The 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
But 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
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.
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.