When we think about how our family and working lives fit together, we usually think about conflict. Not enough time to “do it all.” Being too tired to fully engage in both roles. Conflicting schedules. The list goes on. Conflict is very real and has negative consequences for organizations, families, and societies, but maybe it’s not all bad. Have you stopped for a moment to think about the benefits?
There are several ways in which family life can improve our work. In research, we use the term work-family enrichment to reflect the idea that experiences in work or family can have benefits in the other role.
Here are some ways enrichment happens:
Mood and Sense of Self: A sweet drawing from our kids or feeling loved by our spouse can put us in a good mood that can spill over into our working lives. Support from loved ones can bolster our sense of self and buffer against letting negative work situations get us down.
Motivation: Thinking about supporting our family can provide us with an increased motivation to work hard. Knowing we need to carve out time for our family can help us to work more efficiently too.
Networks: We can meet all kinds of people through our personal and family activities that may translate into business partnerships.
Skills: There are so many skills that we can develop in our family life that helps us in work:
Building up ways in which our family lives contribute to our work has positive consequences for us. A meta-analysis of over 20 independent studies showed that individuals who report more enrichment tend also to be more satisfied with their jobs and their families, report greater commitment to their organizations, and experience better physical and mental health.
Enrichment may be especially important for leaders.
Because of their role modeling, the tone they set, and their role as “gatekeepers” of resources, leaders’ own work-family experiences matter very much in organizations.
In my own research, we surveyed 37 hotels across the US, getting data from the general manager and 14 mid-level managers, on average. We found that mid-level managers were more committed to their organization if their general manager reported more enrichment from family life in their work. Also, mid-level managers were less likely to intend to leave the organization when their top leader had children.
Another study that took place in New Zealand found that staff engagement levels were higher when their leaders reported more enrichment from family to work. The authors found this could be explained by increased engagement of the leader himself or herself. Leaders who reported more enrichment from family to work were more engaged at work and this led to a more engaged staff.
Sounds good – but how do we foster enrichment?
Research suggests that support from families, co-workers, and supervisors goes a long way. Similarly job characteristics such as flexibility, autonomy, and being able to use varied skills on the job create more opportunities for the benefits to be realized. Also, how important work and family identities are to us all contribute to work-family enrichment. However, we may be reaping these benefits without really being aware of them. So maybe we need to reflect on the positives sometimes too.
Taking these together, there are some serious benefits to recognizing the positive ways your family benefits your work.
We would love to hear from you! How can your family life help you at work?