In Brief

An employee's good day at work may rub off at home--especially on their spouse, according to a new study in this month's Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (Vol. 10, No. 2). In fact, such work-family positive spillover has a better chance of turning around a spouse's depression than the employee's own symptoms of depression, according to a one-year study of 234 dual-earner couples who are parents as well as caregivers to their aging parents.

Also, employees who receive support from supervisors as well as increased autonomy and control on the job are more likely to transfer those positive benefits from work to home, the study finds. And, employees who receive family support or feel confident in their family responsibilities transfer those good experiences to their work by increasing their job effort and reaping more satisfaction, says lead researcher Leslie B. Hammer, PhD, director of graduate training for occupational health psychology at Portland State University.

To gauge how family and work roles affect each other--via a person's mood, values, skills or behaviors--Hammer and colleagues surveyed couples twice, one year apart, about their level of agreement with such statements as "The demands of my work interfere with home and family life," and "Having a successful day at work puts me in a good mood to handle my family responsibilities." Participants also described their moods over the past week to determine any depressive symptoms, such as "I was bothered by things that usually don't bother me."

"What happens with one member in the family can significantly impact the other," Hammer notes. For example, the researchers found that when husbands experienced high levels of positive work-to-family spillover, their wives reported lower levels of depression one year later. When wives reported positive family-to-work spillover, their husbands experienced lower levels of depression.

Why? Wives and husbands often feel empathetic to what the other is experiencing, Hammer says.

Compared with positive work-family spillover, Hammer found that work-family conflict--that is, when the demands of a person's job interferes with family life--did not seem as influential on a person's level of depression.

That said, employees and families who focus on enhancing positive spillover might have more luck with curbing one another's depressive symptoms than with trying to just reduce negative aspects of conflict in work or family life, Hammer says.

Few studies have examined just how people can boost their work and family spillover. However, one recent study by psychologists Joseph G. Grzywacz, PhD, and Adam B. Butler, PhD, in this month's Journal of Occupational Health Psychology (Vol. 10, No. 2) indicates that employees who gain control, autonomy, social skills and complexity in their jobs appear to enjoy increased work-to-family positive spillover. In turn, people who experience family support and have happy marriages may increase their family-to-work positive spillover, other studies have shown.

--M. DITTMANN