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.

Author:Bruning, Kelly L.


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.


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...

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