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Positive Work–Family Dynamics

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on the positive interconnections between work and family. It provides a brief overview of historical perspectives that have been influential in this literature, followed by a delineation of the focal constructs (enhancement, spillover, enrichment, facilitation) and some subtle but important distinctions between them. The resources thought to enable work–family enrichment are reviewed, as well as the antecedents and consequences that have been studied in relation to self-reported work–family enrichment. Finally a large portion of the chapter is devoted to presenting a within-individual model of positive work–family spillover and crossover, focusing specifically on the transference of positive affective states across domains and across individuals. Interpersonal capitalization, or sharing positive work events with others, is proposed as one mechanism by which work experiences impact the well-being of employees and their families. In closing, unanswered questions in positive work–family dynamics are identified as potentially fruitful avenues for future research.

Keywords: Positive work–family spillover, work–family enrichment, work–family facilitation, interpersonal capitalization, crossover

As is true for many areas of psychology and organizational scholarship, an overwhelming emphasis has been placed on negative phenomena in the study of the work–family interface. Not only is work–family conflict a negative outcome, but it is also associated with a wide range of other deleterious states (e.g., depression, burnout, turnover intentions; Allen, Herst, Bruck, & Sutton, 2000). Although this focus is understandable given the potency that negative experiences hold (Baumeister et al., 2001), it undoubtedly ignores all the ways in which work and family benefit one another.

Fortunately, considerable progress has been made over the past decade in understanding the positive interdependencies of work and family. An exclusive focus on the positive side of the work–family interface can be useful, because research has shown that work–family conflict and work–family enrichment are relatively independent phenomena (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006). Understanding work–family conflict and how to reduce it tells us very little about how to create the conditions for work–family enrichment. The purpose of this chapter is to review the literature on positive work–family dynamics and to highlight directions for future research.

We first provide a brief overview of historical perspectives that have been influential in the literature on positive work–family dynamics. In the section following, we delineate the focal constructs within this literature and some subtle but important distinctions between them. We review the nomological network of work–family enrichment. Finally, we devote a large portion of the chapter to presenting a within-individual model of positive work–family spillover and crossover, focusing specifically on the transference of positive affective states across domains and across individuals. In closing, we identify unanswered questions both in (p. 602) this model and in positive work–family dynamics more generally that should serve as fruitful areas for future investigations.

Early Roots of the Positive Work–Family Perspective

Although it would be quite some time before their ideas would be embraced by organizational scholars, over three decades ago, two sociologists challenged the dominant view of multiple roles as conflict-ridden. Sieber (1974) questioned why researchers frequently measured negative aspects of roles, such as strain and overload, but rarely measured the gratification and rewards provided by roles. Sieber argued that to adequately test the consequences of multiple role occupation, both the positive and negative features of roles need to be considered.

Similarly, Marks (1977) was skeptical of the idea that engagement in multiple roles always results in a sense of strained time and energy (i.e., reduced resources). Marks contrasted two perspectives: the scarcity and expansionist approaches. According to the scarcity approach, multiple role occupancy results in a net loss of energy. The expansionist approach, on the other hand, acknowledges that resources are renewable and, therefore, abundant. Interestingly, Marks highlighted the subjective nature of time and energy and suggested that the perceived depletion versus availability of these resources depends on an individual’s degree of commitment to an activity. After some activities to which we are highly committed, we feel energized and ready to take on the world, whereas other activities seem to leave one feeling spent or drained.

Importantly, neither Marks (1977) nor Sieber (1974) denied the existence of role overload or conflict, but simply suggested that there are enough benefits of holding multiple roles that may just outweigh the costs. The data thus far lend some support to their perspective. On average, people perceive at least as much positive as negative effects of work and family on one another (e.g., Grzywacz & Marks, 2000; Hammer, Cullen, Neal, Sinclair, & Shafiro, 2005; Sumer & Knight, 2001). Furthermore, in support of the idea that conflict does not preclude enrichment, several studies provide evidence that enrichment and conflict are not simply two ends of the same continuum (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006; Tiedje et al., 1990; van Steenenbergen, Ellemers, & Mooijaart, 2007). These studies show that enrichment and conflict are not highly correlated, are differentially related to other variables, and provide incremental prediction over one another for a variety of outcomes (e.g., work, home, life satisfaction).

Definition and Delineation of Positive Work–Family Constructs

A variety of terms have been used to describe the positive connections between work and family, including enhancement, enrichment, positive spillover, and facilitation. Although these terms have often been used interchangeably, some researchers have argued that they represent distinct constructs (Carlson, Kacmar, Wayne, & Grzywacz, 2006; Wayne, Grzywacz, Carlson, & Kacmar, 2007). Wayne (2009) provided one framework for distinguishing between these constructs, which we will draw upon here.

Enhancement refers to the acquisition of benefits, privileges, or other gains within a particular role (i.e., work or family). When a person experiences an increase in self-esteem after a successful presentation at work, for example, he or she has experienced a form of enhancement within the work role. Enhancement occurs at the individual level and is a prerequisite to any positive transfer between work and family. After enhancement occurs, positive spillover from one role to another can take place. Positive spillover occurs when experiences at work generate similar experiences at home, or vice versa (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000). For instance, if a person’s positive affect at home carries over into the work environment and changes the way that he or she feels at work (e.g., Heller & Watson, 2005), spillover has occurred.

The next two processes are unique because they are contingent on a person perceiving or experiencing real improvements in their work or family role. They are distinguished from one another by their level of analysis (i.e., individual or system). Work–family enrichment (WFE) is “the extent to which experiences in one role improves the quality of life in the other role” (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006, p. 73) with quality of life defined at the individual level. An example of WFE is when self-esteem gained from work accomplishments makes a person a better role model to his or her child. Unsuccessful application of gains from work to family, or vice versa, would not be considered WFE. Thus, if work-derived self-esteem spills over into the home environment, but results in poor role modeling, then—according to Wayne (2009)—the conditions for WFE have not been met. In line with this conceptualization, all the items in the Carlson et al. (p. 603) (2006) self-report scale of WFE ask respondents to consider whether a given resource helps them be “a better family member” or “a better worker” (depending on the direction of enrichment). Work–family facilitation (WFF) is similar to WFE but results in improved quality of life at the system level (i.e., workplace or family unit). System-level indicators of effective functioning in the workplace might include workgroup cooperation, whereas indicators in the family domain might include family cohesion. The next sections are constrained mostly to discussing WFE and its correlates because it has been the most heavily researched of these four constructs.

Subtle But Important Distinctions

One critical issue for the construct development of WFE is defining what is considered to be an improvement in quality of life. This issue is important because it determines what is contained within the definition of WFE and what constitutes valid measurement of WFE. Carlson et al. (2006) contend that performance improvement is the ultimate criterion for WFE. Greenhaus and Powell (2006) recognize positive affect as an additional component of quality of life, but ultimately their model specifies positive affect as a by-product of performance improvements. Thus, based on current theory, the direct influence of positive affective states experienced in one domain on positive affective states exhibited in another domain would be considered positive spillover but not WFE. In their review of work–family linking mechanisms, Edwards and Rothbard (2000, p. 180) argued quite effectively that “this version of spillover [experiences transferred intact] does not represent a linking mechanism, because, by itself, it does not entail a relationship between a work construct and a family construct.”

Consistent with the above conceptualization of WFE, the majority of self-report scales measuring positive linkages between work and family contain items that reflect performance improvements, although some of the items reference performance in a loose sense (e.g., increased confidence in a domain). An exception is the Hanson, Hammer, and Colton (2006) work–family positive spillover scale, which contains many items within the instrumental spillover subscales that would be considered WFE (e.g., “I am better able to perform my family responsibilities as a result of skills acquired at work”), but also other items within the affective spillover subscale that would only qualify as spillover (“Being happy at work improves my spirits at home”).

In the next section, we review findings regarding the nomological network of WFE, as reflected by correlations between self-report measures of WFE and other variables. To be clear, we use the term WFE to refer to both directions of enrichment and, otherwise, specifically note the direction of enrichment.

The Nomological Network of  Work–Family Enrichment

Resources As Enablers of Work–Family Enrichment

Before WFE can occur, an individual must experience enhancement within a role. Enhancement has been operationalized as the acquisition of resources (Wayne, Grzywacz, Carlson, & Kacmar, 2007; Greenhaus & Powell, 2006). Work–family researchers have proposed a number of dimensions of positive spillover and WFE that correspond to the type of resource that is acquired and subsequently transferred across domains (see Table 45.1). Crouter (1984) first distinguished between the transfer of skills and perspectives (“educational spillover”) and the transfer of affective states (“psychological spillover”). The more recent conceptualizations summarized in Table 45.1 encapsulate a more diverse array of resources that enable WFE (e.g., flexibility, values, interpersonal relationships). In line with Crouter’s model, however, the most commonly examined resources are skills, perspectives, and positive affective states.

Antecedents of Work–Family Enrichment

What characteristics of work and families generate the resources that make positive spillover and WFE possible? Work characteristics that positively predict WFE include job control/decision latitude/autonomy (Butler, Grzywacz, Bass, & Linney, 2005; Carlson et al., 2006; Grzywacz & Butler, 2005; Grzywacz & Marks, 2000); job variety, substantive complexity, and skill level (only the relationship with work-to-family enrichment has been examined; Grzywacz & Butler, 2005; Butler et al., 2005); social support at work (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000); developmental opportunities and supervisor relationship quality (Carlson et al., 2006); and job salience (Carlson et al., 2006; Wayne, Randel, & Stevens, 2006). Family characteristics shown to positively predict WFE include social support (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000; Wayne et al., 2006) and family salience (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000).

A common proposition is that work resources should more strongly predict work-to-family (p. 604) (p. 605) (p. 606) enrichment, whereas family resources should more strongly predict family-to-work enrichment (Boyar & Mosley, 2007; Grzywacz & Butler, 2005; Wayne et al., 2007; Voydanoff, 2004). Although this pattern of results tends to hold true overall, this is not always the case. For example, job autonomy (or decision latitude) has been shown in two studies to predict enrichment in both directions (Carlson et al., 2006; Grzywacz & Marks, 2000). One explanation for this finding is that autonomy not only serves as a resource for work-to-family enrichment, but also serves as a facilitator for the occurrence of family-to-work enrichment. Autonomy gives employees the option of changing the way they work and thus enabling them to apply resources from another domain successfully (e.g., apply skills learned from the family role).

Table 45.1 Dimensions of positive spillover and work–family enrichment

Work or Family Resource


Sample Item

Dimension of Spillover/WFE

Greenhaus & Powell (2006)

Kirchmeyer (1992)

Carlson et al. (2006)

Hanson, Hammer, & Colton (2006)

Van Steenbergen et al. (2007)


Mood, spirits

Being in a positive mood at home helps me to be in a positive mood at work.a

Affective gains



Positive emotions

Optimism, hope

Having a good day at work allows me to be optimistic with my family.a

Psychological and physical resources

Affective gains




Task-based or interpersonal skills/knowledge

Being a parent develops skills in me that are useful at work.b

Skills and perspectives

Personality enrichment

Developmental gains



Positive sense of self

Self-esteem, security, personal fulfillment

My involvement in my work provides me with a sense of success, and this helps me be a better family member.c

Psychological and physical resources

Capital gains


Frame of Reference

Ways to perceive and handle situations

My involvement in my work helps me to understand different viewpoints, and this helps me be a better family member.c

Skills and perspectives

Personality enrichment

Developmental gains


Interpersonal relationships

Connections, influence, information

Being a parent provides me with contacts who are helpful for my work.b

Social capital

Status enhancement

Material resources

Money, gifts


Material resources


Discretion in where, how, and when role requirements are met





Liberties inherent in a role (e.g., being able to make suggestions)

Being a parent earns me certain rights and privileges that otherwise I could not enjoy.b

Privileges gained


Using one domain to compensate for failure in the other domain

Being a parent makes disappointments on the job seem easier to take.b

Status security


Work ethic, obedience, self-direction

Values developed at work make me a better family member.a



Power of family life to motivate increased efficiency at work

My involvement in my family requires me to avoid wasting time at work and this helps me be a better worker.c

Efficiency gains


N/A = not available.

aHanson, Hammer, and Colton (2006);

bKirchmeyer (1992);

cCarlson et al. (2006).

In addition to environmental antecedents, certain personality traits predispose individuals to experience WFE. Out of the Big Five traits, extraversion has the largest correlations (rs in the 0.20s) with both directions of WFE (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000; Wayne, Musisca, & Fleeson, 2004). Wayne et al. suggested that extraverts’ high levels of positive affect, energy, and attentiveness to positive events makes it more likely that they will generate positive resources and transfer them across domains. The Wayne et al. study also found that extraversion did not predict conflict (which was better predicted by neuroticism), thus providing support for the independence of conflict and enrichment. Two other studies provide insight into the traits that relate to WFE. Sumer and Knight (2001) found that securely attached individuals have higher WFE. Boyar and Mosley (2007) found that individuals with high self-esteem and an internal locus of causality have higher WFE.

Finally, gender may relate to experienced levels of WFE. The few studies that have examined gender in the context of WFE suggest that, compared to men, women report higher WFE, as well as display stronger relationships between WFE and job satisfaction (McNall, Nicklin, & Masuda, 2010; van Steenenbergen, Ellemers, & Mooijaart, 2007).Wayne et al. (2007) proposed that gender may influence the types of resources that are sought and acquired in work and family, or the extent to which they are utilized. For example, women may be more likely to use family-friendly work resources (e.g., flextime) that contribute to WFE. Women may also be more likely to utilize their social relationships at work in a way that benefits family life (Friedman & Greenhaus, 2000).

Consequences of Work–Family Enrichment

Many of the same outcomes examined in the work–family conflict literature have also been studied in relation to WFE. The term “outcome” is used tenuously because the majority of studies have employed cross-sectional designs. A recent meta-analysis of 25 studies (McNall et al., 2010) found that WFE is positively related to job satisfaction, job affective commitment, family satisfaction, and psychological and physical health. The estimated relationships were small to moderate in magnitude, and in many cases, results suggested the presence of moderators, including the construct label used (e.g., spillover versus enrichment). Although WFE is related to many of the same outcomes as work–family conflict (in the opposite direction), an exception is that WFE appears to have little to no relationship with turnover intentions.

Contrary to findings in the work–family conflict literature, the McNall et al. meta-analysis showed that work-to-family enrichment is more strongly related with work-related outcomes, and family-to-work enrichment is more strongly related with non–work related outcomes. That is, more positive outcomes are seen within the domain from which enrichment originates. For example, family satisfaction correlated 0.34 with family-to-work enrichment and only 0.11 with work-to-family enrichment (McNall et al.). Wayne et al. (2004) found that both satisfaction and investment of effort are strongest in the domain from which enrichment originates. Wayne et al. suggested that individuals may be more satisfied and invest effort in roles they see as providing benefit; however, an alternative explanation worthy of consideration is that variables such as satisfaction and effort in a role actually precede enrichment. Longitudinal research is needed to help ascertain the direction of causality in these relationships.

Studies examining the relationship between WFE and performance are scarce, but the few that have been conducted show promising results. There is some evidence to suggest that skills, perspectives, and self-confidence gained in nonwork domains relate to higher job performance (as rated by supervisors; Weer, Greenhaus, & Linnehan, 2010). The Weer et al. study is unique because it considers not only family, but also a variety of other nonwork domains (e.g., religion, study, and leisure) as sources of enrichment. In a study of call center employees, van Steenbergen and Ellemiers (2009) examined the relationship between WFE and objective performance metrics. Enjoying time spent outside of work more as a result of one’s job (a form of (p. 607) work-to-family enrichment) predicted whether sales targets were met 1 year later. Additionally, the study suggested possible health benefits of WFE. Individuals who felt more energized after coming home from work had lower cholesterol 1 year later. Also, feeling better able to focus on work as a result of recovery experiences at home (a form of family-to-work enrichment) was negatively correlated with an employee’s number of sickness absences.

Overall, these studies demonstrate that WFE is relevant to employee well-being and performance. On the one hand, perhaps these results should not be surprising, given that most measures of WFE ask respondents to attribute positive effects of one domain on performance and affective states in the other domain. On the other hand, it is reassuring for the construct validity of WFE measures that those individuals who report enrichment actually are more satisfied and feel as though they can function better at work and at home.

Elucidating Process: Within-individual Spillover–Crossover Model of Affective States

Another stream of research does not rely upon individuals’ self-report of positive work–family linkages, but instead infers their existence from an observed positive relationship between work constructs and family constructs. Like Greenhaus and Powell (2006), we believe that investigations of this nature have potential to shed light on the processes through which work and family enrich one another. In the next section of this chapter, we propose such a model of positive work–family spillover (i.e., a model that maps relationships of work and family constructs), focusing specifically on the spillover of affective states or well-being. In this model, we also introduce the concepts of crossover and interpersonal capitalization. Crossover refers to the transference of affective states between people (e.g., spouses), whereas interpersonal capitalization refers to sharing positive events with others and thereby reaping additional benefits beyond those of the events themselves. Together, these three bodies of research—spillover, crossover, and interpersonal capitalization—help explain the interrelatedness of affective states across roles (work and home) and across individuals within these roles (e.g., between family members). The model presented in Figure 45.1 is used both to describe relevant findings and to frame remaining issues for future research.

 Positive Work–Family Dynamics

Fig. 45.1 Spillover–crossover model of positive affective states.

The proposed model (Figure 45.1) begins with the acquisition of resources in the work domain and reflects work-to-family spillover and crossover between family members. It should be noted that we could have just as easily begun with the acquisition (p. 608) of resources in the family domain, capturing family-to-work spillover and crossover between coworkers. Additionally, we present the spillover of Partner A and the crossover from Partner A to B for sake of simplicity, but a parallel process should also operate in the opposite direction.

Importantly, the processes depicted in the model take place within individuals over time. Within-person studies of spillover and enrichment constitute a potentially fruitful area of inquiry. Several studies that have collected repeated measures of WFE suggest that a large percentage of the variance in WFE is within-person (69%, Butler et al., 2005; 72%, Sanz-Vergel, Demerouti, & Moreno-Jimenez, 2010). The crossover of positive states has only been studied at the between-person level and extending investigations of crossover to the within-person level will allow researchers to ask interesting questions, such as whether a person feels more engaged by his work on days when his spouse is more engaged by her work.

It is worth noting that the model presented within Figure 45.1 concerns the spillover and crossover of positive affective states (e.g., mood, emotion, satisfaction, engagement), also referred to collectively as well-being. As such, the model does not explicitly address the process by which resources other than positive affective states gained in one role (e.g., skills, perspectives, social capital) benefit another role. We believe focusing on affective states is appropriate when examining variation within people that takes place over a relatively short time period (e.g., across days). Crouter (1984) suggested that the spillover of affective states is an episodic, dynamic phenomenon, whereas other forms of spillover (e.g., skill-based) take place more slowly over long time periods.

Antecedents of Positive Affective Spillover

As described earlier, stable work characteristics are antecedents of a person’s general level of work-to-family enrichment. In contrast, positive work events and experiences are more theoretically relevant antecedents when studying daily fluctuations in work-to-family positive spillover and enrichment (Ilies, Schwind, & Heller, 2007). According to affective events theory (AET; Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996), positive occurrences at work (e.g., receiving recognition for a job well done) generate positive affect and other indicators of well-being, which represent individual enhancement (path A). The relationship between work events and subsequent well-being has been supported empirically at the within-person level of analysis (e.g., Miner, Glomb, & Hulin, 2005). The spillover portion of the model stipulates that well-being at work, in turn, positively predicts well-being at home (path B). Affective states can persist throughout the day, traversing the work–home boundary. This path has been well-supported in experience sampling studies that correlate daily well-being measures obtained at work (i.e., affect and satisfaction) with measures of well-being at home later in the day (Heller & Watson, 2005; Ilies, Wilson, & Wagner, 2009; Judge & Ilies, 2004; Williams & Alliger, 1994). For example, Ilies and colleagues (2009) examined whether job satisfaction reported during the day by 101 university employees predicted their positive affect, as rated by their spouses, later the same night. Analyses showed that employees were more likely to arrive home in a positive, energized state on days when they felt highly satisfied by their job than on days when they had low job satisfaction.

Several studies have examined the link between work events or experiences and spillover (paths A and B combined). Ilies, Keeney, and Scott (2011) found that positive affect at work served as a mediator of the relationship between positive work events and well-being at home (i.e., job satisfaction assessed at nighttime). Studies using self-report measures of WFE also support the notion that work experiences are relevant antecedents of daily fluctuations in spillover. Sanz-Vergel et al. (2010) found that people report higher WFE on days when they experience recovery after breaks at work, and Butler et al. (2005) found that the opportunity to control one’s work and utilize a high level of skill was a significant predictor of daily WFE.

Work–Family Interpersonal Capitalization

Although affective spillover is often conceptualized as a passive and unintentional process (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000; Greenhaus & Powell, 2006; Wayne, 2009), evidence suggests that individuals play an active role in regulating and maintaining their affective states (Bryant, 1989). As described above, people are likely to experience boosts in well-being after the occurrence of positive events at work, which do linger for some time and extend to the home environment. However, these effects can and will eventually dissipate (Suh, Diener, & Fujita, 1996), unless a person makes deliberate attempts to preserve or savor them. The construct of savoring has been introduced to capture how individuals mindfully attend to and appreciate positive events or experiences (Bryant, 1989; Bryant & Veroff, 2007). (p. 609) This behavior has also been referred to as capitalization (Langston, 1994) as individuals are capitalizing on or taking advantage of the already positive effects of the events. In theory, savoring or capitalizing on positive events is thought to prolong or intensify their effects. We suggest that capitalization is an intentional, behavioral mechanism that partially accounts for the spillover of positive affective states between work and home.

One manner in which people frequently capitalize on positive events is by recounting them to close others (Bryant & Veroff, 2007; Langston, 1994; Gable et al., 2004). We have adopted the term interpersonal capitalization to refer to the process of disclosing positive events to others, and work–family interpersonal capitalization to reflect a situation where the domain in which an event occurs differs from the domain in which it is disclosed (Ilies, Keeney, & Scott, 2011). An example is when a person excitedly arrives home from work with good news (e.g., manuscript acceptance) to share with his or her spouse. Interpersonal capitalization on positive events has been shown to result in incremental prediction of positive affect and satisfaction, above and beyond the effects of positive events themselves (Gable et al., 2004; Hicks & Diamond, 2008; Ilies et al., 2010, Langston, 1994). Whereas the majority of research on interpersonal capitalization has focused on the sharing of events in general, Ilies et al. (2011) focused specifically on the sharing of positive work events with spouses. They found that—independent of how many positive work events had been experienced and the valence of the most positive work event that day—sharing the most positive work event with one’s spouse was positively associated with job satisfaction reported at night. Thus, path C in the model, linking interpersonal capitalization on positive work events to well-being at home has some initial empirical support.

Research on interpersonal capitalization has stressed the importance of how one’s partner responds to the sharing of a positive event (Gable et al., 2004, 2006; Maisel, Gable, & Strachman, 2008). People pay attention to others’ reactions to their disclosures in order to gauge the appropriateness (e.g., too strong? too weak?) of their own affective response (Taylor, Buunk, & Aspinwall, 1990). Thus, one may calibrate one’s own affective state based on the perceived responsiveness of one’s partner, experiencing even greater positive affect if one’s partner is especially enthused. Perceived responsiveness also has important implications for relationship satisfaction. Intimacy involves listening and understanding (Prager, 2000). To the extent that a partner responds supportively, the person doing the sharing should experience greater psychological closeness and relationship satisfaction. In support of path D, several studies have found a positive relationship between the responsiveness of an individual’s partner when disclosing a positive event and individual well-being (Gable et al., 2004, 2006; Ilies et al., 2011).

Crossover of Positive Affective States

All of the processes described thus far concern the well-being of Partner A. Whereas spillover captures an intraindividual phenomenon in which affective states are transferred across domains, crossover refers to an interindividual phenomenon in which affective states are transferred across people. An emerging area of research is represented by spillover–crossover models, which focus on the mechanisms by which one’s work ultimately affects the well-being of one’s intimate partner (e.g., Bakker, Demerouti, & Dollard, 2008). Crossover can be defined as “the process that occurs when the psychological well-being experienced by one person affects the level of well-being of another person” (Bakker & Demerouti, 2009, p. 220). Crossover is an important addition to the study of spillover, because it is one process-level explanation for how individuals’ experiences in one domain (e.g., work or family) can not only enrich their experiences in a different domain, but can also enrich the experiences of close others in the recipient domain (e.g., coworkers or family members). This integrated perspective brings us closer to the concept of facilitation, in which not only an individual but also an entire system benefits from positive work–family dynamics (Wayne et al., 2007).

Crossover was first defined and studied as the process by which a person’s strain leads to the strain of a closely related person (Bolger, DeLongis, Kessler, & Wethington, 1989; Westman, 2001). The majority of crossover research has thus focused on the transmission of negative states, most commonly between intimate partners. A variety of strain symptoms have been investigated including stress, dissatisfaction, negative emotions and mood, burnout, depression, poor physical health, and work–family conflict (Westman, Brough, & Kalliath, 2009). Several mechanisms are thought to be responsible for negative crossover (Bakker, Westman, & van Emmerik, 2009). First, negative states can be transmitted directly between partners due to empathy experienced in response to a partner’s distress. Empathy refers to the process of interpreting the emotional state of another person and (p. 610) experiencing similar feelings (Barsade, 2002; Gruen & Mendelsohn, 1986). One partner expresses negative emotions (or other symptoms of his or her distress), and the listening partner identifies with these emotions and feels them as if they are his or her own. Second, negative states can be transmitted directly from one partner to another through a process of emotional contagion. Whereas empathy requires some level of consciousness, emotional contagion is considered to be relatively nonconscious and automatic. People tend to mimic their partners’ fleeting emotional expressions (e.g., facial expression, voice, and posture) and begin to feel what their partners feel (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1993). Third, negative states can be transmitted indirectly through interaction between partners. The strained spouse may be withdrawn, hostile, withhold social support, and engage in social undermining (i.e., criticism and behavior intended to thwart the partner’s goals). Finally, it should be noted that an apparent crossover of negative states can be due to spurious effects—common stressors experienced by both partners.

Relevant to the focus of this chapter, Westman (2001) argued that the notion of crossover should be expanded to include positive states as well. At least three studies have examined positive crossover effects of work engagement between intimate partners. Bakker, Demerouti, and Schaufeli (2005) and Bakker and Demerouti (2009) found bidirectional effects of one partner’s work engagement on the other partner’s work engagement, controlling for both demands and resources on the job and at home. Westman, Etzion, and Chen (2009) found that business travelers’ work vigor was positively related to their spouses’ work vigor. Additionally, one study has examined the crossover of positive states between coworkers. Carlson, Ferguson, Kacmar, Grzywacz, and Whitten (2011) found that the work-to-family enrichment of supervisors crossed over onto the work-to-family enrichment of their subordinates.

The types of mechanisms postulated to account for the crossover of positive states (see Bakker et al., 2005) largely mirror those for negative crossover. The crossover of positive states between Partners A and B is captured by three distinct processes, depicted in Figure 45.1, that correspond to the major mechanisms for crossover, which are elaborated upon below.

First, on days when Partner A chooses to discuss a positive work event (i.e., interpersonal capitalization), a transference of positive states may occur as Partner B empathizes with his partner’s experience. The happiness of one becomes “shared” when the listener is able to live vicariously, or is reminded of aspects of one’s own job that generate similar, positive feelings. Partner B’s empathic response should positively influence his or her own well-being (path E). One study provides direct support for this idea, showing that listening to one’s partner recount his or her most positive event of the day was associated with higher positive affect at the end of the day for the listener (Hicks & Diamond, 2008). However, this study examined positive events in general (i.e., not specific to work), and partners mutually participated in some of the events that were included in the study. Other support comes from Bakker and Demerouti (2009), who found evidence that empathy plays a role in the crossover of work engagement; crossover from women to men was greater to the extent that the men were higher in trait perspective taking.

Second, Partner B may benefit from the positive affective state of Partner A through an automatic process of emotional contagion (i.e., the direct effect of Partner A’s well-being on Partner B’s well-being, shown by path F). This mechanism of crossover is differentiated from interpersonal capitalization because it does not rely on verbal communication about a positive event. Simply being around another person and observing his or her facial expression, mannerisms, and verbal intonation can be enough to trigger mimicry of these same behaviors. Once a person engages in mimicry, they begin to feel similarly, although at first they may not be aware of the affective transformation. There is evidence that people pick up on one another’s positive affective states just as easily as they do negative states (e.g., Barsade, 2002). Larson and Almeida (1999, p. 5) suggest emotional contagion is best demonstrated when “events or emotions in one family member’s immediate experience show a consistent, predictive relationship to subsequent emotions or behaviors in another family member.” There is a small but growing literature in which a person’s positive affective states are used to predict later positive affective states of his or her partner (e.g., Butner, Diamond, & Hicks, 2007). In one of the only studies to examine positive spillover and crossover, Song, Foo, and Uy (2008) found that positive mood spilled over from work to home, and then from one partner to another.

Third, positive states can be transmitted indirectly to Partner B through Partner A’s social behaviors in the family domain (paths G and H). (p. 611) Positive affective states at home may influence two primary categories of social behavior. When people are high in positive affective states, they are more likely to engage in positive interactions with their partners. Positive affect is associated with increased energy and activity (Watson, 2000). Partner A should engage in more frequent and positive interactions with Partner B on days when he or she arrives home after a satisfying day at work. In support of this idea, people have been found to engage in more social activities with their families on days when they have higher positive affective spillover from work (Ilies et al., 2007). Additionally, because positive affect is associated with increased prosocial behavior (Watson, 2000), positive work-to-home spillover may lead to the provision of more social support to partners. Aspinwall (1998) posited that a high level of pleasant affective states reduces one’s self-focus and therefore frees resources for helping others. Bakker et al. (2005) explained, for example, that individuals experiencing high positive affect are more likely to help with household chores, putting their spouse in a better mood and freeing his or her own resources.


From the empirical evidence reviewed, it should be clear that rich resources are derived from work and family roles. What we suggest the field could most benefit from is a more dynamic consideration of the antecedents of WFE and how resources are transferred across domains. The model in Figure 45.1 was used to help organize a summary of findings relevant to the spillover and crossover of positive affective states. However, the model also brings to light some areas where researchers can make meaningful contributions.

Future Directions

To begin, although paths A and B have been tested in prior empirical research, one important question that remains is to determine what aspects of positive work events are most relevant for facilitating well-being and subsequent work-to-family spillover. Extant research and theory demonstrate that the frequency, intensity, and perceived importance of these events contribute independently to positive affective states (De Longis, Coyne, Dakof, Folkman, & Lazarus, 1982; Miner, Glomb, & Hulin, 2005; Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996). However, other features of events deserve attention, such as the extent to which they fulfill fundamental psychological needs (e.g., competency, relatedness, and autonomy; Reis, Sheldon, Gable, Roscoe, & Ryan, 2000; Warner & Hausdorf, 2009). Some evidence suggests that events that meet basic psychological needs are particularly satisfying (Sheldon, Elliot, Kim, & Kasser, 2001). Consistent with the findings of Butler et al. (2005) described earlier, Zautra and Reich (1980) found that people had more intense and longer-lasting affective reactions to events that required their control and competence. Future work can focus on identifying the types of work experiences that generate the lasting positive affective states that employees ultimately bring home with them. Positive organizational scholars have already outlined some experiences that seem to be relevant in this regard (e.g., task focus, exploration, heedful relating; Spreitzer et al., 2005).

Research is needed in which positive spillover and crossover are examined within the same study. The within-individual spillover of positive states (i.e., from work to home, or vice versa) is a prerequisite for the between-individual crossover of these states (i.e., between spouses or coworkers) or, stated more succinctly, “first spillover, then crossover” (Bakker, Westman, & van Emmerik, 2009, p. 207). However, spillover and crossover have rarely been examined together. Research demonstrating crossover of work engagement from one spouse to another, for example, has not conclusively established that this state first originates in the workplace and then manifests itself at home (i.e., spillover). Studying the process from beginning to end should help validate the mediated relationships that are implied by spillover–crossover models.

Future studies should better elucidate the mechanisms responsible for the spillover and crossover of positive affective states. It has often been assumed that spillover occurs automatically, with no action on the part of individuals, an assumption that manifests itself in the lack of attention paid by researchers to more intentional processes. Furthermore, the negative crossover literature offers several theoretical explanations for crossover effects, but these have yet to withstand empirical testing for positive crossover. We described one process—interpersonal capitalization on positive events—that provides a behavioral explanation for both positive spillover and crossover. Telling one’s spouse about positive events and experiences at work can have beneficial effects for oneself as well as for one’s spouse. The well-being of the listening spouse is affected primarily by how he or she responds to the positive event disclosure or, more specifically, the degree of empathy he or she experiences. The perceived responsiveness of the (p. 612) listener, in turn, has implications for the well-being of the person doing the sharing. Although empathy has traditionally been associated with commiserating, research on interpersonal capitalization shows that empathy can also take the very different form of shared joy.

Whereas past studies have measured interpersonal capitalization in an all-or-none fashion (Gable et al., 2004, 2006; Ilies et al., 2010), future research would benefit from a richer assessment of this phenomenon. What characteristics of interpersonal capitalization impact its effectiveness? In other words, what are its boundary conditions? In addition to assessing whether a positive event is shared and how the listener responds, of potential interest is whether the event is mentioned in passing or discussed extensively (i.e., duration of interpersonal capitalization). It is possible that simply bringing up the event is sufficient to rekindle its associated positive feelings. Also of interest is the intensity of emotion with which it is shared and whether it is shared in person. Intensity of emotion can be conveyed even in today’s world of technology-mediated communication; people who are happy or excited, for example, produce more words and exchange messages at a faster rate (Hancock, Gee, Ciaccio, & Lin, 2008).

To fully understand the spillover–crossover of positive affective states requires both well-developed theory and evidence regarding the mechanisms that underlie these processes. In addition to empathic response, the other two mechanisms that have been found to account for negative crossover (i.e., emotional contagion, social behavior) also provide solid starting points for researchers to begin their investigations of positive crossover. Although some research supports the idea that behavior in the home is a mediating mechanism between spillover and crossover (e.g., Ilies et al., 2007), this mechanism has yet to be formally tested.

Although the model presented in the latter half of this chapter focuses on work-to-family spillover and crossover between family members, we mentioned that a similar process may operate in reverse. We encourage researchers to more thoroughly consider the positive impact of family life on work life and whether the same mechanisms can explain the family-to-work direction of spillover and crossover of well-being between coworkers. It is quite possible that the extent to which workers discuss the positive aspects of their family lives has implications for their well-being at work.

Although the focus of this chapter is on the positive dynamics between work and family, we recognize that individuals are involved in a variety of nonwork domains including but not limited to family (e.g., friendships, leisure, health). There have been numerous calls to widen the focus of work–family research to be more inclusive in this regard (Bellavia & Frone, 2005; Carlson & Kacmar, 2000; Crooker, Smith, & Tabak, 2002; Sturges & Guest, 2004). These calls are well overdue, as Marks (1977) and Sieber (1974) described the benefits that come from occupying a myriad of roles several decades ago. One recent study suggests that participating in certain activities outside of work, such as hobbies and exercise, provide unique resources (e.g., skills, energy) that make one a better worker (Weer et al., 2010). Moving from WFE to work–life enrichment is a promising avenue for future research.

We began this chapter recognizing that the work–family conflict perspective could be supplemented by an appreciation of how the work and family roles benefit one another. The proliferation of constructs reflecting the positive interface between work and family provides some confirmation that a focus on the negative was truly providing an incomplete picture. Work in particular has been viewed mostly as a source of stress and has been underappreciated for the variety of psychological and material resources that it provides. Ironically, without the income provided by work, many individuals would not be able to afford the lifestyles and activities with which their work interferes. Putting things into perspective is a key strength of positive organizational scholarship. We hope that some of the ideas we have presented within this chapter stimulate research that helps to build a more well-balanced view of work–family dynamics.


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