The purpose of the present paper was to expand the current theoretical knowledge of stress processes by proposing a unified model of stress by modelling two prominent theoretical concepts simultaneously: loss spiral theory, and the social support buffer hypothesis which is common among psychological and sociological stress theory. Further, we extend the theoretical understanding of social support by exploring proximity effects via the additional interaction of remote work (mining) in this integrated model. Our study hypotheses were supported, finding a reciprocal relationship between depression and WFC, which was buffered by social support only among mining workers. Theoretical and practical contributions are discussed.
First, in finding a reciprocal relationship between work-family conflict (WFC) and depression this paper adds to the emerging body of research on Hobfoll’s [18
] growth and loss spiral theory, which has implications for current stress process perspectives. In particular, this finding helps account for a gap in current stress process perspectives, as loss spiral theory could explain the incongruency in previous research regarding WFC’s role as either a stressor or an outcome of stress. Loss spiral theory suggests WFC can act as both a cause and outcome of stress. Personal resources are depleted in addressing the stress caused by WFC, which leads to insufficient resources to respond to another stressor (i.e.
, depression). Resources are further taxed to respond to that stressor, which results in less resources respond to WFC in the future, creating a loss spiral. Similarly depression functions as a stressor as symptoms of depression (such as lethargy and anhedonia) make it difficult to engage in both work and social roles. Personal resources are depleted in addressing this elicited stress, leading to insufficient resources to address the experience of WFC. Hobfoll’s theory suggests that unidirectional assumptions on the experience of stress may not always correct, and therefore the current prevailing perspectives on the stress process (i.e.
, the Karasek’s JDC theory [3
], Bakker’s JDR theory [4
] and Pearlin’s stress process theory [16
]) could be expanded to account for reciprocity between stressors and stress outcomes.
There are also considerable implications of the two way interactions being non-significant and the three-way interactions being significant (Hypothesis 3). Our findings suggest that co-worker support significantly acted as a buffer of work-family conflict within the mining working population, but not significantly in the general working population. This supports our hypothesis that there is a proximity component to the buffer hypothesis, that proximity mitigates the efficacy of social support. Extrapolating on this hypothesis, not only does proximity enhance the effect of social support, but the antithesis seems to also be evident, in that distance appears to be deleterious on social relationships. This is evident in a significant pathway between mining at Time 1 to work-family conflict at Time 2 (B = 0.28).
These findings may serve to explain the incongruent findings for and against the social support buffer hypothesis present in the literature. Although several studies have found small to moderate support for the buffer hypothesis among work cohorts [20
], several studies have found no effect [40
]. As outlined in the introduction, we believe that the increased proximity that mining colleagues experience, who are often on FIFO or similar contracts, enhances the social cohesion amongst co-workers and the strength of their social bonds, therefore enhancing the protective strength of social support as a buffer. It is plausible that cohorts used in previous research differed in both intra-group proximity, which will affect the efficacy of co-worker social support in alleviating stress.
There is the additional possibility that part of the moderation could be attributed to gender effects. Ystgaard, Tambs and Dalgard [42
] found the social support buffer present amongst male adolescents but not female. Ystgaard et al.
speculated that this gender difference may be attributable to traditional gender roles: that male friends will disperse more problem solving advice and that female friends will provide a more passive support role, and that the former may be more effective. As the 83.9% of the mining worker respondents were male, a larger male population could explain the relationship. To rule out this possibility, we conducted a post-test analysis replicating model using gender instead of mining as the third interaction term. The relationship was shown to be non-significant at both model a. and model b., adding further support to our hypotheses.
A practical implication of these findings is that a means for minimising the WFC-depression loss spiral is identified for mining workers, and may also be generalizable to other isolated working populations. Organisational policies and practices that foster supportive and cohesive co-worker relationships may be able to help minimise depression and WFC. Considering the associated productivity cost deficits associated with depression [31
], there may be considerable financial benefits by co-worker support targeted organisational practices. Further, mining workers represent a critically under-examined population in terms psychological health despite their contribution to substantial economies. This paper therefore contributes to a gap in empirical research which has been noted in previous literature [43
While the two-wave design enabled reciprocal relationships to be examined over time, a third time wave would have more definitively elucidated the changes in these relationships over time. It is also possible that the period of at home and away time experienced by remote workers could affect the degree of conflict between the work and family domain, as the length of FIFO rosters can vary considerably. Additionally, factors such as telecommunication facilities (e.g., phone reception and internet services) and the remoteness of the workplace could also affect the experience of work family conflict. By examining these additional work context variables, future research could identify which workplace factors are more pertinent to the experience of work-family conflict amongst remote workers.
Another limitation was that the number of mining workers on FIFO contracts, was not identifiable. It is possible that those on FIFO contracts may experience a greater reliance on co-worker support than those living in neighbouring communities. However, it is likely that those that were not on FIFO contracts still experience remoteness as they live away from major urban populations, and still work similar hours. Further, the supportive culture that arises due to FIFO rosters is likely to spill-over to non-FIFO employees who they work with. Future research should explore the effect of roster type and length to see if this affects employee’s experience of co-worker support. A larger sample of mining workers would also be beneficial to obtain ample power to explore these roster-related effects on the experience of co-worker support.