Moderators of Work-Life Conflict-Work-Life Enrichment and Retention-related Outcomes Relationships
Beyond simple associations, context often is important in the relationship between work- life interactions and employee retention outcomes. Several variables have been consistently examined as moderators, including gender, national culture, support, and domain centrality. The value of this research in the retention field lies primarily in the greater empirical understanding of the factors that can reinforce desirable employee outcomes (i.e., high retention) and/or mitigate undesirable ones (i.e., high turnover).
Gender is the most frequently investigated moderator of work-life and retention relationships. This most likely stems from an initial framing of work-life issues as primarily women’s issues, resulting from the traditional division of labour within the household in many societies. As such, most studies hypothesize that the experience of work-life conflict will have a greater impact on women, resulting in turnover-related actions and intentions. However, empirical results have largely been mixed. Based on a Turkish sample, Yavas and colleagues (2008) found that the positive relationship between work-to-family conflict and employee turnover intentions was moderated by gender in this manner, such that the effect was stronger for female frontline employees relative to male employees. Other researchers have noted the absence of any significant interaction effect between work-to-family conflict and gender on actual or intended turnover (Greenhaus, Collins, Singh & Parasuraman, 1997; Huang & Cheng, 2012). With regard to family-to-work conflict, Huang and Cheng (2012) found the association with turnover intentions is stronger for women, whereas Karatepe (2009) found the opposite. Thus, there remains a lack of empirical consensus on the role of gender in work-life issues. One explanation is that the changing nature of gender roles now means that men and women experience similar levels of work-life conflict and that consequently the impact of such conflict has similar repercussions for them (Leslie & Manchester, 2011; Shockley, Shen, Denunzio, Arvan & Knudsen, 2014).
Another important moderator is national or societal culture. Spector and colleagues (2007), in a study of several thousand participants across multiple countries, found that the positive relationship between work-to-family conflict and turnover intentions is greater for employees in cultures that are broadly characterized as individualistic (e.g., Anglo countries) relative to those that are more collectivistic (e.g., Asian countries). Similarly, Wang, Lawler, Walumbwa and Shi (2004) found that the positive relationship between work-to-family conflict and job withdrawal intentions was stronger for individuals high in self-rated idiocentrism (individualism). Self-rated allocentrism (collectivism), however, had no significant moderating effect on this relationship. The authors also examined family-to-work conflict and found the opposite pattern; family-to-work conflict was most strongly related to job withdrawal intentions in individuals high in allocentrism or low in idiocentrism (Wang et al., 2004). These moderating effects of self-rated idiocentrism and allocentrism were independent of country of origin (i.e., whether the participants were from the US or China did not change the pattern of results).
The authors’ explanations for these patterns in work-to-family conflict lie in the notion that individualists are more self-focused than are collectivists. This greater focus on personal needs initiates a greater affective response and inclination to change the situation when the needs are interfered with, as when work-to-family conflict occurs. Also, collectivists may be more inclined to turn to co-workers for support in coping with work-to- family conflict rather than respond by withdrawing from the job. Wang and colleagues (2004) also tested cultural values as a moderator of family-to-work and turnover relationships but did not offer any theoretical explanations for why the relationship is weaker for those who are higher in idiocentrism.
Although we explain organizational support for work-life issues in greater detail later in this chapter, it is worth mentioning here the specific moderating role support plays in work-life conflict and retention relationships. Nohe and Sonntag (2014) found a significant positive relationship between work-to-family (but not family-to-work) conflict and turnover intentions over a five-month period, but the effect was attenuated when leaders were perceived as being more supportive of work-life issues. Other research (Qiu, 2010) has documented comparable moderation effects. Interestingly, Nohe and Sonntag (2014) did not find that support from the family significantly moderated the work-to-family-turnover relationship. We speculate that this may be due to the fact that the family role boundaries tend to present more flexibility and permeability than work roles (e.g., Ashforth, Kreiner & Fugate, 2000), so leaders’ support may be perceived as more effective in dealing with and ameliorating role conflict.
Not all the empirical work concurs with these positions. Haar (2004), while supporting the direct relationships between work-to-family as well as family-to-work conflict and turnover intentions, did not find any interaction effect between perceived work-family supportiveness and either form of conflict on turnover intentions. This study did, however, acknowledge that the use of a single-item measure of turnover (compared with the three- item measure Nohe and Sonntag, 2014, used) may have limited its construct validity. Despite some contrasting evidence, the core of the literature on supportiveness primarily indicates that the presence of family-focused support from organizational leadership is instrumental in shaping employees’ perceptions of conflict experienced between the work and family environments. Thus, leaders in organizations looking to reduce turnover should be ever-mindful of the degree to which employees feel that they are adequately supported with regard to their non-work responsibilities.
Finally, work (family) centrality is defined as the relative importance of work (family) to individuals’ lives, the amount of resources they devote to that role, and how highly identified they are with the role (Carr, Boyar & Gregory, 2008). Carr and colleagues (2008) provide evidence that employees with high family centrality (relative to work centrality) were more likely to leave their organization voluntarily when faced with work-to-family conflict. Interestingly, employees with high work centrality exhibited less voluntary turnover (relative to those with high family centrality) in response to work-to-family conflict. The authors’ explanation for these moderating effects is that employees in the face of conflict attribute blame to the role they value less (e.g., an individual with high family centrality will blame the work role for conflict and consider leaving the organization as a consequence).
Greenhaus and colleagues (2001) provide a slightly different explanation for similar effects. Their empirical study showed that the strong positive relationship between work- to-family conflict and withdrawal intentions, as well as actual turnover, was magnified for employees with low versus high work involvement. These findings, which align with Carr and colleagues’ (2008), were posited to be the result of differences in tolerance of conflict rather than attribution of blame. In other words, they suggested that employees high in work involvement were more likely than those low in work involvement to tolerate work- family conflict because their careers are more salient and highly valued (Greenhaus et al., 2001). In sum, these results suggest that understanding how these different employees are uniquely impacted by conflict across work-life domains can be valuable in maintaining low turnover in the organization.
The investigation of interaction effects for the relations between work-to-family and family-to-work conflict and retention outcomes (e.g., turnover intentions) is crucial in that it advances our understanding of the increase and reduction of turnover in the workplace. Many moderators have been studied in the empirical literature; while this review does not offer exhaustive coverage of every one, it highlights several moderators which have remained prominent features of the work-life literature and have been repeatedly studied by work-life academicians.