Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Work, Family, and Mental Health: Testing Different Models of Work-Family Fit

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Work, Family, and Mental Health: Testing Different Models of Work-Family Fit

Article excerpt

Using family resilience theory, this study examined the effects of work-family conflict and workfamily facilitation on mental health among working adults to gain a better understanding of work-family fit. Data from the National Survey of Midlife Development in the United States (MIDUS) were used to compare different combinations of work-family conflict and work-family facilitation. Results suggest that family to work facilitation is a family protective factor that offsets and buffers the deleterious effects of work-family conflict on mental health. The results across these outcomes suggest that work-family conflict and facilitation must be considered separately, and that adult mental health is optimized when family to work facilitation is high and family to work and work to family conflict is low.

Key Words: anxiety, depression, family resilience, mental health, problem drinking, work-family fit.

Flexibility and family is one of three major challenges facing workers and employers at the dawn of the 21st century (U.S. Department of Labor, 1999). As social and demographic trends create increased urgency and demand for sufficient family time among workers, employers are requiring greater levels of flexibility on the part of employees in order to compete in the global marketplace. Active involvement in both work and family are both widely viewed as signs of a life well-lived, yet the opposing pressures of work and family and the sequela of work-family conflict have been associated with clear detriments to individuals and families (for recent meta-analysis see Allen, Herst, Bruck, & Sutton, 2000). Clearly how work and family intersect in a person's life, or rather how they fit, has important ramifications for individuals and families; therefore, it is important to specify and understand what constitutes this fit.

Historically, fit has not been well defined in the theoretical and empirical literature. The preponderance of work-family research has conceptualized fit as the absence of work-family conflict (for recent reviews of the literature see Barnett, 1998; Frone, in press; Greenhaus & Parasuraman, 1999; Perry-Jenkins, Repetti, & Crouter, 2000); however, workers' everyday experiences tell us that work and family are both sources of growth and support as well as burdens and strains (Barnett; Barnett & Hyde, 2001; Crouter, 1984). This evidence suggests the possibility that work and family can benefit each other, and compelling evidence suggests that work-family conflict is distinct from positive spillover or work-family enhancement (Grzywacz & Marks; Kirchmeyer, 1992a). Integrating the conflict and the enhancement perspectives, work-family fit was recently conceptualized as the combination of enhancement and conflict (Barnett, 1998); unfortunately, which combination of enhancement and conflict best facilitates individual, work, and/or family-related outcomes remains to be specified. Therefore, the primary goal of this study was to further specify the fit construct by empirically testing three different combinations of work-family conflict and work-family facilitation.


Theoretical Background

Work-family conflict and work-family facilitation are central concepts in emerging perspectives on work and family dynamics (Barnett, 1998; Frone, in press). Work-family conflict represents incompatibilities between work and family responsibilities because of limited resources (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964) and is characterized by experiences such as missing an important dinner with one's partner because of working late or being physically drained at work because the individual was up the night before with a sick child. Workfamily facilitation, including related concepts such as work-family compatibility (Barnett & Baruch, 1985; Barnett & Hyde, 2001) and work-family enhancement (Greenhaus & Parasuraman, 1999), represents the synergies or complementarities that occur when individuals combine work and family (Frone, 2003; Grzywacz, 2002). …

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