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Stress Management

Family Friendly Work Policies May Need Reinforcement

Helping employees successfully balance work and home life may require that "family-friendly" policies be refocused, according to researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center.

"Until now, employers in this country who want to be ‘family friendly’ have focused on reducing the conflict between work and home through policies such as flex time and telecommuting," said Joseph G. Grzywacz, Ph.D., assistant professor of family medicine at the center. "Our findings suggest that there’s a more beneficial piece to the puzzle — the extent to which home life and work life benefit each other."

The researchers examined four types of family/work interaction and used levels of depression, problem drinking and anxiety as measures of which combinations were most successful for minimizing the risk of mental illness.

"In terms of mental health, we found that the optimum relationship between work and family is when work is protected from family disruptions and when family contributes to productivity at work," said Grzywacz.

The idea of employers finding ways to assist in the "family realm" is relatively new, and there is little research on how to accomplish it, he added.

"Things people are starting to think about are creating learning opportunities at work that can be applied at home," Grzywacz said. "For example, an employer might offer parenting classes. The idea behind ‘Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work’ also fits this model — it’s an opportunity to build bridges between work and family that yield gains for the workplace and family. The data suggest that these types of programs may give employers more bang for the buck in terms of mental health."

The findings indicated that different types of programs would be needed, depending on the combination of conflict and facilitation in an employee’s life, according to the research team.

The team scored respondents on four types of family/work interaction: family helps work, work helps family, work conflicts with family and family conflicts with work. Not surprisingly, depression, problem drinking and anxiety were lowest when families helped work and didn’t conflict with work — combinations that benefit work more than family, according to the researchers.

"That makes sense because we’re a work-oriented country; the results resonate with the importance of work in most adults’ lives," said Grzywacz. "People perceive that family benefits their work more than work benefits their family."

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