The physiological model of personality traits has always been an important research field. According to Gray [1
], personality can be divided into anxiety tendency and impulse tendency on the basis of different nervous systems and functions of the brain. Gray believes that different personality traits lead to diverse motivations and behaviors. Personality traits with an anxious tendency can lead to aversion motivation, while personality traits with an impulsive tendency can lead to desire motivation. On previous theoretical studies, Higgins proposed the regulatory focus theory stressors [5
]. The regulatory focuses on an individual’s trait, which mainly reflects the characteristics to seek advantages and avoid disadvantages. The differences in such traits directly determine the distinction in individual cognition and behavior patterns [6
]. Some studies about the effects of leadership on the psychological and behavioral effects have found that differences in employee traits directly influence how employees respond to leadership styles or behaviors [7
]. As family-related issues become increasingly critical at the workplace [8
], work–family conflict (negative spillover between work and family roles; WFC) often increases counter-productive attitudes and withdrawal behaviors among employees including emotional exhaustion and stress [10
]. Work and family are two important areas of an individual’s social life [11
]. When it is impossible to effectively balance the roles of family and work due to resource constraints (such as time and energy), there will be conflicts between the two roles [12
]. Work family conflict is one of the important sources of stress [13
] and it will decrease job satisfaction [14
] and organizational citizenship behavior (OCB) [15
], bring about job insecurity [16
], role overload [17
], and pressure [18
], even leading to deviation from the organization and counterproductive behavior [19
], thus affecting the individual’s job performance [20
]. Previous studies have found that work–family conflict not only has a direct impact on job performance [21
], but also indirectly affects job performance through mediating variables such as emotional exhaustion [22
]. Extant findings about the relationship between WFC and stress levels, however, are not consistent [23
]. Some scholars attribute these inconclusive study results to the omission of individual-level differences [24
] and to samples that are not culturally diverse [28
]. The current study responds to these concerns in four ways.
First, we identified chronic self-regulation as an important individual characteristic moderating WFC related stress perceptions. Individuals differ in their chronic regulatory focus and correspondingly, their means of dealing with external stressors [5
]. Shi [30
] proved that a situational regulatory focus had more extensive effects than a chronic regulatory focus on asymmetric perceptions of outcomes. Individuals with chronic promotion-focus tend to adopt positive patterns of behavioral and cognitive strategies; those with a chronic prevention-focus use conservative and preventive strategies. These two dimensions of regulatory focus may moderate the individual’s views about work–family interface to be seen as enrichment or conflict [31
]. We extended this perspective to suggest that such differences causes individuals to adopt very different strategies toward perceiving and managing WFC, rather than solely positive attitudes (e.g., job satisfaction in [32
]). Chronic promotion-focused individuals will perceive WFC as a challenge stress (as opportunities to balance work and family demands and achieving career and life success). On the other hand, individuals with chronic prevention-focused self-regulation experienced WFC as a hindrance stress (preventing them from fulfilling work and family responsibilities).
Second, we adopted and built on more recent research that suggests that individuals simultaneously perceive both challenge and hindrance stress with consequent effects on performance. When employees are forced to deviate from the normal or desired lifestyle, the uncomfortable feeling they experience and show is described as work pressure [33
]. Employees who are under work pressure for a long time are more likely to be dissatisfied with their work and have worse work performance [34
]. Too much work pressure can cause emotional exhaustion [36
]. Work pressure may threaten the sustainable employability of the staff [38
]. When direct leaders adopt ethical leadership, pay attention to the interests of employees, and provide support for leaders, employee anxiety can be effectively alleviated and they will behave better in their work [39
]. Previous research has provided a two-dimensional conceptualization of the individual’s stress: workplace stressors are perceived as either a challenge (i.e., they view stressors as challenges or opportunities for personal achievement) or hindrance-related stress (i.e., they view stressors as obstacles or threats) [41
]. The two types of stressors exist at the same time and affect the individual’s work performance. When one has more challenging stressors, he/she is more likely to achieve a satisfactory job performance [45
]. Researchers have suggested that “combining and integrating challenge and hindrance appraisals would enable a more valid testing and a better understanding of the effect of a stressor on performance” [46
]. We accordingly argue that individuals with different chronic self-regulatory modes will perceive challenge and hindrance types of WFC stress differently.
Third, responding to the complaints of inconsistent cultural effects and lack of research outside Western countries, this study collected data in China, a rapidly modernizing economy and society [47
]. Researchers note that because of social networks (Guangxi) and Confucianism, hospitality employees in China, Korea, and other Asian countries experience work–family conflict and stress perceptions differently than their Western counterparts [49
]. Other research has shown that the impact of job characteristics on work–family conflict was consistent and transportable across 48 countries [51
]. Drawing on a Chinese hotel employee sample, this study contributes to an understanding of the impact of culture on WFC and stress perceptions [52
A mixed method approach was adopted to ensure greater validity of the results and overcome the limitations of using either only a survey or experimentation to collect data [54
]. The next section provides theoretical foundations and develops our hypotheses.
Taken together, we propose that chronic regulatory focus will influence the employee’s perception of WFC (both WIF and FIW) as either a challenge or hindrance stress (see Figure 1
Employees with chronic promotion-focus will perceive WIF as a challenge, but not hindrance stress.
Employees with chronic promotion-focus will perceive FIW as a challenge, but not hindrance stress.
Employees with chronic prevention-focus will perceive WIF as a hindrance, but not challenge stress.
Employees with chronic prevention-focus will perceive FIW as a hindrance, but not challenge stress.
Chronic regulatory focus, considered a moderator in this paper, is distinct from coping strategies adopted in previous WFC studies. First, coping is considered a moderator in previous work–family research [78
], although it reflects the individual’s cognitive and behavioral responses (consequences) to WFC [79
]. In contrast, the individual’s chronic regulatory focus is more relevant to self-guidance in their reactions to WFC [5
]. Second, coping is situation-specific, whereas chronic regulatory foci are a general guide to the individual’s behavioral responses. Third, individuals facing stress may cope in one of two ways: adopting active (or problem-focused) or avoidance (or emotion-focused) strategies [81
]. Self-regulation, on the other hand, motivates a more complete response: individuals with a promotion-focus attempt to employ their full potential to achieve success in both work and family domains, while prevention-focused individuals attempt to avoid failures in either domain [5
6.1. Descriptive Statistics and Manipulation Check
presents the correlation matrix with means and standard deviations. Consistent with previous research [57
], the employee’s average level of WIF (M = 4.15, SD = 1.42) was greater than that of FIW (M = 2.39, SD = 1.14), and WIF and FIW were correlated (r = 0.13, p
= 0.05). WIF positively relates to both challenge (r = 0.16, p
= 0.01) and hindrance stress (r = 0.11, p
= 0.09), but FIW did not. At the same time, the bi-variate correlations support the proposed notion that chronic promotion and prevention foci have various patterns of moderation. Chronic promotion-focus relates negatively to FIW (r = −0.19, p
< 0.01), but not WIF (r = −0.03, p
> 0.10), while chronic prevention-focus relates positively to both FIW (r = 0.24, p
< 0.01) and WIF (r = 0.16, p
= 0.02). Chronic promotion-focus relates positively to challenge stress (r = 0.26, p
< 0.01); chronic prevention focus, conversely, relates to hindrance stress (r = 0.14, p
The descriptive findings of Study 2 are reported in Table 1
. They resemble those of Study 1, however, with greater coefficient values and a significant relationship between FIW and hindrance stress (r = 0.43, p < 0.01). Similar reported mean values for chronic promotion and prevention foci in both studies indicated that respondents in both groups exhibited similar deep-level characteristics and were homogeneous. One-way ANOVAs (IV: scenario type; DVs: WFC perceptions, work–family balance perceptions, and realism) were conducted to check manipulations (F = 9.81, p
< 0.01; F = 5.88, p
< 0.02). High WFC condition participants responded with higher conflict scores (M = 3.97, SD = 1.87) and lower balance scores (M = 4.53, SD = 1.60) compared to participants in low WFC context (conflict: M = 2.79, SD = 1.74 and balance: M = 5.30, SD = 1.46). The mean rating on the scenario realism was 4.86 (SD = 1.12). These results demonstrate that the scenarios effectively framed the participants’ levels of WFC.
6.2. Measurement Tests
Scale reliabilities (Cronbach’s α) of Study 1 and 2 (see Table 1
) were adequate, ranging from 0.70 to 0.86, except for a slightly low, but acceptable value (0.65) of hindrance stress in Study 2 [93
]. For all scales, the composite scale reliability (CR) values (ranging from 0.73 to 0.90) were above the cut-off of 0.70 and the average variance extracted (AVE) values (ranging from 0.55 to 0.76) exceeded the 0.50 cut-off [95
]. As shown in Table 1
, the partial correlations were lower than the square root of the AVE, demonstrating adequate discriminant validity [96
]. The CFA results of the two six-factor measurement model confirmed that the measurements fit the sample adequately (Study 1: χ2 (696)
= 939.71, GFI = 0.92, AGFI = 0.89, CFI = 0.94, IFI = 0.94, RMSEA = 0.04; and Study 2: χ2 (104)
= 136.38, GFI = 0.93, AGFI = 0.90, CFI = 0.94, IFI = 0.94, RMSEA = 0.06).
6.3. Testing Moderation Effects
presents the hierarchical regression analysis (HRA) results. At the first step, testing only the main effects, the influence of chronic promotion-focus (CPM) (Study 1: B = 0.23, p
< 0.01; Study 2: B = 0.20, p
< 0.01) and of WIF (Study 1: B = 0.12, p
= 0.01; Study 2: B = 0.15, p
= 0.02) on challenge stress were significant in both Study 1 and 2; no other main effects were found. Both FIW (Study 1: B = 0.08, p = 0.26; Study 2: B = 0.37, p
< 0.01) and chronic prevention-focus (CPV) (Study 1: B = 0.07, p
= 0.12; Study 2: B = 0.18, p
= 0.06) influenced hindrance stress significantly only in the experiment, but not in the field survey, while the main effects of WIF and CPM were insignificant in both studies.
Next, the two-way interaction terms (i.e., WIF × CPM, WIF × CPV, FIW × CPM and FIW × CPV) were tested. To create the interaction terms, the variables were first centered to their means and then were multiplied with corresponding ones. FIW × CPV had a significant influence on challenge stress in both studies (Study 1: B = 0.10, p < 0.01; Study 2: B = 0.11, p = 0.04). Surprisingly, WIF × CPV had a significant impact on challenge stress in Study 1, but not in Study 2 (Study 1: B = −0.07, p < 0.01; Study 2: B = 0.05, p = 0.23). Other interaction terms were insignificant.
6.4. Follow-Up Examinations of Moderation Effects
As noted earlier, simple slope analyses were conducted (see Table 6
). First, WIF related significantly to challenge stress for individuals with high and low levels of chronic promotion-focus. That is, for individuals with chronic promotion-focus, greater WIF leads to stronger challenge stress. Thus, Hypothesis 1a is supported.
Second, individuals with high, compared with low, chronic prevention-focus reported a greater negative relationship of FIW to challenge stress. That is, individuals with high chronic prevention focus are less likely to perceive FIW as hindrance stress rather than challenge stress. Thus, Hypothesis 2b is supported.
Third, individuals with low prevention-focus rather than those with high prevention-focus reported stronger positive relationship of WIF to challenge stress. That is, employees with low chronic prevention-focus are more likely to perceive WIF as challenge stress. However, this finding was not supported in Study 2. Finally, the insignificant results of HRA and SSA analyses indicate that chronic promotion- and prevention-focus have no moderating role when hindrance stress was the dependent variable. Therefore, Hypotheses 1b and 2a were not supported.
Overall, Hypothesis 1a and 2b were supported but Hypotheses 1b and 2a were not. As stated, studies have found ambivalent results for the relationships between WFC and stress. We attempted to clarify the relationships by adopting a two-dimensional—challenge and hindrance—view of stress. The results of this study indicate that the individual’s stress perceptions differ depending on the two dimensions of WFC. Individuals in this study regarded interferences from work to family (WIF) as a personal challenge, perhaps affording them an opportunity to balance work and life and to refine their abilities, but interferences from family to work (FIW) as a barrier prevented them from achieving career success. These different relationships between stress type and the two dimensions of WFC may result from how individuals interpret WFC and its consequences. For example, increased work to family interference may require individuals to allocate more time and effort to work such as working overtime. As breadwinners, individuals need to hold on to a job to ensure quality of life and well-being. When an individual’s family role demands exceed their time, effort, and other personal resources, individuals may perceive higher levels of hindrance stress caused by the work role.
The study also revealed that when two-way interactions between WIF/FIW and chronic promotion/prevention foci were taken into consideration, the WIF/FIW main effects on challenge/hindrance stress became insignificant, suggesting that chronic self-regulation fully moderates the relationship. Individuals chronically prone to adopting promotion-focused self-regulation strategies as well as those with low levels of chronic prevention-focus, report WIF as challenge stress; individuals with high levels of chronic prevention focus are less likely to identify FIW as challenge stress.
The findings permitted us to unpack the individual’s stress evaluation processes and consequent attitudinal outcomes. When family roles and demands interfere with their work roles, the individual’s self-regulatory strategies come into operation. This may be because family roles are non-negotiable and individuals focus on work roles to interpret and appraise the conflict landscape. Self-regulation may be important in this case because it may be considered illegitimate by the organization to allow family roles to interfere with work roles [46
] and individuals may need to find behavioral remedies. Individuals with high levels of chronic promotion-focus and low levels of prevention-focus may, accordingly, consider WIF a personal challenge, providing an opportunity to actively and creatively solve the conflicts. In contrast, individuals with high levels of prevention-focus may respond with apprehension to the family–work demands and negatively evaluate their jobs, since, as noted, individuals tend to ‘blame’ their jobs for any discomfort. We can speculate from these results that the individual’s performance and organizational outcomes depend on self-regulatory processes. More research detailing the cognitive pathways and strategies individuals adopt is required to fully account for the antecedents of stress, for example WFC, on organizational outcomes.
Some research has noted that there is little variance in patterns of work and family demands between the USA and China (e.g., [85
]). In contrast to study results in Western contexts, participants perceived negative work–family spillover as challenge stress rather than hindrance stress. Chronic self-regulation may be considered a proactive psychological coping mechanism and it will be interesting to see if the elicitation of self-regulatory processes depends on the relative importance of work and family demands. For example, compared to the USA, China represents an Oriental culture with Confucianism as the basis of social values [84
]. Chinese employees may worry that family role interference can influence their job performance, eliciting greater attention to self-regulatory processes to reduce conflicts. Future research can examine how culture influences self-regulation in a WFC context.
Responding to calls in the literature, WFC was examined in the hotel industry. High customer-contact services influence organizational mandates on employee emotional/behavioral displays. The effect of such organizationally mandated behavior is an interesting research pursuit as it connects to notions of self-regulation and emotional labor [97
]. Such research may also help resolve whether individuals in certain industries are more prone to adopting distinct patterns in their challenge/hindrance stressor appraisals, irrespective of their self-regulatory focus.
Previous studies have seldom discussed the moderating role of chronic self-regulatory focus on the relationships between work–family conflict (WFC) and challenge/hindrance strain. Experiments in the study have found that chronic promotion-focused individuals perceive WFC as challenge-type strain, while chronic prevention-focused individuals view WFC as a hindrance-type strain.
8. Practical Implications
This study provides inspiration for organizations to help guide employees to coordinate WFC. Human resource management should establish policies and benefit programs that take individual differences into account. Family-friendly benefits are offered by organizations, but they are not always utilized by employees [99
]. This study revealed that many individuals value their jobs and regard WFC as a challenge stress, using self-regulation to reduce interference between work and family [101
]. This may be one reason why organizational benefits are under-utilized. To remedy this, employee assistance policies can provide assistance to individuals on the use of self-regulation strategies. For example, organizations can reward and recognize employees who successfully fulfill work and family responsibilities, widely disseminate such experiences in the organization, and establish those employees as behavioral role models. Organizations can provide time-management training to strengthen employee efficacy in successfully managing their work and life domains.
Organizations should consider the HRM system, work practices, and organizational culture to reduce WFC [61
]. Organizations can provide more work resources (e.g., telework), family-related instrumental support (e.g., assistance with child-care responsibilities), and resources for individuals to fulfill family obligations (e.g., paid leave for taking their children to the hospital) [78
]. These social supportive efforts may serve to increase the individual’s work engagement and job satisfaction.