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Quality of work-life issues, the needs of the dual-career couple employee perceptions of personnel practices: a study of rural America barometer for human resource managers.

ABSTRACT

America's work force has undergone a transformation over the past forty years. The Census Bureau reported that in 1997 only 17% of all families conformed to the 1950s model of a wage-earning dad, a stay-at-home mom, and one or more children. Since the late 1950s, growing attention has focused on families in which both partners work; these relationships are called dual-earner marriages. Societal changes such as the number of women entering the workforce and the economic need for two incomes to support a family have impacted the American labor force. Married coupled families in which husband and wife both work accounted for 53.2% of the workforce in 2000. These workers face problems in balancing work responsibilities with home commitment. Literature supports that work-life conflict poses problems to both employees and business. Organizations look to their employees for productivity and efficiency, which is compromised by work-life conflict in the form of absenteeism, decreased employee satisfaction, and poor job performance. Employees look to their employers for personnel practices to help alleviate the stress they experience in balancing home and work responsibilities. Fourteen organizations in northern-lower Michigan participated in this study with employees representative of healthcare, education, banking, insurance, tourism, and the manufacturing industries. A Likert-type scale was used to assess the perception of 278 members of dual-career families on how helpful eighteen personnel practices were in alleviating work-life conflict. The rankings of the personnel practices were examined and implications to business and industry made.

The results of this study will be useful to those academics and human resource practitioners who are interested in evaluating quality of work-life personnel practices to better meet the needs of dual-career families who face conflict in managing work responsibilities and family commitments. It serves as a tool for business and industry to accurately assess the needs of their own workforce. From the findings, business strategies can be developed to more effectively allocate financial resources to provide personnel practices that are perceived as most supportive by their employees. The underlying result for the organization is the potential for increased employee morale, productivity, and job satisfaction.

INTRODUCTION

America's work force has undergone immense change over the past forty years bringing with it societal changes impacting the way people value their quality of life and their willingness to compromise career over family. The 2003 workforce is much different than the workforce of the 1980s and early 1990s, which evolved from stereotypical norms of work in the 1960s.

The Census Bureau reported that in 1997 only 17% of all families conformed to the 1950s model of a wage-earning dad, a stay-at-home mom, and one or more children. Since the late 1950s, growing attention has focused on families in which both partners work; these relationships are called dual-earner marriages (Jordan, Cobb & McCully, 1989). Married couples with children in which husband and wife both work accounted for 53.2% of the workforce in 2000 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001).

The number of women entering the workforce and the incidence of dual-earner families has steadily increased; a trend that seems unlikely to change in the near future (Facts about the demographics of working families, Careers Institute, Winter, 1999). The most significant increase has been in married-couple families with children under the age of six. The percentage of such families increased almost 10% between 1986 and 1998, from 52.6 to more than 62% (Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census).

Research on employee values reflects a new trend with employees often placing family interests above career and increasingly expecting employers to help them balance home and work demands. These changes have made it imperative for organizations to consider how their policies and procedures affect family life.

Sekaran (1986) illustrates a number of critical issues in dual-career families: (a) their need for flexible work patterns, enabling them to balance the demands of family and career; (b) the need for revised benefits plans that will allow couples to start families without jeopardizing their career prospects; and (c) their need to be freed from anxieties about child care when they are at work.

Work responsibilities and family obligations compete for time and attention in most working adults. The more time individuals allocate to one arena, the less they have to allocate to the other (Moen, Waismel-Manor & Sweet, 2002). When individuals feel that too many demands of one domain are unmet, they experience work- family conflict, which is consistent with a conflict approach (also referred to as depletion or resource drain) to the relationship between work and family roles (Edwards & Rothbard, 2000; Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985; Lambert, 1990). However, when individuals are able to allocate their time and energy to meet the demands of each domain, they feel successful in balancing work and family. This is consistent with past literature that has defined work-family balance in terms of satisfactorily resolving competing demands emanating from the work and family domains (Bohen & Viveros-Long, 1981; Clark, 2000; Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985; Higgins, Duxbury & Johnson, 2000; Kossek, Noe & DeMarr, 1999).

If members of dual-career families face problems in simultaneously meeting the demands of work and family, what would be their perceived attitude toward work if quality of work-life concepts and benefits were supported by the organization? The research supports that many managers in organizations cite issues with lost time at work, lack of motivated workers, and loss of worker productivity resulting from work-family conflicts. Absenteeism, employee turnover, and job satisfaction attributable to the existence or non-existence of quality of work-life concepts in the workplace are also concerns of managers as cited in the research.

In addition to the importance to individual employees of organizational support of family roles, there also appears to be a growing concern on the part of organizations regarding employee-organizational linkages, or the connection an employee feels toward an organization. Mowday, Porter, and Steers (1982) stress that the extent and quality of employee-organizational linkages provide important consequences for individuals, organizations, and society and are greatly affected by the social changes taking place.

One of the major changes Mowday, et al. (1982) note with respect to impacts on employee-organizational linkages related to the changing composition of the characteristics of the work force. In particular, they suggest that the percentage of women entering the work force, an increase in dual-career households, and a new value system will create difficulties for organizations that ignore the problem. The widened ties of individuals to the organization may have negative implications for both individuals and organizations. More specifically, Mowday et al (1982) suggest that reduced linkages may lead to lowered organizational commitment.

The workforce has undergone a transformation leading to an increase in dual-career families. These dual-career couples face many stressors in balancing career, family, social obligations and work expectations. Changing societal trends such as an increase in the number of women entering the work force combined with an economy that requires dual incomes to support an average standard of living contribute to work-family conflicts. As a result, society and American business have recognized the conflicts unique to dual-career families and have responded.

With the increase of dual-career couples in the workforce, many organizations have begun to take a role in developing quality of work-life programs. The goal of the organization is to relieve the stressors of employees in an attempt to retain employees, cultivate good employee morale, and develop organizational commitment while also enhancing productivity and efficiency of work performance. Society has responded with innovative solutions such as job sharing, flexible work schedules, and day care solutions. Dual-career families continue to look to employers and society for assistance in managing quality of work-life conflicts.

Absenteeism, employee turnover, employee morale, and job satisfaction may be directly related to the firm's ability to offer quality of work-life programs which the employee perceives as important in coping with quality of work-life issues. If employees face problems in simultaneously meeting the demands of work and family, the organization usually suffers in terms of lost time at work and turnover of personnel due to an inability to cope with concurrent family and work demands or to relocate when required by the organization. The conflicts employees have between work and family hinder overall corporate productivity (Fernandez, 1986). The literature review and supporting empirical research further support a correlation of quality of work-life programs with employee productivity, morale, job satisfaction, and loyalty.

American work-force statistics show an increasing percentage (53.2%) of dual-career couples in the work-force. This particular segment of the population appears to be increasingly requesting business to issue policies, form programs, and offer benefits that will assist them in managing both career and family in a society that places increasing demands in both sectors. With the security of dual-incomes, this population segment, which comprises the majority of the American workforce, seeks quality of work-life benefits from organizations in which they wish to be employed.

Business is interested in retaining good employees, decreasing employee turnover, increasing overall corporate productivity, and seeks to cultivate a good corporate culture inclusive of good employee morale, employee loyalty to the organization, and job satisfaction. In addition, organizations are concerned with meeting the demands of their employees to enhance employee commitment to the organization. With a slow economy placing demands on companies to downsize and re-evaluate budgets, there is a growing need for human resource managers to review personnel practices in an effort to maximize the benefit to employees using limited organizational financial resources.

Organizations can implement or redesign practices to reflect consideration of the issues facing dual-career couples. As a result, they may avoid the costs resulting from home stress spilling over to work. Creative practices designed to accommodate the needs of working couples are emerging in companies across the United States (Hall & Hall, 1978; Koplemann, Rosenweigh & Lally, 1982).

Unfortunately, despite expressed interest in supporting families, the actual practices of most companies lag behind expressed attitudes of workers (Catalyst Career and Family Center, 1987). Employers may be reluctant to adopt new quality of work-life practices partly because they lack clear evidence of their effects, both for employees and the company. Although an array of new options exists, confusion surrounds the election of practices to best meet the needs of an organization's specific employee population.

Employee perception of the support their company provides them in balancing career with family roles affect critical employee attitudes such as employee commitment, job satisfaction, and employee morale (Chusmir, 1986; Magid, 1983). Other studies have identified a causal relationship between employee perceptions of the support of their company with employee productivity and have established a correlation of worker's attitude of QWL concepts with employee morale, employee loyalty to the organization, and overall job satisfaction.

Practices such as flextime and childcare are typically assumed to be helpful to dual-career couple employees with families. However, the actual beliefs of employees are rarely assessed. Employee's perceptions may be a crucial barometer of the usefulness of family support practices in diminishing home-career conflicts and may assist companies in selecting and implementing new benefits while also enhancing corporate productivity. Companies that minimally support and consider employee's family responsibilities in terms of personnel practices may experience decreased acceptance of the organization's values. This may lead to diminished loyalty to the company, decreased willingness to exert effort of work (decreasing worker productivity), and the employee may elect to leave the company in favor of organizations who support quality of work-life programs and practices which employees deem important.

An organizational climate or quality of work-life (QWL) exists in all companies (Balch & Blanck, 1989). In the journal article entitled Measuring the Quality of Work-life, (1989) Balch and Blanck state:
 Evidence of high QWL can be increased productivity and loyalty,
 increased levels of morale, frequent participation in cost savings
 suggestions, and employees who feel they do not need union
 representation to achieve their goal of having a good place to work
 (p. 44).


Balch and Blanck suggest that an organizational survey can help reveal how employees feel about their work situation and that measuring quality of work-life perception can reveal to management what employees feel are the most beneficial benefits and programs provided by their employer that curtail work-life conflict. Management can then address new practices and procedures that assist dual-career families to manage work-life conflicts (Balch & Blanck, 1989).

EVALUATING SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM

The difficulty of managing work and family demands has increased for many working adults, and many employers have developed quality of work-life policies as an important attraction and retention strategy. Formal work/family practices encompass a wide range of programs including job sharing, flextime, childcare facilities, telecommuting and family leave. Employer's use of work/family policies has grown significantly in recent years. This represents a continuation in the expansion of average benefit packages, which grew from 25% of total compensation in 1959 to over 42% in 1996 (Milkovich & Newman, 1999). These programs can be evaluated to assess their role in reducing work-family conflict.

Family Medical Leave Act

The increase of women in the work force combined with the increase in dual-career families throughout the 1990s has forced some employers including the federal government to recognize the link between work and family life. In 1993, the United States legislated its only parental-leave policy, The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows twelve weeks of unpaid leave for workers with care giving responsibilities who are employed in workplaces with at least fifty employees for each working day during each of 20 or more calendar workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year (Polatnick, 2000).

Although the FMLA is an important first step, a major criticism of the policy is that it is unpaid leave and the majority of employees are not eligible due to the size of the firms in which they work (less than fifty employees). In the late 1990s, legislators began proposing revisions to the FMLA to expand benefits to cover thirteen million workers by including employees in firms of twenty-five or more employees. An additional measure proposes to allow workers to take up to twenty-four hours intermittent leave to attend to children's school activities or to accompany elderly relatives to medical appointments (Papa et al., 1998). These proposed measures have not been passed legislative approval.

At this point in time, the Family Leave and Medical Act is the first attempt to legislate that employers recognize workers' family responsibilities. While some groups do not favor expanded government intervention into work and family life, in order to sufficiently resolve the work-family dilemma, it appears that government intervention is necessary. The implementation of the FMLA combined with growing statistics of women in the workforce and dual-earner families have lead many businesses to re-examine their quality of work-life benefits (Polatnick, 2000).

Day Care Dilemma

Managing childcare becomes a complex and stressful juggling act, which involves balancing each parent's schedule together with the children's. Sandra Hofferth, a senior research scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, (as cited by Wasserman, 1999) states that kids twelve and under are spending much more time in structured activities today than they were just sixteen years ago. The feeling of not giving enough time to their children is a major source of stress for working parents who want to play an active role in shaping their children's lives. Many worry about the impact of their hectic work schedules on their children (Wasserman, 1999).

More than 6,000 companies now provide day-care services and financial assistance or referral services for child-care (Ribaric, 1987). An estimated 3,000 companies offer subsidized day-care center, financial assistance for childcare or childcare referral services with an increase of 50% since 1984 (Chapman, 1987). According to the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce, 12% of working parents with young children receive direct financial assistance with child care fees from their employers in the form of vouchers, cash or scholarships. According to the 1998 Business Work-Life Study, 12% of companies report that they are considering providing worksite child care in the future (Bond & Galinski, 1998).

American Savings and Loan Association established the Little Mavericks School of Learning in 1983 for 150 children of employees on a site within walking distance of several of its satellite branch locations. The center's services include regular day care, holiday care, sick-child care, Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs, a kindergarten program, and after-school classes. Fees range from $135 to $235 a month. Company officials report that the center has substantially reduced absenteeism and increased productivity (Ribaric, 1987).

IBM contracted in 1983 with the Boston-based Work/Family Directions, a for-profit childcare consulting group. IBM has paid the firm to establish 16,000 home-based family centers and open 3,000 group day-care centers for IBM employees (Chapman, 1987). Other companies provide partial reimbursement for child-care services. Zayre Corporation pays up to $20 a week for day-care services for employees who work at corporate headquarters (Toufexis, 1987). A growing number of benefit programs enable employees to allocate a portion of their fringe benefits to pay for day-care services. Another company, Chemical Bank, pays these benefits quarterly in pre-tax dollars (Toufexis, 1987).

Facilities have been established to assist parents in caring for children when they are too sick to go to school or day care centers. About 80 employers (up from 50% from 1986-87) have made this provision for working parents (LeFleur & Newsom, 1988). Chicken Soup is a sick-child day-care operation in Minneapolis. Susan Wolfe, Chicken Soup's executive director, figures First Bank loses $154 a day if a $40,000-a-year middle manager misses work to take care of a sick child. She says, "Chicken Soup saves the company 87%, or almost $135 a day" (LeFleur & Newsom, 1988, p. 148).

Research shows that the use of resources such as on-site childcare relates to greater job satisfaction and perceived work-family balance (Ezra & Deckman, 1996), as well as employee time saved, increased motivation and productivity, better employee retention, decreased healthcare costs and stress-related illnesses, and lower absenteeism (Landaur, 1997).

Flex-Time Opportunities

Job flexibility refers to workers' actual control over their work schedules. Both women and men workers report that lack of control over their work schedules is their main source of work-family stress (Barnett & Rivers, 1996; Levine & Pittinski, 1997). Parasuraman, Purohit, Godshalk, and Beutell (1996) found that work schedule inflexibility was positively related to time committed to work, which in turn predicted work-to-family conflict. This relationship held for both men and women. Other research has shown that significant numbers of employees value having flexibility in scheduling the time and/or place of work (Glass & Estes, 1997). In a nationally representative sample 38% of parents and 27% of non-parents reported that they might or would change jobs to gain access to flextime (Galinski, Bond & Friedman, 1996).

Parents seek to reduce their time stress through increased flexibility at work or by reducing their hours. In 1997, about 25 million full-time wage and salary workers had flexible schedules that allowed them to vary the time that they began or ended work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (as cited by Wasserman, 1999, p. 11). This represented over one-quarter of all workers, a very sharp increase from the 15% with flexible schedules in 1991 (Wasserman, 1999, p. 11).

Thomas and Ganster (1995) found that employees with access to flexible scheduling had more control over managing work and family, which in turn increased job satisfaction and lowered work-family conflict. Baltes and colleagues (1999) conducted a meta-analysis of 31 studies of flexible scheduling policies. They reported a significant relationship between flexible scheduling and employee outcomes of job satisfaction in 18 studies of flextime and 8 studies of compressed workweeks.

According to one study, the majority of parents report that their main policy priority would be a set of policies that addresses their lack of parental time with children (Hewlett & West, 1998, p. 217). Flexible work schedule is rated highly among benefits to dual-career couples with 90% of mothers and fathers reporting that they want access to compressed work weeks, flextime, job-sharing, and part-time work benefits (Hewlett & West, 1998, p. 217.) Recent research suggests that employees are beginning to recognize the need for flexible work schedules and that more workers are taking advantage of this option (Beers, 2000). The proportion of wage and salary workers with flexible job schedules grew from 13% in 1985 to about 25% in 1997 (Beers, 2000, p. 40).

A number of companies allow employees to combine vacation and sick leave to increase the amount of time off for family life. At Hewlett Packard, employees receive their regular vacation days plus five additional days of unused sick time to use for family events (Schmidt & Scott, 1987). A 1996 study by the Ford Foundation--based on years of observing many industries--found that the number of companies offering parental leave, child-care subsidies and flexible hours is growing. About 20% of the federal employers and 13% of the private sector employers allow flextime (Kleiman, 1997).

According to the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforces, only 18% of companies offering one or more flexible work arrangements perceive the costs of their investments in these policies as outweighing the benefits, while 36% perceive these programs as cost-neutral and 46% perceive a positive return on their investment (Bond, Galinski & Swanberg, 1997, p. 2).

Grover and Crooker (1995) studied multiple family-responsive policies together and found that employees with access to more of these benefits showed greater organizational commitment and lower intentions to leave. Their study supported the idea that flexible work hours offered by organizations influenced organizational commitment by employees. The literature suggests that flexible work hours allow parents to modify their work schedule to meet family obligations without feeling guilty or requesting more time away from the job leading to increased commitment to the organization and greater job satisfaction.

Flexible Career Paths

According to a 1997 study by Catalyst entitled Two Careers, One Marriage: Making it Work in the Workplace, dual-career couples are also requesting flexible career paths. In interviews with twenty-five such couples (with and without children) two-thirds of the men and three-fourths of the women want to customize the career path as needed to make allowances for family priorities. According to Sheila Wellington, president of Catalyst, (as Cited in "Work/ Life," 1998, p. S6) it is a need companies can't afford. Employee respondents cite the two-income cushion as a call to be more selective in job choice. Two-thirds of the couples interviewed by Catalyst state they are more likely to leave the company if they aren't satisfied since they feel increased freedom to take such a risk with more financial security ("Work/Life," 1998, p. S6).

Job Sharing

Job sharing enables two people to share a job on a part-time basis and is a major boon to spouses who want to continue their careers while raising children. The program was first established by Steelcase, Inc., in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where company officials say that the program has reduced turnover and absenteeism, boosted morale, and helped achieve affirmative action objectives (Kleiman, 1997).

Since the late 1970s, there has been a growing trend in the number of alternative work schedules being implemented in United States Organizations (Olmsted & Smith, 1989, as cited by Hammer & Barber, 1997). The percentage of flexible work schedules rose from 12.3 in 1985 to 15.1 in 1991, and the number of part-time workers increased from almost 17 million in 1980 to 21 million in 1993 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1994, as cited by Hammer & Barber, 1997). A greater emphasis on leisure time and changes in the composition of the workforce to include a proportionately larger representative of women contribute to this increase (Hammer & Barber, 1997).

Delaware-based Dupont Corporation has been a pioneer in flexible work arrangements. Dupont has empirical evidence gathered over a ten-year period that shows its extensive flexible work program has resulted in a more committed and flexible work force (Sheley, 1996).

Sullivan and Lussier (1995) postulate that understanding a work force that is changing and recognizing that supporting the changing needs of the workforce relates directly to supporting the needs of the organization will fast forward the flexibility process. Sullivan and Lussier (1995) state:
 Implementing flexibility and allowing employees to work during their
 most productive times can add to productivity and create more
 loyalty in employees. Understanding flexible work arrangements, as a
 management tool is the first step in effectively using new ways of
 working to increase productivity and boost morale in the work force
 (p.15).


According to the Catalyst study entitled Two Careers, One Family, respondents in the study rated flexible hours as the most important program they would look for when switching companies at 85%. Formal flexible work programs rated at 63% in the survey (Catalyst study, Two Careers, One Marriage, p. 14). This indicates that job sharing and flexible work programs continue to be valued by dual-career couples in the workplace.

Elder Care Assistance

Data from the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce reveal that 23% of wage and salaried workers, employed by companies with 100 or more employees, had elder care responsibilities during the preceding year, spending an average of 11 hours per week providing assistance of various types. Of workers who provided elder care, 39% lost time from work to do so. As the U.S. population ages, growing elder care responsibilities promise to have an even greater impact on the workforce. Fully 42% of employees surveyed for the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce study expect to have elder care responsibilities over the next five years (The 1998 Business Work-Life Survey, p. 48). In addition, elder care assistance was ranked ninth in importance by dual-career workers in the Catalyst, Two Career, One Marriage research.

Relocation Issues

Many employees are refusing relocation assignments if their spouses cannot find acceptable job (Pave, 1985). In response, many companies have recently begun to offer services for spouses. These services include arranging interviews with prospective employers, providing resume writing workshops, and paying plane fares for job-hunting trips. General Mills, 3M, and American Express use outside placement services to find jobs for trailing spouses (Pave, 1985). More than 150 companies in northern New Jersey created and use a job bank that provides leads for job-hunting spouses. Chase Manhattan Bank and O'Melveny & Myers (one of the nation's largest law firms) are among those who hire two-career couples. Martin Marietta maintains an affirmative hire-a-couple policy and hires about 100 couples a year at its Denver division (Pave, 1985).

As part of Dow Chemical's diversity initiative, the organization recognizes that many of its employees are in dual-career situations and that it needed to address the issue of relocating employees to new geographic locations within North America. Dow provides dual-career support by assisting the employed spouse by providing them with the tools needed to assist in their job search through the services of one of Dow's career transition service providers. Financial support is available to provide reimbursement for professional exams, fees for certifications and interview trips. When a situation exists where there is a reasonable commute distance, Dow will provide a commute allowance for a period of three years to replace the relocation package. Dow has found that adding this type of flexibility to their relocation package helps in removing some of the barriers that dual-career couples face when making a geographic move (Catalyst Study, Two Careers, One Marriage, p. 14).

The need for qualified international managers has become a critical issue for many multinational corporations worldwide (Harvey, 1996). The high failure rate of expatriates has been a concern for international managers for a decade. The impact of family and, in particular, the spouse of the transferred international manager has become of increased interest to human resource managers. The 1999 Global Relocation Trends Survey conducted by Windham International GMAC GRS, the National Foreign Trade Council (NFTC) and the International of Human Resources, reveals that 69% of expatriates are married, with spouses accompanying 77% of the time. Of those spouses, 49% were employed before an assignment and only 11% were employed during an assignment. The most common reason listed for assignment failure is lack of partner satisfaction (27%), which was directly tied to work (Solomon, 2000, p. 36). As dual-career couples become more the norm than the exception, they are having an increased impact on the mobility of the professional labor force (Bradbury, 1994).

A large portion of expatriate failures are attributed to non-work related family issues (Harvey, 1995). The resulting family stress compounds the adjustment associated with the expatriate's new position and organizational expectations. The family has both a direct and indirect impact on the adjustments of the expatriate. The direct impact can be illustrated by the potential loss of the trailing spouse's income and potential future earnings, i.e., career disruption when returning to the domestic market (Harvey, 1995). Indirectly, the spouse and children influence the level of tension, stress and satisfaction when expatriating to a foreign country by creating a dysfunctional family environment that creates stress that can spillover into the work environment (Vannoy & Philliber, 1992; Wiggins-Frame & Shehan, 1994, Solomon, 1994). Marriott Corporation, Mobil Corporation, Square D Company, and Ameritech survey their dual-career couples directly. The United States Air Force, AT&T, Ford Motor Company, and Allstate Insurance Company conduct focus group interviews and collect feedback from ongoing management and employee groups. This information is used to customize expatriation compensation and support packages.

Firms such as Organization Resources Counselors Inc., Windham International, and the National Foreign Trade Council have undertaken many studies on the challenges of moving dual-career couples internationally. "A resounding number of companies report increased concern over the expatriate spouse career issue, but a person can count on one hand the number that have actively developed assistance policies with perceived benefit by the transferee or spouse" (Carter, 1997, p. 23). Solomon (2000) states that companies are not doing enough. About 37% provide education assistance to spouses; 36% establish spouse networks, 21% reimburse educational expenses, 20% assist with career planning; and 20% help to find jobs when possible. Yet 30% provide no spouse assistance at all.

The Catalyst Study, Two Careers, One Marriage: Making it work in the Workplace (1997) found that companies that do not address the needs of dual-career couples risk losing valuable employees and at a considerable expense. Dual-career couples in this study indicate a high level of mobility when it came to their careers. Because they have the financial cushion of a second income, they feel more able to make dramatic changes in their employment, such as leaving a company if they are not satisfied, starting their own business or moving to another company in their industries. Studies have shown that turnover costs to replace one exempt employee can range from 100 to 200% of their annual salary and benefit cost (1995 Human Resource Financial Report, Saratoga Institute, California, as cited in the Catalyst Study, p. 5).

SUMMARY AND DISCUSSION OF RESULTS

The advent of the dual-career couple has evolved over the past 100 years stemming from the work/family enterprise of the industrial revolution when all members of the family regardless of age and gender worked. The middle of the twentieth century gave way to the breadwinner/homemaker economy where the husband worked and the wife and children stayed home. The entrance of women of all ages into the work force during the second half of the twentieth century fueled by female independence and an economy where dual-incomes were needed to support the family, gave way to a working family economy (Moen & Yu, 2000). Along with this transformation, the workforce evolved with legislation dictating working conditions and the reliance of employees upon their employers to offer personnel practices and benefits. As changes in the work roles of husband and wife evolved, along with it came the conflict of balancing work obligations with home commitments leading to work-life conflict.

Members of dual-career families face work-life conflicts in balancing work and home commitments. This population segment comprises the majority (53.2%) of the nation's labor pool (U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2001). Work responsibilities and family obligations compete for time and attention for most working adults. Research on employee values reflects a new trend of families placing more importance on home than careers. The research supports that work-life personnel practices are growing in importance to members of dual-career families who in turn, are requesting these benefits from their employers. This is evident in the Catalyst Career and Families studies, the Families and Work Institute research, and the Cornell Couples and Career studies.

Organizations are also facing problems when employees face work-life conflicts. The research supports that many managers in organizations cite issues with lost time from work, lack of motivated workers, and loss of productivity resulting from work-family conflicts. Absenteeism, employee turnover, and job satisfaction are among the problems cited by organizations as growing concerns attributable to work-life conflict of employees. Many businesses suffer when policies and programs are not in place to address these issues. The cost of absenteeism is on the rise. In 1994, absenteeism rose 3.46 percent in the U.S. workplace, according to the 1995 Unscheduled Absence Survey by Commerce Clearing House, Inc. The survey also indicated that from 1992 to 1994, absenteeism has increased 14.1%.

In addition to the importance to individual employees of organizational support of family roles, there also appears to be a growing concern on the part of organizations regarding employee-organizational linkages, or the connection an employee feels toward the organization. The research suggests that the percentage of women entering the work force, an increase in dual-career households, and a new value system may create difficulty for organizations that do not examine the employee-organizational linkage related to the changing composition of the characteristics of the work force. United States Bureau of a Labor Statistics reports that women constituted 46%-48% of the work force in the year 2000. Because changes in the number of female workers, the number of dual-career couples, and changing values have been linked to both employee organizational linkages and work-life conflicts, it is plausible that work-life conflict and commitment may be related.

The purpose of this research is to examine how supportive members of dual-career families perceive eighteen personnel practices in alleviating work-life conflict. Face validity of personnel practices was established by an expert panel of Human Resources practitioners in the northern-lower Michigan area.

Data collection consisted of distributing 2,530 surveys through organizations voluntarily participating in the study. Eighty-three organizations were contacted throughout northern-lower Michigan with fourteen participating. The industries representative of health care, education, banking, insurance, manufacturing, and tourism are included in the study.

The study's findings support that members of dual-career families in northern-lower Michigan perceive health insurance followed by dental insurance as most supportive in alleviating work-life conflict. Employee sick leave for child's illness ranked third at a mean of 5.65 followed by flexible work hours with a mean of 5.47, and leave without pay, position assured, with a mean of 5.22. The researcher speculates that the ranking of health and dental as most supportive may be attributable to the emergence of health benefits stemming from the Family Medical Leave Act in 1993 and the growing value of health and dental benefits to the employee as organizations seek to curb expenses in these areas placing more financial responsibility of health and dental insurance on the employee.

It is interesting to note that employee sick leave for child's illness, flexible work hours and leave without pay-position assured, ranked above maternity benefits, which had a mean of 4.99. The data suggests that dual-career families perceive time off to attend to their children's illness, flexible working hours, and leave without pay as more supportive than more traditional benefits such as maternity benefits. It is speculated that perhaps employees may expect maternity benefits to be in place as an employee benefit since it has been a personnel practice that has been in place in many organizations throughout the past three decades and is supported by legislation of the Family Medical Leave Act for organizations with more than 50 employees.

Time off to attend to child's illness ranked third in importance among all eighteen personnel practices. Dual-career families find this personnel practice (based on the ranking) quite important. This concurs with the growing trend of organizations offering assistance to employees in tending to their child's illness. These findings are supported with a growth in facilities established to assist parents in caring for children when they are too sick to go to school or day care centers. About 80 employers (up from 50% from 1986-87) have made this provision for working parents (LeFleur & Newsom, 1988). Chicken Soup is a sick-child day-care operation in Minneapolis that provides time off for child's illness and cites a savings to the company of 87% in comparison to lost wages to employees (LeFleur & Newsom, 1988, p. 148). In addition, company officials at American Savings and Loan Association reports that their Little Mavericks School of Learning center established for employees' need for child-care facilities in addition to sick-child care has substantially reduced absenteeism and increased productivity among their workers (Ribaric, 1987).

The research indicates that flexible work hours ranked fourth in importance in alleviating work-life conflict experienced by members of dual-career families in northern-lower Michigan. Flexible work hours ranked 85% (number one) in a national study by Catalyst: Two Careers One Family. The Catalyst study evaluated nine personnel practices when asking the respondent what they would like offered by new employers. This was followed by cafeteria-style benefits at 79% and family leave provisions at 74%. Healthcare, dental, and employee time off to attend to child's illness were not personnel practices included in the Catalyst study. The study supports the desire for flexible hours among dual-career employees. Thomas and Ganster (1995) found that employees with access to flexible scheduling had more control over managing work and family, which in turn increased job satisfaction and lowered work-family conflict.

Eldercare support care ranked last in this study and also ranked ninth in the Catalyst Study Two Careers, One Family. It is speculated by the researcher that eldercare support will grow in importance as the U.S. population experiences the aging of the Baby Boomer generation. Fully, 42% of employees surveyed for the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce study expect to have elder care responsibilities over the next five years (The 1998 Business Work-Life Survey, p. 48).

CONCLUSION

The study supports that America's work force has undergone an evolution over the past 50 years as social values change and the composition of the work-force transitions. The trend of more and more women entering the work force, and the emergence of members of dual-career families as the majority of the workforce have caused corporate America to examine work-life conflict and to design personnel practices accordingly. As more demands are placed on the dual-career worker in both the home and employment sectors, the more they request assistance in the form of quality of work-life personnel practices from their employers.

The findings of this study identify eighteen personnel practices that members of dual-career families specifically in northern-lower Michigan find supportive in alleviating work-life conflict. The findings identify the overall rankings of these personnel practices. These are personnel practices that respondents find supportive in the 2003 workplace. The challenge for business and industry (in which the findings of this study will be useful) is to determine what types of quality of work-life practices are perceived by members of dual-career families as most supportive in alleviating work-life conflicts.

The implications for business and industry in northern-lower Michigan which can be generalized for other organizations in rural geographic areas of America, is the findings suggest members of dual-career families perceive health insurance and dental insurance as most supportive in alleviating work-life conflict. Organizations may wish to evaluate their personnel practices to ensure that they include healthcare and dental insurance. In addition, non-traditional benefits such as employee sick leave for child's illness, flexible work hours, and leave without pay-position assured, are perceived as more supportive than traditional benefits such as maternity benefits and cafeteria approach to benefits. Human resource managers may want to re-evaluate their existing personnel practices to incorporate practices relating to flexible hours and time off to attend to a child's illness as part of their practices and examine the possibility of flexible work hours.

The findings also suggest that members of dual-career families indicate that monetary support of community child-care facilities is perceived as more supportive at a mean of 3.97 than on-site childcare at a mean of 3.8. Organizations may want to evaluate the expense of creating an on-site childcare facility versus monetary support of community child-care facilities since the subjects indicate that they find monetary support of child-care facilities more supportive.

The literature and research addressed in this study support that increased satisfaction of workers due to implementation of quality of work life programs that help them balance the stress of work-life conflict may increase productivity, employee morale, and overall corporate productivity. The 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW) found that employees with more supportive work places as well as better quality jobs are more likely to have: (a) higher levels of job satisfaction; (b) more commitment to their company's success; (c) greater loyalty to their companies; and (d) a strong intention to remain with the company. The NSCW also found that employees with more demanding jobs and less supportive workplaces experience more stress, poor coping, and less energy off the job.

The results of this study will be useful to those academics and human resource practitioners who are interested in evaluating quality of work-life personnel practices to better meet the needs of dual-career families who face conflict in managing work responsibilities and family commitments. It serves as a tool for business and industry to accurately assess the needs of their own workforce. From the findings, business strategies can be developed to more effectively allocate financial resources to provide personnel practices that are perceived as most supportive by their employees. The underlying result for the organization is the potential for increased employee morale,

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Kelly L. Bruning, Northwestern Michigan College
Ranking of Personnel Practices - Total Sample
Degree of Helpfulness

Health Insurance 6.3
Dental 6.11
Empl Sick Lv For Child's Illness 5.65
Flx. Work Hours 5.47
Lv w/o pay, pos. assured 5.22
Maternity 4.99
Cafeteria Approach to Benefits 4.8
Paternity Benefits 4.54
Flx Work Site 4.48
Monetary support cm child care fac. 3.97
EAP 3.9
Relocation Assistance 3.89
Onsite Child Care 3.8
Family Counseling 3.62
Career Counseling 3.42
Eldercare Referral Resources 3.04

Note: Table made from bar graph.
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Author:Bruning, Kelly L.
Publication:Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict
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Date:Jan 1, 2004
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