obesity (e.g., Jeffery & French, 1998). Several studies have also found associations between WIF and health indicators such as obesity and health behaviors such as diet and exercise (Allen & Armstrong, 2006; Grzywacz, 2000). Thus, the results of the current study, along with that of past research, begin to reveal a process by which workplace factors may indirectly contribute to health behaviors and outcomes such as weight. In terms of practical implications, it may be beneficial to engage in workplace health promotion practices aimed at recognizing the importance of the family dinner and how work role factors can be managed to better facilitate family dinners and healthy food choices. The potential cost savings to organizations are enormous given that healthy parents and healthy children should translate into less absence and lower health insurance costs. Given the findings regarding the importance of family-supportive supervision, it may also be useful to offer supervisors training on the value of providing support for parents as well as insight into how to practically do so. Finally, career counselors may be encouraged to bring to employees’ awareness the connections between the work environment and specific aspects of home life such as family dinner practices. We acknowledge several limitations to the present study. Due to the cross-sectional nature of the data collection causal direction cannot be affirmed. Although reverse causality seems unlikely for some relationships (e.g., more frequent family dinners are not likely to cause flexible work options), other relationships are more ambiguous (e.g., missing family dinners may trigger an attribution that a supervisor is unsupportive). Additionally, self-selection may play a part in our results. Those for whom family dinners are important may seek out jobs with the flexibility that enables them to engage in this activity with their families. Several factors render the generalizability of the results uncertain. Our snowball sampling strategy does not permit us to calculate response rates and our sample cannot be assumed to be representative. Because our results were based entirely on self-report data, we must be concerned with the extent that common method bias influences the results. However, the correlations between variables included multiple near zero relationships in addition to those stronger in magnitude. Such a pattern suggests that a strong method factor is not present in the data. Results of the current study suggest several avenues for future research. The workplace factors that we examined explained only a small amount of the variance associated with family dinner behaviors. Undoubtedly all family dinners are not created the same. Workplace factors may better explain the quality of the family dinner than the frequency. For example, parents who have a difficult day at work may bring home a negative mood that creates an unpleasant family meal environment. Workplace factors may relate to the nutritional quality of the meal such as the incorporation of fresh fruits and vegetables. Daily time diary studies may be a particularly useful methodology for investigating links between workplace factors and facets of daily family meals. Although the focus of the current study was on workplace factors, family variables may also play an important role. For example, family composition may serve as a moderator, such that the relationship between workplace factors may be weaker for families with younger, more dependent children who rely on parents for meal preparation. Also, support from spouses, such as help with meal preparation, may contribute to family dinner frequency. Research examining both family and workplace factors at the level of the couple simultaneously may be beneficial.

5. Conclusion The promotion of strong family relationships should be a concern to all segments of society, including employers and career practitioners. The gathering of family members for shared meals is a fundamental element of family that facilitates interaction, communication, and sense of community. As noted by Cleveland (2005), employer requirements such as long


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