February 5 2003 - Writing in this month's
Journal of Marriage and Family, Joseph G. Grzywacz, Ph.D., of Wake Forest
University Baptist Medical Center suggests that current "family-friendly" policies may need to
be refocused to help employees balance work and home life successfully.
"Until now, employers in this country who want to be 'family friendly' have
focused on reducing the conflict between work and home through policies such as flex time
and telecommuting," said Grzywacz (gree-votch). "Our findings suggest that there's a more
beneficial piece to the puzzle - the extent to which home life and work life benefit each
Four types of family-work interaction were investigated by the researchers
who used levels of depression, problem drinking and anxiety as measures of which combinations were most
successful for minimizing risk of mental illness.
"In terms of mental health, we found that the optimum relationship between
work and family is when work is protected from family disruptions and when family
contributes to productivity at work," said Grzywacz, an assistant professor of family
He said the idea of employers finding ways to assist in the "family realm" is relatively
new, and there is little research on how to accomplish it.
"Things people are starting to think about are creating learning
opportunities at work that can be applied at home," Grzywacz said. "For example, an
employer might offer parenting classes. The idea behind 'Take Our Daughters and Sons
to Work' also fits this model - it's an opportunity to build bridges between work and
family that yield gains for both the workplace and family. The data suggest that these
types of programs may give employers more bang for the buck in terms of mental health."
Co-researcher Brenda L. Bass of the University of Northern Iowa said it is likely
that several different types of programs would be needed.
"This study tested theoretical concepts, so we must be cautious about
directly applying the results," she said. "But, the findings potentially indicate that
different types of programs would be needed, depending on the combination of conflict and
facilitation in an employee's life."
Data for the analysis came from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United
States conducted by the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation Research Network on
Successful Midlife Development, called MIDUS, in 1995. MIDUS respondents were a
representative sample of the general population, ages 25 to 75, who answered a 40-minute
telephone interview and a mail-back questionnaire.
The researchers scored respondents on four types of family-work interaction based on how
they responded to a series of questions. The types, and statements describing each, were:
* Family Helps Work: talking with someone at home helps you deal with problems at work,
and your home life helps you relax and feel ready for the next day's work.
* Work Helps Family: the things you do at work help you with deal with personal and
practical issues at home, and they make you a more interesting person at home.
* Work Conflicts with Family: you miss an important family event because of having to
work late, and job worries distract you when you're at home.
* Family Conflicts with Work: stress at home makes you irritable at work, and
responsibilities at home reduce the effort you can devote to your job.
Grzywacz said he was not surprised by the findings that depression, problem drinking
and anxiety were lowest when families helped work and didn't conflict with work -
combinations that benefit work more than family.
"That makes sense because we're a work-oriented country - the results
resonate with the importance of work in most adults' lives. People perceive that family
benefits their work more than work benefits their family," he said.
Additional research would be required to validate the findings and to determine the best
ways for work and family to benefit each other.
"As society continues to address the best ways to balance work and family,
we need to learn more about work-family facilitation and how to accomplish it. Such
knowledge is an essential first step for developing policy and programs that meet the
needs of current and future workers and their families," Grzywacz said.
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