Thesis summary (EN)

Summary in English

Because of the many changes in the past 60 years in the work and home lives of people in western industrialized societies, organizations do not seem to fulfill the work-home needs of their increasingly diverse and varied workforce. Societies and organizations are in search of a healthy integration of the work domain and the home domain.
Both in Europe and in the U.S., several interconnected developments in the work domain and the home domain have taken place. For example, work demands have grown excessively and employees have to show more flexibility. Seemingly, globalization and changing political, social and environmental forces have forced organizational structures to evolve. As a result, organizations have become flatter and they work more flexibly and team-based in order to be able to respond fluidly to the ever-changing environment.
For the individual employee these developments entail that the employee-employer relationship has become more individualized with greater emphasis on flexibility and employability. Some scholars highlight the negative aspects of this development, for example the reduced job security of employees. On the one hand, employees have to keep developing themselves to remain attractive for their own employer by maintaining their internal employability; on the other hand, they must continuously work on their external employability. Others argue that periods of economic prosperity and the increasing scarcity of highly competent personnel have strengthened the position of employees. It is suggested that only those organizations that negotiate careers will survive. For example, organizations that are responsive to the growth needs of their employees attract better talent. However, authors and scholars agree that for employees it has become all the more important for employees to manage their own careers.
One of the most significant demographic changes, however, is the growing labor force and participation of women that has been witnessed since the 1950s and 1960s. This has brought about a dramatic shift in the allocation of time and energy devoted to work and home roles. Furthermore, many people also need to take care of older relatives. As a result of increasing divorce rates, families are also becoming more diverse. Single parents and co-parenting ex-couples find it more difficult to combine work and home tasks.
The ultimate goal of this dissertation is to answer the question: “How can we make the work-home interface work?” To this end, several concepts that seem important and are all, in different ways, connected to work-home balance, are investigated (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Key Issues, connected to positive & negative work-home interference
The chapters in this thesis
Chapter 2 was written after extensive literature study exploring historical trends with regard to work-home balance, the formation of work-home values, current work-home balance issues and generations literature. In this chapter, we build on the notion that every generation receives a distinctive imprint from the social trends that occurred during their youth. The profound societal changes of the past decades with regard to the work-home interface can therefore be expected to have produced different work-home values and behaviors in different generations. We argue that the increasing difficulty of maintaining a good work-home balance can be explained by different perspectives on work-home balance as held by the three generations operating in today’s workforce (Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y). As a result, work-home balance is a real problem for the younger generations. When employers become more acquainted with the work-home values and expectations held by employees from different generations, they will be able to respond to them more adequately and improve current working conditions and work-home arrangements.
For the study described in Chapter 3 and 4, data from a cross-sectional field study performed in 2008 among alumni from two Dutch business schools are used. The (418) respondents were working all over the world in a variety of industries. The data were analyzed using SPSS and AMOS.
Chapter 3 studies the relationship between positive and negative home-work interference (HWI) and turnover intentions, and the mediating role of perceptions concerning training and development practices. Not many studies have examined this relationship. As expected, negative HWI relates positively to turnover intentions while positive HWI shows negative relationships with turnover intentions. Positive HWI and turnover intentions are partially mediated by training and development practices. Training and development practices do not mediate the relationship between negative HWI and turnover intentions.
Chapter 4 investigates the relationship between two types of organizational culture, supportive and innovative on the one hand and positive and negative work-home interference on the other hand. Organizational culture in a broader sense and resulting in a supportive work-home environment has scarcely been examined. This thesis sheds light on flexible work-home arrangements as an important representation of organizational culture. The findings show that a supportive culture explains most of the variance in positive and strain-based negative work-home interference. The relationships between a supportive culture and positive work-home interference and strain-based interference are fully mediated by flexible work-home arrangements (FWH). FWH explains the variance in time-based interference, while no relationship is found between a supportive culture and time-based interference. Innovative culture explains some variance in time-based interference via a positive relationship and is positively related to positive work-home interference.
For the study described in Chapter 5, a qualitative field study was performed. 20 people who were currently holding top positions in the Netherlands were interviewed. These included ten women and ten men, 5 from each group working in the hospitality industry and 5 outside the industry. The data were analyzed using grounded theory. Studies on success factors, especially in the hospitality industry, are still limited in number. The focus is, understandably, more often on barriers and negative aspects. The interviewees were asked to give an extensive account of their whole career. Four stages in the general life cycle for top careers could be identified. Six factors are revealed that influenced all their rising careers: internal drive, ambition, social skills, competencies, personality and some external factors, such as positive work-home arrangements. Internal drive and ambition prove most important throughout the careers.
For the study described in Chapter 6, a survey was completed by 247 alumni from the Hotelschool The Hague, a hotel management school in the Netherlands, in 2006. The respondents were working in hospitality businesses all over the world. The data set encompassed cross-sectional data on psychological contract, employability and turnover intention. The psychological contract measures were work-home flexibility, job content, autonomy, development opportunities, a clear task description, salary and intra-organizational mobility opportunities, job security, performance-related pay and promotion opportunities. The data were analyzed using AMOS and SPSS. This study contributes to the understanding of what organizations can do to stimulate workers’ employability, particularly as one of today’s most important challenges many industries are facing is to attract and retain (highly educated) personnel. The study examines the relationship between the psychological contract and self-perceived employability (intra-organizational mobility intentions, employee development and perceived labor market opportunities). The main predictors for employability were intra-organizational mobility opportunities, development opportunities and autonomy. Gender and age moderated some of the relations between psychological contract and employability.
Chapter 7 provides the conclusions and implications for future research.
First, the studies presented in chapters 3, 4 and 6 were based on a cross-sectional design; the results do not allow any conclusions regarding causality.
A second limitation involves the fact that the empirical studies were based on self-reported data. Nevertheless, spillover effects can only be assessed according to this type of data, as these effects reflect the experiences of individuals.
In addition, the cross-sectional field studies described in chapters 3, 4 and 6 were based on information obtained from a sample of 418 graduates of two Dutch international business schools. Alumni from both schools had international backgrounds and most were employed in international contexts. In strictest terms, however, it was not possible to determine the extent to which the results were truly generalizable to other populations.
Another limitation concerns sample size. Because the samples were small, we could not take many moderating effects into account in our SEM analyses or include interaction terms in our regression analyses.
In addition, the analyses of the field studies did not include external factors and not many factors concerning the ‘home’ context of our respondents.
Directions for future research
Looking at the state of knowledge with regard to the work-home interface, we can deduce six important pillars, which are all intertwined, on which future research should rest.
Theory: We need to obtain more insight into the following: The forming of work-home values of different generations and the forming of a ‘work-home identity’; the integration of different value systems connected to different life roles in individuals; what exactly “spills over” from the work to the home environment and vice versa?; how exactly does this spillover process work for individuals and for different groups of people?; how are decisions with regard to the work situation made within different household situations?; what is the relationship between (aspects of) ‘general’ organizational culture and positive and negative work-home interference?; what does a positive ‘work-home culture’ really entail and how does it relate to ‘general’ organizational culture? In other words: how are different value systems integrated within organizations?; what are the differences in psychological contracts between different types of employees (for example with regard to development opportunities, employability and work-home arrangements), other than both genders and different age groups?; what does a ‘successful career’ entail in today’s working world?
Multi-level: Many scholars are calling for an approach on multiple levels. As mentioned before, we need to include the social and historical context when studying work-home balance at organizational or individual level, which preferably should both be included in research studies. There is also a need for more longitudinal research in the field of work-home balance. With regard to negative and positive spillover, for example, we need information on changes, as a result of the implementation of positive interventions.
Values: We need more insight into values in different levels. Firstly, we need to obtain deeper insight into how the work-home values of workers from different generations have taken shape and what precisely they are today. Furthermore, at individual level, little is still known about how exactly people integrate their values systems connected to different life roles. Clark’s border theory, or Settles’ identity centrality approach could be of use here. And finally, we need more insight into value systems at organizational level, in the form of organizational culture and work-home culture within organizations. We need to define what a positive work-home culture entails, for different groups of individuals. Also, how is work-home culture related to the ‘general’ organizational culture? If we know, for example, that people who ‘dare’ to make use of flexibility policies find themselves back on a ‘mummy track’ with regard to career advancement, we can ask ourselves how different value systems within organizations are integrated.
Diversity: The working world is more diverse than ever and many questions regarding different groups of workers still have to be answered. More research is required into the needs of different generations with regard to work-home arrangements. Questions to be answered concern ways in which generations differ with regard to specific work-home arrangements expected to be provided by employers. Future research could also address the question how generations differ with regard to reactions to employers’ efforts to accomplish work-home balance.
The question needs to be answered how employers can improve how they address the feelings of employability demonstrated by women and, to a lesser extent, younger employees. In addition, researchers should try to clarify underlying mechanisms in the relationship between psychological contract and employability by studying a larger number of moderating factors, such as age. More in-depth research should be conducted into the work-home balance needs of both men and women in the hospitality industry since the results of the studies in this thesis revealed that this employer practice has a greater impact on feelings of employability expressed by men than those expressed by women. We need to obtain better insight into the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon. In future research on work-home balance as well as on employability, we need to consider other strands of diversity besides gender and age or generation. For example, today’s considerable diversity in demography and household structures should also be taken into consideration.
Positive: Traditionally, a great deal of emphasis is placed on the problems that people face in their work-home environments, the stresses and the strains. However, it is equally important to see how positive elements can be strengthened. The recent attention for positive spillover processes, from work to home as well as from home to the work environment, shows that much can be gained from research attention for the positive consequences, such as performance and positive behaviors, emotions and intentions.
Individualistic: Let us repeat here that employees must be considered on an individual basis, at least in terms of career development and planning, even more than on the basis of gender or membership of a certain age group. Many individual differences can be found within certain groups of employees. Psychological contracts are dynamic and individual and they develop through interactive processes between individual employer and employee. Insight into these processes, based on the motivational processes of social exchange and the norm of reciprocity, has become more important than ever.
Practical implications
Work-home balance: An important reason for organizations to invest in helping employees to maintain an effective work-home balance is related to the finding that employees who experience less negative interference and more positive interference are objectively healthier, perform better and are absent from work less frequently. Furthermore, if our conclusion is right and our working world has become too ‘greedy’ at the expense of our home life, while contemporary home life is also placing increasing demands on people, the creation of a sustainable workforce is likely to depend on the willingness and ability of organizations to focus on the needs relating to work-home balance. Our research results suggest that an organizational culture, whether it is a supportive type of culture or a more demanding type such as an innovative culture, is to some extent capable of generating positive work-home interference. Our results also show that flexible work-home arrangements in particular seem to be related to positive as well as negative work-home interference. Therefore, it is important for organizations not only to consider ways to reduce negative interference but also to develop strategies for increasing positive work-home interference.
Still, two important remarks need to be made here. First, scholars report that a remarkably small numbers of workers actually make use of flexible work-home arrangements. Managers and human resource practitioners need to realize that negative reactions from the work environment can obstruct the actual use of flexible work-home arrangements. A second point is that employees’ perceptions of their work demands can be more important than the actual demands.
Employability: The results of the studies in this thesis suggest that offering work-home flexibility, (upward or lateral) mobility, development opportunities and autonomy are particularly helpful for stimulating employees’ (perception of) employability. Organizations that are responsive to the growth needs of their employees, no matter how long they stay, will attract better talent. Second, we recommend that specific HRM policies be developed for different groups, since the outcomes of our study showed several differences in needs, between men and women and between younger and older employees. But mostly, again, we want to emphasize the fact that employees need to be considered on an individual basis. Many individual differences can be found within those groups. Our research study showed that looking at different groups of employees can be fruitful in terms of detecting differences in preferences or expectations.
How to make it work in our own organization… starting tomorrow?
Map out the diversity in the organization, remembering that there can be other strands of diversity with important implications for experiences of work-home balance than just gender, age or generation, such as race/ethnicity, life or career phase, socio-economic class, etc., and establish the work-home needs of different groups; Have a look at the state of everyone’s psychological contract, at group level but also at individual level. To what extent are employability and work-home balance obligations fulfilled in the eyes of employees, and how do they reciprocate with positive behaviors, perceptions and intentions regarding their employability?; Examine the level of support or work-home culture in our own organizations and the relationship with the ‘general’ culture, as experienced by employees; Map out the available flexibility measures; Examine the actual use of the measures and the desirable and undesirable consequences of the use of flexibility measures; Work holistically, do all of the above in order to achieve the best results; And, finally, based on the available information, we will be able to implement well-chosen interventions. We can monitor whether the envisioned change (more work-home balance, more positive and less negative spillover) is going in the desired direction, adjust (flexibility) arrangements where necessary, measure again, etc., until we get it right, for these employees, in this particular organization.