Work-Home Interaction Research Paper

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Although historically speaking there has been a gender-based division of labor (i.e., men working in the public sphere and women in the private one— being in charge of the domestic tasks, raising children), the scenario has changed since World War II as women entered the public workforce. This trend caused the two previously separate scopes to interact and merge into one. Different theories appeared to explain the way in which this so-called work-home interaction (WHI) affects employees and organizations, and different strategies have developed to promote positive consequences of such an interaction.

Introduction To Work-Home Interaction: A Reality To Be Noticed

This research-paper takes a general glance at this topic, focusing on the WHI strategies, especially the organizational ones, as a key aspect of the modern human resources management (HRM).

It can be said that this female incorporation into the public labor world is due to different factors:

  • The feminism movement, which recognizes women’s rights in equality in all life aspects
  • Changes in gender education, as women are educated not only in home tasks
  • The need for more than one salary to sustain a family

With it, a substantial change takes place in the present Western families, who adopt diverse forms. The most habitual form is that both members of the couple work outside the home and contribute income to sustain the family. These couples have been named in different ways: dual-income, dual-earners, dual-career, or dual-job. Their common need is to coordinate, and to make the work and family demands of both members compatible.

However, they have the added difficulty that most of these couples were not raised as sons/daughters of dual-career couples, and therefore, they do not have vicarious experiences (experience based on learning by means of observing conduct models) to solve their problems. This experience would be of enormous importance since, in agreement with the Social Cognitive Theory by Albert Bandura (1997), this vicarious experience constitutes one of the main sources of self-efficacy related to the beliefs in feeling able to suitably conciliate the demands of both the family and work scopes.

Therefore, work and family in reality are two areas of such magnitude that they have always been necessarily affected mutually; however, the recognition of the interactions among them has taken a clearer control of the incorporation of women into the world of public labor. For this reason, the spheres of work and family are no longer considered isolated lands.

Female Incorporation Into the Public Working Life: The Birth of the Dual-Earner couples

The incorporation of women into the public working life in the last 50 years has been colossal, comprising currently of 46% of the 137 million workers in the United States, where their share of the labor force is expected to reach 48% by 2008 (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health [NIOSH] 2007). Such data are similar in the European Union, as the female employment index reached 55.7% in EU-25 in 2004 (European Community Commission [ECC] 2006). However, the participation and treatment of both genders continue to be unequal according to hierarchic areas and levels despite legislation. In this way, women continue to have jobs that are more precarious (i.e., temporary contract, practice, or learning; part-time work), although men have less flexible schedules that are more difficult to combine with family demands. In relation to hierarchic levels, women are also less likely to reach a management job, supervise large groups, or have men as subordinates. This is the so-called glass ceiling phenomenon.

Despite this glass ceiling, the incorporation of women into the labor market has made the relationship between the members of the couple change. Dual-income couples are those in which both members work outside the home and contribute income for family survival. Nevertheless, other denominations used in the academic literature also exist, such as dual-earners, dual-career couples, and dual-job couples. Although they are frequently used indifferently, original differences do not exist. Thus, although dual-income couples and dual-earners include the rest, it is assumed that the dual-earners’ opportunities of promotion, responsibility, and authority over the years are limited. Nevertheless, the so-called dual-career implies jobs in which there are expectations of as much job promotion (toward positions of higher hierarchic levels and greater responsibility) and economic promotion (toward higher salary). What all of the previous denominations have in common is that both members work and receive a pay in return. Therefore, they have a common problem: to coordinate and to make the labor and family demands of both members compatible.

In agreement with Francine S. Hall and Douglas T. Hall (1980), the fact that both parents work outside the home does not mean that their interests are centered on work and family in the same proportion. In this sense, the authors present four types of patterns of dual-career couples according to the implication of each member of the couple in the family or at work:

  1. The first pattern is that where one member displays high levels of implication with their career and low aspects related to the family, whereas the other displays the opposite pattern. This pattern is known as accommodators.
  2. The second pattern is that in which both members are highly involved with their careers and poorly involved with family, but they highly value that family life is organized and the family is provided for. Mainly because of gender stereotypes, the most common trend is that men believe it must be women who take care of the family to a greater extent. That is, he delegates (at least temporarily) her professional development to instrumentally and emotionally maintain the family. This pattern is known as adversaries.
  3. The third pattern is where the partners show high values in either family or work aspects, displaying opposite values in relation to the other aspect. This pattern is known as allies.
  4. Finally, the fourth pattern covers those couples in which both members are highly involved with the roles carried out in both scopes, generally showing overloads when trying to take care of both roles suitably. This case is the so-called acrobats.

Investigation goes beyond the mere identification of patterns, indicating that the family can be a source of support or conflict depending on the type of relationship that is established between the couple. In fact, the classification (from higher to lower stress) would be as follows:

Acrobats —> Adversaries —>Allies —>Accommodators

But what does each member depend on to be more or less involved in each role? Some factors as within-role reasons seem to be determining the degree of involvement. In other words,

  • identification with the role (the greater the identification, the more time invested in that role); and
  • utility of the role (the greater the utility perceived to increase the pleasure or to diminish displeasure, the more time invested).

These patterns arise because these dual-income couples evidence one fact that did not exist prior to the incorporation of women into the labor force: the work-home interaction.

Work-Home Interaction: Related concepts and consequences

When reading academic publications (specialized journals and book research-papers) related to this topic, different terms arise. Some of them, like work-home interference or work-home conflict, offer a negative connotation. On the other hand, the term work-home balance entails a positive connotation. Finally, some neutral terms appear, as work-home interface, “common land,” or work-home interaction (WHI). Coming from the statistics field, this last WHI refers to the fact that work and home are not seen as competitive scopes, in which both demands either are in conflict or are in a complex balance, but as factors that combined will provide something greater and different than would have been predicted from either one alone. Therefore, HRM should help employees to live this WHI as a potentially positive experience, becoming the WHI into a “win-win” situation.

This WHI term also has its retractors; it can be considered somewhat restrictive as it divides employees’ lives between only work and home (or more concretely, family), forgetting other important aspects of individuals’ lives, such as leisure. This is the reason why some authors actually use the term work-home and not home. However, because of its popularity and tradition in the specialized literature and also to easy the reading, the term used in this research-paper will be from now on always WHI, understanding “home” in a broader sense—that is, as this “nonwork” scope. On the other side, we are aware of the difficulty of separating both scopes (work and nonwork/family/home) at times because of irreversible changes in the labor context that, for example, place the employees’ work beyond the established schedule, or because members carry out personal activities in working hours (e.g., personal telephone calls or e-mails).

Going through the WHI consequences, it can be said that traditionally they have been studied in a negative sense, which is studying the physical-psychosomatic, psychosocial, and behavioral consequences that the WHI might mainly have on health (or more concretely, disease).

The consequences of a negative WHI are mainly the same physical or psychosomatic consequences that any kind of stress may have, that is, stomachache, headache and backache, annoyances, fatigue, dizziness, and pain in the chest or heart areas. In the long term, longitudinal studies have proven that the negative impact of work toward home (W/H) scope happens during a shorter time period (e.g., with dream deprivation), whereas the conflict from the home toward work (H/W) domain produces more damage to health in the long term.

With regard to psychosocial consequences, it has been explored how specific work domain factors affect the marital quality or satisfaction and how some home domain factors might influence work aspects such as work commitment, job satisfaction, or work stress. However, the predominant subject of study has been stress derived from making work and home demands compatible. As previously mentioned, we can therefore state that stress reactions will mainly appear in the couples with the so-called acrobats relationship.

Chaya S. Piotrkowski (1979) explained this stress as the combination of both role demands by a contagion of the stressing experiences between the roles. This contagion could take place in two fundamental ways:

  1. Stress spillover: The stressing experiences suffered by an individual in one of the domains would spread to the other

domain of the same individual (e.g., a person is upset with his or her family after an exhausting day at work).

  1. Stress crossover: The stressing experiences faced by the partner in an area are transformed into stress for the individual in the other area (i.e., the dismissal of a partner affects the mood of the whole family’s members).

There is evidence that both types of contagion exist. Given the predominant role conferred to work, more studies have examined how work affects the home domain than vice versa. However, the role of the home domain as a determinant of some organizational results (such as organizational commitment) is beginning to be recognized, and is especially interesting for HRM.

Finally, the behavioral consequences of the WHI have been studied in both directions, at individual and organizational levels. Thus, individual-level results show that the consumption of stimulating substances increases (mainly, alcohol in the interference of the work demands over the home domain). The abuse of medication and lack of regular exercise also appear in the interference of the home over the work domain demands.

At an organizational level, we can say that longitudinal evidence of the influence of the WHI on abandonment, absenteeism, and reduced performance is limited. Some explanations for this lack of relation can be located in the existence of modulator variables, such as the degree of connection between work and home domains. More research in this sense is needed. Nevertheless, although direct consequences in the organization remain unclear, it is obvious that indirect consequences (e.g., through the psychosocial consequences such as stress and burnout), which the organization should control, will exist.

As previously stated, only the negative consequences of the WHI have generally been studied. Nevertheless, and according to the new movement in psychology denominated “Positive Psychology,” it would be interesting to also study the positive effects of such interaction by promoting psychosocial health at work. Research is advancing in this sense, including this positive interaction as an indicator on health and quality of life indices.

Human Resources Management And Work-Home Interaction: A Glance At The Supporting Theoretical Background

WHI theories might be grouped from different points of view:

  • Theoretical-conceptual, attempting to explain the processes of mutual influence between both spheres
  • Analyses of the factors that make this interaction a positive or negative experience for the employee

Theoretical Perspective of the WHI

Based on Sabine A. E. Geurts and Evangelia Demerouti’s (2003) classification of the theoretical background that has covered the WHI, theories might be grouped into

  • classic theories, which include segmentation, compensation, and spillover hypotheses;
  • role hypothesis, where both role strain and role enhancement/accumulation hypothesis are grouped; and
  • recent perspectives.

Classic Theories of the WHI

The relationship between the work and home domains has classically been the basis of three different hypotheses. It is important to indicate at this point that although the classic theories have been based on this interaction in terms of the use of abilities and patterns of behavior, nowadays this interaction has been extended to other aspects such as emotions.

These three main hypotheses are as follows:

  1. Segregation hypothesis: It is the earliest, as in 1956, Robert Dubin postulated that the WHI does not exist. Both domains are considered psychologically, physically, temporarily, and functionally separate. Therefore, it is assumed that the activities make unique demands on individuals. This point of view has been applied more to blue-collar workers, with generally more unsatisfactory and less involved works than it did to white-collar workers. Nevertheless, there has not been sufficient empirical support, since segregation does not happen naturally: it only exists as an active attempt of the workers to avoid work activities interacting with their family life. Furthermore, it has been shown that men can use this as a strategy to consciously face WHI. In addition to this hypothesis, in 1960, Harold Wilensky distinguished the next two hypotheses as two main hypotheses on the W/NWI.
  2. Compensation hypothesis: Home compensates the deprivations experienced at work.
  3. Generalization hypothesis: The experiences lived in an area can affect the other through the spillover or generalization processes.

As appraised, both hypotheses are based on a negative point of view of the work domain, where negative experiences at work are compensated with or generalized to the home domain. The two competing hypotheses have obtained some evidence and it can be said that even they can even operate simultaneously.

Additionally, these simple theories can become more complex in the light of recent results. In this sense, the Effort-Recovery Model is starting to be used to explain the negative effects of overload at work on home well-being through a generalization process of the overload negative effects that prevents the employee from recovering outside work.

Role Hypothesis

The following hypotheses are role-related: role strain hypothesis and role enhancement hypothesis.

The main starting point of the role strain hypothesis is the assumption that managing both roles inevitably produces “strain.” The specific role strain that has developed more interest by researchers in this field has been the role conflict, or specifically the work-family conflict (WFC). According to Jeffrey H. Greenhaus and Nicholas J. Beutell (1985), WFC acknowledges that forces deriving from the work and home domains can be incompatible and has been defined as a type of interrole conflict in which such forces are somewhat incompatible.

It is important to distinguish the direction in this conflict (work—family or family—work) as well as the sources of conflict. In relation to its direction, some more relevant stressors might affect the WFC are work-role stressors (work overload, work conflict, etc.), task and work schedule characteristics, frequent trips, changes of residence to accommodate work, work engagement, and career relevance. Conversely, the family stressors that might affect the WFC can be divided into specific (related to normative or occasional events) and chronic stressors. According to the conflict sources, we can talk about time-based conflict (time used in an area makes difficult the participation in the other area), strain-based conflict (the tension symptoms/joy experienced in a role interferes and make difficult the participation in the other role), and behavior-based conflict (the required specific conducts in a role are incompatible with the behavior expectations in the other role).

As appraised, the perspective of role strain is implicitly based on Stephen R. Marks’ (1977) shortage perspective of the fulfillment of multiple roles and human energy. The basic assumption is that the time and power resources available are limited, and that there is every likelihood that the fulfillment of multiple roles leads to a reduction of these limited resources. With the objective to prevent work-home role strain, the individuals must concentrate their limited resources in the multiple roles of both domains in such a way that any role strain developed is formed only in bearable proportions.

Unlike the role strain hypothesis, the role enhancement hypothesis suggests that the energy or abilities mobilized or developed in one domain can also improve the way the person performs in the other domain. The authors refer to this process as positive generalization, role enhancement, or role facilitation.

This hypothesis is based on the enhancement approach by Stephen R. Marks (1977), according to which the development of multiple roles does not have to be necessarily associated with the exhaustion of resources or energy. Based on human physiology, Marks affirmed that the process of consumption of human energy inseparability is related to the production process of this energy. Activity is necessary for energy production, and even while energy is being used, it is being converted for subsequent use. In other words, the suitable management of multiple roles can also create energy.

Focusing then on a positive point of view of the WHI, this hypothesis heightens the possibility of active generalization, postulating that it is possible to generalize the abilities developed in one domain (e.g., decision making at work) to the other (e.g., decision making in the family).

Although empirical results seem to support a model of enhancement more than one based on shortage does, recent investigation suggests that both processes are difficult to distinguish (both conceptually and empirically), and that they can operate simultaneously and can even depend on individual differences (e.g., personal dispositions, gender), family circumstances (e.g., parental), and work characteristics (i.e., very stressful jobs).

Recent Perspectives

Although role hypotheses continue to dominate the WHI research, recent tendencies have gone further by taking a more positive point of view in which both domains can be harmonious. Despite that these tendencies come from more general theories of job stress, in this research-paper, we present the most important theories adapted to the WHI research.

  1. The Conservation of Resources Theory (COR). The COR model (Hobfoll, 1989) proposes that individuals look for the acquisition and maintenance of resources. Stress reactions take place when they feel resources might be lost, when resources are lost, or when they are permitted to gain expected resources. The COR theory proposes that the WHI can become the WFC because valuable resources are lost in the process of attempting to combine both the work and family roles. The difference with the role strain model is that the performance of multiple roles is not inevitably related to greater levels of stress, since performing each role can also offer resources that may help individuals to deal with the other demands associated with the fulfillment of the other roles.
  2. The Fit Model. The fit model (Barnett, Gareis, & Brennan, 1999) goes beyond the individual level, postulating that the family fit strategies mediate between working hours and burnout. In this way, the fit concept does not assume an inherent conflict between home and work; rather, it assumes the existence of adaptive strategies formulated to maximize the abilities of the employees to cover the necessities in relation to both work and the social system. Thus, fit focuses on the adaptive strategies that the couples set up to optimize and maximize the adaptive family strategy. Then, when options at work enable workers to realize their strategies, workers experience compatibility; when they do not, workers experience conflict.
  3. Work/Family Border Theory. According to the work/ family border theory (Clark, 2000), work and family are two different domains characterized by different cultures (aims, language, rules, clients, and behavior). People cross the border between family and work every day. Therefore, they fit their language, rules, and so forth in order to satisfy the demands of each domain. This transition will be less extreme for some people than it will for others. This theory explains how individuals manage with the borders between family and work to obtain balance.
  4. The Ecological Systems Theory. This theory (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000) assumes that the WHI is a joint function of the person, context, and time characteristics. Each of these characteristics exerts an additive (and potentially interactive) effect on the individual experience of the WHI, which is reflected in the fit between the person and his/her environment. A wider conceptualization of the WHI is used, distinguishing between the positive and negative spillover between work and family, and vice versa. They hypothesize that the job resources (e.g., job control and social support) and family resources (e.g., the partner’s support) would be associated with lower levels of negative spillover and higher levels of positive spillover between both domains. On the other hand, the ecological barriers of work (such as time pressure) and home (such as discord in the couple) would be associated with higher levels of negative spillover and lower levels of positive spillover between the two domains.
  5. Congruence Model. This theory (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000) postulates the spillover between both domains owing to a third variable—that is, personality, different behavioral styles, social and cultural forces. For example, some women assume a passive role both in the family and at work because of the cultural socialization of the female role.
  6. Demand Resource Model. The demand-resources model (Demerouti, Bakker, Nachreiner, & Schaufeli, 2001) proposes four main hypotheses:
  7. When work demands require too much effort and time (i.e., work overload, short deadlines), work resources are not enough (i.e., low social support, lack of autonomy) and energy and time resources are over. Consequently, negative load effects appear and damage the performance in the home domain, in which case it can be said that work negatively influences the home domain.
  8. When work resources are sufficient to manage the work demands, individuals will feel encouraged to learn and “to grow” in their work, and this energy will be mobilized. This will facilitate the performance in the home domain in which case it can be said that work positively influences the home domain.

These two processes can also be initiated in the home domain:

  1. When home demands require too much effort and time (i.e., tasks to take care of at home, children and elderly people) and home resources are not enough (i.e., the couple’s lack of instrumental support), energy and time resources are over. Consequently, negative load effects appear and damage the performance in the work domain in which case, the home domain negatively influences the work domain.
  2. Finally, the existence of sufficient home resources (e.g., domestic help, baby-sitter, partner’s support) to manage the demands will be associated with a positive load effect that will facilitate the performance in the work domain. Then, the home domain positively influences the work domain. This is obviously the result that companies will look for using different strategies that we will look at further on in this research-paper.

Variables Related With Work-Home Interaction

Although empirical results show that whereas the consequences of work—home are negative, those of the homework are positive, a series of studies focused on analyzing the intervening variables grouped into two large clusters: sociodemographic variables and other related variables.

In relation to the sociodemographic variables, only the gender and family structure interaction appears to be significant. Concretely, a negative relationship is shown between both domains in women with small children. With regard to the rest of sociodemographic variables and their relationship with the WHI (age, level of education, income and career), the results are mainly inconsistent or nonsignificant.

The rest of the variables studied in relation to WHI (see Geurts & Demerouti, 2003 for a wider explanation) are as follows:

  • Personality characteristics: Neuroticism, Type A behavior (in particular, the irritability and impatience components), and negative affectivity have been positively associated with the WFC, whereas extraversion and internal locus of control are negatively associated.
  • Home demanding aspects: These aspects (in particular, parental load, family criticism, and discord in the couple) are also related to the negative influence of the home domain on the work domain.
  • Family and work characteristics: Results show that demanding work aspects are responsible for the negative influence of work on the home domain. On the other hand, motivational aspects of the job (resources, in agreement with the theoretical model of demand-resources, seen previously; e.g., job control and social support) and of the home (overall, the partner’s support) diminish the negative interaction, and they even evoke a positive one.
  • Personal attitudes: Results show that a high implication in a domain (e.g., home) is associated with a high conflict originated in that domain (e.g., conflict from the home toward work) owing to the (excessive) investment of time and effort in this central domain.

Nevertheless, research works have been mainly based on self-report and cross-sectional research, which do not allow evaluating the causality. Therefore, the development of longitudinal studies with more objective measures is necessary, as they will help explain which variables influence what.

Work-Home Interaction Strategies From Human Resources Management

Strategies to avoid the negative consequences of a badly managed work-home interaction (WHI) and to promote a positive outcome can be developed by the employee at an individual level (employee strategies) or can be provided from the company (organizational strategies).

Employee Strategies

Different traditional classifications exist of the personal strategies to cope with the WHI positively in dual-income couples. Some of them are general coping strategies that might be adapted to the WHI. One of the most famous typologies of these strategies is that proposed by Douglas T. Hall in 1972. According to this author, individual coping strategies might be grouped into the following types:

  • Type I (structural role redefinition): This category implies an active attempt to influence emitters on the role to diminish the conflict by reaching a mutual agreement about a new role set of expectations—that is, eliminating or negotiating a reduction of real activities.
  • Type II (personal role redefinition): In this case, the individual changes his or her own attitudes toward his or her role to reduce the potential conflict altering one’s own standards of role performance.
  • Type III (reactive role behavior): It consists of trying to fulfill the expectations of the others in relation to our role (e.g., working harder to fulfill the expectations of the other both at work and in the home context) by adjusting demands to the role by more efficient time management.

A second classification of coping behavior is that proposed by Ellen S. Amatea and Margaret L. Fong-Beyette (1987) from two bipolar dimensions: problem- versus emotion-focused coping strategies and active- versus passive-coping strategies. Problem-focused coping involves cognitive and behavioral efforts aimed to change the source of stress, while emotion-focused coping is directed toward a person’s own emotional reaction to the stressor. The active type attempts to deal with stressors and involves doing or thinking something to manage the problem, whereas the passive type attempts to use avoidance behaviors to ignore or put off having to deal with the problem. By using a combination of both dimensions, the authors distinguish four types of coping:

  1. Active emotion-focused: Trying to see the positive side of the situation or drawing on past experience, speaking with friends, and doing physical exercise.
  2. Active problem-focused: Attempting to resolve the problem through overt behavioral actions by prioritizing activities, looking for external help, or negotiating with others.
  3. Passive emotion-focused: Reducing tension through the denial of the seriousness of the situation, suppression of negative feelings, and displacement of negative feelings onto someone or something else.
  4. Passive problem-focused (defense mechanism): Attempting to avoid the problem by thinking about something else and pretending the problem does not exist. It includes strategies like working harder to fulfill others’ expectations or eliminating some roles.

Focusing on dual-income couples, Gloria W. Bird and colleagues (G. W. Bird, G. A. Bird, & Scrugs, 1983) identified five specific coping mechanisms:

  • Planning (labeled organization by previous researchers) involves structuring work and/or home activities by organizing, prioritizing, and working more efficiently.
  • Seeking support through talking to others (previously labeled social support) refers to communicating with others who can empathize with one’s situation and provide a support system to relieve stresses.
  • Withdrawing (previously labeled avoiding responsibilities) is defined as temporarily avoiding stressful situations and responsibilities to reduce tension.
  • Cognitive restructuring refers to an individual’s attempts to redefine stressful, negative situations as positive or neutral experiences.
  • Limiting job responsibilities (previously labeled subordinating career) is defined as restricting participation in occupational activities.

Generally speaking, coping active mechanisms are most effective—in particular, those whose intention is to change one’s own attitudes about which demands can be surpassed in realistic ways in both domains.

In relation to these active strategies, Boris B. Baltes and Heather A. Heydens-Gahir (2003) recently wrote of other behavioral personal coping strategies whose objective is to diminish the home-work and work-home negative interaction by means of reducing both scope stressors. Based on the Life Management Theory, three main coping behaviors (selection, optimization, and compensation) would exist. Selection behaviors allow a person to choose the goals that are to direct the rest of behavior (because of preference or loss of resources). Once the goal is chosen, the excellent means are chosen, and they are then optimized in order to accomplish the goals. These optimization behaviors include persistence, practice, learning of new abilities, learning from others successfully, and organization of time and energy. When optimization behaviors are not sufficient to achieve goals and when previously available means are no longer accessible or are blocked, compensation behaviors begin. They are excellent, especially in overload situations that frequently happen in dual-career couples.

Organizational Strategies

The organization can develop strategies to avoiding the negative organizational consequences and to promote the positive ones of the WHI. In this sense, organizational policies and culture—such as work schedules, family-friendly policies, and supervisor support—have been described as one of the main antecedents to avoid the negative consequences of the WHI. The interest in these organizational strategies is such that the International Journal of Human Resource Management, one of the most prestigious journals in this area, dedicated a special issue to work-life balance in March 2007.

In practice, we also note that the interest in organizational strategies is increasing in recent years. Increasingly more managers invested in Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) in relation to the family, as they expect that these programs result in a series of positive results for the organization (e.g., improved recruitment, reduced abandonment, increased moral of employees, increased work commitment, and better performance and productivity). Based on the previously described demand-resources model, it can be said that this WHI will end in positive consequences through organizational strategies that suggest

  • a decrease of demands, mainly working demands (e.g., through part-time work or not pressing to work overtime); and
  • an increase of resources, both working resources (e.g., greater autonomy to manage working schedule) and home resources (e.g., providing a kindergarten service in the company) to cope with both kinds of demands.

Organizational strategies to promote the positive WHI (attaining balance in life, i.e., empowering harmony and encouraging personal growth, as stated by McCubbin and colleagues [1980]) have been labelled in different ways, such as “friendly policies” or “work-home balance policies,” and can be grouped into three blocks:

  1. Strategies focusing on the implantation of flexible systems
  2. Strategies focusing on offering benefits for child and senior citizen care
  3. Other policies of work-home balance

Organizational strategies based on flexible systems are, as Suzan Lewis (2003) has indicated, those that allow the employee to vary—in some degree—when or where to work, or to diverge at least from the traditional schedule. These measures offer the employee a greater control of his or her work schedule, offering the important resource of time to manage the nonwork demands (i.e., going to the bank, taking care of children) and thus reducing absenteeism. Three main strategies are based on flexible systems:

  1. Time flexibility, both in the working schedule as in the calendar (i.e., flexible starting and leaving times, temporal work, shared work, part-time work, reduced working day, annual hours, shift work)
  2. Working place flexibility (as telework)
  3. Leaves or permissions (flexibility in choosing holidays, leaving the workplace because of a family emergency, increase of maternity/paternity leave, additional nonpaid holidays, professional breaks, sabbatical periods, etc.)

These flexible systems in companies are starting to be appreciated, such as a strategic business needs to establish priorities such as cost cuts, working performance, job satisfaction, increased motivation, lowering of stress due to overload, less absenteeism, and increased career development opportunities.

Organizational strategies focused on offering benefits for the care of the people who depend on employees, such as children and elderly people, provide information/subsidy services related to these people. Some of these benefits include providing information and references to employees on external agencies in charge of child care and caring for the elderly; paying a kindergarten or babysitter service during business trips; reserving places in local schools; and financing or providing economic support for child care, care for the elderly through an external agency, and other domestic services (parking, restaurants, sport centers, etc.). These strategies have proved to be particularly interesting for women in dual-income couples, as they partially relieve them from the so-called “double shift” (working hard at work and at home).

Finally, other policies of the WHI gather different measures taken by the companies, such as (a) job adaptation (temporarily changing the work load or responsibilities), (b) advising policies focused on the professional scope (psychological, legal, financial advice) and training focused on the WHI (time-stress-conflict management) or even in the home scope (i.e., prenatal education, nutrition courses), and (c) social or extra-legal benefits, which cover aspects such as life or medical insurance, retirement planning, and leisure activities in the company.

Besides this typology of organizational strategies, research has shown the importance of a new aspect to be considered when implementing these strategies: the way in which they are implemented. In this case, we can distinguish between compulsory organizational strategies (by legislation) or voluntary ones. As we will see later, it is important for employees to distinguish between the two.

As Suzan Lewis (2003) has pointed out, the objectives that follow the legislations of the different countries are as follows:

  1. On one hand, to force all companies to implement certain measures with the purpose of protecting the workers’ minimum rights to cope with the conciliation of their home and working lives
  2. On the other hand, to help create a normative climate of support that will allow the companies to voluntarily propose conciliation strategies for home and working life

In addition to the compulsory measures adopted by the organizations, companies can actively adopt a series of measures. But what does a company depend on to decide to voluntarily adopt one or several measures of the work-home conciliation? This decision cannot be explained from a single variable, but possibly from the interaction of several variables such as the following:

  • The size of the organization (bigger companies have more opportunities to implement extra measures)
  • The company’s sector (the more companies that adopt voluntary measures in the sector, the more likely a particular company is to adopt them; besides, public companies will implement voluntary strategies more easily than private ones)
  • The number of women in the organization (the higher the number, the more likely the company adopts voluntary the work-home conciliation measures)
  • The perception from which they derive positive results (e.g., organizational commitment)
  • Technical factors (like retaining qualified personnel in sectors where more candidates are looked for)
  • The human resources policies of the company (which consider the work-home balance as a value to be promoted among employees)

Although very few studies exist that focus on the success of these voluntary measures, empirical results stress their positive organizational and individual results, such as improvement in more effective management of work and personal stress, increased performance, increased work attendance, improvement of the employees’ relationships with workmates, and increased loyalty of supervisors and employees.

Nevertheless, and perhaps against what was intuitively expected, the success of the measures of WHI depends not only on the strategies that the company has formally established, but also on the existence of a support organizational culture to WHI. In this sense, the informal support climate improves overall company performance. In other words, the existence of one’s own formal policies is more important than the informal climate of the organization, and in particular, of supervisor support. In addition, the existence of this informal climate is irrespective of company size. Therefore, although it is less probable that small companies implement important human resources policies to formally facilitate a positive WHI, there is likelihood that they are informally carrying out these strategies.

But what is the theoretical explanation? Why do these organizational strategies increase positive consequences of WHI and therefore diminish the negative consequences of the work-home conflict and increase working performance?

When focusing on organizational strategies in general, the demand-resource model provides a reasonable explanation for increased resources (generally, responsibility) and reduced work and home demands, and this model will lead to an increased conciliation of the home and work demands. In this way, and in agreement with the Positive Psychology movement, the human resources policies in organizations would have to preferably look for the “gains spiral,” and not so much for the “loss spiral,” thus providing resources.

Focusing on the theoretical explanation of how a type of strategy that we have seen operates, i.e., time and place flexibility, the ecological conceptual frame (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000, as previously discussed) can provide a reasonable explanation. According to this model, the work-home mesosystem would be made up of two microsystems (home versus work) that are influenced mutually through a permeable border that allows creation of a genuine work-home mesosystem. If this border is rigid, an interaction will take place in the work-home—which is rigidly structured in time and space—and this would lead to a negative generalization in both time and energy. However, a flexible border allows workers to integrate and to superimpose responsibilities in time and space, leading to a positive generalization—that is, an instrument to obtain to a healthy work-home balance.

On one hand, companies offering benefits to favor the work-home balance can be explained with the social interchange theory. This theory assumes that if organizations offer these benefits, employees will have a greater perception of support from the organization and will therefore be forced to adopt certain behaviors in return, such as citizenship behaviors, increased performance, or increased loyalty.

On the other hand, it is necessary to consider the effect of the workmates’ justice perception, because the employees who normally enjoy the measures (especially the flexible ones) are young adults with children. What might occur is that the rest of the workmates consider these measures unfair, above all because they may lead to a work overload. In fact, to a greater extent, the youngest employees, women, and workers with small children are those who perceive work-family policies as fair.

However, results show that only one situational variable exists that influences the justice perception: interdependence of tasks, but in the opposite sense to that expected (greater interdependence, greater perceived justice). Again, Suzan Lewis offers a possible explanation: workmates are aware of the potential of the reciprocity of formal or informal flexibility, which they will benefit from at some time.


To conclude, we wish to emphasize the importance of integrating the work-home balance policy within the human resources policy, so that these conciliation strategies are not considered as strategies put to occasional use. As we have indicated elsewhere, it means that these strategies might be reflected in all the classic human resources management and development processes, such as the following:

  • Planning: A necessary stage in the process of group planning is to consider the number of employees who will look for positive WHI strategies through, for example, flexible systems.
  • Job analysis: When analyzing jobs, it would be interesting to see the extent to which every job can be flexible through analyzing its demands.
  • Labor risks prevention: In this case, the WHI and its consequences should be considered when drafting occupational hazard prevention plans and promoting health reports.
  • Selection: It is necessary to take special care and to be aware of the gender stereotypes that might go against those women who wish to enjoy both home and working life. In addition, a series of dispositional variables should be evaluated (e.g., positive or negative affectivity) that will help an employee face a potentially stressing situation (like WHI) without perceiving it as a challenge or threat.
  • Training: Both employees and supervisors should be trained in WHI strategies. In this sense, employees’ courses could provide the skills and knowledge necessary to manage both scopes properly (i.e., conflict and time management), whereas supervisor courses should be mainly oriented to the change of attitudes (i.e., correctly evaluating the way employees select flexible work systems such as telework).
  • Career planning: Human resources managers should have sufficient knowledge about balancing strategies when helping employees in their career planning. Besides, these managers should be aware of, for example, the role of identification in one scope (i.e., home) does not mean the reduction of time in the other scope (i.e., work). In addition, they should be careful with gender stereotypes, and not assume that it will always be the woman who decides to postpone her professional career in preference to family life (above all in dual-career couples).
  • Performance evaluation: As already mentioned, this evaluation should be based on behaviors and not on the mere supervisor perception of performance. These subjective perceptions usually and mainly go against women with children (again, because of stereotypes) and workers with flexible work systems (given the idea that “if I do not see him or her work, I do not know if he or she works”).

Other human resources management and development processes may exist in the company, such as diversity management, that should consider the WHI strategies.

In this way, the fact of including the positive WHI strategies within all the human resources management and development can create an informal climate that favors this positive interaction. As shown before, this climate actually influences the success of these strategies.

Finally, we wish to remark that many managers lose some of their best employees to the effects of burnout, and they do not know the reason behind this. What is clear is that when choosing a company to work for, the best employees will choose the best organizations (see www.greatplacetowork. com), those that actively develop political innovators of positive WHI. These results come from scientific research and have been reflected in this research-paper. Their application to the HRM practices is now in the organizations’ hands. It is a time of change—a time to look for quality of life.


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