Work-life balance
A new study by Management Professor Julie McCarthy finds that transferring certain skills learned at work can help enrich our family life.
Thursday, October 29 - 2020
Don Campbell

A new U of T Scarborough study has found that people can use certain skills they develop at work to enrich their lives at home as well.       


The study, which involved developing and testing a work-to-family enrichment training program, builds on research that shows certain resources gained at work — like skills, knowledge and values — can be transferred by employees for use in their family life at home.


“The focus of work-family research has historically been on preventing conflict,” says Professor Julie McCarthy from Department of Management at U of T Scarborough, who co-authored the study with Associate Professor Ravit Heskiau from Northeastern University.


“So that means if something bad happens at work, how do you avoid taking it home with you, and vice-versa. It’s only been recently that researchers have started to look at enrichment, which is transferring the positive things between work and home.”


McCarthy says what’s novel about this approach is that it recognizes when good things happen at work, it can be beneficial to transfer these experiences to our home life in order to improve our overall well-being.


While extensive research and models on transferring resources from work to home do exist, she says there aren’t many training programs to test how effective it is in practice. The one developed by McCarthy and Heskiau, called Resource Transfer Training, was used by 163 employees and consisted of four components aimed at teaching how to transfer work skills and knowledge to their family life.


The training involves having participants identify their core work skills and conceptualize how those skills can be used away from work. An important element of the training involves generating positive connections to those skills and developing a belief in their ability and capacity to transfer them. Lastly, it also involved practicing those skills at home.


Julie McCarthy
Professor Julie McCarthy, who is an expert on organizational behaviour and HR management, conducts resilience sessions for organizations in the public and private sectors (photo by Ken Jones)

Those who completed the training program reported an increased transfer of skills, knowledge and values compared to the control group. Not only that, those who completed the program also reported higher levels of job satisfaction.


“When people are trained on how to transfer the skills generated at work to home, the mechanisms involved in transferring carry over to your job satisfaction,” says McCarthy, an expert on organizational behaviour and HR management. 


“Our program taught employees how to transfer core workplace skills into their personal lives, which led to greater job satisfaction because the skills are so useful.”


McCarthy says some examples of work-based skills that can be transferred to home include interpersonal skills like active listening, which can help in communicating with children and partners; planning skills, which can be transferred to home scheduling; and creative problem solving skills that can help generate creative solutions at home.


Another example is transferring positive emotions from work to positive emotions at home. 


“If something positive happens at work, taking pride in the experience and sharing it with our partners and our family can transfer those positive emotions,” says McCarthy, who conducts resilience sessions for organizations in the public and private sectors.


The study, which received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), is published in the Journal of Applied Psychology


Given that an increasing percentage of the workforce is self-employed or working from home, and that many are also working from home due to the pandemic, McCarthy says the notion of putting up fixed boundaries between work and home life may not be the most strategic use of resources.


“If we really want to capitalize on promoting employee well-being, resilience and job satisfaction, an important consideration is positive transfer,” she says.


“Yes, we have to be careful and we have to minimize work-life conflict by ensuring that the negative experiences and emotions from work don’t transfer to home and vice-versa. At the same time, we want to promote and leverage the positive skills and experiences that can be beneficial across the work and home domains.”