Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

A Multilevel Examination of Work-Life Practices: Is More Always Better?

Academic journal article Journal of Managerial Issues

A Multilevel Examination of Work-Life Practices: Is More Always Better?

Article excerpt

During the past decade, researchers have begun to analyze the combined effects of multiple human resource practices (or bundles), sometimes under the rubrics of high-performance work systems or strategic HRM (e.g., Becker and Gerhart, 1996; Delaney and Huselid, 1996). However, as noted by Perry-Smith and Blum (2000), these studies have consistently excluded work-life human resource practices, most likely because employers ignore work-life support as a legitimate mainstream human resource issue (Kossek, 2005). More recently, researchers have begun to document the effects of specific work-life practices (also called work-family, family-responsive, or family-friendly practices). For example, Baltes et al. (1999) recently meta-analyzed the results of research on flextime and the compressed workweek. Other studies have focused on the effects of on-site child care (e.g., Goff et al., 1990; Kossek and Nichol, 1992), eldercare referral (Wagner and Hunt, 1994), and telecommuting (e.g., Bailey and Kurland, 2002; Duxbury et al., 1998; Igbaria and Guimaraes, 1999). Only in the past few years have researchers begun to analyze the effects of multiple work-life practices in concert, or in "bundles."

Two streams of research on multiple work-life practices have emerged: (1) studies examining the comparative effects of specific practices or types of practices and (2) studies examining the collective effects of multiple practices, typically using an index of the number of practices adopted. Both streams of research as well as the current study can be classified as "policy impact" research (Kossek, 2005) in which the relationship between policy access or use and attitudes and behaviors is examined. Because there has been very little research that focuses on the relationship between the number of different work-life practices offered by an organization and important outcomes of interest (e.g., organizational commitment), we examined the following research question: Is there a threshold level of practices such that additional practices have minimal incremental benefits? That is, if a bundle of work-life practices psychologically serves to signal to employees that their employer cares about them, is there some threshold number of practices that optimizes employee attitudes and perceptions? Although our work is theoretically grounded, we are primarily interested in whether there is an empirical relationship between the number of work-family practices offered by an organization and employee attitudes and perceptions that are related to important organizational outcomes. We focus on availability of programs rather than usage, as there is evidence that simply offering these practices can have a positive impact on employee attitudes, regardless of whether employees actually use the programs of policies (Grover and Crooker, 1995). In addition, because no prior research has examined these relationships using a multilevel design, we collected data at both the individual and work-group levels, and offer a conceptual justification for this added complexity.

In the following section, we review the two streams of research on multiple work-life practices, and describe the theory underlying our research. We then describe our methodology, including data collection from both employees and HR managers. After our results are presented, we offer suggestions for both future research and practice.

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE AND CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK

A study by Meyer, Mukerjee and Sestero (2001) is representative of the first stream of research on work-life practices. Using a sample drawn from Working Mother magazine's "The 100 Best Companies for Working Mothers," Meyer et al. (2001) examined the association between profits and each of nine work-life practices. They found that profits were related to the availability of paid sick days and job sharing, although, surprisingly, the relationship with job sharing was negative. When they examined a combination of variables related to benefit usage and benefit levels available, profitability was positively related to the amount of adoption assistance and the percentage of employees working at home, and negatively related to employee usage of job sharing and on-site childcare. …

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