Work-life balance

I. INTRODUCTION

"In society, we call obsessive-compulsive behavior a disorder. People take medication to combat it. But when we demonstrate obsessive-compulsive behavior about work and making money, it is considered completely normal, a 'sacred hunger', and is amply rewarded."

    - (Randy Komisar, 2000).

Maintaining a balance between one's personal and professional life has become a prominent topic in the society over a few decades. The expression 'work-life balance' (WLB) was first used in the middle of 1970s to describe the balance between an individual's work and personal life (Newman & Matthews, 1999). Over 30 years ago, Kanter (1977) opined about the "myth of separate worlds" and called attention to the reality that work and home are inescapably linked. In the past 15 years, there has been increasing interest in work-life balance in the popular press and in scholarly journals as well as government, management and employee representatives (Russel and Bowman, 2000; Pocock et al., 2001). This increase in interest is in part driven by concerns that unbalanced work-life relationships can result in reduced health and low performance outcomes for individuals, families and organisations.

In the present scenario, a vast majority of people seem to be working longer and harder than ever before and as a consequence are finding it ever more difficult to achieve a much desired work-life balance (Sturges & Guest, 2004). In particular, technological, structural, and demographic changes brought about in employment, together with greater than ever demand for more multiskilled and flexible 'knowledge workers' (Carnoy & Castells, 1997), are being allied with negative experiences of work such as involuntary contingent work and role overload. These experiences have been correlated directly and indirectly to the quality of family life (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985), psychological well-being, and health (Cooper & Smith, 1985; Nolan, Wichert, & Burchell, 2000).

A balance between work and life is supposed to exist when there is a proper functioning at work and at home with a minimum of role conflict (Sturges & Guest, 2004). Therefore, the incompatibility between the demands from the work and non-work domain give rise to conflict and consequently, people experience a lack of work-life balance. There is confirmation of the fact that people entering the workforce today are laying emphasis on the importance of work-life balance more than their predecessors (Smola & Sutton, 2002). In spite of this, the extent to which this balance is being achieved is far less than what is desired. In fact, researches bring to mind that graduates are being drawn into situations where they have to work for progressively more long hours and so experience an increasingly unsatisfactory balance between home life and work life (Sturges & Guest, 2004).

From the perspectives of employees, WLB, is the maintenance of a balance between responsibilities at work and at home. According to Edmund Heery & Noon (2008), "Work-life balance is the principle that paid employment should be integrated with domestic life and community involvement in the interests of personal and social well-being." In the words of Julie Morgenstern, "Work-life balance is not about the amount of time you spend working vs. not-working. It's more about how you spend your time working and relaxing, recognizing that what you do in one fuels your energy for the other." She further illustrates the fact with an example, "If you organize your workday efficiently, staying very focused, and getting lots of things done, you feel a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that enables you to leave at the end of the day and relax into your personal life. Similarly, if you mindfully plan the activities you do in your time off to be ones that truly recharge you, getting your mind off of work and into things that bring you pleasure, joy and rest, then you are energized and able to perform well at work. You have the perspective, objectivity and adequate rest to bring your best focus to the job. That, to me is work-life balance, and is attainable to everyone". Further defining, work-life initiatives are those strategies, policies, programs and practices initiated and maintained in workplaces to address flexibility, quality of work and life, and work-family conflict (De Cieri et al., 2008). In other words, work-life balance is about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work.

Strategies of WLB in organisations include policies covering flexible work arrangements, child and dependent care, and family and parental leave (Kramar, 1998; Bardoel et al., 1998). Several studies have shown the benefits associated with the provision of work-life (WL) in organizations (Bardoel et al., 1998; Blair-Hoy & Wharton, 2002; De Cieri et al., 2005; Hyman & Summers, 2004). There is widespread interest in research and practice in the field of work-life issues which is largely driven by phenomenal changes in workforce demography in developed as well as developing societies and by increased recognition that work-life issues are highly salient for many people (Fleetwood, 2007; Lewis et al, 2007; Spector et al, 2004). It is a widely acknowledged fact that many employees face escalating demands to perform multiple roles in and out of the work environment (Campbell & Charlesworth, 2004). Whereas an emphasis on family (in terms of time, involvement and satisfaction) is related to higher quality of life, imbalance caused by a greater emphasis on work has a negative effect on quality of life, mediated by increased work-family conflict and stress (Frone et al 1992; Greenhaus, Collins & Shaw 2003). Studies done earlier in this field have investigated the type and extent of family friendly policies in work-places. Scholars have also sought to express the positive outcomes for individuals and employers associated with such policies (Friedman & Galinsky, 1992; Grover & Crooker, 1995).

Traditionally, work-life balance has been seen as an issue for individual employees, with organisational labours at improving work-life balance focusing on programs aimed to help employees better manage their home life (for example, childcare or counselling). However, with growing awareness of the current skills shortage and war for talent, a subtle shift has been observed in the arguments for work-life balance, from responding to individual employee needs to a broader based business case (Russell, 2002; Thorthwaite, 2004). Proponents have contended that work-life balance contributes to employee engagement (job satisfaction and organisation commitment), which in turn contributes to higher productivity and lower organisational turnover (Grawitch, Gottschalk & Munz 2006). In continuance with this strategy to attract and retain a diverse workforce, work-life balance is often contemplated to be more important for women (who continue to bear the burden of domestic duties), older employees and the younger 'work to live' generation 'Y' (De Cieri et al 2005; Pocock 2005; Schmidt 2006).

The Context for WLB Strategies in the Indian Software Sector

Software professionals have been designated as the key occupation to examine in the studies of 'knowledge workers' (Ackroydet et al., 2000), and they also present an interesting case for WLB issues (Scholarios and Marks, 2004). Barrett (2001) considers them to be the 'vanguard' of new working system, and their separation of work and life is to a large extent more 'blurred' than those of other traditional occupations. Software workers have to generally work for long hours (Perlow, 1998), but they also have a tendency to expect flexible work arrangements coupled with a high degree of autonomy, and generous rewards in return for their efforts (Barrett, 2001).

One of the fastest growing business sectors that is contributing to an unprecedented economic growth in India since the 1990s, is information technology (IT). In the recent past, the Information Technology Enabled Services/Business Process Outsourcing (ITES/BPO) sector of India has been the centre of attention of some research studies in the west (for a detailed analysis of the studies see, Venkatraman, 2004; Singh and Pandey, 2005; Budhwar et al., 2006; McMillan, 2006; Mehta et al., 2006). A report presented by the NASSCOM (National Association of Software and Services Companies, 2006) stated that the IT-ITES sector had contributed 4.8 per cent of GDP in 2006 and was going to achieve the targeted $60 billion in exports by 2010. In keeping with Budhwar et al. (2006), India is expected to achieve revenues of $148 billion by 2012 and hence, the industry requires direct recruitment of over 3.7 million personnel. With recruitment becoming a cause of concern, attrition within the sector is giving rise to problems of employee engagement within this sector (Bhatnagar, 2007). Hence, the present study focuses on them - software professionals - for whom the boundary between work and life is generally thought to be distorted and tries to find out their perceptions regarding WLB.


1.2 Objectives of the Study

The objectives of the study are the following:

  1. To measure the levels of awareness of WLB policies available to software professionals in their organisations.
  2. To assess the importance of WLB policies as perceived by the software professionals.
  3. To assess the prevailing work place culture with regards to WLB issues.

1.3 Scope of the Study

The scope of the study is :

  1. The study is specific only to software professionals in India.
  2. The study relates to work-life balance policies and its awareness and perceived importance from the point of view of software professionals.

The factors under study are:

  1. Four different types of WLB policies, namely, leave arrangements (e.g. carers leave, cultural or religious leave); parenting related policies (e.g. paid paternity leave, pre-natal leave); flexible work arrangements (e.g. job sharing, flexi time); and additional work provisions (e.g. counselling services, health programs).
  2. Formality of policies.
  3. The work place culture based on the experience of the software professionals.

1.4 Need and Relevance of the Study

Work-life balance has become perceptible as a strategic concern for the management of human resources and a significant element of an organisation's employee retention strategies (Lewis and Cooper, 1995; Cappelli, 2000). The stipulation of WLB policies can provide a optimistic and direct impact on an employee's decision to remain with an employer (Macran, Joshi and Dex, 1996). Hence, nowadays, a vast majority of organisations are seeking to increase the morale of their employees, improve upon their commitment and satisfaction levels, and reduce sources of stress and problems at work (Cappelli, 2000). These organisations will in turn be rewarded with an improvement in their ability to recruit and retain talented and valued employees. According to Fegley (2006), competition coupled with the lack of availability of highly talented and skilled employees will make finding and retaining talented employees major priorities for organizations. Further, the Indian IT-ITES industry is on a high impetus direction. Rampant growth, however, has come with its own set of challenges. Chief among them relates to skilled manpower resources. Not only does India need to sustain its vast pool of specialised IT-ITES talent, but it also has to ensure that it remains "industry-relevant" and "rightly skilled" (Simhan, 2006). Therefore, the main concern of the present study is to provide information ( vis a vis, identification of areas of WLB policy development and implementation that may require change; and enable them to respond to the changing needs of employees and also ensuring the awareness of the WLB policies) that would help the management of the IT COMPANIES to evaluate and redesign their current HR strategies in order to retain their existing EMPLOYEES and RECRUIT NEW ONES in a competetive IT SECTOR environment being faced recently.


Disposition of the Thesis

This thesis is divided into five chapters. The first chapter gives the introduction of the selected research area, followed by the objectives, relevance, and scope of the study. In chapter two the definitions, theories, benefits, antecedents, determinants of WLB and an overwiew of SOFWARE PROFESSIONALS IS PRESENTED . Additionally, a brief review of previous studies related to the topic will be presented. The methodology adopted is fully brought in chapter three. Chapter four presents the analysis of the data which is gathered through the survey.


II. Literature Review


2. Literature Review

This section provides a comprehensive review of literature in the area of WLB which has taken place in the last thirty years. This chapter begins with the historical background , followed by definitions of WLB as given by various researchers, and the various theories of WLB. The section then proceeds to provide the benefits.


Historical Background

Research on the work-family or work-life interface began to gain prominenece in the 1970s (Newman and Matthews, 1999). By addressing the need to make critical changes in the workplace to improve work-life balance, researchers such as O'Toole (1974), Lawler (1975), andKanter (1977) explored the domain of work-life balance. In the western world, widespread implementation of employee-friendly programs took place only after the later part of the 1980s. This was due to a shrinking labour force and therefore, the companies had to compete among themselves to hire talented employees (Johnston and Packer, 1987). Thereafter, initiatives to help working families were undertaken and as a consequence, these family-friendly policies proved to be instrumental in motivating the employees even during the recession of the early 1990s (Galinsky, Friedman and Hernandez, 1992). What was once regarded as a nice gesture by organisations started to be examined as a strategic business initiative (Gonyea and Googins, 1992)

Although past surveys have thrown light on the fact that both the employers as well as employees consider family-friendly programs to be important in attracting and retaining employees (Ginsberg,1998; Brooks, 1999), yet the track record of these initiatives are mixed (Bruce and Reed, 1994). It has been unfortunate that some of these efforts have not made a significance difference or did not stay for long (Bailyn, 1994; Digges, 2002).

It has become comparatively diificult during the present times to maintain a balance between work and personal life (Hochschild, 1997). Organisations are facing an increase in competition, not only domestically but worldwide, employees are confronted with increased performance pressures, and the working hours spent-for managers and professionals particularly-may be increasing (Schor,1991). A study conducted by Digges (2002), has reported that employees were spending 3.5 more hours per week at work than what they did 2 decades back.


Defining Work-Life Balance

It is of great interest to note that although the term 'work-family balance' has been widely adopted, yet a formal definition of this term has remained elusive. It is also acknowledged that there is a recent shift in terminology used to refer to this phenomenon, with many organisations using the term 'work-life balance' so as to include employees who are not parents but who desire balance for non-work activities such as sports, study, and travel (Kalliath & Brough, 2008). 'Work family balance reflects an individual's orientation across different life roles, an inter role phenomenon' (Greenhaus, Collins & Shaw, 2003). A thorough review of the definitions found in the literature, leads to a total of six conceptualisations of work-life balance:

  • Multiple roles
  • Equity across multiple roles
  • Satisfaction between multiple roles
  • Fulfilment of role salience between multiple roles
  • A relationship between conflict and facilitation
  • Perceived control between multiple roles.

Greenhaus and colleagues(2003) have delved into the multiple roles definition of work-life balance with a focus on equality of time or satisfaction across an individual's multiple life roles. Work-family balance or as used now a days work-life-balance was therefore defined as, "the extent to which an individual is engaged in -and equally satisfied with - his or her work role and family role ... We propose three components of work family-balance: time balance, involvement balance, and satisfaction balance" (Greenhaus, Collins & Shaw, 2003).

Other researchers have primarily concentrated on the importance of individual satisfaction with multiple roles. Kirchmeyer (2000) defined work-life balance as: 'achieving satisfying experiences in all life domains and to do so requires personal resources such as energy, time, and commitment to be well distributed across domains' (Kirchmeyer, 2000). Clark (2000) also focused on individual satisfaction within the description of 'work/family border theory' and defined work-life balance as, "Satisfaction and good functioning at work and at home with a minimum of role conflict" (Clark, 2000).

It has also been stated that the focus upon individual also overlaps with the recognition that the individuals perceive their multiple roles as varying in importence (or salience) to them. Greenhaus and Allen (2006), defined work-life balance as, "the extent to which an individual's effectiveness and satisfaction in work and family roles are compatible with the individuals life role priorities at a given point in time."

Researchers have also focused on the psychological constructs that compose work-life balance, markedly conflict and facilitation. Thus work-life balance has been defined as an absence of conflict and a presence of facilitation and in the words of Frone (2003) as, "low levels of inter-role conflict and high levels of inter-role facilitation represent work-family balance".

Finally, although less supported within the literature, work-life balance has also been interpreted as the degree of autonomy an individual perceive themselves to have over their multiple role demands: 'Work-life balance is about people having a measure of control over when, where and how they work' (Fleetwood, 2007).

Concludingly, the authors have put forward their own definition of work-life balance and have defined it as, "Work-life balance is the individual perception that work and non-work activities are compatible and promote growth in accordance with an individual's current life priorities."


Theoritical Approaches to WLB

Researchers and practitioners in the work-life domain of used a number of theories to explore and explain the links between work and family life (e.g., Zedeck, 1992; Edwards and Rothbard, 2000; Greenhaus and Powell, 2006). A brief enumeration of these theoritical approaches is as follows:

  • Spillover - It refers to the shared similar effects of work and family (e.g., affect, values, skills, behaviours). These experiences can be either positive or negative, but work and family experiences are identical (Edwards and Rothbard, 2000; Grzywacz, 2000).
  • Compensation - This theory represents the efforts undertaken to counterbalance the negative experiences in one of the domains (i.e., work or family) by an increase in the efforts to seek positive experiences in the other domain (i.e., family or work) (Morris and Madsen, 2007). This compensatory balance is achieved by pursuing the domain which offers greater returns and fulfillment at the expense of the other ( Edwards and Rothbard, 2000).
  • Resource Drain - This approach refers to the relocation of the scarce available resources (e.g., time, energy, attention) from one domain to the other. Hence, the availability of the same resources is reduced.
  • Enrichment - It can be defined as the extent to which experiences, either instrumental (i.e., skills, abilities, values) or affective (i.e., moods), in one domain (work or life), enhance the quality of life in the other domain (Thompson and Bunderson, 2001; Greenhaus and Powell, 2006).
  • Congruence - It involves the similarity between family and work which can be attributable to a third variable, like generic factors or personality.
  • Inter-Role Conflict - Is the mutual incompatibility between work and family. The conflict can be due to time based, strain based, and behaviour based sources ( Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985; Edwards and Rothbard, 2000).
  • Segmentation - It refers to a total fragmentation or compartmentalisation of work and family systems (Edwards and Rothbard, 2000). It incorporates a line of separation between the worlds of work and family (Kanter, 1977; Pleck, 1977; Clark, 2000).
  • Facilitation - It is the degree to which one sphere of influence fosters an enhanced engagement or processes in the other sphere. This facilitation can include skills, experiences, resources, and knowledge (Grzywacz, 2002).

Theories in Support of Adoption of WLB Policies by the Management

Presently there are a total of four theories that explain the rationale behind the adoption of work-life policies by the managements of organisations. Each of these theories identify a different set of predictive conditions (Felstead et al., 2002) and have received validation through its adoption by other researchers (Thornthwaite and Sheldon, 2003). These theories derive their explanatory powers from the organisational theory - namely, institutional theory; resource dependence theory; and strategic choice theory ( see, Hatch, 1997; Thompson and McHugh, 2002).

The following are the theories:

  • Institutional Theory - This approach links management's decisions to adopt WLB practices to conform to normative pressures in the society (namely, organisation size, ownership, industry, unionisation levels, and other factors that influence).
  • Organisational Adaptation Theory - This theory connects the responsiveness of organisations to internal environmental factors (namely, proportion of female staff, skill levels, work peocesses and senior management values).
  • High Commitment Theory - This theory regards the WLB practices as strategic HRM initiatives taken up in order to generate increased employee commitment to the organisation.
  • Situational Theory - This approach explains the adoption in terms of pressures to increase profitability and productivity, and to deal with problems of employee recruitment and retention (Bardoel et al., 2001; Felstead et al., 2002).

Barriers to WLB Strategies

A large number of research undertaken in Australian and other countries (Edgar, 1988; Morrison, 1992; Smith, 1994; Wolcott and Glezer, 1995; Pringle and Tudhope, 1996; Dessler, 1999; Kirby and Krone, 2002) have identified several barriers that pose as a major hindrance for the development and implementation of WLB strategies. These barriers can be defined as obstacles or difficulties that come in the way of implementation and on the continuing effectiveness of WLB strategies ( De Cieri et al., 2005). The following barriers have been identified from previous WLB literature:

  • an organisational culture that emphasizes and rewards long hours and high organisational commitment when compared with other commintments in life
  • an isolated, hostile and un supportive working environment for employees with life commitments apart from the organisation
  • attitudes and resistance of management and supervisors
  • preference of senior management towards people perceived to be similar to themselves (homo-sociability)
  • lack of communication and education about WLB strategies and policies

Software Professionals - Characteristics

Software professionals are predominantly considered to be highly qualified and relatively young individuals and are engaged in highly demanding and open-ended work (Dixon, 2002). Barrett (2001) has expressed them as 'knowledge workers', 'symbolic analysts', and 'new professionals'. These terms quite literally reflect the nature of their work. According to Alvesson (1995), distinguishing the concept of 'knowledge work' on the basis of particular companies or group of workers is problematic. However, the pattern of organisation of work and the management connected with software professionals can identify their work as being 'knowledge intensive'. The major job tasks of these professionals are systems analysis, software design, programming, and testing. In addition, they may also be required to get into direct contact with the users and negotiate with them as well as providing post implementation solutions to the users problems. Since, the majority of the work done by them are performed in teams therefore, they also have to be decent communicators and need to co-operate well (see, for example, Beirne, Ramsay and Panteli, 1998; and Ramsay, 1999). Thus, the work cannot be type cast as being high status as it ranges from the routine to cutting edge (Barrett, 2001). Nevertheless, a high level of occupational identification has been found among software professionals (Beirne, Ramsay and Panteli, 1998; Alvesson, 2000).

Software professionals are thought to be of high qulaification and deemed to be engaged in demanding and open-ended work that is conducted in low bureaucratic working environments (Kunda, 1992; Alvesson, 1995). Previous studies (Lawler, 1986; Drucker, 1989; Savage, 1990) have found that due to the intrisnic job satisfaction and commitment, which are characteristics of software work and its workforce, lenient forms of its management based on responsibilty, personal control, and the creation of management trust have been advocated for 'knowledge work' in general.

Research conducted by Deetz (1995) states that software workers require a very low degree of supervision as they partly derive identity from their profession. This sense of identity in turn may motivate them to perform better in their work and acts as a kind of normative control (Kunda, 1992; van Knippenberg, 2000). Furthermore, unlike other traditional occupations, they do not have a strong code of ethics nor do they need a single qualification route of entry which enforces the sense of professional identification (Scholarios and Marks, 2004). A study conducted by Kunda (1992), which targeted engineers of high-tech companies, reported the presence of a high committment among them. However, this committment is not likely to extend to loyalty for the organisation, all the more due to the presence of tight labour markets. Similarly, the practice of having project based teams also leads to a situation in which many professionals identify more with their teams than with their employers (Marks and Lockyer, 2004).


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