Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Elder Care and Work-Life Balance: Exploring the Experiences of Female Small Business Owners

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)

Elder Care and Work-Life Balance: Exploring the Experiences of Female Small Business Owners

Article excerpt


Many women seek self-employment as a way to better manage their work and family needs, particularly when they have children. However, the requirements of self-employment may compromise work-life balance in ways which are not always recognised. This is particularly true with elder care, because the general awareness of work-life balance issues for small businesses has not translated into understanding elder care. This exploratory study focussed on a small group of self-employed women with elder care responsibilities, finding that these women proactively managed their role challenges. However, the complex inter-relationship between such responsibilities, and the strategies utilised to both manage and mitigate their impact, was found to have implications for both the individual (in terms of identity and emotion) and the firm (in terms of performance).

Key words: work-life balance, small business, elder care, women, boundary theory


The potential for self-employment to allow women to create solutions to address issues they fece in managing both work and family responsibilities is well established (Heilman & Chen, 2003; Kirkwood & Tootell, 2008; Loscocco & Smith-Hunter, 2004; Wellington, 2006). Research in this tradition has frequently focused on the implications of self-employment for how women conceive their role (and identity) as a mother and how they manage their responsibilities in caring for children (DeMartino, Barbato, & Jacques, 2006; Marlow, 1997; Parasuraman & Simmers, 2001). However, with changing population and social trends, it may be that now (and in the future) women are likely to spend more time caring for the elderly than they do caring for children (Doressworters, 1994). New Zealand, like many other developed nations (Maestas & Zissimopoulus, 2010) has an ageing population1, and statistics indicate that, alongside a marked increase in those aged over eighty (Department of Labour, 2007), an age group which often requires significant daily support, there is also a decreasing availability of non-working women, the group who previously provided much of the family care-giving in the community (Department of Labour, 2007; Merrill, 1997). Government policy, which favours 'active' or 'productive' ageing', also relies on family support to be successful (Gadson, 2003; Ministry of Social Policy, 2001) yet there appears to be little understanding of how these changes will affect working women, and more particularly, what the impact might be on female small business owners. This is a critical gap in understanding given that New Zealand has a business population that is dominated by small firms (97% of all enterprises employing fewer than 20 people) and 36% of the total number of selfemployed are women (Ministry of Women's Affairs & Ministry of Economic Development, 2008). It is, therefore, important to explore more fully the challenges associated with elder care and the implications it may pose for female entrepreneurs looking to manage their lives and grow their businesses, especially given that one of the dominant reasons women enter self-employment is to find the flexibility that will allow them to better juggle their multiple roles (Smith, 2000).

Despite the growing likelihood of an increase in elder care responsibilities for many individuáis, including small business owners, self-employed and other entrepreneurs; elder care issues have largely escaped the attention of researchers interested in the dynamics of work-life balance. Nevertheless, there exist a small number of studies that have highlighted significant personal and work-related issues for employees with elder care responsibilities (Davey & Keeling, 2004; Fast, Williamson, & Keating, 1999; Merrill, 1997). The present study extends this research through a small-scale, exploratory project that concentrates on examining the lived experience of elder care on the work-life balance of self-employed women. …

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