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Work and non-work

Although men and women often possess similar abilities to perform the tasks their jobs entail, they have different responsibilities and orientations towards the non-work sphere. Women are still more likely than men to assume responsibility for their family (both child rearing and elder care) and other aspects of maintaining the non-work side of their life and the life of their partner, and balancing the demands of work and non-work spheres can place burdens on female employees that are different from males’. The literature on gender differences in work-life balance shows mixed findings. Some studies have shown that women experience greater work-life conflict than men (Lundberg, Mardberg & Frankenhaeuser, 1994), while others show men and women experience similar levels of work-life conflict (Emslie, Hunt & Macintyre, 2004).

Bekker, Croon and Bressers (2005) reported that women have greater childcare obligations and activities than men. Taking care of children leads to sickness absence, but only in part due to emotional exhaustion. The authors suggest that sickness absence for childcare investment could be due to limited flexibility in scheduling work rather than emotional exhaustion. The number of working hours to which men devote more time was found to influence emotional exhaustion. Emslie and Hunt (2009) used qualitative techniques to investigate work-life balance in adults aged 50-52. They found that women, though no longer with young children in the home, continue to attempt to balance more conflict, including caring for adult children and ageing parents, while men generally spoke of conflict that had occurred in the past.

Organizations can use a variety of policies or procedures to reduce work-life conflict for its employees, such as flexible work hours or telework. Policies for flexible working hours are typically linked to female workers, especially those who have children. These policies have been shown to be effective in reducing work-life conflict, especially for women (Beauregard & Henry, 2009). As long as employees perceive the policies to be viable, they can lead to increases in organizational commitment and job satisfaction (Scandura & Lankau, 1997).

Hilbrecht, Shaw, Johnson and Andrey (2008) conducted in-depth interviews with teleworking women with young children. The participants had a positive attitude to telework, saying it allowed them to combine their work and family roles more successfully. They reported a better work-life balance and a higher perceived quality of life. Smithson and Stokoe (2005) interviewed focus groups about organizational policies phrased to be gender-neutral. The authors found that even when using gender-neutral language policies, employees assumed that these policies would be primarily used by women rather than by men. Even when men and women take advantage of these same policies, they may have very different reasons for doing so. Loscocco (1997) found that men view flexible scheduling as being in control while women view it as a resource for handling work-life conflict.

An organization’s human resource practices involving work design can influence the success of female employees. There is a wide variety of ways an organization can redesign the work, including flexible schedules, work-family-friendly policies, telework opportunities and justice policies. Work design practices predict employees’ perceived control in managing work and family demands (Batt & Valcour, 2001). According to this research, men say they have more control over managing work and family demands, while women say they have more work-family conflict. Supportive supervisors can reduce perceptions of work-family conflict for women, but not for men. To further explore how family dynamics are affected, these researchers examined whether the employment conditions of one partner influenced work-family conflict outcomes for the other and found no significant cross-over effects (Batt & Valcour, 2001).

Flexible work policies are important for all employees, but especially for female employees. When female employees perceive their organization as having flexible work hours, they are more committed to the organization and more satisfied with their job. These policies are also beneficial to men with family responsibilities (Scandura & Lankau, 1997). Flexible work policies have been shown to have positive effects across cultures and countries, although European organizations have traditionally been ahead of other Western cultures in adapting these policies, with the Nordic countries being at the forefront of the movement (Stavrou & Kilaniotis, 2010). For example, in Norway flexible work arrangements are a right in law accorded to all workers (Eiken, 2008). The positive effects of these longer-established policies have been reflected in consistently low turnover, high productivity and a satisfied workforce in Finland and Norway (Brewster, Mayrhofer & Morley, 2004).

Work-family conflict can lead to more than dissatisfaction with work. Women can feel torn by the competing roles of work and family. Research shows that working mothers who take advantage of their organization’s telework policy reported less depression than mothers who did not telework (Kossek, Lautsch & Eaton, 2006). The authors hypothesize that telework allows mothers to be more involved in their work and family roles.

As technology continues to give organizations a greater global reach, it is imperative to develop a keener sense of how culture and gender interact. Research shows that the effect of gender in American organizational culture can be different from that in other countries. Those in American organizations tend to view modesty as favourable in women but not in men, while a Polish sample viewed modesty as equally favourable in the two sexes (Wosinska, Dabul, Whetstone-Dion & Cialdini, 1996). As the GLOBE studies illustrate, many national cultures exist and each cluster contains unique perceptions and expectations (House, Javidan & Dorfman, 2001).

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