Balancing work and life on a chalk board 

The Science of Work-Life Balance

Does work-life balance help people be more productive? More engaged? More committed to the organization? Manage personal and home life? Researchers around the world who have been hard at work studying and surveying the issue for decades have found that the answer is Yes—from improved productivity through flexible schedules to increased organizational commitment and better perceived control over responsibilities outside the office.

We wanted to round up some of the key studies on work-life balance, looking at the topic from various angles to give you more information to help in your planning for an initiative or workshop for your organization. 

Here are some studies worth checking out:

Share price reactions to work-family human resource decisions: An institutional perspective. Michelle Arthur. (2003). Academy of Management Journal, 46, 497-505.

Theme: This study of Fortune 500 firms found that announcements of work-life initiatives were associated with increased shareholder returns: some $60 million per initiative, per firm. The author argues that once a work-life practice becomes normalized, it signals the market that the company is more desirable.

Abstract: This study of 130 announcements in the Wall Street Journal illustrated a significant, positive relationship between work-family human resource initiatives and share price. Institutional theory provided the theoretical underpinning for such a relationship. Share price reactions occurring both before and after “legitimation” of a program were examined.


Influences of the Virtual Office on Aspects of Work and Work-Life Balance. E. Jeffrey Hill, Brent Miller, Sara Weiners, Joe Colihan, (2006).Employee gives the thumbs-up sign

Theme: This study looked at the impact of telework on IBM employees, measuring those working remotely vs. a group of traditional workers.

Abstract: Quantitative analysis revealed the perception of greater productivity, higher morale, increased flexibility and longer work hours due to telework, as well as an equivocal influence on work-life balance and a negative influence on teamwork. Using a quasi-experimental design, quantitative multivariate analyses supported the qualitative findings related to productivity, flexibility and work-life balance.

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Flexible work hours and productivity: Some evidence from the pharmaceutical industry, Edward Shepard, Thomas Clifton, Douglas Kruse. Industrial Relations, (1996). 35(1), January, 123-39.

Theme: This study of 36 pharmaceutical companies in the U.S. found that the use of flexible work hours can have a real effect on performance: an increase of some 10% in firm productivity

Abstract: Flexible work hours potentially influence productivity through effects on absenteeism and turnover, organizational attachment, job attitudes, work-related stress, and other areas. We apply alternative fixed- and random-effects models to estimate production functions using panel data, with controls included for firm effects, time effects, capital quality, autocorrelation, and specification error. The results suggest that flexible work schedules contribute to improvements of about 10 percent in productivity.


Employees working together review plansWork-life benefits and organizational attachment: Self-interest utility and signaling theory models (2008). Wendy Casper & Christopher Harris. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 72, 95-109.

Work-life practices increase attachment, loyalty, and commitment to the organization.

Abstract: This study examines two competing theoretical explanations for why work-life policies such as dependent care assistance and flexible schedules influence organizational attachment. The self-interest utility model posits that work-life policies influence organizational attachment because employee use of these policies facilitates attachment. The signaling model posits that these policies facilitate attachment indirectly through perceived organizational support. Regression analyses explored both models using a sample of 286 full-time employees. Results supported both the signaling model and the self-interest utility model.


Impact of family-supportive work variables on work-family conflict and strain: A control perspective. Thomas, L.T., & Ganster, D.C. (1995). Journal of Applied Psychology, 80, 6–15.

Family-oriented policies create more perceived control that lowers stress and increases job satisfaction.

Abstract: The authors examined the direct and indirect effects of organizational policies and practices that are supportive of family responsibilities on work–family conflict and psychological, physical, and behavioral measures of strain. Survey data were gathered at 45 acute-care facilities from 398 health professionals who had children aged 16 years or younger at home. Supportive practices, especially flexible scheduling and supportive supervisors, had direct positive effects on employee perceptions of control over work and family matters. Control perceptions, in turn, were associated with lower levels of work–family conflict, job dissatisfaction, depression, somatic complaints, and blood cholesterol. 


A Coming of Age: Telework. Pitt-Catsouphes, Marchetta, (1991).

Theme: The authors review telework studies and show from qualitative research from employees and their managers that productivity went up 10% to 30% with telework. The reason has been supported by other studies—people work more hours from home than at the office, but they enjoy it more because they have more control over their time.


Work-life human resource bundles and perceived organizational performance. Jill Perry-Smith, & Terry Blum. Academy of Management Journal (2000) 43(6), 1107-1117.

Theme: This report analyzed performance at 527 U.S. companies and found that firms with a wider range of work-life practices had greater performance, profit-sales growth, and organizational performance.

Abstract: Results from a national sample of 527 U.S. firms suggest that organizations with more extensive work-family policies have higher perceived firm-level performance. In addition, there was partial support for the hypotheses that the relationship between work-family bundles and firm performance is stronger for older firms and firms employing larger proportions of women.


 Reviewing work on a computerHow time-flexible work policies can reduce stress, improve health, and save money. Diane Halpern, (2005).  Stress and Health, 21(3), 157-168. Available on Pdf. Paste title of study into your browser.

Theme: This report details the cost of stress, burnout, and absenteeism to organizations and how more fliexible time policies can help cut those issues and their price tags. 

Abstract: Data from the US National Study of the Changing Workforce (a nationally representative sample of working adults) were used to test the hypothesis that employees with time-flexible work policies reported less stress, higher levels of commitment to their employer, and reduced costs to the organization because of fewer absences, fewer days late, and fewer missed deadlines.


Work-family conflict, policies, and the job-life satisfaction relationship: A review and directions for organizational behaviorEllen Ernst Kossek, Cynthia Ozeki (1998). Human Resources research. Journal of Applied Psychology, 83(2), 139-149.

Theme: This meta-analysis shows that people who report high levels of both work-to-life and life-to-work conflict are likely to report lower levels of job satisfaction and organizational commitment.

Abstract: The meta-analytic results show that regardless of the type of measure used (bidirectional w-f conflict, work to family, family to work), a consistent negative relationship exists among all forms of w-f conflict and job-life satisfaction.


Psychosocial working conditions and the utilization of health care services. Sunday Azagba & Mesbah Sharaf (2011). BMC Public HealthBMC series – open, inclusive and trusted 201111:642 DOI: 10.1186/1471-2458-11-642.

Theme: This study looks at the connection between job stress and medical costs associated with it for organizations that employ people with stress. They found that medical costs for employees with high or medium stress cost 26% more than other employees.

Abstract: Using data from the Canadian National Population Health Survey from 2000 to 2008, this paper examines the association between stressful working conditions, as measured by the job strain model, and the utilization of health care services. On average, the number of GP visits is up to 26% more for individuals with high strain jobs compared to those in the low job strain category. Similarly, SP visits are up to 27% more for the high strain category. Results are quantitatively similar for males and females, save for medium strain. In general, findings are robust to the inclusion of workplace social support, health status, provincial and occupational-fixed effects.


The relationship between work-life policies and practices and employee loyalty: A life course perspective.  Patricia Roehling, Mark Roehling, & Phyllis Moen. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 22(2), 141-170.

Theme: The authors found in a sample of 3,381 American workers that flexible time policies and childcare assistance was associated with employee loyalty for those with family responsibilities.

Abstract: Using a representative sample of 3,381 American workers, this study investigates relationships among work-life policies, informal support, and employee loyalty over the life course (defined by age and parental status and age of youngest child). The central thesis is that our understanding of the impact of work-life policies on employee loyalty will be enriched by consideration of the non-work and work contexts that influence employee attitudes and behavior. Flexible-time policies have a consistent, positive association with employee loyalty with some variation based on life stage. Informal support (via supervisors and co-workers) has the greatest positive relationship with employee loyalty.

 Seven happy employees

Family-Responsive Variables and Retention-Relevant Outcomes Among Employed Parents. Samuel Aryee, Vivienne Luk, & Raymond Stone, (1998). Human Relations, 51(1), 73-87.

Theme: Family-friendly policies are associated with higher commitment to the organization and reduced turnover and retention problems.

Abstract: This study examined the influence of family-responsive variables and the moderating influence of gender on the retention-relevant outcomes of organizations, commitment and turnover intentions. Results of regresssion analysis revealed that satisfaction with work schedule flexibility and supervisor work-family support were related to both retenrion-relevant outcomes.


The role of human resource systems in job applicant decision processes.Bretz, applicant decision processes. Robert Bretz, R. D., & Timothy Judge, (1994). Journal of Management, 20(3), 531-551.

Theme: In this study the lack of access to work-life practices predicted turnover intentions among managers.

Abstract: A policy-caputuring design was used to assess the effects of human resource systems withihn the conterxt of other variables that past research has shown to significantly influence job choice. Results suggested support for the importance of human resource systems in job choice decisions, and further suggested that the fit between individual characteristics and organizational settings described by these systems may be particularly important determinants of job acceptance.


Formal organizational initiatives and informal workplace practices: Links to work-life conflict and job-related outcomes.initiatives and informal workplace practices: Links to work-life conflict and job-related outcomes. Stella Anderson, Betty Coffey, & Robin Byerly (2002). Journal of Management, 28(6), 787-810.

Theme: Work-life conflict contributes to reduced work effort and performance and increased absenteeism and turnover. 

Abstract: This study investigates the impact of formal and informal work-family practices on both work-to-family and family-to-work conflict (WFC, FWC) and a broad set of job-related outcomes. We utilized structural equation modeling to analyze data from the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce (NSCW). Results showed that negative career consequences and lack of managerial support were significantly related to work-to-family conflict. These were significant predictors of conflict even when accounting for the effects of work schedule flexibility. Work-to-family conflict was linked to job dissatisfaction, turnover intentions and stress, while family-to-work conflict was linked to stress and absenteeism.

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