Work-Life Balance: Poor Treatment at Work Affects Well-Being of Older Employees & Their Spouses

Older adults comprise the largest segment of the US workforce, yet they also experience the most interpersonal mistreatment. Researchers at the University of New Mexico set out to better understand the effects of interpersonal mistreatment (e.g., being ignored, teased, or subjected to ageist jokes or limited promotion opportunities, etc.), and whether there is such a phenomenon as older adults experiencing spillover and crossover. The researchers define spillover as the negative consequences of workplace incivility for well-being of older adults; when this negativity affects the spouses of the workers in questions, it is considered crossover.


The researchers surveyed employed people age 51 and better, as well as their spouses, every two years for four years. They found that interpersonal mistreatment at work resulted in wearing older employees down over time, even in the home domain. For example, over time, interpersonal mistreatment became negatively related to the subjects’ affective well-being, which inadvertently influenced their life satisfaction, physical health, and work health. Significant gender differences were also found: when women experienced interpersonal mistreatment at work, their male partners reported lower affective well-being, while when men experienced the mistreatment, their female partners reported lower life satisfaction.


This research suggests that interpersonal mistreatment can have adverse spillover effects on older adults’ personal lives, and can cross over to their spouses’ well-being. Researchers called on the senior living industry to foster cultures of civility and work-personal life balance. Researchers also believe that strong social norms for positive work cultures can have particular importance for older adults.



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Marchiondo, L. A., Fisher, G. G., Cortina, L. M., & Matthews, R. A. Disrespect at work, distress at home: An exploratory longitudinal investigation of incivility spillover and crossover among older workers. Work, Aging, & Retirement. 2020;6(3):153-164. doi: 10.1093/workar/waaa007.

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