The effective management of employees’ work-life balance requires organisations to recognise and account for the array of non-work roles that impact their working-lives. Despite the literary attention given to the ‘work-life balance’ in recent years, however, contemporary authors still note the concept’s inadequacy both in terms of its definition and administration. In order to explore the boundaries of contemporary ‘work-life balance’, this paper adopts an Organisational Role Theory (ORT) perspective. The paper suggests that in order to manage these discrete impacts effectively, human resource managers should consider employing a Work-Life Balance Impact Audit as part of their job evaluation and performance management processes.
Work-Life Imbalance: Why is the WLB Concept Still an Issue?
Despite their best intentions, there remains considerable contention about the effectiveness of organisational WLB policies in delivering flexibility and reducing stress and job-dissatisfaction in the modern workplace (Eates, 2004; Kirrane & Buckley, 2004). Researchers have identified two empirical shortcomings within the WLB literature that have served to undermine its theoretical and practical usefulness. The first relates to the WLB literature’s almost exclusive focus on the work-family interface at the expense of other important life-balance issues. Buzzanell et al, (2005) notes that the WLB literature typically portrays role conflicts for white, married, professional and managerial women, with little reference to the many other demographics represented in the modern organisation. Shorthose (2004) and Wise and Bond (2003) go so far as to state that the WLB discipline is essentially flawed, as it is ‘one-dimensional’, assumes a unitary HR perspective, and that its underlying management has been one of maintaining the status-quo rather than the adoption of competitive and future-oriented HR policy.
The second relates to the literature’s inability to clearly define the interaction of work and non-work roles that impact employees’ working-life (i.e. stress, job satisfaction etc.). Elloy and Smith (2004) and Spinks (2004), for example, state that because an individual’s non-work roles are inherently ambiguous and idiosyncratic, organisations are incapable of understanding how their enactment (or otherwise) impacts each individual. Spinks (2004), in particular, suggests that organisations are either incapable (or unwilling) to understand their workforce in sufficient detail, and have instead defaulted to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy regime that has simply enabled employees to ‘stay at work longer’ rather than enable them to enact their important non-work roles. The inadequacy of current WLB policy regimes is highlighted by Kiger’s (2005) study that revealed that less than two percent of employees actually participate in available WLB programs.
Dex and Smith (2002) cite two main causes for this low figure. The first relates to equity, with many employees reporting that they did not wish to appear a ‘special case’ or to require ‘special treatment’ to their colleagues. This is supported from the results of Waters & Bardoel’s (2006) study that found a range of workplace cultural factors that reduced the willingness of Australian university staff to access WLB policy options. The second is that the wide range of policies adopted by organisations has been based on an ill-informed conceptualisation of contemporary WLB, and that this has led to its ineffective formalisation in HRM practices. The consequence for organisations not taking a more holistic approach to WLB is increased issues in attraction and retention of employees in the context of skills shortages in significant occupational groups. The work expectations of Generation X (born 1965 to 1979) and generation Y (born 1980 onwards) (Mackay, 1997) place higher importance on WLB than previous generations and these employees will be attracted to and remain longer with...
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