In this blog post Professor Stephen Wood presents some interesting findings on work-life balance and well-being, arguing that the main reasons for the improvement of employee well-being where work-life balance supports are implemented are the increase in job autonomy these supports allow and the perception that management are supportive.
Work–life balance supports can succeed in improving the well-being of those that use them, so I found in my recent research with Kevin Daniels and Chidiebere Ogbonnaya (at Norwich Business School, University of East Anglia). Using data from Britain’s Workplace Employment Relations Survey of 2011, we demonstrate that the use of supports is associated with higher levels of job satisfaction, job-related contentment and job-related enthusiasm or put the opposite way round are associated with lower levels of dissatisfaction, anxiety and depression.
Work–life balance supports provided by employers, often known as flexible working arrangements, include flexitime, job sharing, moving from full-tine to part-time working, compressing working hours, home working, working only in school term, paid leave to care for dependents in an emergency. These work-life balance supports are commonly thought to enable employees to better juggle the demands of care and domestic responsibilities. It is expected that they prevent interference of work on family and non-work life and vice versa, particularly through enabling employees to achieve a more optimum scheduling of activities and reducing job demands.
However, we found that these are not the main reasons for the improved well-being. The novelty of the research is in showing that it is both the increased job autonomy that using work-life balance supports provides for employees and an enhanced perception that their management are supportive that explains the well-being effect. Work-life balance supports increase autonomy, we argue, in a number of ways. For examples employees may have less contact with their superiors and be less conscious of their presence in their lives (as is most pronounced in home working) and this increases the level of employees’ discretion. Using work–life balance supports may strengthen employees’ sense that their employer is fair and cares for them because they signal to all employees that their employer is considerate of their needs, but for them but this effect is greater amongst those that use the supports. Through use the symbolic effect becomes less of a substitute for real knowledge of the employer’s intentions and more a concrete appreciation of management’s commitment.
These factors have a direct impact on well-being but also have an indirect effect through reducing the extent to which work interferes with family and other non-work activities. The increased job autonomy may enable employees to work more effectively – for example, they can solve problems when they occur and without referring to a supervisor – and this means they may not bring unsolved problems home or be stressed by them. Similarly the enhanced perceptions of supportive management may reduce work–non work conflict by reducing work-related anxieties and any pressures associated with the use of the supports.
Our study reinforces the argument that employers should provide work–life balance supports where appropriate. They are a readily implementable means by which an employer can support – and be seen to be supportive of – employees’ needs, and improve the support and job autonomy they experience.
The way that core work–life balance supports can increase job autonomy illustrates how job designs are not fixed or prescribed absolutely by the employer, and wider organizational policies and employees themselves shape them. Job autonomy should be also treated as a work–life balance support in its own right.
Data used are from one element of 2011 Britain’s 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (2011 WERS) which includes a management survey in which managers were interviewed in workplaces and a questionnaire survey of employees completed in the workplaces included in the core element of 2011 WERS. The employee-level data for 2011 WERS were collected through a self-completion questionnaire distributed to 25 randomly-selected employees at workplaces where management interviews were undertaken. The median number of respondents in sampled workplaces was 12, and the range was 5–24. Managers gave permission for interviewers to select a sample for the survey of employees in 2,170 workplaces (81 per cent of those where management surveys were conducted). Interviewers then placed a total of 44,371 questionnaires in these workplaces. 21,981 were returned, which represented a response rate of 50 per cent among all sampled employees.
Wood, K. Daniels, and C. Ogbonnaya, Use of Work–Nonwork Supports and Employee Well-Being: The Mediating Roles of Job Demands, Job Control, Supportive Management and Work–Nonwork Conflict, International Journal of Human Resource Management, in press 10.1080/09585192.2017.1423102.
Further work in the work-life balance area by the author can be found below.
S.Lewis, D. Anderson, C. Lyonette, N. Payne and S. Wood (Eds), Work–Life Balance in Times of Austerity and Beyond, New York and London: Taylor Francis, 2016.
Lewis, D. Anderson, C. Lyonette, N. Payne and S. Wood, Public Sector Austerity Cuts in the UK and the Changing Discourse of Work–Life Balance, Work, Employment and Society, Vol 31, No 4, pp. 586–604
Wood and G. Michaelides, Hindrance and challenge stressors and well-being based work–nonwork interference: A diary study of portfolio workers, Human Relations, 2016, Vol.69, No.1, pp.111–138.
Further information is available from
Professor Stephen Wood, University of Leicester, School of Business firstname.lastname@example.org or 07717377185