Westring, who joined the Driehaus College of
Business in 2007, teaches management courses to both undergraduate and graduate
students. In December she will lead a study abroad trip to Spain, which will
allow students to explore work-life issues from a cross-cultural
perspective. She earned
her doctoral and master’s degrees in industrial/organizational psychology from
Michigan State University
and a bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, in psychology from the University of
In this Q &A, Westring
discusses her research, including a recent study that provides surprising
insights on the impact of workplace culture on work-life balance:
Q: You recently wrote a blog for the Harvard
Business Review about making a “remarkable discovery” through your research into
work-life balance among women doctors and medical researchers. What were the
findings and what surprised you about them?
Westring: When we set out to understand
the work-family conflict experienced by women physicians in academic medicine,
we assumed that long work hours would be the primary culprit in their high
levels of conflict. Not surprisingly, longer work hours were related to
work-family conflict. But, when we looked closer, we discovered that this
relationship hinged largely on the culture of the work environment.
When the department had a supportive culture, women were protected from
the negative effects of long work hours. When the departments were less
supportive, work-family conflict was high almost across the board, regardless of
work hours. Surprisingly, women working 60 hours a week in the most supportive
departments fared significantly better than those working 45 hours a week in
work units viewed as less supportive.
Q: What other myths and truths have you uncovered about
work-life balance, based on your research?
I think that the biggest
myths surrounding the work-life topic stem from two main misconceptions. Some
people tend to think that the problem is all about policies and regulations.
They assume that if organizations or the government had more supportive
policies, it would solve most of the work-life problems that people are
On the other hand, some people tend to focus entirely on the
individual, and assume that if people just learned the right strategies for
managing their own lives, then they could solve their own work-life
I think that both of these perspectives have elements of truth, but
placing all of the responsibility on either the individual or the organization
isn't a holistic or realistic perspective. Understanding that work-life issues
are a complex interplay of individual, organizational, and societal challenges
and opportunities is an underlying truth that I think should be more widely
Q: What attracted you to researching work-life balance and
I started thinking about
these issues when I was an undergraduate student at The University of
Pennsylvania. I was surrounded by many of the brightest young women in the
country and I observed the dedication with which we all pursued academic success
en route to our chosen professions. Although most of us expressed a desire to
become mothers one day, no one was talking about work-life balance or how we
could have a meaningful career and family life. The path to career success was
straight-forward (e.g., study hard, get an internship) and we had all become
experts on following that path. Yet, I wondered how we were supposed to become
experts on other things that we wanted and valued—like building meaningful
relationships and starting a family.
Searching for answers to
these questions led me to
graduate school in industrial/organizational psychology with a focus on
exploring these issues. In fact, my master’s degree and doctoral dissertation
both focused on how young professional students made decisions about future work
and family. These questions were drawn directly from my own concerns about
Q: How do you find
work-life balance in your own life?
Obviously, this balance is something that is extremely important to
me—and I am constantly working on it. I have a four-year-old son and a
two-year-old daughter, so there are times when it definitely gets tricky.
I think that there are really
two things that have worked particularly well for me. First, my colleague, Stew
Friedman, leads an organization called “Total Leadership” which helps
individuals learn to be successful leaders in all areas of their lives. One
thing that he always talks about is the importance of "experimentation." This is
the idea that you can conduct mini work-life experiments for a few weeks to test
out whether they work. If they do, great. If not, move on to something else. I’m
constantly trying little experiments in my own life (like switching up the time
of day that I exercise, or working from home one day per week).
The other thing that seems to work well from me is the mantra: “do less
stuff better.” In other words, rather than trying to do everything, I try focus
on what’s most important and do those few things well. I try to limit the
responsibilities that I take on and am therefore able to be more fully engaged
in the things that I do choose to do. Those two strategies are my “go to”
techniques but, of course, I'm still working on this and learning on a daily
Q: How do you
incorporate your expertise into your courses?
In my management classes, I
teach content related to how managers and organizations can address employee
work-life balance and well-being. We talk about these issues from an academic
perspective and I try to include some of my own research.
On a more personal level, I
ask my students to start thinking about these issues in their own lives. What
strategies can they use to manage the demands of school, work, family and
friends? Many are beginning to question how they will manage their career and
personal lives once they graduate. I try to think about the questions that I had
as an undergraduate and support them as they think through some of these issues.
Helping students identify their values and goals (both professionally and
personally) is an important first step in initiating a successful transition
from college to career.
Q: What made you
decide to teach at the Driehaus College of Business?
Coming from a psychology
background, I wasn't sure how well I would fit in at a business school. I was
concerned that there would only be a focus on the bottom-line and that my
research would be seen as too “touchy-feely.” However, when I interviewed at
DePaul and learned more about the school, it became clear that this would be a
great fit for me. I think a big factor is how deeply the Vincentian values are
integrated into the Driehaus College of Business. Caring about the health and
well-being of employees and their families is an important and valued research
focus here. Plus, the location in downtown Chicago didn't hurt
Interested in studying
management at DePaul? Visit the Kellstadt
Graduate School of Business for information on DePaul’s MBA
and MS programs in business.