Enriched Lives: Benefits of Family in Work

by Michelle Hammond, Assistant Professor of Management at Oakland University in Rochester

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.

:  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:

  • Planning and coordinating:  Coordinating after school activities, planning holiday meals all have applications to work
  • Negotiating: Getting kids to eat vegetables – need I say more?
  • Handling difficult situations: Working through difficult teenage years
  • Regulating our emotions: Not over-reacting to spilled milk can help us keep our cool when mistakes happen at work.
  • Individualized consideration:   Responding appropriately to different children (my 3 are so different) can remind us that our co-workers and employees also have different needs and strengths and develop at different speeds.
  • Listening:  We’re talking about putting down the phone and actually paying attention
  • Budgeting: Skills involved in managing personal and family finances can certainly help manage company resources well
  • Responsibility: Being responsible for dependents can translate into taking responsibility for our employees.

Enrichment is good for us.
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.

About the author
Michelle is an Assistant Professor of Management at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. She earned her M.S. and Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from the Pennsylvania State University. She seeks to understand the process of leadership development across multiple domains of life. Her work also focuses on understanding the influence of leadership on employee well-being at work, including factors such as meaningful work, work-life balance, and creativity and innovation. She co-authored an award-winning book on leader development entitled An Integrative Theory of Leader Development: Connecting Adult Development, Identity, and Expertise and has published in top academic journals including the Academy of Management Review, Human Resource Management Review, Journal of Vocational Behavior, and Journal of Managerial Psychology, among others. She also taught for almost 10 years at the University of Limerick, in Ireland.