9. Positive Work–Family Interface – Positive Psychology


Positive Work–Family Interface

N. K. Chadha and Vandana Gambhir nee Chopra

Department of Psychology, University of Delhi, Delhi

Abstract:   Work and family are the two dominant inextricably intertwined spheres of an individual’s life. Positive commitment and balanced involvement in both work and non-work responsibilities are essential to live a happy, satisfying and productive life. On the other hand, conflict between the two is detrimental for individual, family, organizations and society. The present chapter aims to explore positive bi-directional work-to-family enrichment (WFE) and family-to-work enrichment (FWE) through the lens of positive psychology. Closely looking at the structure and organization of work and family, we will examine the changing relations and potential sources of spillover and conflict between the two. Special attention is given to work–family relationships with conceptions of gender. Seeking a more balanced approach to the positive work–family enrichment, we articulate conditions that foster positive work–family interface and reveal how the interface helps an individual to craft triumphs across multiple domains of life.

Work and family are two most significant domains of an individual life that share interconnecting and reciprocal influences on each other. Much has been written in the scholarly texts about the relationship between work and family—the two prominent provinces of a person’s life (Eby, Casper, Lockwood, Bordeaux and Brinley, 2005). Family is an integral element of an individual’s life that teaches the value of love, affection, care, truthfulness and self-confidence and provides tools and suggestions necessary to succeed at work. On the other hand, the ability for people to do work has a multitude of benefits for the family including, for example, an opportunity to earn one’s livelihood, to contribute positively and meaningfully to the society, and to satisfy one’s own drive for achievement. Family and work-related outcomes together make positive impact on people’s outlook towards life and overall health status.

Early researchers treated work and family systems as if they operated independently (Parsons and Bales, 1955). Men traditionally assumed the role of the breadwinner and women that of the homemaker. In the past few years, due to changing social scenario, work and family domains have merged to an extent that it is difficult to consider any one of them in isolation to the other. Changing composition of the workforce with greater involvement of women in the active working force (Lerner, 1994), more number of working single-parent, dual-earner families (Bumpass, 1990) have made work and family responsibilities and commitment to stand in unison to each other. Today, the two domains reflect an individual’s orientation across different life roles, an inter-role phenomenon (Marks and MacDermid, 1996). An individual ‘has’ and ‘should’ demonstrate equally positive commitments to both the roles and should hold a balanced orientation towards both with an attitude of attentiveness and care. Thus, positive work–family interface has important implications for individuals, organizations, and society, and consequently, a growing body of research has explored the intersection of work and family domains.

The aim of the present chapter is to review the positive side of work–family interface. Several researchers have called for a balanced approach to the work–family interface by examining the benefits of multiple role memberships (Frone, 2003; Parasuraman and Greenhaus, 2002). They argued that positive commitment and balanced involvement in both work and non-work responsibilities are essential to live a happy, satisfying and productive life. In contrast, work–family conflicts are regarded as time strains, missed work or family activities, and the spillover of stress from work to home or vice versa. This chapter examines both, changing relations and potential sources of spillover and conflict and positive interface and enrichment between work and family domains. A special section of the chapter is devoted to work–family relationships with conceptions of gender. Seeking a more balanced-approach to the positive work family enrichment, we articulate conditions that foster positive work family interface and reveal how the interface helps an individual to craft triumphs across multiple domains of life.

Work and Family: A Bi-directional Interface

Researchers confirm that there exists a two-way relationship between work and family provinces, both influencing each other in positive and negative ways (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985; Kinnunen and Mauno, 1998). Work and family responsibilities meddle with each other’s work roles and interfere in fulfilling family duties and family responsibilities with work life. This leads to what has been defined in literature as work–family conflict. Researches correlating workplace variables with family processes have found that marital satisfaction is greatly affected by work pressure and family pressure hampers job performance and job satisfaction (Crouter, 1984; Frone, Russell, and Cooper, 1992; MacEwen and Barling, 1994; Parasuraman, Purohit, Godshalk, and Beutell, 1996).

However, the relationship of work and family is not always negative. A parallel body of research suggests that there exists a synergistic and harmonious relationship in which both domains complement each other, family balancing out the stress and strains of work life and work giving support to live a healthy, happy life. Barnett (1996) and Sieber (1974), suggested that performing work and family roles simultaneously offers a wide arena of resources and prospects to a person that enhances his growth and leads to optimal functioning. A healthy marital life has been considered an important safeguard for job related stress, especially for men (Adams, King, and King, 1996; Barnett, Marshall, and Pleck, 1992; Barnett, Marshall, Raudenbush, and Brennan, 1993; Gattiker and Larwood, 1990; O’Neil and Greenberger, 1994; Weiss, 1990).

Recent literature on work/non-work interface has moved away from classical distinction between the two domains. Rather, it has been found that clear distinction between the two domains is not possible conceptually and empirically. Both domains function simultaneously and positive and negative interface between the two depends on workplace attributes, family situations and personal disposition or individual differences. Work–family interface consists of both aspects, conflict as well as synergy depending on whether the two significant domains of an individual’s life are in contradiction or in harmony to each other.

Work–Family: The Conflict Orientation

The conflict orientation of work–family literature holds the view that the two domains are irreconcilable and contrary to each other. Work–family conflict results because the demand of one domain clashes with the demand of the other and a person is not able to restore a balanced approach between the two. As a result of incongruity, a person experiences stress, time pressure, neglect of work and family activities and transfer of tension from work to home or vice-versa.

The Role Strain Hypothesis of Work–family Conflict: The work/non-work interface has been classically studied in literature from role strain hypothesis. According to this perspective, work–family conflict is ‘a form of inter-role conflict in which role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some respect’ (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985, p. 77). This theory presumes that an individual engaged in multiple roles in family and workplace settings experiences stress and strain due to inter-role conflict. According to Frone, Russel and Cooper (1997), the two spheres are unable to get along because the person is unable to manage different role characteristics as involvement in one role (either family or work) makes difficult to get involved in the other role.

Conflict between Work and Family (WFC) Is Distinct from Conflict between Family and Work (FWC)

Work–family conflict was considered to be a unidimensional construct in earlier research findings. Empirical studies during 1980s documented how work-related variables impact family life. However, in recent years, several studies have advanced the understanding of how work affects family life and vice-versa. It was proposed that the domains share the reciprocal relationship with each other and conflict can arise in either domain affecting the other. A conceptual distinction between work conflicting with the family and family conflicting with work has been made. The former has been defined as work to family conflict (WFC) and the latter as family to work conflict (FWC). A person doing overtime, spending 14–16 hours in job will experience work to family conflict and a person unable to attend office due to family obligations will face family to work conflict. In such processes of role interaction between work and family, attitudes and behaviour carry over from one another, often provoking competing (and conflicting) demands resulting in stress (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985). Empirical reports from different samples indicate that work to family conflict and family to work conflict are at best, moderately correlated (r = .30–.55; Frone, Yardley and Markel, 1997; Gutek, Searle and Klepa, 1991).

WFC and FWC, the related forms of inter-role conflict are based on the scarcity perspective of Marks (1977). According to this perspective, involvement and fulfilment of multiple roles of work and non-work requires time and energy resources of a person. Since there is limited availability of time and resources, engagement in multiple roles is likely to be associated with exhaustion of these scant resources leading to conflict. A balanced allocation of time and resources to work and non-work domains can help a person to better utilize the limited resources and avoid role conflict.

Sources of WFC and FWC

Although several sources of WFC and FWC have been identified, most researchers agree that the time devoted to a given role, the strain produced by a given role and the general demands of a role are domain elements of WFC and FWC (Bachrach, Bamberger and Conley, 1991; Greenhaus, 1988; Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985; Voydanoff, 1988). Three sources of conflict are as follows:

Time-based Conflict

This type of conflict results due to time pressures from one domain which makes it impossible for a person to devote time to another domain. Time-based conflict occurs when the amount of time devoted to the work (or family) role interferes with performing family (or work)-related responsibilities. A person experiencing time-based conflict gets preoccupied either in work role (like, time-based submission of work) or in family role (participation in family activities) to an extent that the functioning of the other domain is affected.

Strain-based Conflict

This type of conflict results due to over engagement in one role leading to stress, strain, anxiety, tension, irritability or depression. Strain experienced by undue involvement in one role makes it difficult for a person to meet the roles and demands of other roles leading to conflict. For example, irritability and anxiety created by work interfere with performing family duties and vice versa.

Role-based Conflict

The general demands of a role refer to the responsibilities, requirements, expectations, duties, and commitments associated with a given role. Role-based conflict results because of display of specific type of behaviour in a role which does not meet expectations regarding behaviour in that role. A person exhibiting casual, open and personal attitude at workplace with colleagues might experience a behaviour-based conflict since this is not acceptable according to the office norms. Similarly, a person keeping strict, logical and work-related attitude at home will experience behaviour-based conflict.

Depending upon the etiological studies of conflict between work/non-work domains, WFC has been characterized as a form of inter-role conflict in which the general demands of time devoted to, and strain created by the job interfere with performing family-related responsibilities. FWC is a form of inter-role conflict in which the general demands of, time devoted to, and strain created by the family interfere with performing work-related responsibilities.

Impact of WFC and FWC on Work and Family Related Outcomes

WFC and FWC have been shown to have a negative impact on important work and family-related outcomes that in turn influence general health and well-being. Researchers have examined relationships of WFC and FWC with various on- and off-job variables

Burke (1988) conducted a study on a sample of police officers to find out how WFC is related to on-job variables. The study reported that higher levels of work interfering with family leads to psychological burnout, alienation and low job satisfaction. Similarly, Bacharach, Bamberger and Conley (1991) conducted their study on nurses and on a sample of engineers and found that work interfering with family was significantly related to burnout, which then was related to lower job satisfaction. Thomas and Ganster (1995) reported that WFC was negatively related to job satisfaction and positively related to depression and health complaints among health care workers.

Empirical researches report that work interfering with family had a significant relationship with family-related variables. Family-related effects were extensively studied by Higgins and his colleagues (Duxbury and Higgins, 1991; Higgins and Duxbury, 1992; Higgins, Duxbury, and Irving, 1992) by carrying out study on dual-career families. In a study of 220 career-oriented individuals, Higgins, Duxbury and Irving (1992) found that work interfering with family resulted in poor quality of family life. This poor quality of family life resulted in poor levels of life satisfaction among workers.

Several empirical studies have also supported relationship between family interfering with work. For instance, Wiley (1987) noted that family interfering with work was negatively related to job satisfaction, organizational commitment, and life satisfaction in a sample of employed graduate students. Along these same lines, Frone, Russell and Cooper (1992) documented that a higher level of family interfering with work was related to incidences of clinical depression and distress on the job for a large, community-based sample of working adults.

In summary, the literature generally suggests that both WFC and FWC have negative impact on employee health factors as well as workplace productivity. In particular, concerns include increased family tension, increased stress of both the employee and other members of the family, increased occurrence of stress-related illness and absence, and increased use of medical care resources including medications, behavioural health services, and clinical tests for psychosomatic illnesses. Clearly, WFC and FWC have a relationship with both domain-specific work related and general measures of health and well-being.

Work–family: A Synergistic Viewpoint

While it is clear that in some circumstances pressure from one’s life setting (e.g., work or family) may spillover and undermine functioning in another. A parallel body of studies also confirms a harmonious and facilitating relationship between the two. Considerable evidence within the work–family literature suggests that the work–family interface can also result in synergies, or ‘positive spillover’ between work and family (Barnett, Marshall and Pleck, 1992; Pope, 1991; Seiber, 1974). Scholars typically conclude that having the opportunity to talk through difficulties at work, or having a partner who is sensitive to job-related pressures may help individuals better handle the pressures associated with their jobs and consequently perform better (Barnett, 1996; Gattiker and Larwood, 1990; Weiss, 1990). On the other hand, development of decision-making skills at work may help a person to use that art at home in effectively handling the issues related to family and children (Crouter, 1984). Gender studies on work–family interface have empirically proved that employed, married mothers experience greater physical health and happiness when compared to unemployed, married mothers (Waldron, Weiss and Hughes, 1998).

The Role Enhancement Hypothesis of Positive Work–family Interface

A number of concepts have emerged to explain the positive relation between work and family provinces of life. These concepts are based on the role enhancement hypothesis which suggests that involvement in multiple different roles offers a variety of opportunities and resources to a person to utilize his skills and energy for personal growth and better functioning. The positive side of work/non-work research has shifted its focus from role-conflict to role-enhancement or facilitation. As opposed to scarcity perspective of role strain hypothesis, role enhancement hypothesis is based on Marks’s expansion approach (Marks, 1977). The expansion approach believes that performing and fulfilling expectations of multiple roles is not always associated with role strain and depletion of human energy and resources. Laying his assumptions from the field of human physiology, Marks reported that efficiently managing multiple roles may also generate more energy as the process of energy depletion simultaneously works with the process of energy production. A person adequately performing multiple roles simultaneously initiates the process of energy production along with energy expenditure which helps him to perform diverse roles efficiently. With regard to resources, it was suggested that each role offers a set of resources that helps an individual to fulfil demands associated with other roles. Thus, employment is a resource to fulfil demands of family and, in turn, family is a source of psycho social support to carry out job proficiently.

Terminology of Positive Work Family Interface

The positive synergies between work and family have been reported under a variety of different labels (Greenhaus and Powell, 2006; Grzywacz and Butler, 2005) in literature. Some of these constructs of positive work family interface include enrichment, positive spillover, work–family enhancement, work–family fit, work–family integration, work–family balance and facilitation. Though defined differently, all concepts measure the positive side of work–family interface at the individual level of analysis.

Work–Family Balance

The most widely used and contested term in the literature is work–family balance. Work–family balance refers to the extent to which an individual is equally engaged in—and equally satisfied with—his or her work role and family role (Greenhaus, Collins and Shaw, 2003). These researchers identified three key components inherent in this balance: time balance (i.e., equal time devoted to work and family roles), involvement balance (i.e., an equal level of psychological involvement in work and family roles) and satisfaction balance (i.e., an equal level of satisfaction with work and family roles).

Work–Family Enrichment

Another popular concept of positive work–life interface is Greenhaus and Powell’s (2006) ‘work–family enrichment’, which is defined as the extent to which the quality of life is improved by experiences in the other role. Greenhaus and Powell reviewed 19 studies that measured the positive side of the work–family interface and assessed the positive effect of experiences in one role on experiences or outcomes in another role (p. 74).

Similar to work–family conflict, the concept of work–family enrichment is also considered as bidirectional in nature (Frone 2003). That is, benefits can be derived from work and applied to family [work-to-family enrichment (WFE)] or derived from family and applied to work [family-to-work enrichment (FWE)]. According to Greenhaus and Powell’s (2006) model, diverse role experiences in both domains offer five categories of resources that operate directly or indirectly producing enrichment. These five resources are—skills and perspectives (e.g., interpersonal skills, coping skills, respecting individual differences), psychological and physical resources (e.g., self-efficacy, hardiness, optimism), social-capital resources (e.g., networking, information), flexibility (e.g., flexible work arrangements) and material resources (e.g., money, gifts). Greenhaus and Powell’s theoretical model helps elucidate work–family enrichment process by means of resources and positive affect. Resources generated in one domain can either have a direct instrumental effect or indirect effect on performance in another domain through positive affect. That is, positive affect generated by happy experiences within the family may produce more positive affect in work role and vice-versa.

Work–Family Fit

The concept of ‘work–family fit’ is based on Barnett’s fit model which emphasizes the importance of fitness as an intervening process in the relationship between the work domain and family domain. ‘Fit’ is conceptualized as, ‘the extent to which workers realize various components of their work–family strategies, that is, their plans for optimizing their own work and non-work needs as well as those of other members of their work–family/social system’ (Barnett, Gareis and Brennan, 1999, p. 307). The fit construct does not assume an inherent conflict between family and work domains. Instead, it believes in adaptive strategies that simultaneously maximize employees’ ability to meet the needs of the workplace and their ability to meet the demands of family system.

Impact of Work–Family Enrichment (WFE) and Family–Work Enrichment (FWE) on Work and Family Related Outcomes

Likewise, work–family conflict, researchers have proposed a number of different consequences of WFE and FWE. Empirically, work–family synergy is shown to have significant outcomes on work-related, non-work-related and health-related variables.

  1. Enrichment has been related to a number of important work-related outcomes, including job satisfaction (i.e., degree of pleasure derived from the job) and affective commitment (i.e., emotional attachment to the organization). Based on Greenhaus and Powell’s (2006) affective path, if a parent perceives resources stemming from his or her family role (e.g., better time management skills as a result of parenting), he or she is likely to be a better parent, which in turn creates more positive emotions at home, and this translates to more positive emotions at work (i.e., FWE). Conversely, resources acquired at work (e.g., self-esteem) may result in better performance at work, which has the effect of creating more positive affect at work, ultimately transferring to more positive affect in the family domain (i.e., WFE). Thus, in both cases, individuals who experience joy in their work have higher job satisfaction and affective commitment.
  2. Positive effects of work family synergy on non work-related outcomes have been reported in several empirical studies. Enrichment has positive effects on one’s life outside of work as well as the aforementioned benefits in the work domain. Enrichment is known to be positively related to both family and life satisfaction (e.g., van Steenbergen, Ellemers, and Mooijaart, 2007). Involvement with family domain activities has been linked to greater life satisfaction (Judge, Boudream and Bretz, 1994). According to Greenhaus and Powell (2006), family participation is likely to generate a variety of resources. For instance, coping skills generated in a family role should strengthen one’s performance and positive affect at home, and in turn improve one’s positive affect at work. It follows that greater positive feelings and emotions about a family role should result in greater family happiness and contentment in life.
  3. Williams, Franche, Ibrahim, Mustard and Layton (2006) found that greater enrichment was related to better physical health, perhaps because these individuals have a ‘solid resource reservoir’ that makes them better equipped to handle stress, which leads to greater well-being. Research has suggested that participation in multiple roles can buffer the negative effects of one role on the other (e.g., Sieber, 1974). Moreover, enrichment can generate resources that may be essential for coping with stress-related variables (Greenhaus and Powell, 2006). Summarizing, it can be said that work–life synergy is related to important personal and organizational outcomes. Participation in one role may enrich the quality of life in a second role. In particular, individuals who perceive greater enrichment seem to reciprocate with more favourable attitudes towards the originating role. Thus, efforts should be made not only to reduce perceptions of work–family conflict but also to increase perceptions of work–family balance.

Gender with Respect to Work/Non-work Interface

Issues of gender have been a central focus of work–family scholarship during the past three decades. Many studies indicate that men and women report similar levels of work–family conflict (Barnett and Gareis, 2006) but seem to exhibit different behaviour patterns in response to this conflict (Mennino and Brayfield, 2002). Studies have identified gender differences in work–family stress, showing significantly more conflict for women than for men (Duxbury and Higgins, 1991). For example, when children are young, men are comfortable and adaptable to changes in timing and location of work, whereas women may need shorter working hours or part-time job options. Further, expectations of mothers and fathers continue to differ, even for employed parents. Employed mothers may experience greater work–family conflict, given the continued gender differences in time spent in care giving and household labour. Besides in the Indian scenario women are expected to be more dedicated to their families, devoting much of their time and focus to the needs of the families. Some research reports that fathers have too little time for children—a specific measure of time inadequacy—due to gender differences in the amount of time spent in paid work and away from children. However, consistent with intensive mothering expectations, mothers’ well-being suffers more than fathers’ when they feel they do not have enough time with children or a spouse.

Work–family synergy also has a differential impact on various outcomes depending on gender differences. As a result of gender role socialization, there is evidence to suggest that men and women may view their work and family roles differently. For example, women are more likely to integrate work and family roles whereas men are more likely to segment or mentally separate these roles (Andrews and Bailyn, 1993). Women may be more likely to adopt this integrative model in order to balance work and family demands. Even though gender roles have shifted, women continue to spend more time on household activities and childcare, and make more adjustments to their work schedules than men (Friedman and Greenhaus, 2000). Wayne, Randel and Stevens (2006) model of work–family facilitation notes that men and women use resources differently, and this may also be a product of gender socialization.

Thus, gender constitutes the socio-demographic characteristic that has been most frequently examined with respect to the prevalence of the various dimensions of the work/non-work interface. The reason is the generally believed gender role expectation that work is more important for men and family life is more important for women. Because of higher family responsibilities, family factors intrude into the work situation more often in the case of women than in the case of men (home negatively influencing work), whereas work factors intrude into the family situation more often in men’s than in women’s case (work negatively influencing home).

Strategies to Improve Positive Work Family Interface

Due to increasing number of employees experiencing work–family conflicts, more focus is now diverted towards strategies that can foster integration between work and family lives. The three most common strategies in this regard are: (1) more flexible working time patterns; (2) facilitation of leave arrangements and (3) provision of childcare facilities. Factors that have been identified as triggering factors that motivate companies towards action are the percentage of female workers, the tightness of the labour market, and, most importantly, the extent to which companies wish to create a committed workforce. Some relevant organizational and personal strategies helpful to maintain work family synergy are reported below.

Organizational Strategies

It’s not easy to identify interventions or changes in company policy that guarantee improvement in the work–family balance profile of workers. For example, a reduction in the number of hours worked may not necessarily improve an employee’s work–family balance or reduce work–family conflict. Furthermore, two employees working the same number of hours may experience very different levels of conflict. However, if the company allows supervisors to work with individual employees to optimize the work schedule to fit with family needs, major improvements may be achieved in the perceptions of conflict. A number of approaches reported in literature that can be used to address the challenge of work–family balance are: flexible scheduling of working hours, leave policies, childcare, family-friendly organizational culture, supportive supervisor, supportive co-workers, tax/benefit policies, job sharing and telecommuting.

A study from Cohen (1997) among 300 employees of a school district in Canada showed that organizational commitment of employees (particularly of those who find their non-work domains important) was particularly dependent on how organizations react to the non-work domains of employees (e.g., considering employees’ personal lives when making important decisions about careers, accommodating employees’ special non-work needs, having a flexible attitude with respect to employees’ work schedules). Cohen’s findings imply that organizations may increase positive attitudes among their employees by showing more respect for their non-work domains.

Personal Strategies

Strategies that were aimed at positive attitudinal changes in self with respect to what demands can realistically be met in both domains seemed to be more effective in coping with high demands from both domains and improving family synergy than strategies aimed at changing the attitudes or behaviours of others. Beutell and Greenhaus (1983) have studied the effectiveness of three types of coping strategies for dealing with work/non-work conflict among 115 married women (with at least one child) who were attending college. Their study showed that active attempts to change the structural and/or personal definition of one’s roles were more effective in dealing with work/non-work conflict than more passive and reactive role behaviour. They describe the active reaction pattern as attempts to lessen the conflict by discussing and finding mutual agreement with other people about what can be expected from them, as well as redefining one’s own attitudes and perceptions in a more realistic way. The passive reaction pattern can be described as relying on existing role behaviours and trying to meet the unchanged expectations of others as well as of oneself.


Work and family are interwoven. Work family interface is a multifaceted phenomenon with work and family mutually influencing each other in both negative as well as positive ways. Though difficult to conceptualize, work–family interface is an important topic to study, not only because an increasing number of workers have difficulty in balancing work and non-work demands, but also, because the effects of work are not restricted to the workplace and the effects of the non-work domain affect employees’ behaviour and experiences at work. However, it is vital to expand our understanding of the phenomenon by considering how work positively affects the non-work domain and how non-work domain (i.e., family) can facilitate functioning at work. This can be seen also as an expression of a more general trend towards positive psychology that focuses on human strengths and optimal functioning rather than on weaknesses and malfunctioning.


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