HDFS Research

Kelly Chandler on work-family integration and justice

College of Health researcher examines work-life conflict, advocates for women and seeks solutions for a better future

Portrait of Kelly Chandler

By Hanna Knowles

Associate Professor Kelly Chandler studies how work impacts family life and overall well-being. She investigates how workplace conditions, culture and policies shape daily stress levels, ultimately affecting the health of both employees and their families.

What inspired you to study this area? What initially drew you to this research area?

I started studying the work-family interface about 20 years ago as a new parent in graduate school trying to figure out how to successfully perform both my work and family roles. I was often envious of my male peers whose wives stayed at home to care for their children while they focused on their graduate training.

Witnessing gender inequalities led me to start studying how work influences mothers and fathers differently and how these experiences affect children. As someone who also desires work-family integration, I resonate with the saying, “research is me-search.”

Many people ask, “If you’ve been studying work-family conflict for so long, why do you still have it?”

If only preventing work-family conflict was that simple! There are cultural and institutional barriers that perpetuate this conflict, especially for women, who disproportionately shoulder caregiving responsibilities. These challenges are further exacerbated for women with marginalized identities, such as women of color. Currently, I’m writing a paper about how work-family conflict is a racial justice issue.

How has your work impacted the health and well-being of women?

I hope that my work will have an increasing impact on the health and well-being of women through research, practical application and dissemination.

My research puts a spotlight on how work-family conflict disproportionately affects women’s health and well-being. It challenges the unrealistic and potentially harmful “have it all” narrative by emphasizing the trade-offs women often face.

Recognizing that research alone isn’t enough, I actively translate findings into real-world solutions.

I was part of the first randomized controlled workplace intervention targeting work-family conflict by increasing the ability to influence work hours and work location. It also involved t raining supervisors to be more supportive of employees’ personal and family lives.

I published a paper in Pediatrics that showed the intervention was effective for mothers but not fathers. Mothers who were in the intervention spent nearly an additional hour per day with their child more than a year earlier. This demonstrates how translating research into practice can improve family well-being.

I also actively share my research beyond academic circles. This includes participating in podcasts like “Overcoming Working Mom Burnout with Dr. Jacqueline Kerr,” where I discuss strategies to address work-life conflict.

What message would you like to send to women during Women’s Health Month?

Try to ignore harmful messages that say “women can have it all” and that “work-family balance” is attainable.

Work and family roles rarely have equal weight, and searching for the elusive work-family balance will only create more stress and dissatisfaction.

Instead, strive for work-family fit. This concept emphasizes finding ways to integrate and manage the demands and needs of both your work and family roles using available resources.

Unlike the abstract term work-family balance, work-family fit gives specific, actionable steps for a better quality of life.  

Anything else you’d like to add?

As Caitlin Collins says in her book, “Making motherhood work: How women manage careers and caregiving,” women don’t need work-family balance, they need work-family justice.

To achieve work-family justice, the U.S. needs a major transformation so that every person, regardless of gender, can fully participate in work and family roles.