For most people, work and family play an important role in adult life. Work provides us with material resources to ensure family life, and family provides us with love and responsibility to make our work more meaningful and valuable.
Although work gives us many resources, participating in the workforce can also deplete us. Especially in the absence of complementary resources and without recovery of the important ones, employees cannot perform their family roles and fulfil family responsibilities adequately. Yet work can also give us energy, power, and vitality, and therefore participating in the workforce can make family life better by a unique work-family linkage mechanism.
Unfortunately, scholars have divergent conclusions about the relationship between work and family, and have not clearly explored the mechanism of the effects of work on family. We believe that from the perspective of resources, in addition to the various tools and support provided by organisations, employees can also obtain high-quality life by their own efforts.
We conducted a study involving 125 employees in a large bank in a city located in northern China using the experience sampling methodology (ESM). Our study examined whether work engagement, “a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterised by vigour, dedication, and absorption” leads to higher quality family life and, if yes, why it is so.
Focusing on the positive side of work and its potential beneficial effects for family life is equally important, yet it has been seldom studied. Therefore, we responded to numerous calls in the literature for an expansion of the work-family paradigm beyond conflict, and position our work within the literature on work-family facilitation, which refers to the extent to which one’s engagement in the work domain provides gains that contribute to improved functioning in family life.
Our results show that daily work engagement was positively and significantly related to daily work-family balance, but the effect on daily family satisfaction was indirect. Here is how: work engagement made possible daily work-family interpersonal capitalisation (sharing positive work experiences with one’s spouse.) Interpersonal capitalisation mediated the relationship between work engagement and daily family satisfaction.Thus, the evidence confirms our hypothesis: work engagement had an effect on family satisfaction, and, similarly, on work-family balance.
Based on our findings, we can conclude that at a general level, experiencing daily work engagement can be beneficial for employees’ family lives, yet these benefits were contingent on the intrinsic motivation of the employees.
There are contrasting views. Some suggest that work engagement depletes resources and leads to negative family-related outcomes, while others suggest that work engagement is beneficial for family life. Our study not only enriches our understanding of the consequences of work engagement on family life, but also explores the mechanism of work-family interpersonal capitalisation. This dynamic model specifying work-family capitalisation as a mediated behavioural action would help employees to better understand why those who are highly engaged at work can have better family lives.
Thirdly, we examined a unique behavioural mechanism, namely the variable of work-family interpersonal capitalisation, between the experience of work and family outcomes, which differ from an instrumental path (e.g., obtaining skills and knowledge) and an affective path (e.g., having positive emotions or affective experiences).
Our findings suggest that sharing positive work experiences at home may help translate the contextual resources obtained from work into personal resources, in order to have high family satisfaction and work-family balance. Therefore, employees should strive to increase work engagement, so as to be more effective in sharing positive experiences with their spouses and then achieve better quality of family life.
- This blog post is based on the authors’ paper Why do employees have better family lives when they are highly engaged at work? co-authored with Remus Ilies, Xiao-Yu Liu and Yukun Liu, in the Journal of Applied Psychology, 2017, Vol. 102, No. 6, 956–970
- The post gives the views of its author, not the position of LSE Business Review or the London School of Economics.
- Featured image credit: We are family, by Matthias Ripp, under a CC-BY-2.0 licence
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Xiaoming Zheng is an Associate Professor of Leadership and Organization Management at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management. He was a visiting scholar at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and MIT Sloan School of Management. His research focuses on leadership, positive organisational behaviour, competency model, performance management, organisation culture, employee wellbeing and strategic human resource management. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Ni is a Ph.D. student of Leadership and Organization Management at Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management. Her research focuses on leadership, mindfulness, and work-family interface. Email: email@example.com