Family-Friendly Policies, Gender, and Work–Life Balance in the Public Sector

Date01 September 2019
Published date01 September 2019
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18y6UqBcKUXpwk/input 733789ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X17733789Review of Public Personnel AdministrationFeeney and Stritch
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2019, Vol. 39(3) 422 –448
Family-Friendly Policies,
© The Author(s) 2017
Article reuse guidelines:
Gender, and Work–Life
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X17733789
Balance in the Public Sector
Mary K. Feeney1 and Justin M. Stritch1
Family-friendly policies and culture are important components of creating a healthy
work environment and are positively related to work outcomes for public employees
and organizations. Furthermore, family-friendly policies and culture are critical
mechanisms for supporting the careers and advancement of women in public service
and enhancing gender equity in public sector employment. While both policies and
culture can facilitate women’s participation in the public sector workforce, they may
affect men and women differently. Using data from a 2011 study with a nationwide
sample of state government employees, we investigate the effects of employee
take-up of leave policies, employer supported access to child care, alternative work
scheduling, and a culture of family support on work–life balance (WLB). We examine
where these variables differ in their effects on WLB among men and women and
make specific recommendations to further WLB among women. The results inform
the literature on family-friendly policies and culture in public organizations.
state government HRM, family-friendly workplace, employee attitudes, behavior,
motivation, workplace environment/culture, child care, alternative work schedules,
work–life balance, women
In the modern public workplace, informal family-friendly culture and formal family-
friendly policies are considered important components of creating a healthy work
1Arizona State University, Phoenix, USA
Corresponding Author:
Mary K. Feeney, Associate Professor and Lincoln Professor of Ethics in Public Affairs, Center for Science,
Technology and Environmental Policy Studies, Arizona State University, 411 N Central Avenue, Phoenix
AZ 85004, USA.

Feeney and Stritch
environment. In the United States, public organizations often lead private sector
employers in the adoption of family-friendly policies. For example, the U.S. Bureau of
Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that as of 2015, 98% of full-time employees in state and
local government had access to paid sick leave compared with only 61% in the private
sector (BLS, 2015). There are a variety of policies public agencies can adopt to sup-
port employees and their families. In addition to access to paid sick days and family
leave, alternative work schedules, flexible scheduling, on-site child care, and opportu-
nities for telecommuting are garnering increasing attention in public management
scholarship (Cadigan, 2006; Durst, 1999; Facer & Wadsworth, 2008; Lee & Hong,
2011; Newman & Matthews, 1999; Su, Li, & Curry, 2016; Wadsworth & Facer, 2016).
These policies often aim to enhance gender diversity by addressing some of the dis-
proportional burdens of family life that fall to women (M. Johnson, 2015; Matos,
2015) and to promote a sense of work–life balance (WLB) among all employees by
giving workers increased flexibility, autonomy, and legal protections when balancing
their work with other life responsibilities.
Researchers typically define the WLB construct as the integration and balancing
of personal and family life with paid work (Dulk & Groeneveld, 2012; Facer &
Wadsworth, 2008). The WLB concept is derived from role theory (Kahn, Wolfe,
Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964), which expects that the different roles that indi-
viduals take on in their lives can be incompatible or sometimes conflict with one
another. In the case of WLB, the expectations and demands an individual fases as
an employee may take away or conflict with the demands and obligations of the
roles an individual has in private life, such as being a parent, child, or spouse. This
conflict can be defined as roles that are incompatible (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985)
but at the same time compete for primary importance to the individual. Work roles
conflict with family life and vice versa. Thus, individuals face the challenge of
balancing work and life roles, and these challenges are often more acute for women
who generally carry a larger responsibility for managing family life and households
(Matos, 2015).
Organizations can facilitate WLB through a variety of mechanisms, including for-
mal policies providing organizational support for families (e.g., on-site child care) and
alternative work schedules (Facer & Wadsworth, 2008; Saltzstein, Ting, & Saltzstein,
2001). In addition to formal policies, organizations may foster a culture that supports
the family, enabling employees to make choices that facilitate WLB (Wadsworth &
Owens, 2007). In examining factors related to WLB, researchers note the presence of
policies thought to facilitate WLB in an organization, employees’ knowledge of and
perceptions of those policies, and the take-up or use of those policies. This research
focuses on the latter two. We argue that an employee’s take-up of a policy is important
since the mere presence of a policy does not capture full organizational integration and
individual use of the policy. Research demonstrates that even when formal family-
friendly policies are present, such policies may be underutilized (Feeney, Bernal, &
Bowman, 2014; Newman & Matthews, 1999) because organizations may place a
greater value on behaviors that impede WLB, such as working while sick or staying
late (Wadsworth & Owens, 2007, p. 78).

Review of Public Personnel Administration 39(3)
Formal policies and an organizational culture that supports the family can have
other important consequences for organizations. First, public organizations seeking to
increase gender diversity in their workforce may adopt these policies as part of a
broader recognition that increasing gender diversity in the workforce requires greater
accommodations from employers (Ezra & Deckman, 1996). The adoption of such
policies in the public sector to support women’s careers is consistent with the view of
the public sector assuming the role of a “model employer,” minimizing discrimination
against women and minority groups and maximizing opportunities for career advance-
ment (Mastracci, 2013; Morgan & Allington, 2002; Mosher, 1968).
Second, adopting family-friendly policies and cultivating a culture of family sup-
port can help organizations attract, recruit, and retain employees (Carless & Wintle,
2007; Lee & Hong, 2011). Caillier (2013) finds that satisfaction with policies promot-
ing WLB and organizational commitment are positively related, and there is evidence
that family-friendly policies may support agency performance (Lee & Hong, 2011).
Moreover, family-friendly policies and a culture of family support are directly linked
to WLB. Alternative work schedules such as flextime, compressed workweeks, and
on-site child care, for example, are important policies that can promote WLB (Society
for Human Resource Management, 2007).
Although the evolution of workplace cultures supportive of families has been a
function of the need to facilitate women’s participation in the workforce, both men and
women benefit from such formal policies and informal cultural shifts (Feeney et al.,
2014). Thus, we also consider that the consequences of family-friendly policies and
culture may differ with respect to their effect on WLB for men and women. According
to a 2014 report by the Families and Work Institute, while women have gained repre-
sentation in the workforce over the last 40 years, research shows that “traditional gen-
der roles continue to influence the lives of different-sex couples,” with men and
women still taking on traditionally stereotypical male or female work at home (Matos,
2015, p. 2). Similarly, research has found that formal family-leave policies and on-site
child care produce different work outcomes for men and women, in some cases exac-
erbating structural gender disparities in the workplace (Antecol, Bedard, & Stearns,
2016; Feeney et al., 2014). For example, Feeney et al. (2014) found that on-site child
care at universities increased research outcomes for men and teaching loads for
women, thus exacerbating imbalanced gendered workloads. Thus, it is important to
explore how the presence of such policies might have disparate effects on WLB for
men and women as the responsibilities they seek to balance, in many cases, likely
We proceed as follows. First, we provide a general discussion of WLB followed by
a presentation of the literature and the development of our hypotheses related to leave
take-up, child care support, alternative work schedules, and culture of family support
as related to WLB. Second, we describe our data and provide summary statistics of
family-friendly policy perceptions and take-up among state employees. Third, we use
these descriptive statistics to motivate our model predicting the relationships between
leave take-up, child care policies, alternative work schedules, culture, and WLB. We
conclude with a discussion of the findings and directions for future research.

Feeney and Stritch
WLB and Take-Up of Leave Policies
A healthy sense of WLB is something many employees seek...

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