Influences on the Provision of Work-Life Benefits: Management and Employee Perspectives

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ABSTRACT

As several previous studies have shown, the provision of work-life benefits (WLB) varies between organisations; while some organisations provide a comprehensive range of WLB, others do not. Our research aims to identify and examine the influences on the provision of WLB in an organisation. Recognising the potential for different goals and agenda, we propose that it is necessary to understand the perspectives of WLB held by managers and by employees. To inform our research, we have drawn upon the complementary theoretical bases of strategic choice theory, stakeholder theory and the resource-based view of the firm. Using multiple methods of data collection and including management and employee perspectives, qualitative case studies were undertaken with two Australian subsidiaries of large multinational firms. We develop and refine a framework that identifies the influences on the provision of WLB. This framework is a useful guide for researchers and practitioners seeking to understand and manage WLB.

Keywords: work-life benefits; managerial decision-making; stakeholders; qualitative research; case studies.

There is widespread interest in research and practice in the field of work-life issues, largely driven by substantial changes in workforce demography in developed and developing societies and by increasing recognition that work-life issues are highly salient for many people (Fleetwood 2007; Lewis, Gambles & Rapoport 2007; Spector et al 2004). It is widely recognised that many employees face escalating demands to perform multiple roles in and out of the work environment (Campbell & Charlesworth 2004). Early studies in this field investigated the type and extent of family-friendly policies in work-places; scholars have also sought to demonstrate the positive outcomes for individuals and employers associated with such policies (Friedman & Galinsky 1992; Grover & Crooker 1995).

This research focuses on work-life benefits (WLB), which are employer-initiated policies and programs ostensibly directed towards helping employees deal with work and non-work responsibilities. We say 'ostensibly' here because it is increasingly recognised that work-life issues are a matter of economic and social well-being and tensions will arise in an organisation's pursuit of work-life management initiatives that meet both economic and social goals (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 2007). A salient example might be evidenced in an organisation's 'dual agenda' of linking work-life initiatives that are related to gender equity with initiatives to improve organisational performance (Rapoport, Bailyn, Fletcher and Pruit, 2002: 18). Hence, we recognise that the agenda driving WLB initiatives will vary between organisations. Further, as several studies have shown, the provision of WLB varies between organisations; while some organisations provide a comprehensive range of WLB, others do not (Bardoel, Tharenou & Moss 1998; Blair-Hoy & Wharton 2002; De Cieri, Holmes, Abbott & Pettit 2005; Hyman & Summers 2004).

The dual agenda of economic and social goals may lead to differences between managers' and employees' perspectives of WLB. It is feasible to argue that, where an employer is more focused on economic goals, employees may have less choice and face more structural constraints in their access to and utilisation of WLB (Lewis et al 2007). Conversely, where employees are able to make choices, for instance, where an organisation is facing high levels of competition in recruitment and retention of employees, those employees may be able to influence the decisions made by managers with regard to provision of WLB. Further, research has shown that interest in and utilisation of WLB will vary amongst employees (De Cieri et al 2005).

We propose, therefore, that it is important to understand both management and employee perspectives of WLB. We suggest that this is particularly valuable for human resource management (HRM) scholars and practitioners, as it is widely recognised that the HRM function faces a substantial challenge in seeking to satisfy the needs of both management and employees with regard to HRM policy and practice (eg Farndale 2005; Fisher, Dowling & Garnham 1999; Meisinger 2005). …