Work/family spillover can affect health

May 01, 2000

Spillover from work to family life and vice versa may affect both physical and mental health, according to a new study.

"Skills and opportunities gained through employment may make for a better family member, while family experiences and support may make for a better worker," said study author Joseph G. Grzywacz, PhD, of the University of California, Irvine. "Health promotion programs trying to promote high-level wellness may require workplace initiatives that promote a synergistic fit between individuals, their work, and their families," said Grzywacz.

Grzywacz analyzed data from 1,547 adults aged 35-65 who participated in the Midlife Development in the United States Survey (MIDUS), which was conducted in 1995 by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Network for Successful Midlife Development. He assessed negative work-to-family spillover by measuring how often work stress made respondents irritable at home and positive work-to-family spillover by measuring how often respondents felt work helped them deal with home issues.

He assessed negative family-to-work spillover by measuring how often home stress made respondents irritable at work and positive family-to-work spillover by measuring how often family members helped respondents deal with work problems.

Grzywacz found that positive and negative spillover each exerted distinct effects on physical and mental health. That is, not only was less negative spillover associated with better health, but more positive spillover was also independently associated with better health. "These results demonstrate that health and well-being are not characterized by the simple absence of negative experience but rather the ability of individuals to maximize their potential within their environment," said Grzywacz.

His findings did not differ between men and women, "reinforcing current arguments that work-family spillover is not just an issue for women," said Grzywacz. The study results appear in the March/April issue of the American Journal of Health Promotion.

Work-family spillover may affect health through its relationship to immune and hormonal stress responses, which are believed to influence one's susceptibility to illness. Additionally, spillover may also affect physical and mental health through health behaviors such as exercise and problematic alcohol use. If additional research supports these findings, future health promotion efforts should attempt to do more than just reduce negative work and family spillover, according to Grzywacz. "Workplace innovations that promote positive spillover and undermine negative spillover between work and family may result in more pronounced improvements in employee health and well-being than those focusing on managing work-family conflict alone," he concluded.
The American Journal of Health Promotion is a bimonthly peer-reviewed journal dedicated to the field of health promotion. For information about the journal call 248-682-0707 or visit the journal's website at

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health ( For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, ( 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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