THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE PROGRAMS

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1 Seven Deadly Sins of Work-Life Balance Programs Page 1 THE SEVEN DEADLY SINS OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE PROGRAMS M A T T H E W J. G R A W I T C H A N D L A R I S S A K. B A R B E R September 2008 Organizational Health Initiative, St. Louis, MO It is of no surprise that when Fortune features their annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work For, work-life balance (WLB) options are featured prominently in each company s profile. However, it may be important to note that the most popular offerings among the 2008 winners are work flexibility practices (i.e., flexibility in where and when employees work, and how they transition in and out of their roles). These practices include telecommuting (84 companies), a compressed work week (82 companies), and job sharing (63 companies), which are contrasted against non-work support benefits that serve to assist employees in managing non-work demands, such as childcare (29 companies) and paid sabbaticals (18 companies). Perhaps the attractiveness (and maybe even success) of work flexibility practices is due to their capacity to allow employees to maintain quality work performance by arranging their work around personal demands, which may result in a win-win relationship for both the employee and organization. Although non-work benefits may temporarily increase employee well-being, it is difficult to identify any shortterm benefit to the organization (due to costs in productivity), though one can make the case for longterm organizational benefits in terms of recruitment and retention. Distinguishing between the purpose of work flexibility practices and non-work support benefits is vital to successful development and management of your own comprehensive work-life balance program. Keep in mind that a comprehensive WLB program does not need to drain your organization s resources by including a laundry list of available options. Rather, it should be a strategic selection of practices and benefits that meets both the needs of your employees and the goals of the organization. To help guide you in strategic program development, we have provided the following list of seven management sins surrounding work-life balance programs, and what you can do to avoid these same mistakes and assumptions in your organization. Seven Deadly Sins of Work-Life Balance Programs 1. Definitional Sloth 2. Program Envy 3. Practice Gluttony 4. Conflict Reduction Pride 5. Work Wrath 6. Financial Greed 7. Lusting for Telecommuting 1. Definitional Sloth: You Know What We Mean Right? Not defining what your organization means by work-life balance is an easily preventable first step towards employee dissatisfaction. Re-examining your terminology can help in two ways. First, it ensures that both the organization and employees are talking about the same goal, as well as the same success indicators for achieving that goal. This helps alleviate perceptual dissatisfaction by setting realistic expectations on what the employee and the organization can attain via effective use of the programs. Second, your choice of terminology can reveal some underlying assumptions about whom your program is targeting (or not targeting), which gives you the opportunity to be more purposeful about types of employees you are attempting to attract or retain. For example, using the term work-family may indicate a focus on attracting female employees or employees with families, whereas work-life permits the inclusion of all employees, rather than focusing strictly on those with families or spouses (Parker & Hall, 1992; Voydanoff, 1988; Watkins & Subich, 1995). If your organization assumes that some employees are in need of WLB programs more than others, you should be aware of how this assumption plays out in terms of differences in the amount of organizational support that will be provided to different employees.

2 Seven Deadly Sins of Work-Life Balance Programs Page 2 2. Program Envy: We ll Have What They re Having Although benchmarking is a useful method for monitoring business trends, failing to tailor a WLB program to your contextual needs can be disastrous. Often, organizations overlook a discrepancy in industry, organizational size and structure, and other critical factors that can undermine a benchmark practice s effectiveness in an organization. Very little research has rigorously compared different sets of organizational contexts (e.g., structure, industry) or roles within an organization (e.g., management, professionals, line staff) and how those contextual variables affect the meaningfulness of specific practices, accessibility of practices, employee utilization of those practices, and employee perceptions of the value of those practices. Therefore, you need to ensure that WLB practices and benefits fit with your organizational and work context, as well as the needs of your employees. For example, if your organization s culture does not support the utilization of WLB programs and practices, then many practices and benefits are likely to have limited effects. Also keep in mind that there is a relative lack of research examining comprehensive WLB programs, and there is little consistency regarding which practices and benefits are included in a WLB program. The limited amount of existing research would provide some preliminary support for the notion that WLB programs have the desired effects on employee well-being and business outcomes (Baltes, Briggs, Huff, Wright, & Neuman, 1999; Holtzman & Glass, 1999; Kelly et al., 2008), but with only a small number of studies on this specific research topic, it is extremely difficult to draw any generalizable conclusions about the effects of these programs. 3. Practice Gluttony: The More, The Better It is very tempting to offer a cafeteria-style approach to WLB practices and benefits, but the advantages of doing so are still unknown. Many studies lump a variety of practices together as a way to establish WLB program effectiveness (Osterman, 1995; Anderson, Morgan, & Wilson, 2002; Sahibzada, Hammer, Neal, & Kuang, 2005; Kelly et al., 2008), and often these studies only represent employee perceptions of practices and benefits to which they have access. They often focus on benefits that are typically associated with family-friendly policies (e.g., childcare benefits, paid leave options), and by lumping them together they assume the more, the better. A recent review by Kelly et al. (2008) noted that not teasing apart the effects of various practices and benefits may be a source of mixed findings with respect to the positive impact of work-life balance programs and policies on individual-level (e.g., workfamily conflict and work-family facilitation) and organizational-level outcomes (e.g., reduced costs, increased revenues, or return on investment). Furthermore, the assumption that more is better has not been truly examined in scholarly research, especially through the use of any cost-benefit analysis. Though offering a variety of WLB options appears to be a quick fix for addressing all of your employees needs, the relative contribution of specific WLB practices and benefits on employee and organizational outcomes has yet to be explored. For example, offering your employees a lot of personal time off means little if they seldom have a chance to use it. Also, too much personal time off, if used, can increase absenteeism and decrease productivity (Libet, Frueh, Pellegrin, Gold, Santos & Arana, 2001). Exploring and designing processes to better assess the costs and benefits of existing and desired practices within your WLB program may yield opportunities for more efficient and effective use of your resources. The assumption that more is better has not truly been examined in scholarly research Conflict Reduction Pride: We ve Reduced Conflict, So Everything s Fine So you ve reduced work-life conflict in your organization; don t think your work is done just yet. You should also strive to find creative ways in which to improve work-life synergy. The WLB literature emphasizes that both work-life conflict and the increase in work-life synergy are the primary mechanisms that lead to individual outcomes, such as well-being and performance (Barnett, 1996; Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985; Gryzwacz & Marks, 2000; Small & Riley, 1990). However, work-life conflict (and its related terms, i.e., work-family conflict, work-family interference, negative spillover) has seemingly received a greater amount of attention, both in research (see Kelly et al., 2008) and in popular press articles.

3 Seven Deadly Sins of Work-Life Balance Programs Page 3 Considering possible opportunities for synergy between work and non-work life and leveraging those opportunities may help serve your recruitment and selection purposes. For example, you might offer a variety of work-related benefits (e.g., training, technology) that can also benefit employees non-work life, or you can provide functions for families to attend. In addition, helping your employees find roles for which they feel a strong fit, where they can excel and feel like they are making a difference, can provide positive energy that will spill over into their nonwork role. 5. Work Wrath: Work is Bad and Home is Good When creating a WLB program, many managers and employees operate out of the assumption that work life is the problem, consistently victimizing non-work life and robbing it of valuable time and energy. However, problems at home can also decrease positive work outcomes, resulting in negative mental, emotional, and physical outcomes from work. These negative work outcomes then may exacerbate home problems, resulting in a continuous feedback loop (Coleman, Vallacher, Nowak, & Bui-Wrozinksa, 2007). Eliminating the assumption that work life is bad and home life is good may help provide a more balanced perspective On the other hand, having a positive and healthy home life may result in a more productive work life, which then leads to more positive spillover to one s home life. Furthermore, recent work regarding crossover theory suggests that the work-life balance process is more complex and should incorporate the role of the family system (e.g., work demands on one s spouse/partner) into the WLB framework (e.g., Bakker, Demerouti, & Dollard, 2008). Hence, while much of the research on WLB assumes that work causes the problems in one s home life, it may very well be that home life problems are antecedents of problems at work. Perhaps eliminating the assumption that work life is bad and home life is good may help provide a more balanced perspective in creating your WLB program, as well as contribute to a positive work culture in your organization. 6. Financial Greed: What s This Going to Cost or Save Us Now? Expecting immediate and/or definitive organizational outcomes from your WLB program is unwarranted for two reasons. First, WLB practices and benefits are specifically aimed at improving individual-level outcomes (e.g., employee well-being and performance). Though there is some evidence that work flexibility practices result in increased productivity or quality, these occur primarily at the individual level, rather than at the departmental or organizational level. In fact, the most common outcomes studied in the WLB literature have been job satisfaction (e.g., Allen, 2001; Balmforth & Gardner, 2006; Bedeian, Burke, & Moffett, 1988), stress and burnout (e.g., Boyar, Maertz, Pearson, & Keough, 2003; Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1993; Grawitch, Trares, & Kohler, 2006), employee well-being (e.g., Burke, 1988; Judge, Boudreau, & Bretz, 1994; Greenhaus & Powell, 2003), turnover intentions (Allen, 2001; Boyar & Mosely, 2007; Hughes & Bozionelos, 2007), and non-work life satisfaction (e.g., marital satisfaction and satisfaction with balance; Hughes & Parkes, 2007; Mauno & Kinnunen, 1999; Parasuraman & Simmers, 2001). In general, research suggests that higher levels of conflict result in more negative outcomes, while higher levels of synergy result in more positive outcomes for individuals. Although these individual effects are proposed to indirectly impact organizational level outcomes, more empirical evidence is needed (Kelly et al., 2008). Second, many work-life balance practices are mainly used for attraction and retention purposes. For example, offering flexible paid leave options, competitive time off, and childcare benefits are not necessarily likely to increase organizational productivity. While these types of benefits help to attract and retain higher-quality employees, which can decrease turnover costs, they may also increase absenteeism and decrease productivity during high periods of benefit use. 7. Lusting for Telecommuting: Can t We All Do It? While telecommuting and other work-from-home options seem like a perfect solution to rising gas costs and increased non-work demands, telecommuting is still not for everyone. Effective telecommuting is dependent on three primary characteristics: (1) Sufficient support within the organization (e.g., technology, management training) to permit telecommuting, (2) job functions that can be

4 Seven Deadly Sins of Work-Life Balance Programs Page 4 completed outside of the workplace, and (3) employees that can successfully work from home. Though the organizational support goes without saying, not all jobs have specific functions that can be completed outside of the workplace. For example, manufacturing and sales jobs are not amenable to telecommuting because of technical and interpersonal factors. In addition, employees that telecommute have to maintain a high level of discipline to accomplish their work while at home. In one s home, distractions exist everywhere, from small children running around the house, to the television sitting just a few feet away, to the game system set up in the family room. If employees cannot properly selfmanage themselves to work remotely, these distractions can stymie productivity and even thwart their goal of work-life balance. When any of these three characteristics exist (i.e., organizational constraints, job constraints, employee constraints), there are other types of work flexibility practices that may be effective. Flexible scheduling is one type of practice that is gaining momentum, but compressed work weeks and job sharing can also be effective work-life balance tools, depending on the specific needs of the employees and the constraints of the organization. Conclusion Of course, the general theme of each of the seven management sins is a failure to develop your own WLB program in a way that uses (1) knowledge of your employees needs and your organization s goals, (2) knowledge of the purpose and outcomes of each WLB practice and benefit, and (3) specific WLB practices and benefits that fit with your employees needs and organization s goals. In terms of your existing WLB program, re-evaluating assumptions about the purpose and utilization of practices and benefits within that program should be an ongoing process, consisting of a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis that includes your organization s most valued success indicators. Furthermore, when combined with other healthy workplace initiatives (i.e., employee involvement, employee growth and development, employee recognition, and health and safety), WLB programs can be a very useful tactic for improving productivity, quality, retention, and overall organizational performance. References Allen, T. D. (2001). Family-supportive work environments: The role of organizational perceptions. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 58, Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Dollard, M. F. (2008). How job demands affect partners' experience of exhaustion: Integrating work-family conflict and crossover theory. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, Balmforth, K., & Gardner, D. (2006). Conflict and facilitation between work and family: Realizing the outcomes for organizations. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 35, Baltes, B.B., Briggs, T.E., Huff, J.W., Wright, J.A., & Neuman, G.A. (1999). Flexible and compressed workweek schedules: A metaanalysis of their effects on work-related criteria. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84, Barnett, R. C. (1996). Toward a review of the work/family literature: Work in progress. Boston: Wellesley College Center for Research on Women. Bedeian, A. G., Burke, B. G., & Moffett, R. G. (1988). Outcomes of work-family conflict among married male and female professionals. Journal of Management, 14, Burke, R. J. (1988). Some antecedents and consequences of work-family conflict. Journal of Social Behavior and Personality, 3, Boyar, S. L., Maertz, C., P. Jr., Pearson, A. W., & Keough, S. (2003). Work-family conflict: A model of linkages between work and family domain variables and turnover intentions. Journal of Managerial Issues, 15, Boyar, S. L., & Mosley, D. C. (2007). The relationship between core self-evaluations and work and family satisfaction: The mediating role of work-family conflict and facilitation. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 71, Coleman, P.T., Vallacher, R.R., Nowak, A., & Bui-Wrzosinska, L. (2007). Intractable conflict as an attractor: A dynamical systems approach to conflict escalation and intractability. American Behavioral Scientist, 50, Frone, M. R., Russell, M., & Cooper, M. L. (1993). Relationship of work-family conflict, gender, and alcohol expectancies to alcohol use/abuse. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 14, Gajendran, R. S., & Harrison, D. A. (2007). The good, the bad, and the unknown about telecommuting: Meta-analysis of psychological mediators and individual consequences. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, Grawitch, M. J., Trares, S., & Kohler, J. M. (2007). Healthy workplace practices and employee outcomes. International Journal of Stress Management, 14, Greenhaus, J. H., & Beutell, N. J. (1985). Sources of conflict between work and family roles. Academy of Management Review, 10, Greenhaus, J. H., & Powell, G. N. (2003). When work and family collide: Deciding between competing role demands. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 90,

5 Seven Deadly Sins of Work-Life Balance Programs Page 5 Grzywacz, J. G., & Marks, N. F. (2000). Reconceptualizing the work-family interface: An ecological perspective on the correlates of positive and negative spillover between work and family. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 5, Holtzman, M. Glass, J. (1999). Explaining changes in mothers job satisfaction following childbirth. Work and Occupations, 26, Hughes, J., & Bozionelos, N. (2007). Work-life balance as source of job dissatisfaction and withdrawal attitudes: An exploratory study on the views of male workers. Personnel Review, 36, Hughes, E. L., & Parkes, K. R. (2007). Work hours and wellbeing: The roles of work-time control and work-family interference. Work and Stress, 21, Judge, T. A., Boudreau, J. W., & Bretz, R. D. (1994). Job and life attitudes of male executives. Journal of Applied Psychology, 79, Kelly, E. L., Kossek, E. E., Hammer, L. B., Durham, M., Bray, J., Chermack, K., Murphy, L. A., & Kaskubar, D. (2008). Getting there from here: Research on the effects of workfamily initiatives on work-family conflict and business outcomes. The Academy of Management Annals, 2, Libet, J.M., Frueh, C., Pellegrin, K.L., Gold, P.B., Santos, A.B. & Arana, G.W. (2001). Absenteeism and productivity among mental health employees. Administration and Policy in Mental Health, 29, Mauno, S., & Kinnunen, U. (1999). The effects of job stressors on marital satisfaction in Finnish dual-earner couples. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 20, Parker, V. A., & Hall, D. T. (1992). Conclusion: Expanding the domain of family and work issues. In S. Zedeck (Ed.), Work, families, and organizations (pp ). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Parasuraman, S., & Simmers, C. (2001). Type of employment, work-family conflict and well-being: A comparative study. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22, Small, S. A., & Riley, D. (1990). Toward a multidimensional assessment of work spillover into family life. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 52, Voydanoff, P. (1988). Work and family: A review and expanded conceptualization. In E. B. Goldsmith (Ed.), Work and family: Theory, research, and applications (pp. 1-22). Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Watkins, C. E., & Subich, L. M. (1995). Annual review, : Career development, reciprocal work/non-work interaction, and women s workforce participation. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 47, Weigel, D. J., Weigel, R. R., Berger, P. S., Cook, A. S., & DelCampo, R. (1995). Work-family conflict and the quality of family life: Specifying linking mechanisms. Family and Consumer Sciences Research Journal, 24, Organizational Health Initiative 3840 Lindell Blvd. St. Louis, MO Phone: Fax:

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