Balance between volunteer work and family roles: Testing a theoretical model of work-family conflict in the volunteer emergency services

By Sean Cowlishaw, Lynette Evans and Jim McLennan. Australian Journal of Psychology, September 2010.

The discussion of work-family conflict has gained popularity in the last two decades, and in this interesting article the authors apply it in the volunteering context, in particular to emergency service volunteers. Although proportionally small in relation to the total number of volunteers, emergency services volunteers make an important contribution by protecting life, property, and the environment, most in fire fighter positions. According to this article, total volunteer-based fire agency membership declined in Australia by approximately 30% from 1995 to 2003, for many reasons including economic, demographic and organisational ones.

In this study the authors examine the factors leading to work-family conflict among 102 couples in which one was a volunteer fire-fighter in Australia. They found that the level of emotional involvement of the fire-fighter, post-traumatic syndrome symptoms and time investment (having to volunteer many hours in the fire season, being on call and time invested in training) all led to higher levels of conflict. Work-family conflict then led to volunteer burnout and lack of support by partners.

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One Response to Balance between volunteer work and family roles: Testing a theoretical model of work-family conflict in the volunteer emergency services

  1. Editor's note

    Although this study examined fire-fighters and some of the findings are applicable only to emergency relief volunteers, others are relevant to all volunteers and should be considered by volunteer managers. Several studies on volunteers indicated that volunteers can suffer from burnout, post-trauma and too much emotional involvement, which can lead to work-family conflict. It is important to provide volunteers with emotional support, set boundaries to their work and show flexibility while offering renewal options, such as time out. Of particular importance is the volunteers’ family and partner’s support, since lack of it could lead to higher levels of work-family conflict and plans to leave. Organisations can help the volunteers gain family support by involving the families in social events and providing information about the importance of the volunteer work. Family volunteering is a growing trend which also helps in overcoming conflict.

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