Work-life conflict is among the human resource challenges that adversely affects the productivity of employees and leads to physical and psychological health issues. This paper provides an in-depth discussion of this issue, addressing its causes and consequences. It also refers to psychological theories on work-life balance to provide a more in-depth understanding of the issue. To ensure that there is a work-life balance; organisations have to implement strategies that help employees to cope with their family and workplace responsibilities. Some of these strategies, as well as legal requirements for employers, have also been discussed in this paper.
Employees play a vital role in any organisation. Thus, it is vital for human resource managers to ensure that employee productivity is optimal. One of the factors that may affect employee productivity is work-life conflict (McNamara, et al., 2011). It is defined as an inter-role struggle, where work and family burdens are conjointly incompatible, such that the demands on one end make it difficult to fulfil the demands on the other end (Messersmith, 2007). For organisations that intend to maintain their competitive advantage, it is vital for them to create a work environment allows for a balance between family or life responsibilities and workplace responsibilities. Whereas this is known by many employers across the globe, there are still many cases of work-life conflicts in many organisations. Employees also play a role in ensuring that they have a balance between their work and families (Yuileet al., 2012). For instance, there are employees who are excessively obsessed with their workplace. This therefore limits the time for their family and social life (Rantanen, et al., 2011). This paper discusses the issue of work-life conflict, its common nature, the causes and consequences of the challenge, the psychological understanding of the challenge as well as key policy and legal consequences from the occurrence.
As aforementioned, this conflict occurs as a result of an incompatibility of demands that work and family place on an individual (Messersmith, 2007). This conflict is bi-directional, meaning that it the productivity of employees at the workplace and also adversely impacts on the delivery of family responsibilities (Rantanen, et al., 2011). According to Robbins and Judge (2012), work-life conflict has two main components. One of these is the practical component that comprises of scheduling issues, where individuals cannot be in more than one place at a time. The other component is the stress that occurs as a result of overloading employees with many responsibilities (Robbins & Judge, 2012).
The issue of work-life conflict can be classified into several categories. These include role overload, family to work interference and work to family interference (Turner et al., 2014). Role overload is experienced when demands in terms of energy and time – both in their families and at the workplace – are too much for an employer to handle comfortably (Lapierre et al., 2012). Work to family interference occurs when workplace commitments make it challenging to fulfil family responsibilities. Family to work interference refers to the interference of family responsibilities with workplace productivity (ten Brummelhuis et al., 2010).
Commonness of Work-life Conflict
Even though the technological developments that have taken place within the past decade are expected to have made organisations more flexible in scheduling to reduce work-life conflict, this issue is still rampant in the United Kingdom. For instance, the maximum working hours per week in the UK are 48. However, as established by Crush (2011), there were more than four million Britons working for more 48 hours in 2011. It was also established that more than five million Britons work for an average of more than seven hours per week without payment. In a survey that was carried out by Robert Walters, a recruitment agency, it was found that approximately 30% of human resource professionals, lawyers and financial risk professionals work for more than 50 hours weekly (Crush, 2011). Even though it is impossible to estimate the commonness of all forms of work-life conflicts in the United Kingdom, the mentioned statistics indicate that this issue affects many companies. In terms of gender, Lyness and Judiesch (2014) argue that women are faced with more work-life conflict issues as compared to men based on the fact that they typically have more family roles than their male counterparts.
Causes of Work-life Conflict
The different types of work-life conflicts have different causes. One of these is an overload of roles both at their workplaces and in their families, which may be too heavy and taxing to an employee. This makes it practically impossible for the employee to satisfy the role demands on either side of the conflict (Makela & Suutari, 2011). Whereas employers are responsible for overloads at the workplace in most cases, it may also be as a result of an increased ambition by employees, who may take up a lot of work-related responsibilities to achieve certain monetary goals or promotions (Yuile et al., 2012). Conflicts may also occur due to the interference of an individual’s work by family demands and responsibilities, where tasks emanating from the family infiltrate into the responsibilities that are demanded from the employee at the workplace (Yuile et al., 2012). This often happens to single parents who end up having so many responsibilities to their children such that it often leads to their arriving at work late or having to think more about their families while at work than they concentrate on their jobs. This may drain the employee’s energy, time and financial resources (Inman et al., 2014 ).
Consequences of Work-life Conflict
There are many effects that arise from work-life conflict, which all lead to reduced performances in both family and workplace responsibilities. Several researches that have been carried out on of work-life conflict have established that it has a negative impact on both physical and psychological health of individuals. For instance, McNamara et al., (2011) established that work-life conflicts cause burnouts that are more related to emotional exhaustion. They also established that it leads to physical health issues like fatigue, poor appetite and high blood pressure, among others. In another research that was carried out by Makela and Suutari (2011), it was established that increased work-life conflicts increase depression and stress. Even though many researchers argue that there work-life conflict has adverse impacts on employees, Sullivan, Yeo, Roman, Bell Jr, and Sosa (2013) argue that the intensity of these impacts varies with the individuals being subjected. For instance, he established that married people are more affected than those who are single.
Psychological Theories relating to Work-life Conflict
Based on the interest that this subject has elicited in researchers, several theoretical frameworks that can be used to understand work-life conflict and work-life balance have been suggested. One of these is overall appraisal and components approach (Tyson, 2012). The overall appraisal approach is referred to as a general assessment of an individual’s life situation. It explains work-life balance as a “satisfaction and good functioning at work and home, with a minimum of role conflict” (Clark, 2000, p751). It also considers work-life balance as the sufficiency of family and work resources to facilitate effective participation on both sides. Though it has helped in understanding work-life conflict of balance, this theoretical approach has been criticised for being too general in addressing this issue without pointing out the specific components of work-life conflict. The components approach, on the other hand, is based on an understanding that work-life conflict occurs as a result of several facets, which include involvement, satisfaction and time (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000). Thus, for there to be a balance, there has to be a balance in time devotion, psychological investment and satisfaction, both at the workplace and at home.
How to Prevent Work-life Conflict
Based on the theoretical frameworks that have been mentioned above, it can be argued that it is vital to ensure a work-life balance (Clark, 2000). The management has a role to play in this regard in improving the lives of their employees so as to improve the results of the organisations that they work for. One approach that can be used is introducing alternative working arrangements for employees. This may be done through the introduction of flexibility at work, such as the times of arrival and departure, or even occasionally shuffling work schedules for employees (Ford et al., 2007). This reduces the stress caused by boredom and routines that easily culminate in work-related stress, and get into new and positive changes of their new roles at work (Lyonette et al., 2007). There is however a possibility that the initial stages of routine change might reduce employee productivity as employees may need some time to adjust into their new schedules and roles.
Organisations can also provide work-life benefits to employees, so as to enable them have ample times with their families and consequently produce better results for the organization as they perform better at work (Inman et al., 2014). Such employer benefit mechanisms may include being given personal days off especially when the employee has been consistent at work for a long time and has achieved greatly for the firm, as an appreciation (Tyson, 2012). It may also include the provision of facilities that would enable persons to carry out their work responsibilities while at the same time having the confidence that their family matters are well taken care of such as the provision of day care facilities in the office, or the creation of a gym at the gym (Yuile et al., 2012).
Besides the mechanisms that organisations may lay in order to aid their suffering employees from mental problems brought about by work-life imbalances, employees may themselves also create measures that may enable them create effective work-life balances (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000). For instance, employees may create the social support systems or programs that enable colleagues to guide, support and counsel each other.
Key policy and legal requirements that employers must consider
Employers in all organisations are bound by legal mechanisms and government policies that obligate them to do certain things and sanction them against doing others (Sanseau & Smith, 2012). For instance, with reference to the Employment Rights Act 1996 c. 18 Part V, employers are legally bound by the fact that they are meant to create conducive atmosphere for their employees as they carry out their duties (Legislation.gov.uk, 1996). All employees have a right to work under surroundings that augur well with their trade of work and they must be protected from physical and emotional harm that may emanate from their duties (Lyness & Judiesch, 2014).
Another legal binding is the ‘working hour directive’ (Directive 2003/88/EC). Employers are bound by the legal provisions that require working hours to be at a maximum of 48 hours a week, unless employees willingly choose to work for more (European Parliament, 2003). Any employer who requires his employees to work beyond these hours time must provide overtime remuneration. Such working hours must also be understood to include breaks in between them to allow employees to work better (Yuile et al., 2012). This provision was enacted to ensure that workers are able to even out and balance their work and private lives, where more time is left for the workers to spend with their families in order to improve their psychological situations (European Parliament, 2003).
There is the holiday entitlement act requires employers in the UK to allow their employees to take a 5.6 week annual leave every year (Gov.uk, 2014). In addition to this, there are also paternity and maternity leaves that employees are entitled to. These leaves allow them to keep off work to rejuvenate their minds (Hill et al 2010). Employers must therefore ensure that such leave is adhered to and consequently the employees are in a better position to improve their work-life conflicts as they spend more time with their families. Certain organisations go to the extent of paying for holiday for their employees, especially their top management employees, during these periods of leave (Makela & Suutari, 2011).
This paper has addressed several aspects of work-life conflicts at the workplace. These include its causes, consequences and approaches that companies can use in overcoming this challenge. It has also referred to some theoretical frameworks to help in creating an understanding of this subject. As argued in this paper, work-life conflicts have a major impact on the productivity of employees. This conflict is brought about by several factors which include the heavy workloads that individuals may be accustomed to at their homes and workplaces, work to family interferences and family to work interferences. All these affect the physical and mental capacities of employees, affecting their ability to handle their workplace and family responsibilities. In order to avoid these adverse consequences, organisations need to adopt various mechanisms to ensure that there is a work-life balance among employees. Employers are also legally bound to ensure that their employees are not overworked at the expense of their families.
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