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Expert commentary on work-life balance and crossover of emotions and experiences: Theoretical and practice advancements

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Expert commentary on work-life balance and crossover of emotions and experiences: Theoretical and practice advancements
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  Commentary  Expert commentary on work–lifebalance and crossover of emotionsand experiences: Theoretical andpractice advancements y MINA WESTMAN 1 , PAULA BROUGH 2 * AND THOMAS KALLIATH 3 1 Tel Aviv University, Israel 2 Griffith University, Australia 3  Australian National University, Australia Summary  Professor Mina Westman, the head of Organisational Behaviour Program at the Tel Aviv is aleadinginternational expertonthecrossoverofemotions andexperiences inthefamilyandtheworkplace. In thisinterviewwith Paula Brough and ThomasKalliath (guest editors), ProfessorWestman clarifies the nature of two related constructs: Work–life balance and crossover.Work–life balance is the perception that work and non-work activities are compatible andpromotegrowth inaccordancewithanindividual’s current lifepriorities.Crossover focuses onhow stress experienced by the individual influences strain experienced by the individual’sspouse or team member. In this expert commentary, Professor Westman discusses thephilosophical underpinnings of work–life balance, the significance of crossover of emotionsandexperiences fororganizations andindividuals, currentadvancesinthe fieldandsetsoutthenew directions for this research. Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Philosophical underpinnings of work–life balance Tom: We livein a society that is in relentless pursuit of the ‘‘good things’’ of life—the larger home, thebigger pay check, bigger gross national product etc. The modern person strives to fill him/herself withthings to find happiness and fulfilment (i.e., balance), but the more we strive the more happiness andtranquillity seems to elude us (Fromm, 1976). To what extent is work–life imbalance an externalmanifestation ofourinternalemptiness?Ifso,shouldwe notbeaddressingthe rootcause rather than itsexternal manifestations?Mina: Fromm refers to the long-standing conflict in Western society between the Hedonic andEudaimonic approaches towellbeing. The hedonic approach (here referred to as the pursuit of the goodlife) equates wellbeing with hedonic pleasure, stating that the goal of life is to maximize hedonicpleasure and minimize pain. The definition of pleasure, however, has varied from narrow—bodilypleasure  per se —to a wider concept of preferences, appetites, and self interests. The eudaimonic  Journal of Organizational Behavior  J. Organiz. Behav.  30 , 587–595 (2009)Published online in Wiley InterScience(www.interscience.wiley.com)  DOI : 10.1002/job.616 *Correspondence to: Paula Brough, School of Psychology, Griffith University, Mount Gravatt Campus, Brisbane, QLD 4122,Australia. E-mail: p.brough@griffith.edu.au y Mina Westman in conversation with Paula Brough and Thomas Kalliath. Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  Received 22 March 2009 Accepted 27 March 2009  approach, on the other hand, asserts that happiness is found in the expression of virtue—doing what isworth doing (Ryan & Deci, 2001). This approach focuses on self-expression, the degree to which apersonisfullyfunctioning,and livesinaccordancewith hisorhertruevalues(e.g., Ryan&Deci, 2000;Ryff, 1989). Eudaimonic theories suggest that not all outcomes and goals a person might valueare worth pursuing and therefore, although they may produce pleasure they will not yield wellbeingeven when achieved (Ryan & Deci, 2001). To reconcile these contrasting definitions of wellbeing,Seligman (2002) proposed an integrative model suggesting three distinct routes to happiness:(1) pleasure, (2) gratification, and (3) meaning.The pursuit of work–life balance is not a part of a more general hedonic pursuit of pleasure,characteristic of modern times, which often may lead a person to experience a feeling of internalemptiness. Instead, I posit that achieving a balance should lead to the experience of eudemonicwellbeing (or gratification and meaning) because work–life balance is likely associated with thefulfilment of the three fundamental psychological needs of relatedness, competence, and autonomywhich are necessary for people to thrive and grow psychologically (Ryan & Deci, 2001). That is, thefulfilment of basic psychological needs will mediate the effect of pursuit and achievement of work–lifebalance on wellbeing. The pursuit of work–life balance is a worthwhile endeavour, in contrast tothe pursuit of wealth and materialistic goals, one that is conducive to human growth and developmentand produces eudaimonia. Crossover or work–life balance? Paula: Whether it is crossover (e.g., burnout transmitted from one person to another) or work–lifeimbalance (e.g., stress transferred from work to home or  vice versa ), the principal actors (e.g.,employees) and the environment (e.g., workplace or home) appear to be common to both phenomena.How much theoretical overlap is there between the crossover and work–life imbalance constructs?Mina: The work–life imbalance construct refers to spillover or work–family conflict. In the case of work–life imbalance, spillover refers to stress experienced in one domain of life resulting in stress inthe other domain for the same individual. Whereas crossover relates to stress experienced by theindividual leading to stress or strain being experienced by the individual’s spouse or team member.Spillover is an intra-individual, inter-domain contagion of stress, while crossover is a dyadic, inter-individual, inter-domain contagion, generating similar reactions in another individual. Spilloveroccurs from home to work and from work to home, for the same individual, whereas crossover isconceptualizedasaprocessoccurringfromoneindividualtohis/herspouseathome.Thisindicatesthatwhereasspilloveraffectsonlytheindividual,crossovercanaffectthedyadandthegroup.Itfollowsthatwork–life imbalance may crossover from one spouse to another. I do suggest that spillover is anecessary but not a sufficient condition for crossover. Construct significance Tom: Could you tell us what triggered your interest in the investigation of the crossover of emotions?Mina: Before embarking on a description of my personal odyssey, I should note that crossoverresearch deals with the crossover of emotions and experiences. Early in my 30 years of stress research,it intrigued me that some interesting studies looking into the impact of husbands’stress on their wives Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  J. Organiz. Behav.  30 , 587–595 (2009)DOI: 10.1002/job 588  M. WESTMAN  ET AL.  showed that the husbands were actively bringing their stress home while the wives were absorbing thestrain of their husbands’ job demands and becoming distressed. What really had an impact on me wasJackson and Maslach’s (1982) paper, ‘‘After-effects of job-related stress: Families as victims’’ aboutpolice officers and their spouses. The next important landmark for me as a researcher was Bolger,DeLongis, Kessler, and Wethington’s (1989) paper where they distinguished between spillover andcrossover, defining crossover as a process that involves contagion of demands and their consequentarousal across closely related or otherwise linked individuals. I then decided to look at the crossoverphenomenon with a focus on both spouses rather than merely examining the impact of husbands ontheir wives. Prior to the early 1990s, all published papers measured only wives’strain but not their jobstress, and most did not even distinguish between working and non-working wives. I decided to startfrom dual-career families and investigatethe crossoverof burnoutfrom husbandtowife and  viceversa .Thus, my first crossover study (Westman & Etzion, 1995) looked at crossover of burnout from careerofficers to their working spouses and  vice versa . The next stage was developing a model whichproposed the mechanism underlyingthe crossover phenomenon (Westman, 2001). Once the model wasestablished, I conducted a series of studies with colleagues on crossover of burnout, anxiety,dissatisfaction, perceivedhealth, work–family conflict, and more recently have extended my interest topositive experiences including engagement among couples in various occupations and situations. Crossover of emotions defined Paula: What is a good definition of crossover of emotions? Do we know what causes crossover of emotions?Mina: Thereare severaldefinitionsofcrossoverbutIwould liketonote thatcrossoverdoesnotapplyto emotions exclusively. Crossover can involve emotions, feelings, moods, and dispositions. The mostwidely cited definition was proposed by Bolger et al. (1989) who stated that crossover is a process thatoccurswhenpsychologicalstrainexperiencedbyonepersonaffectsthelevelofstrainofanotherpersonin the same social environment. They added that stress is contagious—stress experienced by theindividual in the workplace leads to stress experienced by the individual’s spouse at home. However,the definition has since evolved. Specifically, two major developments in our understanding of crossover have occurred. First, the definition of crossover which I proposed (Westman, 2001)emphasizes that crossover is a bi-directional transmission of experiences that is not limited only to theemployee and the spouse at home. Second, in recent years researchers have studied and found evidenceof crossover of positive experiences, especially engagement (vigour, dedication, and absorption) andlife satisfaction. As a result, I would now define crossover as  a bi-directional transmission of positiveand negative emotions, mood, and dispositions between intimately connected individuals such asspouses or organizational team members . Significance for organizations Tom: What is the significance of the crossover construct for organizations?Mina :  There are two main ways that crossover might be significant for an organization; First,crossover of negative emotions or disposition between spouses may cause an intensifying spiral of losses that ultimately affects organizational performance. If the crossover process starts from the Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  J. Organiz. Behav.  30 , 587–595 (2009)DOI: 10.1002/job EXPERT COMMENTARY ON CROSSOVER  589  organization, the organization should focus on its’ causes and try to diminish them. Furthermore, toreduce the effect of negative crossover, interventions aimed at stress management should also includespouses. Second, and more important, I suggested (Westman, 2001) that the work team is a venueeminently conducive to the development of relations characterized by crossover, and the identificationof both positive and negative crossover in the workplace has crucial practical implications fororganizational atmosphere and performance. If stress and burnout are contagious in a team, as severalresearchers have shown, productivity may be affected by the burnout climate of the team. We canspeculate further that burnout climate might transmit from one team to another, ‘‘infecting’’ the entireorganization with a burnout climate. If, on the other hand, the contagion in the team involves positiveemotions, engagement, and satisfaction, the organization could become a more engaged organization,which would benefit both employee and organizational performance, as studies have shown thatengagement is positively related to performance (for an overview, see Demerouti & Bakker, 2006). Gender differences Paula: Are there gender differences in crossover of emotions? If so, what are the implications fororganizations?Mina: Although the evidence concerning gender differences in crossover of emotions andexperiences is inconclusive, the crossover literature offers some evidence for a gender effect. There arefar more studies that found only unidirectional crossover from husbands to wives than  vice versa .Furthermore,severalstudiesthatdetectedbi-directionalcrossoverfromhusbandstowivesandwivestohusbands found that the intensity of the crossover from husbands to wives was significantly stronger.Thus, studies have shown that husbands’ negative emotions are more likely to predict wives’ negativeemotions than the other way around. I have suggested several explanations for this (Westman, 2002).Gender seems to be a potential moderator of the impact of one’s stress and strain on the spouse’s strain,because of differences in the traditional role demands and expectations for men and women. Women,morethan men, are socialized to be sensitivetoothers’ emotions, tobe more emotionally expressive,toreporthigherlevelsofaffect, andtodevelopdispositional empathy.As aresult, wivesare more intouchwith and responsive to their own feelings, emotions and dispositions, and receptive to the emotions of others. There is some indication that women are more susceptible than men to the impact of stressorsaffecting their partners. Kessler and McLeod (1984) showed that eventsinvolving significant others aremore distressing for women than for men. They suggested that because of their greater involvement infamily affairs, women become more sensitive to the stressful events that affect other family members.Larson and Almeida (1999) concluded that husbands are generally the senders of emotions and womenare the receivers. Similarly, Johnson and Jackson (1998) suggested that women may act as ‘‘shock absorbers’’ taking on men’s stress.The gender difference may be attributable in part to sex role socialization and gender ideology aswell as to cultural differences. My colleagues and I (Westman, Vinokur, Hamilton, & Roziner, 2004)provided strong evidence for gender asymmetry in the crossover process in a study of career officers inthe Russian army.In this study,marital dissatisfactioncrossed over from husbandstowivesbutnot  viceversa , and social undermining behavior played a role in the process of crossover of maritaldissatisfaction for husbands but not for wives. We concluded that the confluence offorces that emanatefromRussiancultureinasocialmilitaryenvironmentresultsinevengreatergenderroledifferentiation,and consequently the effects of social undermining on the spouses’ marital dissatisfaction are widelydisparate. These findings demonstrated that social undermining behavior from the husband toward the Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  J. Organiz. Behav.  30 , 587–595 (2009)DOI: 10.1002/job 590  M. WESTMAN  ET AL.  wife did not affect the wife’s marital dissatisfaction, as her social emotional role in the family includesbeing a ‘‘shock absorber’’ of her husband’s emotional functioning. In contrast, the wife’s socialundermining behavior toward her husband could be perceived as serious out-of-role behavior thatchallenges the husband and results in a marked increase in his marital dissatisfaction.These findings highlight the need for caution in drawing conclusions regarding the moderatingeffects of gender,becausegender may be confounded with a breadwinner role in the family and/or witha traditional gender and power relationship. Future studies should address this issue by collecting morespecific information on the breadwinning roles, occupation, and employment status of both spouses, aswell as on the extent to which they subscribe to traditional gender ideologies. Mechanisms underlying crossover Tom: Your recent work (Bakker, Westman, & Schaufeli, 2007) provided the first experimentalconfirmation of the crossover of burnout from one individual to another through emphaticidentification. Could you explain the mechanism underlying empathic identification? Is a similaritybetween sender and receiver a pre-condition for such crossover to occur?Mina: One of the main crossover mechanisms suggested by Vinokur and myself (Westman &Vinokur,1998)isofdirectcrossoveroperatingviaempathy.Basedonthefindingsthatcrossovereffectsappear between closely related partners who share the greater part of their lives together, I laterelaborated (Westman, 2001) the proposed mechanism of direct transmission of stress and strain fromone partner to the other as a result of empathic reactions. The basis for this view is the finding thatcrossover effects appear between closely related partners who share the greater part of their livestogether.Generally,itisassumedthattheemotions expressedbyonepartnerelicitanempathicreactionin the other partner. This agrees with the literal root meaning of the word empathy: ‘‘Feeling into.’’Starcevic and Piontek (1997) defined empathy as a predominantly emotional form of interpersonalcommunication, involving the ability to be affected by the other’s affective state as well as to be able toread in oneself what that affect has been. According to Lazarus (1991), empathy is ‘‘sharing another’sfeelingsbyplacingoneselfpsychologicallyinthatperson’scircumstances’’(p.287).Thecoreaspectof empathy involves an understanding and recognition of a partner’s thoughts and feelings (Levenson &Ruef, 1992), while the core relational theme for empathy involves a sharing of another person’semotional state, distressed, or otherwise. Accordingly, strain in one partner produces an empatheticreaction in the other that increases his or her own strain, by way of what may be called  empathicidentification . Thus, in the recent experiment with my colleagues Bakker et al. (2007), the increasedfeelings of exhaustion and depersonalization in teachers may have been caused by empathicidentification with their fellow teachers, This view is supported by social learning theorists (e.g.,Bandura, 1969) who have explained the transmission of emotions as a conscious processing of information. Similarly, Riley and Eckenrode (1986) suggested that the effect of the undesirable eventsoneexperiencesonthesignificantother’sdistressmaybetheresultofempathyexpressedinreportslike‘‘We feel their pain is our own’’ (p. 771). Positive experiences can also crossover via the same processof empathy. For example, work engagement expressed by one partner may fuel the partner’sengagement, because it focuses his/her thoughts on the positive aspects of work that make him/herenthusiastic.Two recent studies demonstrated the role of empathy in the crossover of positive and negativeexperiences. Bakker and Demerouti (2009) investigated the crossover of work engagement fromwomen to their husbands. They found that crossover of work engagement was strongest when men Copyright # 2009 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.  J. Organiz. Behav.  30 , 587–595 (2009)DOI: 10.1002/job EXPERT COMMENTARY ON CROSSOVER  591
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