Career,Social Responsibility

Balancing Work and Family Can Change Your Personality

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Work life balance, personality

Achieving harmony between work and family positively impacts personality and career, while neglecting them would do more harm

Competitive workplaces and demanding tasks can stir up pesky emotions. Meanwhile, the rollercoaster of family issues can leave individuals trapped in a whirlwind of feelings. Many adults feel anxious about balancing a multitude of these responsibilities or everything in between. In fact, according to recruitment agency Randstad’s Reimagine Work White Paper 2022, two-thirds of Hong Kong employees experienced excessive overtime that has resulted in a work-life conflict.

Any adult can relate to this issue. However, not so many are aware that work and family experiences can affect each other and as time goes by, change someone’s personality. A new study titled Getting Under the Skin? Influences of Work–Family Experiences on Personality Trait Adaptation and Reciprocal Relationships found that positive work-family experiences were associated with positive personality development among adults, and vice versa.

Work-family conflicts are important for employee performance and well-being, and they reflect the work-family interface that may affect our behaviours, thoughts, and feelings, and then personality development.

Prof. Li Wendong

“Work-family conflicts are important for employee performance and well-being, and they reflect the work-family interface that may affect our behaviours, thoughts, and feelings, and then personality development,” says Li Wendong, Associate Professor in the Department of Management at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) Business School, who led the study.

Personality traits can evolve throughout the lifespan, but it is widely believed that they are more likely to develop during adolescence to young adulthood. Research on personality development in middle-aged and older adults is quite limited, and this knowledge gap is significant because experiences that impact work and family can lead to changes in behaviours, thoughts, and emotions that may have implications for various aspects of individuals’ lives.

Work and family experiences can shape behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, with potential implications for various aspects of individuals’ lives.

While previous studies have examined how individual experiences in work, family, and other domains can shape personalities, most of them focused on a single domain and the findings are not always consistent across different studies. Consequently, there is still a lack of understanding about how work and family dynamics interact to influence personality development.

Caught Between Ambition and Affection

Work-family experiences refer to various encounters individuals face when juggling their work and family obligations. These encounters can manifest in different ways, such as work-family conflict, work-family enrichment, and work-family facilitation.

Work-family conflict arises when the demands of work and family clash, leading to stress and strain. Conversely, work-family facilitation, on the other hand, entails experiences in one domain that make it easier to fulfil responsibilities in the other domain.

In the study, Prof. Li and the team looked into the “Big Five” personality traits, which describe five broad categories that can help understand someone’s character. Extraversion refers to a person’s sociability and outgoing nature. Agreeableness indicates friendliness and cooperativeness. Conscientiousness reflects organisational skills and responsibility. Neuroticism is associated with emotional stability or susceptibility to worry. Lastly, openness signifies open-mindedness and creativity.

Prof. Li and the team then conducted two longitudinal studies. The first study utilised three-wave longitudinal data from the Midlife in the United States project, which comprises a sample of more than 7,000 American nationals. The second study utilised data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative sample of adults aged 50 and older in the U.S. Both studies used latent change score analysis to examine the reciprocal relationships between work-family experiences and personality trait adaptation over time.


The age spans that the research covered were from early 40s to early 60s for the first study and late 50s and middle 60s in the second study. The researchers previously observed that personality trait development generally occurs in earlier stages of life (e.g., before age 30) or after age 70. However, the study still saw evidence of personality trait development in the middle and late life stages.

The team found that work-family experiences had significant impacts on extraversion and neuroticism but had limited influences on conscientiousness and agreeableness. Neuroticism plays a role in precipitating a vicious cycle with work-family experiences, while extraversion can lead to a virtuous cycle.

Negative work-family experiences were associated with increases in neuroticism and decreases in extraversion over time. In contrast, positive work-family experiences were associated with decreases in neuroticism and increases in extraversion over time.

The findings also suggest that extroverts seek and receive greater social support, enabling them to effectively facilitate multiple life roles over time. Meanwhile, Neurotic employees are characterised as being emotionally unstable, which may be associated with more conflict between work and family.

The above dynamics interact over time, regardless of age or gender, and there were no significant differences in education and occupations. However, the researchers warn that these results should be interpreted with caution, as the sample was limited to those who provided information by self-report and did not focus on specific occupations.

“Our study participants were from national representative samples from the U.S. and we did not examine difference among occupations, so we do not know which occupations might be more susceptible,” says Prof. Li. “I would suspect those industries with high levels of work-family conflict may be more impacted by work-family dynamics on personality traits. For example, in Hong Kong, these include finance, banking, and real estate, but the impact may vary across regions.”

Weaving the Threads

The findings suggest that companies and individuals should pay more attention to the potential impact of work-family experiences on personality traits and consider more ways to reduce work-family conflict and increase work-family enrichment. Interventions aimed at reducing work-family conflict and increasing work-family enrichment may have positive effects on employees’ personality traits over time.

Positive work-family experiences correlated with decreased neuroticism and increased extraversion.

For example, companies could provide family-friendly work arrangements, such as telecommuting or flexible schedules, to help employees better manage their work and family responsibilities. Employees could also engage more in activities that promote work-family enrichment, such as spending quality time with family or pursuing hobbies and interests outside of work. By reducing work-family conflict and increasing work-family enrichment, individuals may be better able to adapt to work-family experiences and maintain positive personality traits over time, which may have far-reaching implications for their careers and health.

“Understanding how work-family conflict may change employee personality is important,” says Prof. Li. “Employee personality traits can impact their performance, well-being, health, and overall longevity. Personality traits also have broader implications for society as they can contribute to health costs, considering their influence on physical health and psychological well-being.”

Many previous studies have shown that certain personality traits, such as neuroticism, are associated with increased risk for various health problems, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and mental health disorders. These health problems can lead to increased healthcare costs for individuals and society as a whole.

“Therefore, if organisations do not care, then the whole society has to bear the consequences. That is why I believe governments should have more legislation on this issue,” Prof. Li adds.


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Furthermore, companies and society have the power to make a positive impact by implementing family-friendly policies that prioritise work-life balance. These policies, such as flexible work hours and increased support in the workplace, not only benefit employees but also contribute to a more inclusive and supportive environment.

In Hong Kong, for instance, the government has developed a measure called Family-Friendly Employment Policies and Practices that encompass various initiatives, including parental leave, childcare arrangements, and other forms of support. By promoting these policies, the government is creating an enabling environment that supports the well-being and productivity of individuals and families alike.