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The Issues Raised By Work Family Conflict Social Work Essay

Work-family conflict refers to “a form of interrole conflict in which the role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some respect” (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985, pg.77). Rosabeth Kanter (1977) suggests the idea that work and life are independent domains is a ‘myth’. Extensive changes in the composition of the workforce, such as increasing levels of female participation and changing work schedules; in virtue of an economy characterized by 24 hour customer service and work correspondence across various time zones (Catalyst, 1997; Hogarth, et al., 2001), and of families, for instance, an increase in the number of working mothers and rising levels of dual-career couples (Gilbert, Hallett & Eldridge, 1994), has led to the increased likelihood that employed individuals have sizeable family responsibilities in addition to their work commitments (Gilbert, Hallett & Eldridge, 1994). In response to these changes, there has been a substantial expansion in the number of work-family policies implemented by organizations, for example; flexible work schedules, leave entitlements and child-care assistance. These policies aim to help facilitate the needs of the workforce and lessen the inherent difficultly in reconciling the competing responsibilities from the work and family domains (Allen, 2001; Lobel & Kossek, 1996). Further, research suggests that for the organization, work-family policies are a means of attracting potential employees and retaining a committed workforce (Allen, 2001). Three different forms of work-family conflict are widely recognized in the literature: time-based conflict; strain-based conflict and behaviour-based conflict (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). This essay will address each form of conflict and assess whether the implementation of work-family policies can make a positive contribution to the organization and the individual. Further, this essay will evaluate whether having a policy induces the uptake of family-friendly practices by employees. This essay will support the position that work-family policies can alleviate employee’s work-family conflict and lead to a number of benefits for the organization, but only when the culture and conditions in organizations are such that employees feel confident to take advantage of the provisions offered without fear that their usage will have a deleterious effect on their career prospects (Allen, 2001; Coussey, 2000).

Greenhaus & Beutell (1985) outline three different sources of conflict between work and family roles: time-based conflict, strain-based conflict and behaviour-based conflict. Time-based conflict furthers the ‘utilitarian’ model (Lobel, 1991) of work-family interactions, which attests that time is a finite resource and time spent on activities within one domain (home or work), lessens the amount of time available within the other domain (Brough & O’Driscoll, 2005). The perception that there is not enough time to complete competing obligations is presumably influenced by longer working weeks and the supposition that by staying in work for longer, employees are more likely to retain their jobs (Weinberg & Cooper, 2007). The Department of Trade and Industry (2002) found that more than 20 per cent of the total UK workforce worked more than 48 hours a week. Rising levels of female workforce participation, particularly working mothers and dual-career couples (Gilbert, Hallett & Eldridge, 1994) exacerbates work-family conflict on account of substantial obligations to fulfil in each role. Previous research has indicated that 85% of employees report having a number of family responsibilities on a day-to-day basis (Bond, Galinsky & Swanberg, 1998). In addition, it has been shown that the number of hours worked per week is positively related to work-family conflict, as is the inflexibility of the work schedule (Pleck et al., 1980).

Strain-based conflict arises when there is a spillover of negative emotions from one role (work or family) into the other (Brough & O’Driscoll, 2005). Strain from one role makes it difficult to accommodate the demands of the other. For example, work stressors can cause fatigue, depression and anxiety (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985; Pleck et al., 1980), whilst family stressors may affect the employee’s job satisfaction and work performance (Brough & O’Driscoll, 2005). An absence of support from work supervisors and spouses may further work-family conflict (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985).

Behaviour-based conflict occurs when the behaviour and norms expected in one role are incompatible with those required in the other (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). For example, a dominant, aggressive and task-orientated style may be expected for successful job performance at work, but at home being supportive and caring may be regarded as essential for successful relationships. If an individual is unable to modify behaviour to comply with these opposing expectations, they are prone to experience work-family conflict (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). In sum, time-based conflict and strain-based conflict may lead to anxiety that one is not fulfilling the obligations of each role adequately consequently leading to low satisfaction and fatigue. Whilst behaviour-based conflict can cause a loss of self-identity and tension between work and family roles (Arnold et al., 2005). Kossek and Ozeki (1998) found a constant negative relationship between both life and job satisfaction and all three forms of work-family conflict.

In a recent publication by the Department for Education and Employment (2000), the Government reports that “individuals will flourish if they can strike a proper balance between work and the rest of their lives” (DfEE, 2000, pg.1). In addition, research indicates a negative link between work-family conflict and physical health outcomes (Brough & O’Driscoll, 2005). For example, Lee (1997) found that the demands of work and caring for an elderly parent were related to physical stress-strain symptoms such as headaches and insomnia. The strain induced by work-family conflict has also been linked to burnout (Bacharach, Bamberger & Conley, 1991), coronary heart disease (Haynes, Eaker & Feinleib, 1984), anxiety (Allen et al., 2000) and increased alcohol consumption (Noor, 2002). Further, work-family conflict is linked to increased levels of psychological distress (Major, Klein & Ehrhart, 2002). The Health and Safety Executive (2012) estimates that between 2010 and 2011 the total net cost of sick pay for organizations in Great Britain were £1,155 million. In terms of ‘new’ work-related illness in 2010/11, approximately 44% were cases of stress, anxiety or depression. In sum, it is evident that reducing work-family conflict should be of central importance to organizations.

Work-family policies implemented by organizations to reduce the negative effects of work-family conflict include; flexible working arrangements, childcare arrangements and leave (Eurofound, 2011). Flexible working arrangements (e.g. flextime, part-time work, working at home, compressed work weeks and job-sharing) have been found to significantly reduce employee’s perceived experiences of work-family conflict (Thomas & Ganster, 1995). Catalyst (1997) reported that 93% of part-time employees felt their capability to reconcile work and family responsibilities improved when they utilized part-time working options. In addition, they reported increased commitment to their employer and a rise in productivity. Thomas and Ganster (1995) investigated the relationship between scheduling practices that allowed high flexibility, and work-family conflict. They suggest that scheduling practices have a significant indirect effect on mental and physical health outcomes as a result of increasing the perceived control of employees which subsequently reduced work-family conflict. Further, flextime allows employees to alter their start and finish times to correspond with family commitments further contributing to reduced levels of work-family conflict (Shinn, Wong, Simko & Ortiz-Torres, 1989). Kropf (2002) reported that the critical benefit for organizations implementing flexible working arrangements is retention of valuable skills and expertise. By introducing policies that facilitate and encourage individuals to stay with the organization, the costs of recruiting and training new employees is eliminated and the organization preserves a skilled, committed and loyal workforce. General Electric reported that of the 203 employees who switched to part-time work, they had retained all 203 after 12 months (Shellenbarger, as cited in Thomas & Ganster, 1995). In addition, having a number of employees with a range of working patterns allows organizations to extend opening hours and adapt to a 24 hour, service-based economy (DfEE, 2002). However, flexible working arrangements are only available in some countries and part-time work still carries disadvantages such as financial and career costs (Tausig & Fenwick, 2001). In sum, flexible working arrangements reduce work-family conflict which subsequently benefits the organization; by improving performance outcomes, and the individual by improving health outcomes and satisfaction levels.

Shellenbarger (1992) suggested that two-thirds of US organisations offer some type of childcare arrangements (e.g. financial assistance, on-site childcare centres and holiday play schemes). Whilst the provision of childcare arrangements is primarily perceived as being more important to female employees (Frone & Yardley, 1996), Goff, Mount and Jamison (1990) reported that working parent’s satisfaction with on-site childcare was related to reduced work-family conflict and subsequently lower absenteeism. Further, Thomas and Thomas (1990) argued that assistance with childcare can improve employee morale and increase productivity. Leave (e.g. maternal, paternal and parental) is a valuable policy because not only does it assist working parents with the demands of childcare, it also exemplifies the flexible and family-friendly culture of the organization which subsequently leads to the retention of employees (Greenhaus & Parasuraman, 1986). However, an employee’s access to leave is dependent on the organizations culture and several countries still don’t have legislation regarding maternal and paternal rights. Loss of employment as a consequence of pregnancy is still prevalent (Shellenbarger, 1992). In sum, childcare arrangements and leave arrangements benefit the individual as well as the organization, with organizations often being exemplified for considerate work-family arrangements.

The success of these policies rests on the supportive nature of the organization. Employees who perceive their organization as aiding the effective reconciliation of work and family roles report greater organisational commitment and elevated job satisfaction (Friedman and Greenhaus 2000). In addition, the results of Forsyth and Polzer-Debruyne’s (2007) study indicate that job satisfaction is associated with a large negative contribution to leaving intention and perceived organisational support leads to increased loyalty to the employer. Further, Allen, Herst, Bruck and Sutton (2000) suggest that individuals with family commitments increasingly look for jobs with organizations that show a commitment to facilitating employee’s attempts to balance their work and family responsibilities.

However, having a work-family policy does not inevitably lead to the take up of provisions by employees (Coussey, 2000). Of the 16% of employees who had access to job sharing arrangements in 1998 (Cully, Woodland, O’Reilly and Dix, 1999), only 1% of women and 0.1% of men utilized these schemes (Dex, Scheibl, Smith & Coussey, 2000). Kinnunen, Mauno, Geurts & Dikkers (2005) noted that although formal work-family policies may be in place, employees may be hesitant to utilize them. Family-friendly initiatives do not affect the prevailing organizational culture and values, such as lack of support from supervisors (Shellenbarger, 1992). Similarly, employees who take advantage of these policies openly indicate an interest in family life which can result in negative judgements regarding their commitment to the workplace (Allen & Russel, 1999). If employees perceive the organizational environment as unsupportive they will not utilize the policies for fear that this will have a deleterious effect on their career prospects (Allen, 2001). In sum, if organizations are to benefit from the implementation of work-family policies, they need to ensure that these policies are accompanied by synonymous organizational norms and values regarding the work-family interaction (Lobel & Kossek, 1996).

In conclusion, an organization’s decision to adopt work-family policies has positive effects on work-family conflict reduction. This, in turn leads to a number of benefits for the organization as well as the individual, including reduced absenteeism, improved retention and increased work and family satisfaction. However, if organizations and individuals are to benefit from these initiatives, the culture and conditions must be such that employees feel confident to take advantage of the provisions offered without fear that their usage will have a deleterious effect on their career development. Careful implementation of work-family policies should induce considerable benefits for individuals and organizations.

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