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The Concept Of Work Life Balance

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Published: Wed, 03 May 2017

Abstract

The concept of work-life balance has now become centre of attention for almost all companies, political institutions, research institutions, families, individuals and trade unions at both national and international level. Work life balance is an important topic in human resource management that means to combine work and life in a way, that both are achievable. Work life balance is generally related to role overload, time management, time pressure, job satisfaction, job stress, organizational commitment, life satisfaction, turnover, welfare, social security, working time, flexibility, family, fertility, (un)employment, migration, consumption, demographic changes, leisure time and so on. In this paper, work means paid work i.e. a person earns money by providing his/her services to the organization. Both work family balance and work life balance is same thing. Moreover, work life conflict and work family conflict are used interchangeably. We will discuss some relevant definitions, its importance in organization and in life of individual, antecedents and consequences of work life conflict, factors which help in creating work life balance, advantages of work life balance, cost of implementing its policies, some findings from literature, our recommendations and implications and in the end conclusion. From our literature we try to find some quantitative data about condition of work life balance in different countries but we were not able to get it. This paper is done mostly on qualitative data we get from different and renowned journal articles written by different prominent authors.

Introduction

”There’s no such thing as work-life balance. There are work-life choices, and you make them, and they have consequences”, stated by Jack Welsh, former General Electric’s CEO and all-round business guru (Khallash & Kruse, 2012, p. 682). The two most important domains of an individual’s life are work and family and their interface has become centre of attention in the past two decades for researchers in the field of human resource management world-wide. The changing social structures arising out of dual career couples, single parent families, globalization, changes in the demands and patterns of work, an increasing number of parents with children care responsibilities, increasing number of women workforce and ageing parents all have contributed to escalating research in the area of work life balance. There is a need to integrate and balance family and career requirements otherwise work life balance is in jeopardy as a person is unable to perform his roles due to tiredness from work or family responsibilities hamper concentration at work (McCarthy et al., 2010; Valk & Srinivasan, 2011). Work life conflict is opposite of work life balance, that can be either related to strain-based or time-based conflicts between work and life. There are two conflicting areas: (1) how work impacts on family life i.e. work-to-family conflict and (2) how family life impacts on work i.e. family-to-work conflict. But the net impact is same and that is Work life imbalance or conflict. Work-life balance is not primarily a women’s issue as the principles equally apply to men (Pichler, 2008; Crompton & Lyonette, 2006). This concept highly aims to encourage employees to adopt flexible working arrangements that can help them to achieve balance between their professional and private life.

History of Work-Life Balance

In 1986, the term “Work-Life Balance” was first identified, but it’s usage in everyday language was still sporadic for a certain number of years. Although, interestingly work-life programs existed in early years such as 1930, but people did not recognize them. Before the Second World War, the W.K. Kellogg Company created some flexible work hour shifts for their employees who replaced the traditional daily working hours, and the new shift resulted in increased employee efficiency and morale. In 1977, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, for the first time in his influential book, Work and Family in the United States: A Critical Review and Agenda for Research and Policy, raised the issue of Work-Life Balance and brought it to the forefront of organizations and research. This concept forces organizations to follow work-family friendly environment. Therefore, in the 1980s and 1990’s, some organizations began to offer work-life programs who aimed to promote balance work-life. The first waves of these programs were mainly to support women with children (Brough et al., 2008). Now-a-days, many work-life programs have been introduced which are less gender specific and identify other obligations as well as those of family.

Definitions of Work-Life Balance

Now-a-days, the concept of Work-Life Balance is not new; because of its importance it has been discussed extensively. It has been conceptualized as an individual’s orientation across various life roles and inter roles phenomenon. Different scholars have given different views on how they perceive the concept of WLB. Some of the important definitions are: (1) Kofodimos has defined it as ‘a satisfying, healthy and productive life that includes work, play and love, that integrates a range of life activities with attention to self and to personal and spiritual development, and that expresses a person’s unique wishes, interests, and values’ (Valk & Srinivasan, 2011, p. 40). (2) Kirchmeyer has viewed Work-Life Balance as ‘achieving satisfying experiences in all life domains, and to do so require personal resources such as energy, time, and commitment to be well distributed across domains’ (Greenhaus et al., 2003, p. 512). (3) Clark views work life balance as ‘satisfaction and good functioning at work and at home with a minimum of role conflict’ (Greenhaus et al., 2003, p. 512). (4) ‘Work life balance is the term used to describe the organizational initiatives aimed at enhancing employee experience of work and non-work domains’ (Darcy et al., 2012, p. 112). (5) ‘Work life balance is experienced when demands from the domain of work are compatible with demands from other domains, e.g. family’ (Pichler, 2008, p. 3). These definitions share number of common elements for example; all highlights the balance between work and non-work domains and equality of inputs and outcomes.

On the other hand, work life conflict is ‘a form of inter role conflict in which the demands of work and family roles are incompatible in some respect so that participation in one role is more difficult because of participation in the other role’ (Voydanoff, 2004, p. 399). In short, work life conflict is conflict between work and family responsibilities.

Significance of Work-Life Balance

Literature has shown that concept of Work-Life Balance is worth for discussion as it aims to create a balanced work-life. Work life balance is becoming an important issue as people deals with shrinking workplace and time pressure. Many studies have highlighted that work-life initiatives offer a win-win situation to both employees and employers and affect business progress and performance in many ways as improving work life balance practices increase productivity, employee well-being, reduces costs, lead to improve retention and recruitment and better motivation and morale for employees (Maxwell, 2005). Various theories have revealed that work life balance policies try to minimize stress and add to a healthier and safer work environment. Work life balance has been associated with greater employee commitment, job satisfaction and organizational citizenship behavior and its policies are beneficial for individuals, their families, physical health, mental health, relationships, creativity, organizations, and society (Brough et al., 2008 & Grzywacz & Carlson, 2007). Employees expect their employers to recognize that in addition to job they also have a life that includes their family, friends and social gathering. Studies have shown that a workforce that is out of balance faces stress and dissatisfaction which reduces family and work engagement. Work life balance issues are one of the main reasons which forces workers to quit their jobs. Therefore, work life balance is an important and increasingly hot topic because it’s about improving people’s quality of life and aims to widen access to career opportunities and paid employment. Firm size is also the next best predictor of the presence of work life balance policies; because its size affects the extent and type of work life balance policies a firm can offer. Large companies are more likely to offer longer and paid parental leave and flexible working hours (Beauregard & Henry, 2009; Kucharova, 2009). In short, firms have recognized that creating a balanced work and family life of employees is the only solution of all problems. Now, senior management has become more proactive about their employees health and they are introducing and implementing work life strategies.

Measurement

There is no as such one measurement tool for work life balance in literature. But most widely used tool is questionnaire and surveys. Most companies do questionnaires and survey to their employees to find out how balanced is their work and life is. One such questionnaire is discussed here. Employee has to select one option and each option is assigned different point. Options were based on a 5-point rating scale that ranged from never to always. Questions are: I have come home from work too tired to do the chores which need to be done? It has been difficult for me to fulfill my family responsibility because of the amount of time I spend on my job? I have arrived at work too tired to function well because of the household work I had done? I have found it difficult to concentrate at work because of my family responsibilities? Keep worrying about work problems when you are not working? Feel too tired after work to enjoy the things you would like to do at home? Find that your job prevents you from giving the time you want to your partner or family? Find that your partner or family gets fed up with the pressure of your job? If employee faces these problems quite often it means he/she is facing work life conflict (Pichler, 2008). Higher scores indicate imbalance rather than balance of work and life. (Other surveys and questionnaires are mentioned in appendix).

Antecedents Which Cause Imbalance Work-Life

In many researches both men and women has reported that they face difficulties in keeping a balance between family and work life, therefore, their lives suffer because of this imbalance. One of the main reasons for this difficulty is lack of support and help from their better half or spouse. In addition to this, work life (im)balance highly depends upon on job role, project-based job and nature of industry. For example, project-based work with unpredictable work pressure and requirement to deliver project consistently with predetermined time, often requires extensive travel disturb family relations. Additional working hours and working outside normal hours at expense of home and family time with high work intensity and pressure may result in bad health, stress, anxiety, fatigue and adverse/unpleasant psycho-physiological consequences that can have dreadful affect on quality of family and work life. Some researches has indicated that despite of an overall decline in weekly working hours across Europe over the last decade, the increased stress level, insecurities and competition at work-place are considered to be additional factors which are relevant in creating disruption of balance in life (Valk & Srinivasan, 2011; Pichler, 2008). Literature has also highlighted that fact that highest level of stress occurs when job demands are high whereas work life balance practices and policies are low. There are also some barriers which restrict organizations to implement work life balance policies that are job requirements, commitment and loyalty, cultural values, and change (Chiang et al., 2010). According to Voydanoff (2004), work demands expected to be highly associated with work-to-family conflicts which are of two types i.e. time based and strain based. Long paid working hours restrict an individual’s time that can be spent with friends and family. This lack of time may create difficulties for employees in maintaining family relationship and performing family orientated task or duties. Sometimes, strain-based demands (job insecurity or concern over losing a job) threaten the economic well-being that is necessary to quality of life and stability. The stress related with job insecurity decreases interpersonal availability and restricts effective participation in family life. Sometimes, family responsibilities also restricts person to perform his/her work duties effectively but researches have been more focused on work to family conflict rather than family to work conflict.

Consequences

Conflict between family and work has real and worth discussing consequences which extensively affects quality of life and career success for both women and men. Stressfulness, lower productivity, low employee morale, decreased job satisfaction, absenteeism and sickness are some common consequences which are caused by work life conflict. The consequences for women may comprise serious career choices and constraints, limited career advancement opportunity and success in their work role and need to choose between an active satisfying career or marriage and children. Most of the men face tradeoff between career and personal values when they tries to find out ways to make dual career families work that often requires them to hold family roles that are far different and open. Other serious consequences of imbalance work-life are alcohol-drug abuse, negative physical and mental health effects, poorer outcomes for dependants and other household members, a lesser work contribution, a diminution of social citizenship and community participation, depression, financial and marital problems, distrust, tardiness, cheating and violence in workplace, task avoidance, embezzlement, organizational sabotage, compulsive eating disorder and burnout (Voydanoff, 2004; Pocock, 2005). Because of these serious consequences organization faces with the prospect of losing talented men and women who because of imbalance between work and life become unable to cope with dual family and work demands. That is why; organizations reconsider personnel policies and expectations.

Factors Which Help in Creating Work Life Balance

The role of social/family support and supervisor/co-worker support has consistently emerged in literature as an important factor that influences work family balance in a positive manner. Social support includes support from an employee’s parents, siblings, spouse or partner, children, friends and extended family. Of particular importance is support from the spouse who contributes in a variety of areas including moral, domestic and childcare support, earnings and personal financial management, home and family responsibilities, career management and interpersonal support. Family support also includes the exchange of support among relatives. The personal social support can be further conceptualized as emotional and instrumental support, thus suggesting that it positively influences the individual’s functioning at work. The role of workplace support, i.e., the support received from supervisors and co-workers is another critical element of work family balance. Organizational and supervisor understanding of family duties are positively related to satisfaction with the balance between work and family life. Workplace support via an organizational approach involves the implementation of family friendly policies, which are associated with integrating work and family responsibilities and achieving a healthy work and family balance. Organizations offer a wide range of work family benefits and programs to their employees (these are discussed in appendix). Through research it is found that flexible work arrangements allow individuals to maintain a balanced life. There is also importance of supportive supervisors, peers and colleagues in managing their work family balance. Literature recognizes that all of the above mentioned variables have a greater impact on women. An emerging category appeared to achieve work life balance that is self-management or reinvention: reconsidering not only the kind of work one wants to do but also the kind of person one wants to be and the sacrifices one is prepared to make to grow into that new self (Valk & Srinivasan, 2011; Wayne et al., 2007; Voydanoff, 2004). Communication about work life programs to employees and providing proper resources and rewards to them also contribute towards work life balance.

Advantages of Balanced Work and Life

Researchers are now focusing on how family and work can benefit each other and this concept is known as work life facilitation. This facilitation may take place when gain from one domain can be transferred to and improving the functioning in the other domain. Work life balance can serve as a guide for organizations to address family work balance issues by redesigning the HR practices and policies for facilitating family work balance. This will help further help in enabling workers to be more committed to the organization, perform better work, and contribute to growth of economy and positive impact for society as whole (Valk & Srinivasan, 2011). Work-Life programs promotes improve productivity and employee commitment, lower rate of turnover, thus result in fewer employee relation challenges and reduced likelihood of unethical business practices. Moreover, implementation of work life balance policies can result in less loss of knowledge workers to competitors, reduced staff turnover, lower training and recruitment costs, reduced absenteeism, improved quality of workers, reduction in work stress, reduced use of sick leave, high self-esteem, confidence and loyalty, better performance and high morale and satisfaction. Some vital benefits that employer gains from work life balance includes employees feel valuable and work harder, maximized available labor, more loyal and motivated workforce, less stressful workplace, high employee involvement, organizational effectiveness and positive employee attitude and behavior (Beauregard & Henry, 2009). Work life promotes happiness and better relations among employees and employers.

Costs of Implementing Work Life Balance Policies

The cost of implementing work life balance policies is another vital issue which organizations take into account. These costs include direct cost e.g. parental leave payments, childcare subsidies, cost of extra space associated with increased facilities like breastfeeding rooms or childcare facilities, providing equipment to telecommuters and indirect costs such as temporarily filing absentee’s post and reduction in productivity from temporary disruptions (Darcy et al., 2012; Brough et al., 2008). It has also highlighted that manager’s role plays a critical role in policy development and implementation. Poor managers/supervisors skills and behaviors in work life balance practice can lead to increase costs (Maxwell, 2005). According to Roberts (2008) a reduction in worked hours is perhaps the most obvious route for employees to improve their work life balance despite the connected costs in terms of income, career and status.

Managerial Implications/Recommendations

Based on feedback from family and co-worker a person can evaluate whether he/she fulfilling both family and work responsibilities (Grzywacz & Carlson, 2007). Work life balance support and practices promotes a mean by which workers may alter their work hours and condition in a way which can reduce stress. When employees enjoy high degree of freedom and flexibility, sense of job control will increase, thus alleviating job stress (Chiang et al., 2010). Work life balance practices can have positive impact on employees and competition at firm level. These are some suggestions to promote work-life policies and program: (1) Use questionnaires to find out what workers feel about work life balance. (2) Review HR strategy and see if they support company’s mission. (3) Develop work-life reward programs by using non-cash incentives associated with business objective. (4) Align HR strategy (e.g. employer of choice) with work-life initiatives (McCarthy et al., 2010). Work-life initiatives also create positive employer branding, promote organizational citizenship; endorse being an employer of choice and support diversity programs. To start work-life programs, managers should consider these key areas: employee retention, absenteeism, employee time save, increase productivity and motivation and decrease stress related illness and health care costs. However, the entire work-life programs cannot be told firmly by only quantitative measurements. HR professionals must consider four significant questions: (1) do supervisors and managers aware of the impact work life balance and its policies has on their employees, (2) does a firm culture and environment truly support work-life benefits, (3) does the company’s management philosophy sincerely promotes work-life benefits, (4) are workers aware of and do they recognize company’s work-life policies and programs. If a company is already in practice of offering work-life benefits, then the next step for it would be to re-communicate and repackage them so employees can see how such benefits may find them ways to reduce or manage work-family conflict. Moreover, creating a HR strategy that clearly comply with company’s mission will exhibit that how committed the company is to its employees needs. Organizations may need to adopt more modified work life balance programs, initiatives and have the courage to go beyond from a one size fits all approach (Darcy et al., 2012; McCarthy et al., 2010). In other words, Companies may need to re-think work life balance more specifically and need to pay more attention on it. Work life balance programs are not reduced hours, flexible delivery, but it is about assisting people to match their behavior to their values (Reiter, 2007). According to Grawitch et al., (2010) it’s not about balance, it’s about resource allocation (in appendix, it is discussed in more detail). Companies should tailor its HR and work life balance policies according to the need of the employees and should implement it effectively to get desired results.

Discussion & Findings

From the literature we found that younger employees and employees in professional and managerial positions account higher levels of work life conflict. Singles are generally more balanced than people whose partner is in paid work. Long working hours, high levels of job insecurity, a lack of power in deciding when to start or finish work and demanding jobs result in higher imbalance in work and life. Women with children also report high level of work life conflict (Pichler, 2008). But it was revealed by Emslie & Hunt (2009) that there is no clear relationship between work life balance and gender. It is definitely clear that women is considered to do the home related work, on other hand men is also supposed to fulfill family responsibilities. There is also no clear relationship between work life conflict and age of employee’s children, but there is some evidence about those employees whose children are below three faces more work life imbalance. A ‘one size fits all’ approach used for the development of work life balance programs is costly and ineffective to meet the needs of different type of employees. Job involvement was negatively related to work life balance whereas, perceived managerial support was positively related to work life balance (Darcy et al., 2012). It was found by Kucharova (2009) that there is no clear relationship between work life balance and economic condition of the different countries. It was found that sometimes flexible working and working from home increase work life conflict and part time work and job sharing also sometimes increase work pressure. There was no clear relationship found between flexible working arrangements and working conditions such as pay, promotion opportunities and employee commitment (Russell et al., 2009; Moore, 2006). Through study of Reiter (2007) it was clear that organizational development field is struggling with the apparent lack of success of work life balance programs in many organizations and this is caused by lack of investment by companies and government in work life balance initiatives. Furthermore, to gain real value from investment in work life balance, organizations need to recognize it as a complex issue and apply much more holistic solutions than has usually been the case.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we like to say that people who combine all aspects of their life in a balanced manner should therefore be the most satisfied and happiest one. In short, work life balance is part of the general well-being. The higher work-life imbalance, the lower are life satisfaction, happiness, subjective health and emotional well-being. Work life balance programs have the potential to extensively reduce absenteeism, improve employee morale and keep hold of organizational knowledge, particularly during hard economic times. In such a marketplace where there is increasing globalization and companies aspire to reduce costs, it depends upon human resource expert to comprehend the serious issues of work life balance and become of winner work life programs. It will cost some money, but in the long run, the company will benefit from this. If properly introduced and implemented then work life balance programs can be win-win situation for employee, family and organization. Flexible working arrangements are important but it should be catered according to employees’ needs, resources, time and demands to get more improved results. Work life balance is associated with quality of life and is not only a moral issue – it is productivity and economic issue, a workplace issue and a social issue, and needs to be addressed as such.

We can also measure by using some other questions and that are, how successful do you feel in balancing your paid work and family life? Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the balance between your job or main activity and family and home life? I am satisfied with the balance I have achieved between my work and life? I am able to balance the demands of my work and the demands of my family? I experience a high level of work-family balance? I am satisfied with the balance I have achieved between my work life and my family life? How successful do you feel in balancing your paid work and family life? Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the balance between your job or main activity and family and home life? Responses were based on a 5-point rating scale that ranged from ‘strongly disagree’ to ‘strongly agree.’ (Allen & Kiburz, 2011; Kucharova, 2009; Reiter, 2007).

Factors Which Help in Creating Work Life Balance

Organizations offer a wide range of work family benefits and programs to their employees such as job sharing, staggered hours, compressed working hours, telecommuting, job protected parental leave, part-time return to work options, shift swapping, flextime, resource and referral services, unpaid family leave, dependent care assistance, shorter standard work weeks, improvement in job conditions, breaks from work, work for home, on-site childcare, support groups for working parents, sports facilities, day-care facilities, laundry facilities, and canteen facilities (Valk & Srinivasan, 2011; Wayne et al., 2007; Voydanoff, 2004).

It’s not about Balance, It’s about Resource Allocation

Literature has re-conceptualizes the frame work of WLB. Previous researches have given more emphasized on the ways in which work and non-work life affect each other, but now new studies has introduced the concept of Personal Resource Allocation (PRA) framework which considers that all life demands forces an individual to make choices about where, when, how to allocate personal resources across the life domains. This Framework has four main central components which include personal resources, demands, resources allocation strategies and the individual outcomes. It suggests that effective work-life balance is an effective personal resource allocation across all life pursuits. It allows researchers to move beyond the old assumption of WLB, in which work life is considered bad and family life considered as good, to person-environment interactions that brings positive individual outcomes. According to PRA framework, individuals bring their personal resources to their daily lives, and because they come across repeated demands (anything that competes for personal resources) on their resources so, these demand forces them to make choices where to allocate these resources. Once the resources are allocated, then individuals are left with fewer resources to meet additional demands (Figure1, in appendix shows the PRA framework). Therefore, positive outcomes can only be achieved if (a) perceives that they have necessary resources to respond to their demands of life, (b) when they believe that they have adequate control to allocate their resource according their preferences, (c) when they feel satisfied with the way they have managed their resources (Grawitch et al., 2010). This Framework has presented the rethinking concept of WLB interface by de-emphasizing the negative role that work plays in life and emphasizing a resource allocation strategy. This theory incorporates person-environment interactions that bring positive outcomes, instead of, simply those that decrease or increase outcomes.


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