Work Life Balance Theories

Work life balance (WLB) is an issue that is increasingly being recognised as of strategic importance to organisations and of great importance to the employee. Over the years (WLB) has gained momentum within organisations, with employers realising the need to provide their employees with an environment that allows for personal time. Research suggests that achieving a work life balance increases well-being, helps motivate employees therefore increasing their performance and productivity.

WLB can be defined in several ways; according to Lazar, Osoian and Ratiu, (2010, p 202) “work life balance practices are practices that result in changes in programs or organizational culture that are designed to reduce work-life conflict and enable employees to be more effective at work and in other roles. ” Grzywacz & Carslon, (2007 p 457) define it as “the accomplishment of role related expectations that are negotiated and shared between an individual and his or her role-related partners in the work and family domains” (Lazar, Osoian & Ratiu, 2010).

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In a broader sense it is defined as a satisfactory level of involvement or ‘fit’ between the multiple roles in a person’s life”. WLB seems to be little mentioned in the majority of organizations, especially those that may be under resourced or struggling in the market place, as all efforts are required to keep the organisation profitable, conversely achieving a work life balance is becoming a growing concern in Australia. Organisations are increasingly realising the need to create policies that enable employees to achieve ‘fit’ or balance in their lives.

This in some cases is a cause of conflict within human resource departments, as they develop these policies and are faced with the dilemma of placing the organisations interests before any WLB programs or policies. This therefore calls for organisational policies and practices that are well aligned to the organisations objectives and in turn influence organisational effectiveness. 3 Theories of Work Life Balance Over the years theories have been developed to enable organisations understand the importance of providing their employees with a conducive work environment that will enable them attain balance in their lives.

Though this has over time been an issue of debate, organisations are only now beginning to realise the benefits of WLB. Several theories have been developed in a bid to highlight the importance of WLB to both employers and employees. Such are: Spill over theory, compensation theory, strategic choice theory, stakeholder theory and resource based view (RBV). These theories in essence provide different perspectives, which one can observe to understand the interaction between the different groups within the organisations and how they influence strategic decisions, which include the creation of WLB policies.

Spill over theory The spill over theory by Staines (cited in Scholaris and Marks, 2004 p. 56), argues that employee emotions and behaviour are carried over from one area of their life to the other. That one issue affecting an employee at home can and will most likely be carried forward to the work environment. Compensation Theory The compensation theory, argues that involvement in one sphere is increased in order to create satisfaction which is absent in the other Dubin and Piotrkowski (cited in Scholaris & Marks, 2004, p. 56).

While compensation was thought to be typical of industrial male workers, spill over has gained more acceptance recently and become the focus of considerable research Lambert and Kirchmeyer (cited in Scholaris & Marks, 2004, p. 56). Strategic choice theory Strategic choice theory is determined by the strategic decisions made within organisations by the management that result to action. This means that the environment within which the organisation operates does and can possible influence the decisions that are made (De Cieri & Abbott, 2008 p. 305).

Stakeholder theory The stakeholder theory argues that “forces internal and external to the organisation influence, policies, procedures and the direction that a business takes. ” Freeman and Reed (cited in De Cieri & Abbott, 2008, p. 305). The stakeholders in an organisation are the employees, shareholders etc, this therefore means that the level of influence they have, determines the decisions that are made within the company Resource Based View The Resource Based View (RBV) theory places emphasis on the organisations ability to access resources.

This theory attempts to show that although stakeholders internal and external to the organisation do provide opportunities for the growth, it clearly states that the internal stakeholders in this case the employees provide the greatest source of competitive advantage. This means that satisfied employees give more to the organisation therefore increasing productivity and creating a competitive niche for the organisation (De Cieri & Abbott, 2008).

Work Life Balance Policies These are work place policies that assist employees in combining their personal, family and work responsibilities. They consist predominantly of flexible work arrangements, breaks and a range of information and referral services (“Work-Life Balance,”). As a gesture not only to employees but to stake holders human resource departments are at the forefront of ensuring that they come up with policies that protect the employee’s rights while at the same time ensuring the organisation achieves its objectives.

These policies are driven towards making sure that the employees, who are the key resources of any organisation receive the required support in their jobs, and in turn give maximum output thus increasing productivity. According to Blair-Loy & Wharton, (2004, p. 244). “Three assumptions are brought out with regard to WLB policy making. These are: that employees desire work-family policies and would be interested in using them if available, that employees perceive themselves as able to use these policies, and that employees repay employers who provide work-family policies with higher levels of commitment.

Another area of contention concerns the links between work-family policy availability, use, and commitment. ” Each of these assumptions is an issue of debate among scholars. “Work-family policies are assumed to induce commitment by signaling that employers are investing in their employees. Researchers suggest that the availability and use of these policies can help to sustain employees’ beliefs that their long work hours and intensified work efforts are appreciated and rewarded by employers” Gittelman, Horrigan, Joyce, Konrad, Mangel, Osterman (cited in Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2004, p. 244).

Some of the policies that HR managers are creating to enable employees achieve this balance in their jobs can in some cases be categorised into three; Family leave: annual, maternity, paternity leave, compassionate leave, and sick leave.  Dependent care: on-site childcare facility. • Flexible scheduling: Job sharing, part-time work, compressed work weeks, telecommuting etc, Hartel et al (cited in Lazar, Osoian & Ratiu, 2010, p. 203). In addition, employers may provide a range of benefits related to employees’ health and well being, including extended health insurance for the employee nd dependents, personal days, and access to programs or services to encourage fitness and physical and mental health.

Other practices may support children’s education, employees’ participation in volunteer work, or facilitate phased retirement (Lazar, Osoian & Ratiu, 2010, p. 203) Higgins, Duxbury, and Irving (cited in Bryne, 2005, p. 55) “found that conflict between work and family roles diminish employees’ perceptions of quality of both work and family life which, in turn, influences organisational outcomes such as productivity, absenteeism, and turnover.

They suggested that organizations could possibly reduce work-family conflicts by offering alternative work arrangements. ” A practical example of an organisation that are employing policies that will help their employees achieve work life balance is the City of Gosnells, which has developed a work Life Balance Program that emphasizes on:

  • A supportive working environment.
  • Flexible work arrangements.
  • Opportunities for part-time work.
  • Access to job share
  • Carer’s leave.

The above are examples of policies that have been set up to enable create a work environment that promotes work life balance. These are just some of the ways in which strategic human resource management can be employed to make sure that both parties benefit from the laid out policies. (“work-life balance,”) Other companies that have made huge strides towards achieving good work life balance policies are; IBM, Deloitte, 3M, Nokia, Microsoft among others. These work place policies assist employees in combining their personal, family and work responsibilities. In Australia, industrial relations legislations have ensured elements of WLB policies are enshrined in the law such as the maximum 38-hour work week, carer’s leave and maternity leave (Andrews, 2006).

More and more organisations are creating policies that will not only make them competitive but also an employer of choice. This therefore means ensuring human resource management gets involved in the strategic decision making process in order to make sure that companies are creating policies that address work life balance policies and practices (De Cieri & Abbott, 2008). The need to incorporate WLB within organizations has come up as a result of the increasing diversity brought about by the changing demographics of the workforce (Bardoel & De Cieri, 2008). 5. Work life balance from an employee’s perspective

Evidence suggests that individuals who were established as having the right work life balance had a high sense of esteem, where innovative and work productivity was high. Marks and Mac Dermind (cited in Poelmans, Kalliath & Brough, 2010). Employees who spend more time with the family experience a higher quality of life, it is also believed that employees who spend more time at work can cause stress and lower productivity. Greenhaus (cited in Poelmans, Kalliath & Brough, 2010). To support previous findings the greater number of hours worked each week the Lower level of work life balance.

Dex and Bond, Sturges and Guest, White et al (cited in Parkes and Langford, 2008) With exception to your health there may be other influences of not having a work life balance, employees who work long hours are more likely to be unhappy at home and the workplace. Many studies have indicated that there is a strong link between work life balance, family conflict, job satisfaction and well being Kossek & Ozeki, Allen, Herst, Bruck & Sutton, Richman, Civian, Shannon, Hill & Brennan. (cited in Poelmans, Kalliath, & Brough, 2010). This research is backed up by.

Kofodimos, Frone (cited in Poelmans, Kalliath & Brough, 2010) who suggests that there is a strong relationship between work life balance and the outcomes, if you are able to successfully attain a work life balance this is thought to produce well being in the individuals, consequently if you have a work life imbalance stress levels are thought to increase and your quality of life reduced. Findings from a study of 6,000 British civil servants found that those who worked more than 3 to 4 hours overtime a day increased the risk of heart disease by 60% (Lazar, 2010)

There is much debate on how employees should voice their concerns if they are unable to attain a work life balance, as trade union memberships are on the decline, as a consequence, there has been an increase in HRM activities such as WLB policies and procedures (Hyman & Summers, 2010) De Cieri and Abbott (2008) emphasise on the need for organisations to realise that employees do have other responsibilities outside work therefore the need to have a work life balance.

This therefore calls for the recognition of the need for effective management and development of policies to favour this while putting into consideration the aspect of diversity in the changing workplace.

Work life balance from the employer’s perspective “Employers must offer work-life balance or pay the price” (Metcalf, 2010) There is a lot of research into work life balance (WLB) highlighting the benefits and reasons as to why a company would implement human resource management strategies that encourage WLB.

Kelly (cited in Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2004) suggests that a company may implement WLB policies because of the benefits to employees and employer; from the employer point of view it is assumed that WLB polices help to increase employee retention along with creating more motivated and productive staff (Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2004). The need for organisations to introduce WLB policies has been brought about by a change in demographics of the workforce and shifting social values (De Cieri & Abbott, 2008).

Companies that have introduced WLB are reaping he benefits from doing so and have reported improvements like reduced recruitment costs, reduced absenteeism and higher employee satisfaction. The types of WLB strategies companies introduce vary considerably across different organisation types, from the offer of in house childcare to financial counselling services to ‘flexi’ time (HAYS, 2010). Now more than ever there is pressure on an employer and its HRM team to think strategically about WLB as a real way to assist in the recruitment process to attract potential employees along with retaining their current employees.

As an example of why WLB polices are important, Seek Australia’s largest job site offers potential employees a checklist of items an employee should look for in a potential employer, on that list among others are “Is the need to balance work, life and family recognised by the employer and are these policies implemented and practiced? ”(SEEK, 2010) From a HRM point of view a key element of introducing WLB would be to know what is most desirable to staff (“Work/Life association inc,”).

Dependant on what industry or sector a company is in depends on the type of WLB policies that it can offer. There is a lot of work life intuitive being offered by differing companies, the key is to customize them correctly to get the best results for your company. As an example, with all good intent an employer may introduce a WLB policy like flexi time, only to find that an employee may not take advantage of the opportunity to work with flexible hours because they prefer time at work to that of being home (Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2004).

There is however another argument by Hays (cited in Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2004), that suggests the employee, is more likely fearful of taking advantage of WLB polices because of the fear that it may impact negatively upon their careers; this is more likely the closer truth (Blair-Loy & Wharton, 2004). “Flexibility has to be a two way process”(“Work-Life Balance,”) Therefore the challenge for the HRM team is consult with staff to find out what the current employee needs are, and then strategically match those needs to that of the company, reassuring the employees of genuine intent to eet their work life balance needs.

This is very important in order for an employer to be considered one of choice in a prospective employees mind (“Work/Life association inc,”). According to a media release by Chandler Macleod in 2007 titled “Employer of choice exposed” (“‘Employer of Choice’ exposed,”) recruitment experts highlighted the different perceptions between employees and employers as to what an employer of choice is. It appears that both parties have misconceptions about each ones requirement, Simply explained it appears that an employer of choice is one that is a great place to work.

This therefore means that now more than ever in this diverse workforce employers need to recognise the need to have a workforce that is motivated and supported in every aspect in order for them to gain maximum output from them.


Is Work life Balance achievable and/or Sustainable? In conclusion this research shows that over time organisations have embraced work life balance policies as a means of addressing issues related to motivation such as absenteeism, employee turnover and retention. When wholly embraced they can be beneficial to the organisation through the above.

In retrospect if neglected, both employees and the employer suffer through increased stress levels which in turn lead to a decrease in job satisfaction and productivity. The question then begs; Is Work Life balance achievable and/or sustainable? From the above research we believe that the level to which an organisation embraces the policy of WLB depends on several key factors such as the size, i. e a large organisation tends to horizontally align its objectives by realising that aside from profits that human capital is the organisations biggest asset.

This in turn means that it tends to put their needs first as a means of ensuring that they gain maximum output through using different motivation methods. A smaller organisation on the other hand is more concern with expanding and increasing profit margins (vertical alignment). This means that employee’s needs are not placed first and they are not necessarily viewed as the key resources. It is therefore not easy to answer the above question given that WLB is a two way process as explained earlier whereby employees feel that despite WLB provisions in the work place they fear that it might affect their careers.

As the business environment continues to evolve there will be an increased need to create a balance if organisations are to survive the turbulent times ahead. This means that it has to provide its employees with an environment that makes them more comfortable and able to balance the different needs in their lives and careers.

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Work Life Balance Theories. (2016, Oct 14). Retrieved from