Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Bridging the Research-Practice Gap: Developing a Measurement Framework for Work-Life Initiatives

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Bridging the Research-Practice Gap: Developing a Measurement Framework for Work-Life Initiatives

Article excerpt


Research in human resource management has advocated the development of a systematic process of measurement that enables managers to obtain and evaluate evidence about the performance of work-life initiatives, in both financial and non-financial terms. We apply the resource-based view of the firm, within the context of strategic human resource management literature, and conduct qualitative research in focus groups with human resource professionals and managers from 27 medium to large organisations operating in Australia. Our research explores what organisations are currently measuring with regard to work-life outcomes, how they are measuring it, and what they would like to measure. Integrating the practitioners' perspective with academic literature, we develop a framework of measurement for work-life initiatives.

Keywords: work-life; human resource management; measurement; metrics; focus groups; human resource practitioners

There has been increasing attention to the need for effective measurement of the contribution of work-life management initiatives to the employee's experience of work and to organisational effectiveness overall (Anderson, Coffey & Byerly 2002; Department of Employment and Workplace Relations 2005; Lewison 2006; Masi & Jacobsen 2003). The management of 'work-life' in organisations faces similar challenges to the 'quality movement' in the 1980s. Just as the widespread adoption of a set of standards such as the Baldridge Award gave structure and definition to an abstract concept such as quality - a much needed prerequisite to gain senior management support - the management of work-life initiatives needs to embrace a more systematic way of linking outcomes to organisational objectives (Harrington & James 2006). In recent years, human resource (HR) metrics have been developed and used to quantify the contribution of human resource management (HRM) to organisational performance (Subramony 2006). Similarly, we argue there is a need for having clear objectives for work-life initiatives, as the use of metrics would assist managers in demonstrating the impact of work-life initiatives on business strategy and performance. In the past, if organisations have provided resources and support for work-life balance it is often because it is a 'nice' thing to do for their employees. In the absence of standards and measurement, the concept of work-life is doomed to being perceived as not related to the strategic development of human resources or business outcomes.

Although there is no uniform definition of work-life initiatives, three primary categorisations are generally applied when examining work-life initiatives: dependent care, family leave, and flexible scheduling (Arthur & Cook 2003). We define work-life initiatives as those strategies, policies, programs and practices initiated and maintained in workplaces to address flexibility, quality of work and life, and work-family conflict. Lobel (2003: points to research that has demonstrated clear organisational benefits of work-life initiatives 'such as on-site child care, flextime, parental leave, work-family workshops, and other work-life supports on: employee attitudes, individual and team performance, human resource management indicators (eg absenteeism, turnover, etc.) and organisational strategic goals'.

Although there are challenges in establishing the value of work-life initiatives, the business case for adopting work-life initiatives is both powerful and convincing (Burud & Tomolo 2004; Kossek & Lambert 2005; Masi & Jacobsen 2003). In many developed and developing societies, there has been burgeoning interest in work-life issues, driven by substantial changes in workforce demography and by increasing recognition that work-life issues present significant challenges for many people (Fleetwood 2007; Lewis, Gambles & Rapoport 2007). In Australia, for instance, there has been considerable discussion and debate amongst policy-makers, employers, researchers, and the general community (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission 2007; Pocock 2006). …

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