What’s Missing from the Research on Work-Family Balance?

Although research on work–family balance has continued to grow and develop in recent years, there is a notable gap between what we know and what actually gets implemented in the workplace. Initially it was a field that focused on women and minorities as they began to join the workforce; however, in the modern era, work-family research has gone through quite a bit of evolution. As companies began to offer work-family related perks in an effort by human resource management to make their companies more attractive to employees, work-family balance began to become a vital part of any discussion regarding benefits and productivity. The term family now holds many more meanings than it did before, and the phrase work-family balance is being replaced in many discussions with work-life balance, so as to include a broader spectrum of non-work and personal roles held by employees at various stages of personal, social, and professional development.

Unfortunately, a growing number of employers are reducing or eliminating some family friendly benefits. Generally, the first programs to go are flextime, elder care referral, and adoption assistance, as well as paid maternity leave. Research presents a compelling argument for why employers should continue to offer and enhance their work-family policies despite the economic downturn. Research indicates that these work-family balance oriented policies promote positive employee attitudes, such as Job Satisfaction and Organizational Commitment, and foster a continued supply of potential candidates, who stay with an organization and thus save the organization money due to low turnover, decreased absenteeism, and fewer accidents.
So, why are more and more employers turning away from family friendly policies? The article suggest that, in part, the fault lies with the type of research being done.

More work needs to be done examining the pivotal role technology plays in blurring work-family boundaries. Researchers must realize that policies do not affect everyone in the same way. In this era of globalization, researchers also need to focus more internationally, where work is very much an offshoot of the culture in which it resides. Additionally researchers should focus on discovering how employees cope with the burdens of managing limited resources, such as their time and energy, while attempting to achieve and maintain a healthy work-family balance.

In short, we need to speak more practically about what is working; why it is working; and what employees and companies can do — whether it’s policies that support working from home, various types of telework, flextime, maternity and paternity leave, or something new – to ensure that work-family balance creates a happy, productive employee, enabling companies to achieve their full potential.