Gender and Work Life Balance

December 18, 2017 Social Policy

HRMT3345 Literature Review – Work-Life Balance for Women Introduction Work-life balance has been a concern of those interested in the quality of working life and its role in the broader quality of life. Two factors that can influence work-life balance are autonomy in the workplace and family building. An emerging issue in work-life balance literature concerns the role of gender and the problems associated with achieving a balance between paid work and domestic responsibilities. While gender itself is an unclear factor, the socially constructed perception of the female homemaker has made this a significant variable.

Work-life balance is the term used in the literature to refer to policies that strive for a greater complementarity and balance between work and home responsibilities. When addressing this issue from the gendered perspective, Guest (2002) adds that work-life balance policies are a means to reduce welfare dependency, to promote social inclusions and to facilitate gender equality. This review will address the attitudes towards work-life balance from an organisational perspective and the relationship between gender roles and the policies implemented. Theoretical Review

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Theoretical research in this area is largely based on the perception of gender inequality in workplace culture. More classic research focuses purely on the constructs of work-life balance, since the role of women in the workplace has been continuously changing over the last century. Zedeck and Mosier (1990) and O’Driscoll (1996) note that there are typically five main models used to explain the relationship between work and life outside work. The segmentation model hypothesizes that work and non-work are two distinct domains of life that are lived quite separately and have no influence on each other.

In contrast, a spillover model hypothesizes that one world can influence the other in either a positive or negative way. The third model is a compensation model which proposes that what may be lacking in one sphere, in terms of demands or satisfactions can be made up in the other. A fourth model is an instrumental model whereby activities in one sphere facilitate success in the other. The final model is a conflict model which proposes that with high levels of demand in all spheres of life, some difficult choices have to be made and some conflicts and possibly some significant overload on an individual occur.

One variable in this field of theoretical research is time-sovereignty. Findings suggest that work-life policies tend to strengthen gender inequalities, rather than diminishing them (Hardy and Adnett 2002). These results stem from the failure to design family-friendly measures in response to gender inequalities in the labour market. One argument holds that by focusing on child care, parental leave and part-time work, work-life balance policies actually target women. Studies reviewed agree that part-time work was actually keeping most women in low status jobs (Whittock et al, 2002).

Taudig & Fenwick (2001) argue that part-time working implicitly brings less balance. By linking his work to previous research, he suggests that in trying to balance on side, the other side is imbalanced, creating financial and career cost challenging the advantage of more time at home. A second variable in this theoretical equation is domestic responsibilities. Mavin (2001) argues that realistically women have more unpaid work duties and thus need different work patterns. She also suggests that the perception of balance is different for wives and husbands, due to traditional gendered occupational differences.

The review shows that work-life balance can be linked to issues of well-being such as role-balance. Mackey Jones & McKenna (2002) report that a family’s dislike for the woman’s work has a more substantial impact on home-work conflict than the employer’s dislike for the individual’s commitment to home life. Empirical Review Most studies in this field are recent. Strong empirical research has been carried out to quantitatively examine the relationship between female participation and part-time work policies.

In support of the theoretical research stated above, 25% of all women who participated in an Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) study stated that they had not applied for promotional opportunities because of childcare responsibilities, and female workers constituted 90% of all those who stated that childcare duties hindered them from applying for promotion. Empirical research has examined the relationship between work-life balance and support for family building. Several quantitative studies examined the ink between the participation of women on the labor market and the provision of accessible child-care. It is interesting to note that although studies focus on different countries, the results are mainly similar and strongly supported the above theoretical research. Chevalier & Riitanen (2002) of the UK concluded that childcare provision causes women participation in the labour market and that lack of childcare could limit that participation. In contrast, Nyberg (2000) argues that in Sweden child care arises because mothers were working and not the reverse.

Empirical research also examined the relationship between social pressure and women’s perspectives on work-life balance. Avelling (2002) followed a group of Australian high achieving young women from school to their work life ten years letter. This revealed that highly educated women envisioned a successful career but felt that being female still meant being mothers. When the authors interviewed the same women some years later, most of them had had children and put their promising careers on hold to take care of their children.

Canadian researchers Erwinn & Stewart (1997) and a UK study by Marks & Houston (2002) uncovered similar findings. These findings challenge the view that the workplace dictates the gendered perspective on work-life balance rather than the women themselves. The General Social Survey (2002) tackled the relationship between elderly women’s domestic duties and work-life balance. It was found that 80% of high intensity female caregivers usually worked 40 hours or less per week while 53% of their male counterparts worked 40 hours or less.

The study also asserted that regardless of the intensity of care-giving, employed men were more than twice as likely as women to be working longer hours. Research Gaps and Recommendations While contemporary theoretical research is comprehensive, several gaps still remain. Regarding the perspective on work-life balance for women juggling childcare duties, there is little known about non-parents’ intentions for their future employment and whether or not these will be affected by flexible working policies and/or children.

There is also a the need for more information on the pressures facing working parents to help inform developing social policy, both at the workplace and at governmental level. It is clear from the literature that mothers are more likely to compromise their employment patterns to accommodate children, but it is not clear why this trend is so prevalent. A closer look into these theories would provide a greater understanding of the constructs currently shaping our perspectives. There are several significant gaps in the existing empirical research.

Some studies fail to maximise their potential results by asking limited or badly-phrased questions. It is also important to note the response rates and sample sizes of each study, as this will determine the how generalised the research findings can be. For example, the ICTU study (2002) had a response rate of only 17%. Mandy findings also refer almost exclusively to union members, and hence do not include the views of non-union members. Another issue is the fact that many surveys are not standardised in any way, which makes their findings difficult to compare and contrast.

In addition, information is not being collected annually or in any systematic way. It could therefore be recommended that empirical studies into this topic expand the pool of interviewees and create more standardised, specific tests so that the findings can be more practical and applicable. There are also methodological gaps in the current research. Most recent published papers use large scale cross-sectional surveys which prevent a more thorough insight into each participant group.

It is recommended that future research into this topic makes use of group interviews using the family and work units for more specific and focused experiments. Conclusion Within the current literature on work-life balance, there has been a wide ranging discussion about the quality of working life and the concern for balance between work, leisure and home life. A particular focus has been around gendered roles, and the problems associated with achieving a balance between paid work and domestic responsibilities.

This can be studied from a range of perspectives, which include managerial, feminist, economic and sociological explanations. There have been a prolific amount of studies in this area within the last few years but there still remain some significant theoretical, empirical and methodological gaps into this research. Research into this topic is important not only to assess the state of gender equality in the workplace but to apply these findings practically to ensure that both men and women and provided with opportunities for an appropriate work-life balance.


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