Spela Trefalt Advocates for Work-Life Balance

October 28, 2015

Spela Trefalt

Professor Spela Trefalt studies workplace relationships and their effect on professionals’ work-life balance.

School of Management Professor Dr. Spela Trefalt has always been an advocate for improving the quality of work-life balance in America and elsewhere in the world. She conducts research on work-life balance of professionals and incorporates her findings and others’ research on related topics into her MBA courses - specifically Leading Individuals and Groups and Leading Organizational Change - and in her work in Simmons’ Executive Education. In her classes and workshops she discusses work-life balance for individuals, and how companies can change their structures, systems, and cultures to better support work-life balance of their employees.

Trefalt’s recent research, which was published in the Academy of Management Journal, focused on how the relationships that professionals have with their supervisors affect their work-life balance. Trefalt interviewed 70 attorneys at a large law firm and found that their ability to balance their professional and personal lives depended most prominently on the quality of their relationships with their supervisors. Her follow-on research, conducted with Emily Heaphy from Boston University, revealed that the good supervisor-subordinate relationships result primarily from  supervisors’ approach to planning and organizing the team’s work.

Trefalt explains, “It’s not about how much people like each other. Some people like each other very much but don’t work together well. It really is how supervisors manage that shapes the quality of professional relationships and in turn the ability of professionals to manage their work-life balance.”

Trefalt findings show that managers who set realistic and clear expectations for their teams, allow freedom for their subordinates to do their work and show gratitude, build strong relationships with their subordinates, and facilitate their work-life balance. Their subordinates want to work with them over and over again, which makes the coordination process easier and work more efficient. Managers who require endless amounts of work regardless of consequences for their team, who micromanage, and disrespect their subordinates non-work responsibilities and commitments, on the other hand, burn out their subordinates and thus require always new people to join their teams.

Beyond her teaching and research, Trefalt is very committed to changing the landscape and improving work-life balance. She was one of 203 faculty from 88 business school who who recently signed a letter to Congress advocating legislation of paid family leave. She commented, “In work-life balance, there are very significant societal limitations to what people can do. I’m very much in favor of removing such obstacles. My goal is to give people tools to deal with today’s reality while we are working toward larger-scale changes.”