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Work-Family Flow

written by Jodie Benveniste 20 December 2008

Jodie Benveniste is the director and founder of Parent Wellbeing, an organization dedicated to helping parents improve quality of life. An author, parenting expert, and mother of two, Jodie has a background in psychology, human resources, and academic research. Parent Wellbeing has pioneered Work Family Flow, an approach to work-family issues that helps organizations attract, retain and engage top talent through workshops that help parents make the most of work and family lives so they care better for their children and are more effective at work.

FamilyThe advent of a new year is a time to reflect on life – what’s working, what’s not working, and what we can resolve to do better in 2009. And for many people, finding a better ‘balance’ between work and family comes high up the list. But for those of us living busy, pressured, and often stressful lives, a sense of ‘balance’ can seem impossible.

Indeed, we know from extensive research that the vast majority of people, particularly, working parents, struggle to combine work and family. They report feeling guilty, rushed for time, and overloaded (Pocock, Skinner, & Williams, 2007). For organizations, these difficulties contribute to job dissatisfaction, low organizational commitment, increased absenteeism, and high turnover (Duxbury & Higgins, 2008).

Work family ‘balance’

For over a decade, we’ve been talking about ‘work family balance’ as the way for people to better manage their work and family responsibilities. But researchers and commentators, notably Ellen Galinsky in her groundbreaking book Ask the Children (1999), have exposed the limitations of the ‘work family balance’ concept.

The ‘work family balance’ concept assumes a scarcity model. It sees work and family as always clashing and conflicting. And it largely uses time as the metric by suggesting that if you are spending too much time at work, your home life suffers, and vice versa.

New work family research

CommunityBut more recently, work family research has expanded its scope to consider ‘work family enrichment’. Researchers have examined the rewards and benefits of combining work and family (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006).

We now know, for instance, that employees bring skills and energy they have developed at home to the workplace, and we also know that employees develop skills and experiences at work that enrich their family life.

So work family research and individual experience suggests that we need a new language to discuss the work and family combination. One that:

  • Understands the interrelationships and interconnections between work and family
  • Recognizes that work offers benefits to family life, and family life offers benefits to the workplace
  • Appreciates that ‘well’ people are more productive and effective at work, and experience a better home life

Work Family FlowWork Family Flow and positive psychology

This is where positive psychology can help. At Parent Wellbeing, we talk about Work Family Flow— not work family ‘balance’. The goal of Work Family Flow is to optimize work and family – not keep them in some sense of equilibrium. It is about helping people make the most of their work and family experience.

Work Family Flow begins with increased well-being because we know from positive psychology that happy people are more effective and productive at work, and they develop better relationships with colleagues, partners and their children.

When people learn empirically validated tools to increase their well-being, including practicing gratitude (Emmons, 2007), using optimism as a psychological strategy (Seligman, 2004), experiencing flow (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990), savoring (Bryant & Veroff, 2007) and using their signature strengths (Peterson & Seligman, 2004), individuals benefit, and organizations improve their bottom line.

So instead of putting ‘work family balance’ on the top of your 2009 wishlist, aim for Work Family Flow. Begin with your own well-being, and watch the benefits flow to your work and your home life. Then it won’t be about where you spend your time, but how well you spend your time.

Happy holidays!



Pocock, B., Skinner, N. & Williams, P. (2007) Work, life and time: The Australian work + life index. Centre for Work + Life, University of South Australia.

Duxbury, L. & Higgins, C. (2008). Work life balance in Australia in the new Millennium: Rhetoric versus reality. Beaton Consulting.

Galinsky, E. (1999). Ask the Children: The Breakthrough Study That Reveals How to Succeed at Work and Parenting New York: Harper Collins.

Greenhaus, J. & Powell, G. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work-family enrichment, Academy of Management Review, 31(1), 72-92.

Emmons, R. (2007) Thanks!: How the new science of gratitude can make you happier. Boston: Houghton Mifflan Company.

Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.

Csiksentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience.. New York: Harper Perennial

Bryant, F. & Veroff, J. (2007) Savoring: A new model of positive experience.. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Senia Maymin 21 December 2008 - 12:43 pm

Hi Jodie!

Thanks so much for this guest article! It’s interesting to focus on putting on your own airmask first before helping others!

Also, as a coach, I use the co-active coaching wheel of life, and there, we have eight domains for measuring progress in life – why just “work” and “everything else” – what about “health,” “friends,” “physical environment,” etc. So I agree with you about how work-life balance is a bit of a zero-gum game as it currently exists.

Thank you!

Kathryn Britton 21 December 2008 - 2:53 pm


I’ve been hearing about work-life balance for more years that I care to admit, and one of the things I’ve noticed is that the discussion never changes. The same ‘solutions’ are suggested over and over.

Your point of view is something new to me — looking for a way to think about it that is not deficit based.

It’s like the argument that it is better to grow the market for all than to fight over market share…

Thank you for a novel viewpoint.


Sean Doyle 21 December 2008 - 10:38 pm

This is an important article Jodie. I like the concept of Work-Family Flow. It really does change the focus from splitting disperate things to one of enhancing wellbeing across the board.

I certainly see things the individual can do to increase the work-family flow. Do you have any ideas for what an organization can do to promote this flow amoung its employees?



Jodie Benveniste 22 December 2008 - 12:31 am

Thank you Senia, Kathryn and Sean. It is great to get your feedback. Much appreciated!

Sean – re. what organizations can do.

We run Work Family Flow workshops for organizations (mainly the big ones) who already understand the importance and value of caring for their staff.

We find that the leading edge companies often have good policies but this good policy work falls down for two main reasons.

Firstly, management don’t fully support or have the mindset or tools to make the policies work practically.

Secondly, the employees don’t have the personal strategies to make the most of what the organization offers.

So our Work Family Flow programs include management sessions so management can understand the concepts and add to their toolkit, and sessions for employees so employees can think differently about work and family and learn some practical ways to increase their wellbeing.

So we see our role as helping organizations maximise their family friendly initiatives, and employees increase their personal effectiveness.

I hope this helps! I’m happy to chat more about this if interested.

Kind regards,


Dana Arakawa 22 December 2008 - 4:31 am

Hi Jodie,

I really like that Work-Family flow comes from the perspective that work and family life do not have to be in conflict, a very important concept for women who struggle to “have it all.” Thank you!

Margaret 22 December 2008 - 12:26 pm

Jodie – welcome to PPND and thank you for writing a very timely piece. I love your notion of Work/Family Flow, especially and understanding the interconnections and interrelations b/t work & home. One of the most common desired outcomes of a coaching engagement I see with my corporate clients is work/life balance. To Senia’s point, work is just one of the many domains of life. Happy Holidays to you!

Louis 24 December 2008 - 8:15 am

Hey Jodie,

Thanks for your contribution to PPND. I love the idea of enrinchment and flow. It’s amazing how powerful language is. Word choice is so cruical as to how we experience life. Thank you to your sensitivity to choosing the language which illustrates most clearly what we are all about. It is a good lesson for all.


Barry Elias 15 February 2009 - 9:21 am

December 20, 2008

Dear Ms. Benveniste:

Reproduced below, is an email I received from Positive Psychology News Daily on December 20, 2008 referencing your article discussing Work Family Flow.

Your empirical research seems to validate my intuitive analysis and practical application.

A synergistic symbiosis can germinate through interconnected, multidisciplinary experiences.

As you suggest, it is not a zero sum game: it can be a win-win-win situation, whereby the overall “pie” grows and everyone realizes value added. (Not simply a redistribution of fixed attributes.)

I subscribed to your newsletter.

I look forward to future correspondence.

Best wishes with your book and organization.

Have a wonderful holiday.

Barry Elias


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