Child pages
  • Needs Case Study
Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata


This case study will look at work-family conflict from the perspective that thwarted needs are a catalyst for work-family conflict (WFC).  We will then examine ways in which learned needs and training in regards to those needs may alleviate work-family conflict, improve job satisfaction, and decrease intent-to-turnover.  We will examine this based on McClelland’s Need Theory and how increases in those needs impact work-family conflict.

Details of Case

Many of us have seen manifestations of work family conflict.  One of the students involved in building this case study worked as a nanny for a family where both the mother and father worked outside the home. This student witnessed firsthand the struggles faced by both parents trying to balance hours at work versus hours at home. Both the mother and father struggled with work-family conflict however it manifested itself differently for each parent. The mother, a successful VP of marketing for a well known global company, seemed to display more concern for the way work interfered with time spent with her children. She was constantly stressed out over the fact that she did not feel she was spending enough time with her children. According to McClelland's theory, the need that was thwarted in this instance was the need for affiliation. The need for power and achievement were being fulfilled at work, with the woman being one of the top executives in her company, and a prospect for continuing to climb the corporate ladder.Yet even with two of the three McClelland needs met, the women still exhibiting the work-family conflict of work interfering with family (WIF).  This increased her need for affiliation. The father on the other hand, also faced work-family conflict but the frustration seemed to be based more on interferences from family into his work (FIW). With the financial needs of raising families in America today and most people working outside of the home and many households with multiple people working outside of the home; it would seem logical that the conflict between finding fulfillment in work and working to sustain the household will increase.

Questions raised by this case

  • Is there a general set of specific needs that, when increased, increase this work-family conflict?
  • Are there steps that can be taken to ease this work-family conflict?
  • Are the needs sensitive to gender?
  • Does the level at which an individual works affect the work-family crisis (For example someone working at an executive level versus someone working an hourly-rate job)


David McClelland identified three types of motivational needs that are present at different levels in each individual that describe the individuals level of personal motivation and the motivation they receive from external influence.  The needs McClelland identified were the Need for Achievement (nACH),  Need for Power/Authority (nPOW), and Need for Affiliation (nAFF).  Individuals ranking high on nACH demonstrate an increased need for personal achievement, goals, the enjoyment of completing certain tasks, and a drive to win at any cost.  Those with a low nACH tend to fear failure and avoid taking on personal responsibility.  Those with a high nPOW have a strong desire to influence others, and increase personal prestige and power. Those low on nPOW prefer to minimize their personal prestige and power and prefer to be dependent and subordinate to others.  Those high on nAFF prefer to build strong relationships, are sensitive to other’s needs, and have a strong preference to be liked by others.  Those low on nAFF tend to be aloof and disinterested in group dynamics and relationships and prefer to work alone.

In 2006 a gender-sensitive study was published in relation to McClelland’s needs theory and WFC.  Two areas perceived as causing the WFC were examined. The first being work interfering with family (WIF), and second, family interfering with work (FIW).  The study utilized 383 surveys received from college graduates now working in management in 15 different industries.  This study began with the assumption that conflicts arise when needs are thwarted.  This paper examined the relationship between the thwarted McClelland need and whether FIW or WIF was attributed as the cause of the WFC.  The hypothesis used within this research paper was that as each need increases, both WIF and FIW would increase.  The study also examined intent-to-turnover to examine how much these conflicts contribute to workplace instability.

This study found that as the need for achievement and the need for power increased FIW increased but WIF did not.  This would seem to indicate that individuals with increased needs of power and achievement find the fulfillment of those needs within work and see family as secondary to meeting those needs.  As the need for affiliation increased WIF increased but FIW did not.  This would seem to indicate that individuals with high need for affiliation find the fulfillment of those needs within family and see work as a secondary source of meeting those needs.  In this study WIF was not positively linked to intent-to-turnover but FIW was positively linked to intent-to-turnover.

In relation to gender differences the study found that FIW was a greater problem for women than for men.  There was also an increased intent-to-turnover with the women facing FIW than with the men who were facing FIW.  Lily, Duffy, and Virick (2006) conjecture that perhaps women feel more pressure to be involved more in depth with their families and often see quitting as the only option.  This may be influenced by our society’s stereotypes relating to a woman’s role in the home and workplace.  Many authors and experts have attempted to address the ideal that “many people still feel a ‘good mother’ is one who stays home with her children" (Shevlov et el, 2004). "Contrary to this belief, no scientific evidence states that, children are harmed when their mothers work" (Shelov et el, 2004). In fact, according to Jen Roesch, of the International Socialist Review, most women in today's era, work because they have to. In the economic era we live in today, thirty percent of working women make all or almost all of their family's income (Roesch, 2004). Only nine percent of families stick with the traditional family style with a wage-earning father and a full-time mother (Roesch, 2004). The debate surrounding what role a woman ought to play in society may add to the confusion and frustration women face in regards to societies perceived expectations and their own internal motivations. Although this ideal has changed drastically over the past 50 or so years it is still a pressure that working women face today. Pressures such as the important contributions women make on today's society come in to conflict with how women view their contributions, when women still face economic discrimination on the job (Betka, 2006). The intent-to-turner over may not only increase because of FIW, but because women are still not valued the same as men when it comes to their jobs.

Resolving the Issue

In the gender-sensitive study of McClelland's needs, Williams (2000) suggests that feminists should change their strategy from focusing on treating women in the workplace exactly that same as men to acknowledging that the work patterns of men and women are different.

Perhaps the gender issues of FIW and WIF could be resolved through employers finding a balance between ensuring their employees specific needs are being met in the workplace through educating supervisors on meeting individuals specific needs in the workplace. "Some researchers believe perceptions of supervisor behavior are more important than actual behavior exhibited by the supervisors and base their studies on perceptions * * * these researchers ascertained the effectiveness of conflict resolution styles for managers of both genders through analyzing both supervisor and subordinate perception" (Sutscheck, p. 71).  

Organizations and/or industries should begin to examine what their needs are as far as hiring and training employees as well as addressing what would benefit their company the most.  In other words, they need to decide whether they should acquire employees of high nACH, high nPOW or high nAFF.  Their training could include the Thematic Apperception Test to identify their needs tendencies and then provide education and an environment that meets those individuals’ specific tendencies. 

Employers could develop a training model for their employees that would ensure all needs are met. The focus in the study presented above is the need for affiliation. This, many times is fulfilled at home rather than at work. If employers can come up with ways to ensure the need for affiliation is at least partially met while at work, the intent-to-turnover rate may not be as high. Studies have shown,  “quality of interactions with family outside of work versus quantity of time spent with them is * * * crucial” (Guzman and Jekielek). "By spending time with their children, parents build the bonds that are necessary for the transmission of human capital. Children are better off in terms of academic and emotional well-being from time spent with parents, and from parenting that is characterized by warmth as well as rule-setting" (Coleman, 1988)

If both men and women have trained well for their needs for affiliation along with spending quality time with their family, they can possibly use both experiences along with their training and apply them effectively to both family/home matters as well as their workplace/organization experiences or goals.  Their needs could very well be met in both home and work which would lead to greater fulfillment.  Otherwise, "the difficulty overlapping work and school time in order to align schedules to maximize family time means that even two-parent families do not have much time together" and "outcomes of this kind of work schedule have generally been negative" (Work and Family Balance).  

McClelland believed needs were learned and could be developed through training, the gender issues of FIW and WIF could be resolved through a training process.

Peter Murphy states 6 characteristics that Men and Women should understand and with the understanding they will have the ability to be successful with managing the challenges of FIW and WIF. In the article Murphy discusses the importance of communication with men and women. The fact that men and women are very different thinkers and express themselves in different ways, learning to express themsleve to each other is a big challenge and the key to solving WIF and FIW issues. Not only will knowing the proper way to communicate help in the household but also solve issues that may arise through their carreers.

Deborah Tannenn also suggests that men are speakers in front of crowds and in public and women are speakers in a private setting. With WIF men often are in a work environment that are resposible to delivering information to groups. When they are in private with the women they are not as likley to speak of the work where the women are interested in sharing their day with the men.

Training in communication will dramatically improve the FIW and WIF for families. If one doesnt understand the other the two will not succeed.

Men and women could be trained to balance their need for affiliation with their families and careers, so that the time spent with their families, although sometimes less than what they would want it to be, would be sufficient to support the balance between WIF and FIW.

This may include companies/employers to teach men and women how to focus more on the quality of interactions with their families outside of work instead of the quantity of time spent with them.Men and women could be trained to balance their need for affiliation with their families and careers, so that the time spent with their families, although sometimes less than what they would want it to be, would be sufficient to support the balance between WIF and FIW. This may include companies/employers to teach men and women how to focus mpre on the quality of interactions with their families outside of work instead of the quantity of time spent with them.

Jacquelynne S. Eccles and Rena D. Harold speak of 8 characteristcs that are important for men and women to understand while raising a children through adolescense. These 8  1.Social and Psychological resources available to the parent. 2. Parents' efficacy beliefs 3. Parent perception of their child. 4. Parents assumptions about their role in the childs education. 5. Parents attitude toward school. 6. Parents' ethnic identity. 7. Parents' general socialization practices. and Parents history of involvement in their childrens education. With understanding these 8 characteristics Men and Women will be able to understand and and follow through on the correct actions needed to resolve WIF and FIW.

Limitations and Further Research

The Lilly, Duffy, and Virick research paper quoted heavily in this case study was completed with surveys returned from college graduates somewhat limiting the population projections.  The gender-sensitive outcomes of the Lilly Duffy, and Virick study were different than the results of an earlier study on work-family conflict (Frone, Russel, & Cooper, 1992) published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.  Here no gender difference was found in relation to work family conflict.  Some possible explanations for this discrepancy could be sample selection process and cultural norms may have changed in the 14 years between these studies.  More quantitative, gender-sensitive research should be done focused specifically on the correlation between McClelland needs and work-family conflict.


According the McClelland's Need Theory, needs are learned and can be developed through training. The need for power, achievement and affiliation are essential, according to McClelland. The case study above examined the work-family conflict from the perspective that thwarted needs are catalysts for work-family conflict. The two main conflicts were, family interfering with work (FIW), and work interfering with family (WIF). The need for power and achievement were fulfilled for the woman in this case study, what was missing however was her need for affiliation. These actions were supported by the 2006 gender-sensitive case study that examined work-family conflict in accordance to thwarted needs. As the gender-sensitive study showed, when the need for affiliation increased WIF increased by FIW did not. Steps to resolve the issue of work-family conflict may need to be examined by the organizations and company's that are employing the individuals with these thwarted needs. If needs are learned, then it may be wise for companies to begin offering workshops that teach individuals how to effectively balance work and family, fulfill their needs and maintain both a thriving career and happy, healthy family.                                                                                                                              


Betka, Mark (2006). Women Play Key Role Shaping U.S History, Society Scholar says: _Historian answers questions on women's contributions to the United States._Retrieved from

Deborah Tannenn. You just Dont Understand:Women and Men in Conversation.

Frone, M. R., Russel, M., & Cooper, M. L. (1992). Prevalence of work-family conflict: Are work and family boundaries assymetrically permeable? Journal of Organizational Behavior , 13 (7), 723 - 729.

Guzman, Lina; Jekielek, Susan M. Family Time. Indicators of Child, Family and Community Connections. Retrieved from

Jacquelynne S. Eccles and Rena D. Harold. Parent-School Involvement during the Early Adolescent Years

Lilly, J. D., Duffy, J. A., & Virick, M. (2006). A Gender-Sensitive Study of McClelland's Needs, Stress, and Turnover Intent With Work-Family Conflict. Gender in Management, 21(8), 662   

Murphy, Peter. Improve Communication Skills with the Opposite Sex.

Roesch, Jen. (2004, December).  Turning back The Clock? Women, Work, and Family Today. International Socialist Review. Retrieved from /38/women_family.shtml.

Sutscheck, Leah B. (n.d.) Conflict Resolution Style and Experience in Management:  Moderating the Effects on Gender. PDF Cast. p. 69-76 Retrieved from

Work and Family Balance. (n.d.) Psych Page...Perspectives on Psychology in Daily Life. Retrieved from

Working Mothers. (2007) American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved from