Work-life balance

Chapter 2.0 Literature Review


2.1 Introduction

A literature review is a written summary of the findings of a literature search which demonstrates that the literature has been located, read and evaluated (Collis and Hussey, 2003). Its main purpose is to help you to develop a good understanding and insight into relevant previous research and the trends that have emerged... and to review the most relevant and significant research on your topic (Saunders et al. 2007). Therefore, this review is important for the purpose of the researcher's topic: Work-life balance.

By perusing the literature this review will attempt to critically evaluate Work-life balance practices in an organisational context. The structure of the paper is broken down into five sections which consist of subheadings relevant to work-life balance, all-encompassing:

  • what is work-life balance,

  • why work-life balance,

    • Demographic changes

    • employer demand for WLB

    • employee demand for WLB

    work-life policies practices,

    • work-life balance model

    • best practice

    • strategic integration

  • the business case touching on work-life balance impact on performance.

  • Summary of literature review

2.2 What is Work-life balance?

In the late 1970's emerged the study of work-life balance mainly as a "woman's issue", by the late 1980's the focus shifted to more on the development of effective policies (Frame and Hartog 2003)1. Recently, the focal point has been on the perceived benefit to the organisation2. Similarly, Harrington and Ladge (2009) put forward that the in the 21st century the topic of work-life has progressed into one of the most significant business issues. The authors advocate that though work-life is rooted in the history of woman's right and equal opportunity, the concept has shifted in focus from solely a woman's concern to a management issue3. Hence, understanding the concept of work-life balance is of paramount importance before it can be further reviewed, which leads to defining what work-life balance is.

There are several definitions on this subject, however, these suggestions stands out:

Clutterbuck (2003)4 postulate that work-life balance is:

  • Being aware of different demands on time and energy

  • Having the ability to make choices in the allocation of time and energy

  • Knowing what values to apply to choices

  • Making choices.

On the other hand, Sparrow and Cooper (2003:219)5 make the point that "work-life balance concerns those practices that enhance the flexibility and autonomy of the employee in this process of integration and in the negotiation over the attention and presence required". However, Bratton and Gold (2003) gives a broader definition of work-life balance, where the authors describe it as the need to "balance work and leisure/family activities"6. Fleetwood (2007 p. 351) go further in suggesting that work-life balance is about "people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work"7.

Work-life balance is indeed an important subset in the organisation as a whole however, it is important to know why the need for initiatives this will be discussed in the next section.

2.3 Why Work-life balance

2.3.1 Demographics factors

Torrington el at (2008 p 736) claim that work-life balance practices originate from the changing demographic make-up of our potential workforce, changing social roles, the changing responsibilities of organisations and legislative pressure. The increasing number of women in the workforce wishing to combine family and work responsibilities is an obvious driver. The ageing workforce, a tight labour market, caring responsibilities, work-life conflict[1], long working hours, work intensification and greater levels of stress form part of demands of life.

Likewise, Lewis (1997 cited in O'Brien and Hayden 2008) cites five main reasons for the introduction of flexible work practices:

  • to meet the demand;

  • to meet family friendly goals;

  • political agenda;

  • equality agenda; and

  • the business case - inter alia skills shortages, staff retention, and avoidance of workplace stress, curtail absenteeism.

2.3.2 Employee demand for WLB

However, McCarthy el at (2009) propose that changes impacting on the work environment over the past ten to fifteen years such as globalization of competition, and the fast pace of technological innovations have put extra time demands on employees... An increase in dual-career families (Swody & Powel, 2007), long commuting journeys and growth in the diversity of family structures (Duxbury & Higgings).These have all been main factors in employee demand for WLB.

2.3.3 Employer demand for WLB

On the other hand, work undertaken by Wood (1999 cited in Beardwell 2007 p. 149) for the National Centre for Economic Research suggest that employers' motives for introducing work-life balance initiatives can be summarised within a four-fold theoretical classification;

  • institutional theory;

  • organisational-adaption theory

  • high-commitment theory

  • practical response theory

Wood argues that those organisations operating in the public sector need to be seen to be proactive, and in the private sector there is visible kudos to be earned from setting the lead in developing and implement work-life balance solutions whilst firms with trade union presence are more likely to conform. Firms conforming to organisational adaption theory are likely to be towards work-life balance initiatives because of specific organisational circumstances.

Within Wood's framework high-commitment theory is used to explain the up-take of WLB initiatives where it is understood that mechanisms to help employees achieve a better WLB may in turn engender greater levels on employee commitment. Finally, practical response theory applies to organisations who display a rather more ad hoc approach to the development and introduction of WLB initiatives; resorting to implementing WLB practices if they are perceived to be beneficial in helping to address organisational difficulties.

In commenting on Wood's analysis Cluttterbuck (2004 cited in Beardwell 2007 p. 150) suggest that the primary drivers for WLB in the EU differ from those typically forwarded by US organisations. In the US he recognises a model firmly centred upon WLB as a source of competitive advantage whilst in the EU motives typically push social responsibility to the fore.

IRS (2002 cited in Torrington 2008 p. 736) added that the most popular reasons for employers to introduce work-life balance policies were recruitment and retention. Torrington el at (2008 p. 736) write a further influence of WLB is the need for employers to respond to what is now termed 'a 24/7 society' which deviates from normal working hours to longer working hours. Wise and Bond (2003) continuing on the same vein cites four main drivers for introducing work-life policies:

  • Recruitment, enables becoming an "employer of choice", also countering negative work practices such as longer working hours.

  • Retention "more responsive to the workforce's changing and diverse needs".

  • Supportive working environment - improving organisational culture with resultant heightened morale and motivation among staff.

  • Equality - improving access through inclusiveness

However, Eikhof el at. (2007) takes a different view and argues that flexible working hour schemes are offered as work-life balance allowing employers to appear employee-friendly whilst meeting business needs. Similarly, Hyman and Summers (2004 p. 8) postulates that the main reason for employers to introduce work-life balance initiatives comes from business competitiveness. Nonetheless, the drivers behind work-life balance consequently determine what practices organisations offer.

2.4 Work-life balance Practices

McCarthy el at. (2009) makes the point that in actual fact, work-life balance initiatives are offered by organizations to assist staff manage the demands of work and personal life. There are three broad types of work-life balance practices that can facilitate this: flexible work options, specialised leave policies and dependent-care benefits (see figure 1 below).

Figure 1: Range of different organisational work/life balance initiatives

  1. Compressed work week

  2. Flexi-time

  3. Job sharing

  4. Home telecommuting

  5. Work-at-home programs

  6. Part-time work

  7. Shorter work days for parents

  8. Bereavement leave

  9. Paid maternity leave

  10. Paid leave to care for sick family members

  11. Paternity leave

  12. On site/near site company childcare

  13. Company referral system for childcare

  14. Program for emergency care of ill dependents

  15. Childcare programs during school vacation

  16. Re-entry scheme

  17. Phased retirement

  18. Sabbatical leave

  19. Professional counselling

  20. Life skill programs

  21. Subsidised exercise for fitness centre

  22. Relocation assistance

  23. Work and family resource kit or library

Source: Bardoel (2003 cited in Hudson Highland Group 2005).

Available from: http://au.hudson.com/documents/emp_au_Hudson_Work-Life_A4_Std.pdf

McCarthy el at. (2009)8 take a more in-depth view into what initiatives include:

Temporal arrangements - which provide the employee with the opportunity to reduce the number of hours they work for instance.

  • Job sharing where two employees share one job

  • Part-time working where an employee woks less than a full-time equivalent

Flexible arrangements - which provide employees to select a start and finish time which match their personal needs but work certain core hours.

  • Tele working, home working, e-working which offer locational flexibility in completing their work

Childcare facilities - which provide on-site or off-site financial support.

  • Subsidised childcare

The authors go further to suggest that work-life balance supports key areas within the organisation such as:

  • Employee counselling

  • Employee assistance programs

  • Time management training and

  • Stress management training

In light of the work-life initiatives being offered by organisations it is important to consider how it has worked for them.

2.4.1 Work-life balance model

Investors in people UK worked closely with Employers for work-life balance and Department of trade & industry to develop a Model (see figure 2 below). The framework was designed so the employer can plan how they can organise work to enable a better balance to be achieved. It is a systematic approach that benefits both the employer and employee. The model has a cyclical pattern which consists of four principles namely:

  • culture,

  • strategy

  • action

  • effectiveness

According to investors in people UK (2003)9 publication the model offers questions that organisations should be asking itself and provides a benchmark for internal measurement of where it is on the work-life scale. On the other hand, Evans, Head of Equality and Diversity, Lloyds TSB states that "organisations who use the Model will find the actions they undertake will improve their recruitment and retention capability and enhance the status as employers of choice"10. This is evident in the case study discussed in the following section

2.4.2 Best Practice

Happy Computers was the first company in London to satisfy the requirement of the investors in People work-life balance model. Human Resource Management International Digest (2008) in a case study carried out on UK computer training company, Happy Computers found that flexible working helps keep staff motivated. The paper reveals the "employees turnover is 10% a year at the company, compared to an average of 17% for the information-technology training sector". Presently, there are more than 2000 potential employees waiting to hear about vacancies. However, there are problems associated with current WLB practices.

People work best when they feel good about themselves

"A work-life balance way of working has been part of our culture throughout our 15-year existence," said Henry Stewart, who pointed out that Happy was the first company in London to satisfy the requirements of the Investors in People work-life balance model.

"Our core philosophy is that people work best when they feel good about themselves. I haven't found anyone who disagrees with that, but how many companies base their management and support around that principle?"

Managing director Cathy Busani said: "The idea for a defined policy on work-life balance began when a member of staff became pregnant. After working out a package that would allow her the flexibility she needed, we decided we wanted to offer the same opportunities to all our staff.

"We already had a flexible working culture, but things needed to be formalized. So that we could be absolutely confident that everyone at Happy knew what was on offer, we ran a staff meeting to discuss all of the options available."

The company now uses various methods, including flexible hours, compressed hours, job sharing and dependency leave. Parents can even bring children into the office during the school holidays, if an urgent need arises.

"Achieving a better work-life balance is a cultural mindset, not just a set of policies," Cathy Busani continued. "A key element is a 'can do' attitude. We always consider unusual requests or new methods within the context of business needs. In practice, we have never had an instance where a workable solution could not be found.

"It is also important that managers provide a role model for a healthy work-life balance. I work a four-day week and our chief executive takes Wednesday mornings off to attend a reading class at his daughter's school."

The company explains its policies at induction and holds twice-yearly appraisals that include a question on work-life balance.

Customer service has improved

"Because we are flexible with staff and they feel involved, they are flexible with us," said Cathy Busani. "They often come up with solutions to staffing issues that we hadn't thought possible. Ultimately, customer service has improved.

"The staff are fully motivated thanks to a more flexible working pattern. Our policies have also enhanced our reputation with both clients and employees."

Employee turnover is 10 percent a year, compared to an average of 17 percent for the information-technology training sector.

"In the last year, two of the staff who left us were on the telephone asking for their jobs back within two weeks of working elsewhere," said Cathy Busani. "And yes, we took them back."

More than 2,000 potential employees are currently on a waiting list to hear about vacancies at Happy, so the company no longer needs to spend money on advertising posts.

"The only negative of pursuing family-friendly policies is that calculating salaries and annual leave is more complicated," said Cathy Busani. "However, the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. Our family-friendly policies have worked so well and improved customer service so much, that I wish we had introduced them even earlier in the business's development."

One employee commented: "I have worked in many huge blue-chip organizations and none of them can hold a candle to Happy for how it treats and respects its staff."

Henry Stewart concluded: "What people can achieve when they are motivated and have the freedom to take charge is way beyond anything anybody can be managed to do."

Source: Human Resource Management International Digest (Pilot, 2008 pp 27-28) Emerald

Available from:

On the basis of empirical evidence, Haymen and Summers (2004) found that "there are major problems associated with current UK practices over work-life balance"12. They conclude that many employees continue to face difficulty in reconciling their work and domestic responsibilities irrespective of the practices offered by employers. Reason for this is the problems associated with present WLB polices:

  • Firstly, formal written policies have been unevenly adopted across different sectors and organisations. The 1998 WERS found that manufacturing establishments had no policies but provision was more likely to be found in the public sector, companies with recognised trade unions and specialised HR function.

  • Lack of formalisation of policies at an organisational level, where many policies are informal and unwritten and controlled by line managers whom lack training, awareness and understanding of WLB issues.

  • There is restricted employee voice both individually and collectively over the introduction, implementation and influencing of policies.

They authors further argue that employers seem to offer few work-life balance provisions that do not exceed the statutory minima set by government.

2.4.3 Strategic Integration

Beauregard &Henry (2009) supports the view of the above authors and argues the case that employees fail to achieve the balance between work and life due to unawareness. Additionally, there is the matter of lack of use because of the problems related with practices. The authors found that in cases of awareness few men make use of policies preferring to take vacation upon the birth of a child. Hall (1990 cited in Beauregard and Henry 2009) refers to this as the 'invisible daddy track'.

Drew and Murtagh (2005 cited in O'Brien and Hayden 2008), claim "prevailing organisational cultures run counter to attempts to achieve work-life balance"13. The key implications in this section propose that the availability of work-life balance practices in itself is not sufficient to demand use. However, Beauregard and Henry (2009) suggest what is needed is the managerial support and the work-life climate of an organisation to moderate the link between work-life balance practice provision and both employee use of practices and perceptions of organisational support.

Eaton (2003 cited in Beauregard and Henry 2009) found that the provision of work-life practices improved employees' organisational commitment, but only to the extent that employees felt free to use the practices without negative consequences to their work lives - such as damaged career prospects. Beauregard and Henry (2009) go further to suggest that there is an increasing amount of research supporting the notion that workers who make use of work-life practices suffer negative perceptions from colleagues and superiors.

Therefore, some of the key indicators posed by the authors above:

  • awareness

  • accessibility

  • organisation culture

  • managerial support

  • co-worker support

Suggest that some of these criterions are needed in achieving a good work-life balance within the organisation. Thus in the following section the perceived benefits that may be realised when WLB is achieved is discussed.


2.5 The Business Case

Employers for Work Life Balance, (2006 cited in Fleetwood 2007 p. 351) write that good work-life balance policies and practices are good for business, and some benefits can be directly measured financially. Other benefits include:

  • increased productivity;

  • improved recruitment and retention;

  • lower rates of absenteeism;

  • reduced overheads;

  • an improved customer experience;

  • a more motivated, satisfied and equitable workforce.

Similarly, Thomson el at. (2008) in a research paper found that the company Vodafone made substantial measureable improvement to the level of service through the introduction of flexible working and turned the company around from failure to award-wining in two years. The company's flexible working pattern used compressed hours, where the employees chooses to work longer hours per day and take an extra day off regularly. The authors continue in this vein and writes that if flexible working is introduced strategically it can make a major contribution to the bottom line.

Likewise, Research conducted by the Working Families Publications (2008) findings support the intuitive expectation that the employee who is better able to integrate work and non-work will experience enhanced well-being. This in turn reduces stress which is linked to well-being and WLB, the research was able to identify that flexible workers were more committed to the organisation. Also, increased job satisfaction was largely reported by those who work flexibly. Overall the results of the seven organisations which participated in the two-year project found that there was a positive relationship between flexible working and individual performance.

However, Beauregard and Henry (2009) claim that the business case for work-life balance practices, rest on attracting better applicants and reducing work-life conflict among existing employees in order to enhance organisational performance. They found that there is evidence for the claim regarding recruitment, but there is not enough evidence to support the idea that work-life practices improve performance by means of reduced work-life conflict.

In the final analysis, WLB initiatives play an important role in transforming the employee and organisation performance, forcing employers to think different and act flexible. The authors above do not dispute that there are evidential benefits to WLB provision and uptake via recruitment and selection however; a reduction in work and life imbalance may not improve performance.


2.6 Summary of Literature Review

In summation, the literature review identifies work life balance as the opportunity for an employee to accomplish both personal and professional excellence simultaneously via mutual agreement between the employee and employer. This can bring about individual, financial and social benefits.

Policies being developed should be agreed upon and reviewed by both employee and employer to ensure maximum satisfaction and productivity to both parties. Employers recognise that work life balance is needed to encourage existing employee commitment and for recruitment and retention of new employees. Work life balance is also beneficial to employees who want to balance work and family life and also employees would be able to work shorter hours thus putting less stress on themselves.

It is found that in most cases, proper work life balance policies and practices can effectively cause an increase in productivity and can potentially be a critical success factor when strategically aligned with the company's objectives. As a consequence this can be a major contributing factor to a company's competitive and advantage and hence, bottom line.

The proceeding chapter outlined the methods used for the manner in which data was collected for the project.


[1] Work/life balance is out of kilter when the pressures from one role make it difficult to comply with the demands of the other. This is known as work/life conflict (Hudson Highland group 2005 p. 5)

 

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