Theories of the Work–Non-Work Relationship
Whether we as a society value work–life balance depends on how we view the relationship between work and non-work time. Five models have been advanced that help describe the nature of the work and non-work realms and their interactions (Zedeck & Mosier, 1990). The segmentation model describes work and family as separate, with neither domain influencing the other. In the 1960s when women were about 32% of the US workforce, the two domains were treated as separate spheres largely because women took care of the household while men worked (Blood & Wolfe, 1960; Dublin, 1973). Many researchers have challenged the segmentation model, suggesting that work and non-work are two closely related activities that cannot be separated (Burke & Greenglass, 1987; Voydanoff, 1987). Still others argue that people separate the domains of work and non-work by actively suppressing thoughts about one domain while in the other (Lambert, 1990: Piotrkowski, 1979).
The spillover model acknowledges that work and non-work do indeed influence one another, and this influence can be either positive or negative. For example, if one is satisfied in one domain, one is apt to be satisfied in the other (Gutek, Repetti, & Silver, 1988); or if one is stressed or fatigued at home, it may be caused by stress or fatigue in the workplace (Eckenrode & Gore, 1990). Certain behaviors can spillover from one domain to the other – an employee may be irritable at work and he or she may bring that behavior home when dealing with children or a spouse, for example. Thus, spillover is often described in terms of mood, satisfaction with life, and behaviors that transfer from one domain to the other.
A third way of viewing the work and non-work relationship is through the compensation model, which suggests that what is lacking in one domain could be made up in the other. Two forms of compensation have been identified in the work–family literature (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000). First, a person may decrease involvement in the dissatisfying domain and increase participation in the potentially satisfying domain so as to spend more time in it or pay more attention to it (Lobel, 1991); and, second, an individual may respond to dissatisfaction in one domain by pursuing rewards in the other – financial or otherwise (Zedeck, 1992). To illustrate the first case, imagine that a woman has low status in the work environment and is dissatisfied at work. She may cut back on her work hours and spend more time at home. In the second case, suppose a woman is dissatisfied at home. She may work hard to pursue a promotion to make up for her unhappy home life.
The fourth model, the instrumental view, regards activities in one domain as facilitating success in the other. Thus, if one is happy and fulfilled when one isn’t working, it will be easier to be successful and fulfilled at work.
The final model, the conflict model, proposes that high levels of stress and demands in both spheres produce conflict. Essentially, because of these high demands, the individual will find that meeting demands in one role means falling short in the other role (Burke & Greenglass, 1987). Greenhaus and Beutell (1985) identify three types of work–family conflict: time-based conflict, strain-based conflict, and behavior-based conflict. Time-based conflict occurs when an individual takes time to meet the demands of one role, which results in not having enough time to meet the demands of the other role. Strain-based conflict happens when stress or fatigue from one role makes it impossible to meet the demands of the other role. Behavior-based conflict occurs when behaviors necessary in one role are undesirable in the other role. For example, a young mother may feel that nurturing is necessary at home, while the same behavior is a detriment to her at work.
Various studies support the different views of how work and family interact. For example, most of the research supporting the conflict view is focused on women’s inability to reconcile the two domains (Kalleberg, 2007). In our society, working women still bear the brunt of domestic house-cleaning and childcare (Andrews, 2004; Hochschild & Machung, 2003); women’s earnings suffer more than men’s earnings because of the time they spend on domestic obligations rather than work, and because they may exit the workforce entirely in order to take care of children (Shirley & Wallace, 2004). In their book Work and Family – Allies or Enemies?, Friedman and Greenhaus (2000) advance the instrumental, spillover, and conflict theories. On the one hand, work and family can be allies because resources derived from one role, such as money from one’s job, can be applied fruitfully to benefit the family, and positive emotions from one part of life can spillover to the other domain. However, work and family can be enemies if one domain absorbs too much of an individual’s attention and keeps him or her from fully participating in or concentrating on the other role. Exhaustion from working too many hours, for example, causes burn-out and can cause difficulty in a close personal relationship such as a marriage. A high psychological involvement in the family and putting family as the number one priority in one’s life leads to a lower psychological involvement in work.
Friedman and Greenhaus view both domains of work and domestic life as mutually supportive; work provides psychological, economic, and behavioral support that has spillover effects to the domestic sphere. Money from work can be put towards children’s education. In addition, psychological support at work makes one happier at home. Behavioral support from one’s boss, for example, may mean he or she allows flexibility for employees to attend important events in their children’s lives or take time out for family emergencies. In the other sphere, home life can provide support for work life. Behavioral support from a spouse who does his share of child-rearing frees a woman up to attend an important meeting, for example, and generally leaves a woman feeling less stress at work. Spouses or partners who are interested in their partner’s work life and are proud of their accomplishments at work will have a positive effect on their partner’s attitude toward work.
Several scholars have advanced the literature on how work and family interact. Some have suggested that how people manage the boundary between work and family should have a bearing on workplace policies (Rothbard, Phillips, & Duman, 2005). For example, those who clearly want the two domains segmented will be more satisfied with flex-time working arrangements and less satisfied with an on-site childcare provision. Those who like to integrate the two domains will find on-site childcare an attractive benefit because they are able to bring their children to work. Edwards and Rothbard (2000) agree with other scholars on the types of work and family interfaces, but they argue for a more comprehensive model of work and family relationships that, for example, can elaborate the strength of certain influences. For example, the spillover effect of mood may be more pronounced for negative rather than positive moods. In addition to more comprehensive models of the work–family interface, they suggest that more research needs to be done on the conditions under which different linkages occur.
Work–Life Balance and the Impact of National and Regional Cultures
In addition to the five theories mentioned above, the culture of a nation or region has profound effects on what is considered the natural relationship between work and other activities. For example, countries may have a collectivist or an individualist tradition. The United States has an individualistic tradition in which individual achievement is prized and social safety nets are minimal compared to countries with a collectivist tradition. Countries with a collectivist mentality, such as China and Japan, believe in the cohesiveness and importance of the group over the individual. These views may lead employers to either leave individuals to fend more for themselves or to provide employees with more help and assistance. Cultures have unique ways of viewing the family unit; some perceive it as the husband, wife, and children, and other cultures, particularly those of Central and South America, think of the family as an extended and integral unit composed of grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles. These difference in this definition of the family unit lead to differences in activities that are considered “family” time. The degree to which a culture segments work from personal affairs is another complicating factor. In many parts of Spain, for example, the work day is extended, but punctuated by long breaks during the day, where employees have time to go home for lunch. In China, work and pleasure are often combined, because business people frequently socialize with clients and colleagues. These cultural differences are bound to have an impact on company practices and policies (Powell & Francesco, 2009).
Work–Life Balance over the Life Course
Work–life balance issues over lifetimes are very different from work–life balance issues over weeks and months. The availability of working hours for an individual will change depending on that person’s life circumstances. A young mother may want to put in fewer hours than a woman in her mid-fifties, for example. As life spans increase in developed countries and people work for more years, the concept of work–life balance could more aptly be viewed over the whole course of a person’s life. Traditionally, life is treated as having roughly three phases: initial education and early career, market work (which was usually seen as full-time in an eight-hour-day framework), and retirement (Anxo et al., 2006). Recently, this way of envisioning the sequence of work has been questioned. Now, many people take longer to finish school before entering the workforce (often choosing to attend graduate school), and remain longer in the workforce because they live longer, healthier lives. Some people choose to take career breaks to pursue more education and some choose never to retire, either because they want to remain in the workforce or because they need to stay in the workforce for economic reasons. Many employees have experienced discontinuity in their work lives because of company lay-offs or because of childcare responsibilities. Some choose to work part-time later in life either in a totally new career or in a career they have always had, but with reduced work hours. Clearly, to keep pace with individual circumstances over the life course, arrangements for work need to be more flexible and capable of departing from the traditional tripartite structure of initial education, uninterrupted career, and full retirement. The heterogeneity of the workforce, the fact that people have different preferences, and changes in the social structure necessitate more variety in work arrangements. Consider the increased number of divorces since the 1950s; women are often forced back into the workforce as a result of separation or divorce, and marriage occurs later as young people devote themselves to furthering their education and careers.
Benefits of Work–Life Balance
Balancing work and other aspects of life is obviously good for individuals, but it is also of importance to organizations. Individuals will be more satisfied with their work lives if they feel they can strike a balance between work and their other interests, be they family obligations or leisure pursuits. Just as work–life balance benefits individuals, it makes organizations more productive, efficient, and safer. There are several examples of situations in which employees have been more productive when the two spheres of work and home are treated as interrelated. In a study of home-based versus office-based systems developers, the office-based employees who committed to a 9-to-5 schedule lost some of their most productive time. One-fourth of them reported that they were most productive outside the 9-to-5 timeframe. The home-based developers managed their time more productively in response to the needs of both their home and work (Bailyn, 1989). In another study, portfolio-analysis managers of a bank were allowed to work at home two days a week or have flexible hours. Although their supervisor was worried about the effect this would have on productivity, the portfolio-analysis managers reported that they could do their work at the times of the day or night that fit their most productive time and fulfill their other obligations. In addition, the employees became more willing to comply with their manager’s request for documentation on financial reports (Rayman et al., 1999).
Workplace culture is key to business outcomes; managers who adequately staff their departments, offer flexible work schedules, and recognize the personal needs of their employees have more satisfied customers, lower absentee rates, fewer safety incidents, and improved corporate image (Yasbek, 2004). A study of 1,187 New Zealand employees indicated that employees’ perceptions of employers that provided assistance with work–life balance issues contributed to job satisfaction, reduced work pressures, and a subsequent reduction in intentions to leave the organization (Forsyth & Polzer-Debruyne, 2007). In many cases, firms note that their corporate culture has an impact on company profits. The companies on Fortune Magazine’s list of 100 Best Companies To Work For in 2007 returned 18.1% for shareholders over the last three years, versus an average 10% return for the companies on the Standard & Poor’s index. Some argue that work–life balance provides a positive attitude of exchange; if companies give their employees the “gift” of work–life balance, employees return the gift by providing discretionary effort when it is critical, thereby increasing productivity (Yasbek, 2004). A large-scale study of 732 medium-sized manufacturing firms in the US, France, Germany, and the UK reported that the US has the best management practices, but the worst work–life balance. According to this study, work–life balance is significantly associated with better management and higher productivity (Bloom & Van Reenen, 2006).
During economic recessions, the flexibility provided by work–life programs can be a cost-savings resource for companies. Providing employees with more time off through job-sharing, reduced hours, four-day work weeks, or working from home is one way of reducing costs and preventing lay-offs. Most employers do not want to lose valuable employees during tough economic times, and offering more flexibility may be one way to keep them (Frasch, 2009). Scan, a healthcare company, finds that offering employees the chance to work from home allows them to expand without incurring expensive fixed costs for real estate. Scan equips employees with office furniture, high-speed Internet, and Blackberries to keep in touch with the office. Besides saving companies money, employees find they can reduce their expenses and manage their time better when they work from home. Grace Renteria, an employee who works from home, says that she saves $15 a day that she used to spend on lunches, $70 that she spent weekly on gas, and $400 a year for wear and tear on her car (Conlin, 2009).
The Business Risks Associated with Poor Work–Life Balance
Just as there are benefits for companies to encourage work–life balance, there are risks for not doing so. Consider the effect of a business organization working its employees too hard. Employees will likely make more mistakes, which will translate into poor quality of products and services. Employees are likely to feel disloyal and may search for other employers who will treat them better. In two separate studies, one with 545 fitness trainers and one with 603 managers, researchers found a significant relationship between the absence of work–life balance, job strain, and non-work-related reasons for quitting (Fisher-McAuley, Stanton, Jolson, & Gavin, 2003). Employee turnover is a significant cost to the employer in increased search costs for new employees, and in productivity – as newly initiated employees to a firm will not be as productive as experienced employees.
Moreover, in the age of the Internet, poor work–life balance policies cannot remain secret for long. It is easy for disgruntled employees to broadcast to their friends and to strangers that a particular company is not worth working for. Blogs, Web sites, and chat rooms communicate to potential employees both the virtues and ills of a company’s practices. Websites such as “Companies that Suck” and “My3Cents” feature anecdotes by employees and customers of poor service, shoddy products, and unfair employment practices. The AFL-CIO has a website where users can enter a zip code or state to find employers who have violated labor laws. When potential employees are determining who they want to work for, they may put more stock in information from chat rooms and blogs than any company’s marketing literature. Even Facebook groups have exposed companies to the wrath of employees who have felt mistreated, underpaid, overworked, or undervalued. The companies with poor reputations will suffer the consequences of bad press, while the companies with the best reputations will be poised to attract the most talented employees.
The Toll of Work–Life Unbalance on Individuals
Occupational psychologist Peter Warr (1987) has identified several elements of work that produce satisfied and happy workers, as well as those elements that cause stress and dissatisfaction. Warr identified the lack of opportunity for control and autonomy as one of the causes of stress. When workers are expected to produce specific outcomes, but have little autonomy or control over the way that they do their work, including how much time they spend working, stress results. Other studies have established a direct relationship between the hours an individual works and stress. An Austrian work survey indicated that levels of stress rise proportionately with increases in working time (European Foundation, 2004). In an attempt to find out whether working hours affect health, a group of researchers undertook a meta-analysis – an aggregation of 21 independent studies. This statistical analysis found a positive correlation between total hours worked by employees and ill-health (Sparks, Cooper, Fried, & Shirom, 1997).
Surprisingly, some research suggests that when work–life flexibility is coupled with reduced or compressed working hours, the result may have a negative impact on workers’ health. This is due to two trends: intensification of work and “densification” or the elimination of any unproductive time during the day (Anxo et al., 2006). The intensification of work in the US stems in part from the downsizing of the workforce in the 1990s. As employers cut workers, more demands were placed on individuals remaining in the workforce to produce the same number of goods with fewer resources; many worked longer hours to ensure that they would keep their jobs. Today, this intensification continues as the result of increased competition from both domestic and foreign companies.
The period between 1990 and 2000 in Europe offers an example of densification. As the collective working week was being reduced and part-time work was on the rise, working conditions became worse rather than better. Demands were placed on workers to finish all work in the shortened work period and to meet increased demands of customers.
Specific Health Effects
Unrealistic demands on workers create stress. There are two kinds of stress: acute and chronic. Acute stress is the body’s response to an event, such as an athletic contest, an important exam, or a public-speaking engagement. It is typically associated with the biological “fight or flight” response. Acute stress may actually help individuals perform better because all of their energy is focused on the task at hand. The body reacts quickly to prepare itself for either “fighting” or “fleeing”; it produces adrenaline and cortisol to help people react to the stressful event. Adrenaline, for example, increases the heart rate, elevates blood pressure, and boosts energy. After the threat is gone, these hormones return to their normal levels and heart rate and blood pressure return to normal as well.
Chronic stress is the body’s response to continuous stress over a long period of time. It may be caused by long-term unemployment or untenable working conditions, for example. The demands placed on workers either because they are working more hours or because they are working compressed schedules are apt to produce chronic rather than acute stress.
The health effects of chronic stress are much more serious than those of acute stress. Highly stressed workers incur healthcare costs 46% higher than other employees (Goetzel et al., 1998). Chronic stress can contribute to heart disease, migraine headaches, immunological problems, gastrointestinal problems, and many psychological disorders. Levels of cortisol, a steroid produced by the body, increase during stress, which can disrupt sleep patterns. Sleep deprivation leads to irritability and lack of concentration. It is no surprise that when individuals are under stress for long periods of time, the quality of their work performance declines. Chronic stress can also cause or contribute to depression, chronic fatigue, and general unhappiness (Phelan et al., 1991; Roxburgh, 2004). It reduces levels of serotonin in the brain – the chemical associated with well-being – and it causes too much cortisol and adrenaline to be pumped into the system, creating a multitude of health problems, from allergic skin reactions, memory impairment, to weight gain or weight loss and high blood pressure (Mayo Clinic, 2009).
When people work too hard, they are prone to stress-related diseases such as arteriosclerosis, colitis, auto-immune, and neurological problems (Sapolsky, 1998). A study of information-technology professionals found that when they spend most of their work week away from home at a client site, they are more prone to exhaustion and stress. When these so-called “road warriors” attempt to juggle family and job duties working at distant client sites, they are subject to unhealthy outcomes (Ahuja, Chudoba, Kaemar, McKnight, & George, 2007).
Some Positive Company Examples
Many companies are realizing that providing work–life balance programs is good for the health of their employees and at the same time is good for their businesses as they help reduce absenteeism and promote morale. Some of the companies featured in this section have won awards for their work–life balance programs. SAS Institute, a software firm, has two on-site childcare centers, an elder care information and referral network, wellness programs, and a 58,000-square-foot fitness facility. Employees at SAS can work virtually, they can share jobs, and they can work flexible schedules. For nine years running, SAS Institute has been named as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” by Fortune Magazine. Jim Goodnight, SAS CEO, states that the company understands that it cannot separate its employees from their personal lives, and that the organization will reap the benefits of loyalty if it recognizes the whole person. For SAS Institute’s efforts, it enjoys an employee turnover rate that is below the industry average. Because of its reputation as an employer that cares about work–life balance, SAS attracts the best employees and saves money by not having to recruit and train new employees.
Other companies that have been recognized on Fortune Magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” include Google, REI, and Genentech. These companies have innovative work–life balance initiatives. Recognition by Fortune is particularly significant because its awards are based mainly on the opinions of employees gathered through employee surveys.
Google, for example, has a global education leave program that provides a full-time leave for up to five years with reimbursement of up to $150,000. Recognizing the time pressures of new parents, Google provides a take-out food benefit, which will reimburse up to $500 of take-out food for employees dealing with the first four weeks of their child’s life. Several on-site facilities at Google help employees manage non-work activities better; Google has a laundry facility that employees can use and an on-site fitness center.
REI, an outdoor-equipment manufacturer and retailer, has instituted several work– life balance initiatives including a work–life employee assistance program that offers counseling and referral services and a sabbatical program. After 15 years of service, employees are rewarded with a month’s paid leave. In addition, employees can request up to 12 weeks’ unpaid leave a year. REI recognizes that parents who adopt children often need financial help as adoption costs are high. The company provides $3,000 in reimbursement for adoption costs.
Genentech, a leading biotechnology company, also has an adoption program, reimbursing employees $5,000 toward adoption costs and giving the primary caregiver six weeks’ paid leave. Genentech has an on-site childcare center at its South San Francisco headquarters. The company’s Lifeworks program offers counselors who provide resources and referral services for adoption, childcare, elder care, and help anticipating college expenses. Like the other companies mentioned above, Genentech has a sabbatical program giving full-time employees six weeks’ paid leave after every six years of continual employment. In addition to all of these benefits, the company provides an on-site gym at its headquarters and provides employees at other locations free membership at a local fitness center.
NetApp, a company that provides data-storage and management solutions, has several work–life balance programs. Its adoption services program offers $10,000 a year for reimbursement of adoption costs and up to $20,000 over a lifetime. It also provides up to five days a year of paid time off for employees to engage in volunteer activities. Like many of the other firms, it offers recreational facilities; it has an on-site gym, a putting green, and an outdoor volleyball court.
Each of these companies has been on Fortune Magazine’s 100 list for several years running – NetApp for six consecutive years, Genentech for 11, REI for 12, Google for three years, and SAS for 11 consecutive years. Their CEOs and Board of Directors understand the importance of sticking with work–life balance initiatives, and have done their best to keep them operating even in tough economic times.
Many employers offer so called “comp” time to deal with any emergency, regardless of one’s circumstances. Hewlett-Packard, for example, offers time off for all employees to deal with any issue. Eastman Kodak, American Express, and AT&T are just some examples of Fortune 500 companies that now offer domestic partner benefits to members of either sex (Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2009). The most enlightened companies focus on output rather than actual time put in at the office, and they recognize that all employees have interests and obligations outside of work.