Although work-family research has typically focused on the difficulties of participating in both work and family roles (i.e., work-family conflict), there is a growing awareness that there are also beneficial effects of combining work and family roles. These beneficial effects have been referred to as work-family enrichment and may have positive implications for career development, which is a function of one’s work and nonwork experiences.
Work-family enrichment and work-family conflict are conceptually distinct constructs. Thus it is possible that an individual can experience high (or low) levels of both conflict and enrichment at the same time or high levels of one and low levels of the other. Similar to work-family conflict, researchers have conceptualized work-family enrichment as consisting of two directions: work-to-family enrichment (where one’s work experiences benefit his or her family life) and family-to-work enrichment (where one’s family experiences benefit his or her work life). Each direction of work-family enrichment may be associated with unique antecedents and outcomes.
The dominant theoretical perspective used to explain the linkages between work and family has been role theory. The two predominant perspectives within role theory for describing the relationships between work and family roles are the scarcity hypothesis and the enhancement hypothesis. The scarcity hypothesis suggests that a person has a limited amount of time and energy and that strain is normal and inevitable, given the overdemanding nature of engaging in multiple roles. This hypothesis forms the basis for much of the research on work-family conflict. In contrast, the enhancement hypothesis proposes that occupying multiple roles can result in a variety of benefits such as the development of new skills, increased self-complexity, a larger social network, and increased monetary resources. This hypothesis forms the basis for research on work-family enrichment. It is believed that the net effect of these benefits facilitates the integration and management of work and family roles, leading to fewer negative outcomes and more positive outcomes.
Although ideas about the benefits of combining multiple roles have been around for decades, there remains a need for construct clarification, theory building, and measurement tool development. Recently, constructs such as work-family positive spillover, work-family facilitation, and work-family enrichment have been introduced to describe the theoretical relationships and associated mechanisms that enable work and family to benefit one another. Because the distinctions among these constructs are not well understood, all of them are categorized under the general rubric of work-family enrichment. The following is a brief discussion of the differences and similarities between these various constructs.
The term positive spillover has been used in the literature since the early 1980s. Spillover refers to the transfer of affect (i.e., emotion), skills, behaviors, and values from one domain to the other, such that there is a positive relationship between experiences in the two domains. Spillover has been broken down further into positive (i.e., beneficial) spillover and negative (i.e., problematic) spillover.
A term that has been used more recently to describe the benefits of combining work and family roles is work-family facilitation. Work-family facilitation has been defined as the extent to which an individual’s participation in one role enhances functioning in another role. Although both positive spillover and facilitation are concerned with how individual participation in one domain (e.g., work) is beneficial for the second domain (e.g., family), positive spillover involves the transfer of characteristics (or personal gains) of a person such as affect, skills, behaviors, and values from one domain to another, thereby benefiting the second domain. In contrast, facilitation is proposed to occur not just through personal gains but through capital gains as well (e.g., money, benefits, and social contacts). Therefore, positive spillover may be considered one mechanism by which facilitation may occur.
Work-family enrichment is a recent term used to refer to the process by which experiences in one role improve the quality of life in the other role. Given this definition, constructs such as work-family positive spillover, and even work-family facilitation (at times), can be broadly categorized under the rubric of work-family enrichment. The process of work-family enrichment begins when resources are generated in the originating role (e.g., work) that can potentially be utilized in the receiving role (e.g., family). Examples of resources that may drive enrichment include skills (e.g., interpersonal skills), perspectives (e.g., respecting individual differences), psychological resources (e.g., self-efficacy), physical health, social capital, and material assets.
These resources may improve the quality of life in the receiving role through one of two paths: the instrumental path or the affective path. The instrumental path describes a situation in which resources are transferred directly from the originating domain to the receiving domain, resulting in a direct increase in performance in the receiving domain. For example, an individual may apply a skill learned in the family role (e.g., listening attentively to one’s child or spouse) to his or her role as a supervisor at work, thereby boosting his or her performance at work. The affective path occurs when resources gained in the originating role promote positive affect or emotion in that role, which then produces increased performance in the other role. The direct transfer of resources through the instrumental path may occur either intentionally or unintentionally, whereas the affective path is believed to be predominantly unintentional.
Factors that produce family-to-work enrichment include both personal and family-level characteristics. Personal characteristics such as extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, and use of constructive coping mechanisms have been linked to high levels of family-to-work enrichment. Family-related characteristics such as marital quality, lack of family conflict, and high levels of family support have also been associated with increased family-to-work enrichment.
Factors that produce work-to-family enrichment include both personal and work characteristics. Personalities high in desire for growth, extraversion, and openness and low in neuroticism have been linked to high levels of work-to-family enrichment. The work-related factors of job complexity and autonomy are also related to high levels of work-to-family enrichment.
To date, very little research has examined the outcomes of work-family enrichment. The research that does exist has linked enrichment to better mental and physical health and decreased problem drinking. Increased levels of work-family enrichment are also related to both greater job satisfaction and effort and greater family satisfaction and effort.
In addition, research has found significant crossover relationships between work-family enrichment experienced by a spouse and a decrease in his or her partner’s depressive symptoms one year later. This finding demonstrates that not only does work-family enrichment benefit individuals, but the benefits may extend to other family members. Furthermore, these benefits are posited to impact individuals’ career development over time.
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