A multi-level perspective on the synergies between work and family


Correspondence should be addressed to Dr Grzywacz, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Department of Family and Community Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC, USA (e-mail: grzywacz@wfubmc.edu).


In this paper we lay the conceptual foundation for work-family facilitation. Work-family facilitation is a process representing the synergies between the domains of work and family. We formally define facilitation as the extent to which an individual's engagement in one social system, such as work or family, contributes to growth in another social system. We develop the process through which facilitation occurs, provide a model and case studies of this process, and delineate additional theoretical and empirical research necessary to understand work-family facilitation so that it can be managed and cultivated within organizations.

Scholars are increasingly calling for an expansion of the work-family paradigm to include the positive side of the work-family interface and to move beyond the individual as the unit of analysis (Eby, Casper, Lockwood, Bordeaux, & Brinley, 2005; Frone, 2003; Glass & Finley, 2002; Grzywacz, 2002; Parasuraman & Greenhaus, 2002; Werbel & Walter, 2002). Greenhaus and Powell (2006) recently responded to one portion of this call by introducing ‘enrichment’. Enrichment is a concept reflecting the positive side of the work-family interface and is defined in terms of the beneficial effects of work on an individual's performance and quality of life in the family, and vice versa. In this paper, we focus on moving beyond the individual by elaborating the process of work-family facilitation. We define work-family facilitation as the extent to which an individual's engagement in one social system such as work or family contributes to growth in another social system. Previous uses of ‘facilitation’ focused on positive individual changes in one domain as a function of participation in another (Aryee, Srinivas, & Tan, 2005; Frone, 2003; Grzywacz & Bass, 2003; Hill, 2005; Voydanoff, 2005; Wayne, Musisca, & Fleeson, 2004), a definition that is now redundant with ‘enrichment’. We encourage authors to use the enrichment concept when theorizing and researching how an individual's participation in one domain benefits their role-related performance in another, and use facilitation when theorizing and researching system-level issues.

There is a substantial interest and need for work-family researchers to move to a system-level perspective. First, a system-level perspective is imperative to represent adequately the complexity of both ‘work’ and ‘family’ in theories of the interrelationships between these domains (Frone, 2003; Glass & Finley, 2002; Parasuraman & Greenhaus, 2002; Werbel & Walter, 2002). Understanding complex phenomena like organizational performance and employee retention, or the potential for workers' family lives to contribute to these outcomes requires moving beyond the individual-level of analysis. Likewise, crossover researchers (Hammer, Neal, Newson, Brockwood, & Colton, 2005; Thompson & Bolger, 1999; Westman, 2001) demonstrate the interconnections between husbands and wives and among members of work-groups, and they assume that these interactions affect system-level outcomes (e.g. quality of the marriage, organizational performance). Yet, conceptually, crossover researchers do not consider system-level change or outcomes such as stronger marriages or cohesive work teams. Although researchers are ultimately interested in system-level outcomes, they are rarely incorporated into work-family theory or research. To assume that individual-level work-family relationships translate into system-level change is thus far unsubstantiated and possibly (in some cases) unwarranted. Practically, it is important to have a clear focus on system-level outcomes because it provides the best way to evaluate the effectiveness of attempts to help workers balance work and family (Glass & Finley, 2002) as well as to identify new ways of cultivating human resources that contribute to organizational performance (Luthans, 2002). Moving beyond the individual-level of analysis offers theoretical promise for enhancing understanding of the importance of ‘work’ for ‘family’ and vice versa, and practical promise for creating new strategies for enhancing organizations and families.

This paper focuses on the fundamentals of work-family facilitation as a first, important step in moving to a system-level view of the work-family interface. In the first section we outline the historical stream of theory and research that contributes to the current interest and need for work-family facilitation. Further, we offer an explicit definition of facilitation and we use several case studies from the empirical literature to illustrate the nature and form of this process. In the second section we elaborate the conceptual foundations of facilitation. We present definitions of key constructs in the facilitation process, describe the theoretical level of each construct, and explain the ‘mini-theories’ linking these concepts (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). In the final section we outline areas for future research and provide concrete examples and guidelines for undertaking this research. These ideas should be viewed as a starting-point given that a systems-level view of the work-family interface is nascent. The fundamental goal of all these activities is to enable rigorous theorizing and research that is focused on the consequences for work systems of members' involvement in their families, and the consequences for families of members' involvement in paid work.

Theoretical and conceptual foundations

Origins and contemporaries of facilitation

Work-family facilitation is rooted in two related sociological critiques of role theory. Sieber (1974) and Marks (1977) challenged the ‘scarcity of resources’ hypothesis positing that work and family were vying for individuals' finite amounts of time and energy. Both Sieber and Marks argued that role accumulation provides benefits that may outweigh its costs. Sieber proposed that individuals occupying multiple roles accrue benefits (i.e. role privileges, status security, resources and personality enrichment), which lead to greater role gratification than stress. Marks pointed out that rather than feeling strained by multiple roles, abundant energy is found for roles to which an individual is committed and that more energy can be created by fulfilling multiple roles. These ideas provided the theoretical basis for scholars to broaden the work-family lens by examining how work and family may positively influence each other.

Sieber (1974) and Marks (1977) provided theoretical traction for three streams of research that have expanded perspectives of work and family. The first and most developed stream of inquiry focuses on ‘role expansion.’ The central thesis of role expansion theory and research is the idea that occupancy of multiple roles, such as participating in both work and family, contributes to individual enhancement if the perceived quality of the roles is high (Barnett & Hyde, 2001). Evidence suggests that individuals in both work and family roles enjoy better health and financial security (Waldron, Weiss, & Hughes, 1998), a strengthened sense of personal identity (e.g. Thoits, 1983), greater social support (e.g. Greenberger & O'Neil, 1993; Weiss, 1990) and the possibility that experiences obtained in one role can be used to buffer stressors in another (see Barnett & Hyde, 2001). A second, less developed stream of research examines ‘positive spillover’ or the extent to which mood, behaviours, skills, and values acquired in one domain positively affect the way an individual interacts or behaves in another (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000). Research in this area finds that people discern instances where the skills or perspectives developed in one domain were beneficial to them in another domain (e.g. Crouter, 1984; Kirchmeyer, 1992b; Ruderman, Ohlott, Panzer, & King, 2002). Most recently, Greenhaus and Powell (2006) introduced the concept of enrichment, which they define ‘as the extent to which experiences in one role increase performance and positive affect in another role’ (p. 73). Collectively, this literature has created a new view of the work-family interface by arguing that individuals can benefit from combining work and family (role expansion) and that activities in one role can benefit an individual 's activity in another role (positive spillover) as well as the individual 's role performance and quality of life (enrichment) in another domain, despite the strains that may arise from combining work and family.

Research and theorizing on role enhancement, positive spillover, and enrichment offer compelling counterpoints to deeply entrenched beliefs that work and family are inherently conflicted (Goode, 1960); nevertheless, one important issue remains unresolved. All three concepts place primary emphasis on individuals, either in terms of benefits they receive or their activities within a role: effects on ‘work’ or ‘family’ receive secondary attention. Clearly, all else being equal, individuals who are healthy and behaving in particular ways within a role likely contribute to effective family and organizational functioning, however, there is a large inferential gap between individual well-being and behaviour and the functioning of complex systems such as families and organizations. Crossover research demonstrates how one individual's work-related experiences affect members of that person's family (e.g. Hammer et al., 2005; Thompson & Bolger, 1999; Westman, 2001); however, while this body of research clearly demonstrates interconnections among pairs of individuals, it does not capture and explain change in family-level (or work-level) outcomes. If researchers and practitioners want to know whether work and family benefit each other and what factors contribute to these beneficial effects, a conceptual tool is needed that captures the consequences for ‘work’ and ‘family’ of individuals' participation in both domains.

Defining and characterizing work-family facilitation

Work-family facilitation is defined as the extent to which an individual's engagement in one social system (e.g. work or family) contributes to growth in another social system (e.g. family or work). ‘Work’ is conceived as a social group comprising two or more individuals connected by common organizational affiliation, such as members of a section or department, as well as individuals bound by a profession, vocation, or other means of livelihood. Similarly, family is also conceived as a social group comprising two or more people related by common ancestry, adoption, marriage and other legal or socially recognized unions. Like linkages between work and family that occur at the individual-level, facilitation is posited to be a bidirectional process such that engagement in work can contribute to family growth (work-to-family facilitation) and engagement in family can contribute to workplace growth (family-to-work facilitation). Although work-to-family and family-to-work facilitation are conceived as distinct processes with unique antecedents and consequences, for convenience we use ‘facilitation’ to refer to both work-to-family and family-to-work facilitation.

Case studies

Cases are helpful for clarifying the intended meaning of latent constructs (Wicker, 1985); consequently, three scenarios constructed from empirical studies are provided to illustrate the process of facilitation.

A 45-year-old married woman and mother of three children aged 15, 12 and 9 received a promotion from her US based firm. The promotion required a greater time commitment that meant more time away from home: a situation she finds distressing. However, the promotion also entitled her and her family to special benefits including dependent summer employment and tuition assistance programmes. Moreover, the promotion required prolonged semi-annual international trips, but the company encouraged families to accompany the travelling employee. As is common for expatriates, the family had to rely more heavily on each other for their social and psychological needs than they would have in the US. Further, during one of their trips the family happened to be in Germany when the wall dividing East and West Berlin came down. The deepened intra-family relationships coupled with the shared experience of a historical event fundamentally shifted interactions within the family as well as the way family members interacted with the world.

A 24-year-old man leaves his spouse and two young children in Mexico to find work in the US. The separation from his family is very difficult. When he calls home, his elder son tells him that he wished his father could come home for his birthday and his partner describes the fun their children had at a recent community fiesta. The man wishes he could be with his family but he is convinced that he and his family will have a better life once he is able to bring his family to the US from Mexico, even though the work is hard and dangerous. In the meantime, the man's wife acquires new responsibilities while sole parenting the children, and the money the man sends home bimonthly is allowing his family to eat better than ever before and receive higher quality health care than would be available if he stayed and worked in Mexico.

A 32-year-old paediatrician, who is practising in the US, has had his first child. Like most new fathers, he is determined to do everything right. After exhausting nights with a colicky baby, seemingly countless ear-infections, and a changing relationship with his partner, he quickly learns that the medical advice acquired through professional readings and conferences and has disseminated to struggling parents with sick children does not quite match up with the day-in and day-out reality of parenthood. The paediatrician learns through his interactions with his child about the experiences his patients' parents have tried to convey to him but he never understood. His personal experience with his own child offers a new window for understanding and helping his patients and their families, which contribute to greater success in his health care practice because he can better identify problems and more effectively interact with his patients and their families.

These case scenarios illustrate several important insights about facilitation. First, in each scenario, the development of work or family from an individual's participation in another social system is dynamic. Thus, facilitation is best conceived as a process. Next, each of the scenarios illustrates that facilitation involves change beyond the focal individual who is crossing the physical, temporal or psychological boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘family’. Whereas, the first and second scenarios outline how other family members and the family as a whole changed from an individual's participation in ‘work,’ the third suggests that a paediatrics practice and the patients served by the practice benefit from the worker's family life. This indicates that facilitation is a cross-level process whereby group change emerges from an individual action (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000; Rousseau, 1985). Importantly, there are no theoretical models or conceptual tools in the work-family literature for understanding or studying the cross-level phenomenon illustrated in these case studies. Finally, the scenarios illustrate that facilitation, although it may become manifest in different ways, is relevant in a variety of social and contextual circumstances.

The process of work-family facilitation

Work-family facilitation, as it is conceptualized here, draws heavily on principles of systems theory, particularly complex systems theory, as it has been applied to both organizations and families (Broderick, 1993; Katz & Kahn, 1978). In particular we draw on the principle of interdependence, which argues that elements of any given system, such as work and family as elements of society or an individual as an element of family, affect each other. Further, we draw on the more specific idea of emergence, which argues that individual elements of a system can influence the entire system. We also draw on the principle of self-regulation or the idea that social systems seek higher levels of complexity or functioning through the use of feedback mechanisms to regulate and correct potentially deleterious circumstances. Underlying the entire process of facilitation is the notion that all social systems, including workplaces and families, need to exchange energy and matter with the broader environment in order to survive. In the ideas that follow we select and label constructs that reflect these core principles of systems theory.

In developing conceptual models that cross different level of analysis it is imperative to have explicit definitions of key concepts and descriptions of the ‘mini-theories’ underlying interrelationships among key concepts (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). Heeding this recommendation, we now turn our focus to the meaning of each conceptual element in the facilitation process as well as its theoretical level, and we describe the theoretical basis for the interrelationships among the core concepts. Figure 1 outlines the process of facilitation, as it was defined and described above, it illustrates the levels and interrelationships among key concepts and it guides our presentation.

Figure 1.

Concept map representing the process of work-family.


Engagement refers to the personal investment an individual makes in role-related activities within a system (Kahn, 1990; Marks, 1977; Rothbard, 2001). It is posited that individuals can invest time and physical participation as well as varying degrees of psychological energy and cognitive interest. An individual's engagement in a system or life domain, such as work or family, contributes to three main processes that have long been discussed in the work-family literature. Resource acquisition, which is rooted in Sieber's (1974) theory of role accumulation, reflects the inherent privileges and benefits such as compensation, benefit plans and status individuals acquire through role occupancy and engagement. Resource drain, which is based in the scarcity of resources hypothesis posed by Goode (1960) and subsequent rational models of work and family (e.g. Duxbury, Higgins, & Lee, 1994), refers to the loss of presumably finite personal resources such as time and energy that result from engagement. Resource enhancement, which is rooted in role expansionist theory (Barnett & Hyde, 2001; Marks, 1977; Sieber, 1974), refers to the creation or refinement of psychological and social resources such as sense of purpose, skill acquisition or social supports that frequently result from engagement in a system or life domain. Finally, it is important to note that while engagement can contribute to both negative (drain) as well as positive (acquisition, enhancement) consequences for the individual, we believe that engagement is a manifestation of an individual's true or ideal self and is therefore generally positive (Kahn, 1990; Marks, 1977).


When transported or applied in another life domain, the consequences resulting from engagement in one domain become catalysts for change in another receiving domain (e.g. work-to-family facilitation, where family is the ‘receiving’ domain). A catalyst is defined as an event or circumstance that produces deviation in a system (Aldwin & Stokols, 1988). Consistent with the systems principle of interdependence, the consequences of one member's engagement in a sending domain fundamentally alters interactions among members within the receiving domain, thereby producing deviation in the receiving system. In the case studies described previously, catalysts are represented by family members' lack of familiarity with their new surroundings, the immigrant's separation from his family and the paediatrician's new insights into children or child behaviour. Each of these catalysts introduced new or modified interactions among system members. Separation from family, as described in the second scenario, introduced a variety of novelties into family life as it was experienced by the immigrant worker as well as the family members left behind. Likewise, family experiences such as those described for the paediatrician in the third case scenario, created changes in the physician's way of practising medicine. Importantly, catalysts can take a variety of forms including those having the hallmarks of negative experiences (e.g. the absence of a family member) or they may be more positive (e.g. shared family experience).

Our framework suggests that there are two broad types of catalysts. Individual catalysts occur at the level of the focal worker/family member and are observed in changes in mood, attitudes and skills resulting from engagement that can be transported and applied in another life domain. Consistent with others' descriptions of individual-level spillover effects (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000), our model suggests that individual catalysts result primarily from the resource drain and resource enhancement processes of engagement. A variety of individual catalysts have been described in the literature. For example, Kirchmeyer's (1992b) interviews with executives indicated that those with children were more patient than those without children while interacting with subordinates. One interpretation of these reports is that parents acquired new knowledge (i.e. some people cannot be reasoned with), which provided the foundation for new ways of interacting (i.e. I need to be more patient or find another way of explaining the situation). Likewise, others report that self-confidence and beneficial attitudes emerge from even difficult circumstances, such as providing personal care for an ageing parent (Marks, 1998; Stephens, Franks, & Atienza, 1997), and they affect an individual's interactions and behaviours in other life domains in a positive way (Barnett, Marshall, & Sayer, 1992; Repetti, 1989; Rothbard, 2001).

The second type of catalyst is systemic catalysts. Systemic catalysts are benefits conferred to system members (e.g. spouse, child and co-worker) or the system itself as a consequence of a focal individual's engagement in another domain. Systemic catalysts are exemplified by several fringe benefit programs used by organizations (e.g. health insurance, educational grants and adoption assistance) because they directly affect workers' family members without any intervening influence of the worker. Systemic catalysts are also exemplified by family members' product loyalty, the investment of family finances in company stock and employment referrals: in each of these examples, an employer benefits from workers' family lives in ways that do not directly involve the worker. Under the assumption that employment benefits and family support of employers follows from role occupancy, our model suggests that systemic catalysts result primarily from the resource acquisition process.

In summary, engagement in one life domain produces a variety of consequences through resource acquisition, enhancement and drain. Like recent others (Kahn, 1990; Marks & MacDermid, 1996; Rothbard, 2001), we posit that engagement in a life domain yields generally positive consequences, although some may be negative. When these consequences enter or are applied in another, receiving life domain they alter the way elements of that domain interact and they serve as a catalyst for potential change in the receiving social system.

The creation of positive growth

The ultimate thumbprint of the facilitation process is positive growth in either work or family. According to Figure 1, positive growth results from the introduction of catalysts into a domain and subsequent deviation amplification processes. Consistent with the idea that systems are self-regulated and goal-seeking, growth results from deviation introduced by a catalyst which is subsequently reinforced by the other system elements (e.g. co-worker or family member) or the broader system. In the sections that follow, we begin by defining growth and then further explore how deviation amplification results in positive growth.


Growth is a system-level attribute that is defined as enhancements in core features or processes of systems that are essential for optimal functioning (Guzzo & Dickson, 1996). In our case studies, growth is illustrated by a family's increased reliance on each other for basic needs; the immigrant family's enhanced capacity for producing healthy children; and the paediatric practice's heightened ability to provide patient-centred care. Underlying each of these illustrations are more abstract concepts. In the workplace growth is captured in such things as improvements in interpersonal communication, more proficient decision processes and enhancements in core features of leadership including knowledge and creative vision. Each of these concepts illustrate growth because they are widely viewed as being essential to the effective performance of groups like work teams and organizations (Bonner, Baumann, & Dalal, 2002; Campion, Medsker, & Higgs, 1993; Ganster, Williams, & Poppler, 1991; Tschan, Norbert, Nagele, & Gurtner, 2000). Similarly in families, growth is captured in concepts like flexibility or the ability to assign and reassign internal roles, communication and problem solving which are viewed as key aspects of optimal family functioning (Beavers & Hampson, 1993; Epstein, Bishop, Ryan, Miller, & Keitner, 1993; Olson, 1993; Pratt, 1976).

Growth in work or family can occur on multiple levels and in various dimensions of each domain. Each life domain is a social system which comprises interacting elements that create distinguishable subsystems (Bronfenbrenner, 1989). In families, the marital dyad comprises one subsystem that is distinguishable in both the patterns of interaction and function from subsystems created by a parent-child dyad or the larger family system. Likewise, ‘work’ contains definable subsystems such as ‘executive teams,’ ‘employee safety committees’ and ‘unions’ which also engage in unique activities for the larger system. Drawing on the principles of interdependence and self-regulation of complex systems, growth indicative of facilitation can occur at any level within the system and in any set of system activities. Enduring changes in such things as leader-member exchange or work-unit productivity in the workplace, and marital equity or cohesion in the family exemplifies growth at different levels and in different dimensions of work and family.

Deviation amplification

Growth can occur through multiple mechanisms and take multiple forms, as with other emergent phenomenon (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). We view the basic process of growth as resulting through deviation amplification processes, which are mechanisms used by complex systems to self-regulate and change (Aldwin & Stokols, 1988; Maruyama, 1963). Individual and system catalysts generated by an individual's engagement in a ‘sending’ life domain (e.g. work) introduces a deviation into another ‘receiving’ domain of life (e.g. family), which results in growth if the deviation becomes amplified (Maruyama, 1963). Maruyama defined deviation amplification as a positive, mutually causal relationship within the system whereby the original source of deviation is reproduced by reinforcement from the broader system. Deviation amplification processes, also referred to as positive feedback loops, are described implicitly or explicitly in several literatures. For example, principles of mutual reinforcement underlie key ideas in social exchange theory such as reciprocity (Cropanzano & Mitchell, 2005). Models of organizational decline highlight positive feedback loops between organizational performance and individual job insecurity (Greenhalgh & Rosenblatt, 1984), whereas models of partnership highlight the importance of interpersonal trust and confidence in the development of successful business partnerships (Arino & de la Torre, 1998; Homer, Hirsch, Minniti, & Pierson, 2004).

A concrete example from our case study of the paediatrician will illustrate how a catalyst contributes to growth via deviation amplification. Through interactions with his own child, the paediatrician acquires a new understanding of the concerns and frustrations which parents of sick children experience. This understanding is transferred to the workplace and used to better interact with his patients' parents (which is not unlike the transfer of skills or perspectives described by others in the work-family literature, see Crouter, 1984; Kirchmeyer, 1992a; Ruderman et al., 2002). The improved interactions with patients' parents allow the paediatrician to better identify the problem and select the most effective and appropriate treatment regimen. In this case, engagement in the family domain resulted in resource enhancement in the form of greater personal understanding of what parents of ill children experience. This greater personal understanding is an individual catalyst that introduces deviation in the workplace represented by changes in how the paediatrician interacts with patients' parents. One consequence of these deviations is greater patient satisfaction and improved treatment success which likely reinforces the paediatrician's behaviour patterns with subsequent patients thereby creating a deviation amplification loop. A second consequence of the deviations resulting from the paediatrician's improved understanding of how parents experience their children's illness is the practice's movement towards greater use of patient-centred care which is believed to be a core capacity of an effective health care delivery system (i.e. growth).

The deviation amplification described in the previous paragraph is also evident in the growth processes described in the ‘broaden and build’ theory of positive emotions (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001). Broaden and build theory fundamentally argues that positive experiences and subsequent emotions contribute to survival because they open lines of communication and contribute to the development of social connections between individuals. As it is applied in our framework, we believe that the positive experiences resulting from engagement in one life domain (e.g. work or family) result in generative and positive behavioural responses in other life domains (e.g. family or work). Positive experiences at work, for example, spillover and promote more caring and generative behaviour in the family which accumulate over time and contribute to flexibility and resilience in the family (Grzywacz & Bass, 2003). Likewise, positive experiences in the family spillover and promote more caring and generative behaviour in the workplace and shape the way workers interact with each other and their clients. Consistent with these suppositions, Fredrickson and Losada (2005) reviewed several studies indicating that positive emotions prompt more generative and flexible behaviour, and that greater expressed positivity within work-groups contributes to greater flexibility in how members interact and is associated with long term business success (Losada, 1999; Losada & Heaphy, 2004).

The goal of this section was to create a clear conceptualization of work-family facilitation as a multi-level phenomenon. Two fundamental issues necessary for multi-level theory development were made apparent in this section (Kozlowski & Klein, 2000). First we defined the three main concepts in the process of facilitation and described the theoretical level at which each concept exists. Engagement is the theoretical origin of the facilitation process and exists at the individual-level. Catalysts are consequences of the individuals' engagement in a life domain (that occur predominantly at the individual-level), and growth is the manifestation of facilitation and exists at the system-level. Second, we described both the broad theoretical principles as well as the ‘mini-theories’ linking each of the concepts: the linkages between engagement and catalysts are informed by resource drain, resource acquisition and resource enhancement processes frequently invoked in the work-family literature. Deviation amplification is posited as the primary mechanism linking catalysts and growth. Although less familiar to work-family researchers, deviation amplification processes are widely used by researchers interested in non-linear dynamic system change and evidence supports their application to processes like facilitation (see Fredrickson & Losada, 2005).

Implications for future research

The process of facilitation calls for a new stream of work-family research that focuses on the functioning of work and family systems as a consequence of individual members' involvement in other life domains. This is a fundamental shift in how work-family research is typically conducted because, whereas work-family research typically examines phenomena at the individual-level, facilitation research will require study designs to capture phenomenon at both the individual-level (i.e. engagement and subsequent catalyst formation) and the system-level (i.e. growth). Although work-family researchers are well equipped to handle individual-level phenomena, the incorporation of system-level phenomena may be intimidating. In this section we outline two high priority areas for future research and provide examples of how such research might be undertaken.

Research focused on evaluating the fundamental process of work-family facilitation is essential for developing a basic understanding of the phenomenon. The general question underlying this research is, ‘Is an indicator of growth [such as organization innovation, group cohesion or quality of decision-making] influenced by workers’ family lives'? To answer questions of this type, researchers could use a comparative design and select a sample of systems with varying levels of the desired outcome. For example, to determine if organizational innovation is influenced by workers' family lives, a researcher might recruit and rank research and development teams from organizations within the same industry that differ in terms of their relative ability to bring new products to market. If our model holds, engagement in family life will be greater among randomly selected team members from teams highly ranked in their industry than from teams with low ranking. Similarly, because work-family enrichment and spillover capture catalysts resulting from engagement, team members in high-ranking research and development teams should also report greater ‘family-to-work enrichment’ (Carlson, Kacmar, Wayne, & Grzywacz, 2006) or ‘positive spillover from family-to-work’ (Hanson et al., 2006) than team members in low-ranking research teams. Further, in a multivariate framework, these more proximal variables would likely attenuate differences in family engagement between high- and low-ranking teams. Research could also evaluate variation among companies in factors that affect deviation amplification. For example, the ability of an individual to affect change within an organization is likely affected by the number of layers between the focal individual and final decision makers (Schneider & Klein, 1994). This would suggest that among research and development teams whose members have comparable levels of engagement in the family, ‘flatter’ organizations would have higher ranking in bringing new products to market than more vertically structured organizations.

Surveillance designs provide another opportunity for operationalizing the basic model of facilitation. Researchers interested in group cohesion, for example, could monitor levels over time using established techniques (e.g. Gibson & Vermeulen, 2003). They could then classify trajectories of group cohesion across time (Nagin, 1999), and identify whether differences in members' engagement in family or reports of workers' family lives benefiting them in their professional lives (Carlson et al., 2006) predict classification into specific trajectories (Roeder, Lynch, & Nagin, 1999). Our model posits that groups with continuously high cohesion or those with improving cohesion would have members who are more engaged in their families and who report greater family-to-work enrichment than groups with low or declining group cohesion. Studies, such as these, would be invaluable for determining if our conceptualization of the basic process of facilitation is legitimate.

The second high priority area for research addresses the general question ‘what factors enable work-family facilitation’? This class of research will become vital as researchers and managers shift from understanding facilitation to cultivating it within communities or organizations. We propose, as do others focusing on the synergies between work and family (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006; Grzywacz & Butler, 2005; Voydanoff, 2005; Wayne et al., 2007; Werbel & Walter, 2002), that one class of factors which enables the work-family facilitation is the richness of the work environment or the level and type of resources made available to workers. Resources in the workplace likely operate on work-family facilitation in at least two ways. Work-related resources can influence workers' engagement in their family lives. For example, formal workplace policies like flexitime as well as more subtle features of organizations like the degree to which organizations have a family-friendly culture likely allow workers to engage more completely in their family responsibilities thereby enabling facilitation. To study this possibility, a quasi-experimental design could be used whereby a ‘flexitime’ policy is implemented in randomly selected departments of a large organization while researchers monitor indicators of growth (e.g. group cohesion) across intervention and control departments. Our model would posit that departments where flexitime was implemented would experience growth because workers would be more engaged in their family lives.

The second way a resource rich environment can contribute to work-family facilitation is by enabling or inhibiting the deviation amplification processes. An individual's new idea that was acquired from life outside the office can contribute to growth only if the workplace allows the idea to germinate and take hold. Consistent with this idea, Harter et al. (2002) results suggest that trust within a work-group and a sense that an individual's ideas and actions matter to others contribute to organizational effectiveness because they allow individuals and teams to experiment with new ideas. This evidence suggests that facilitation is more likely in organizations or work-groups with high-levels of interpersonal trust among co-workers, and between workers and superiors. Picking up on the study design for organizational innovation discussed earlier, researchers could measure interpersonal trust and evaluate the potential for trust to shape the facilitation process. Among research and development teams with little trust, the ability for an individual team member's engagement in family to contribute to greater success in bringing products to market would likely be stymied because the individual would be less likely to offer insights gained from life outside the office and there may be little support from team members for such ideas. By contrast, among teams with high levels of trust, the potential that an individual team member's engagement in family would contribute to greater ability to bring products to market is greater because the trust among the team members would nurture the exchange of ideas and the deviation amplification processes necessary for growth. In essence, our model would posit that the potential for a team member's engagement in family to produce growth would be moderated by the level of group trust.

In this section we outlined two broad areas for future research. The first area emphasized the vital role of research studying the basic process of facilitation as it is conceptualized here. To assist this goal we provided examples of how this research could be undertaken. However, the multi-level nature of the facilitation process raises several research challenges in terms of sampling, measurement and analysis. Researchers should consult respected resources for designing and executing multi-level research (e.g. Klein, Dansereau, & Hall, 1994; Klein & Kozlowski, 2000; Rousseau, 1985) to resolve challenges of multi-level research. The second high priority area for research is studies that identify the factors that shape work-family facilitation. This type of research is vital for helping applied researchers and managers harness the potential of work-family facilitation in achieving organizational goals. Additionally, although most of the examples provided in this section focused primarily on family-to-work facilitation and corresponding growth at work; research focused on family growth and the factors that shape work-to-family facilitation are also needed.


Social and organizational scholars are being pushed to expand the work-family paradigm to include the positive side of the work-family interface and to move beyond the individual as the unit of analysis (Frone, 2003; Glass & Finley, 2002; Parasuraman & Greenhaus, 2002; Werbel & Walter, 2002). In this paper we describe, define and lay the theoretical foundation for a process representing the beneficial consequences for ‘work’ and ‘family’ of individuals' participation in both domains. Work-family facilitation is conceptualized as a multi-level process involving an individual's engagement in one life domain, such as work, which creates catalysts for change in another domain such as family. Engagement contributes to catalysts in ways frequently discussed in the work-family literature including resource drain, resource acquisition and resource enhancement. Catalysts contribute to growth in the system via deviation amplification. Finally, we described how work-family facilitation research could be undertaken and we provided examples from two high priority areas for research. This research will build a better understanding and more refined model of work-family facilitation, and it will be useful for helping managers and applied professionals harness the potential of work-family facilitation.

Multiple calls have been made by leading scholars to shift work-family theorizing and research to the system-level (Frone, 2003; Glass & Finley, 2002; Parasuraman & Greenhaus, 2002; Werbel & Walter, 2002). Development of comprehensive theories of work and family arrangements and their interrelationships requires focusing on the system-level consequences of individual's work and family-related involvement (MacDermid, Roy, & Zvonkovic, 2005; Parasuraman & Greenhaus, 2002; Werbel & Walter, 2002). Recognizing that organizational interest in ‘work-life’ is fundamentally driven by goals to enhance organizational performance, it is imperative that the level of our theories corresponds with the level of the phenomenon. Indeed, Glass and Finley (2002) argue that a system-level perspective is essential for effectively evaluating the impact of organizational and social policies designed to help employees balance work and family. A system-level perspective on work and family also would be useful as researchers and practitioners seek to identify and cultivate human resources that contribute to organizational performance (Luthans, 2002).

A system-level view of the work-family interface has significant theoretical and practical value. ‘Work’ and ‘family’ are inherently social systems. Consequently, the development of comprehensive theories and understanding of the interrelationships among these social systems requires a system-level perspective (MacDermid et al., 2005; Parasuraman & Greenhaus, 2002; Werbel & Walter, 2002). Practically, recognizing that institutional and social interest in ‘work-life’ is driven primarily by macro-oriented goals such as organizational performance or pressing social issues such as the provision of quality child care and the growing challenge of elder care (Halpern, 2005), a system-level perspective is essential for effectively evaluating the impact of organizational and social policies designed to help employees balance work and family (Glass & Finley, 2002). Further, in the broader spirit of positive organizational scholarship (Luthans, 2002), work-family facilitation provides a framework for understanding and potentially cultivating the human resources necessary for optimal organizational performance. Collectively, the ideas outlined in this paper provide a theoretical framework that enables researchers to respond to recent calls for moving towards a system-level view of the work-family interface. Researchers should build upon the clear delineation of facilitation and its component elements to begin advancing comprehensive models of facilitation.