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Outcomes of work life balance An integrative review


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Journal of Vocational Behavior 85 (2014) 361–373

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Journal of Vocational Behavior

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Outcomes of work–life balance on job satisfaction, life satisfaction and mental health: A study across seven cultures


Jarrod M. Haar a,1, Marcello Russo b,⁎,1, Albert Suñe c, Ariane Ollier-Malaterre d

a School of Management, Massey University, Private Bag 102904, North Shore City, New Zealand b Department of Management, KEDGE Business School, 680 Cours de la Liberation, 33405 Talence cedex, Bordeaux, France Department of Management, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya, Etseiat, C. Colom 11, 08222 Terrassa, Barcelona, Spain

d Organisation and Human Resources Department, École des Sciences de la Gestion, Université du Québec A Montréal, 315, rue Sainte-Catherine Est, local R-3490, Montréal, Québec H2X 3X2, Canada

a r t i c l e i n f o

⁎ Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: [email protected] (J.M. Haar), m

(A. Ollier-Malaterre). Denotes shared first authorship. 0001-8791/© 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


a b s t r a c t

Article history: Received 22 May 2014 Available online 7 September 2014

This study investigates the effects of work–life balance (WLB) on several individual outcomes across cultures. Using a sample of 1416 employees from seven distinct populations – Malaysian, Chinese, New Zealand Maori, New Zealand European, Spanish, French, and Italian – SEM analysis showed that WLB was positively related to job and life satisfaction and negatively related to anx- iety and depression across the seven cultures. Individualism/collectivism and gender egalitarian- ism moderated these relationships. High levels of WLB were more positively associated with job and life satisfaction for individuals in individualistic cultures, compared with individuals in collec- tivistic cultures. High levels of WLB were more positively associated with job and life satisfaction and more negatively associated with anxiety for individuals in gender egalitarian cultures. Overall, we find strong support for WLB being beneficial for employees from various cultures and for cul- ture as a moderator of these relationships.

© 2014 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Work–life balance Collectivism Gender egalitarianism Cross-cultural Job satisfaction Well-being

1. Introduction

Work–life balance (WLB) is a central concern in everyday discourses (Greenhaus & Allen, 2011; Greenhaus, Collins, & Shaw, 2003; Guest, 2002; Kossek, Valcour, & Lirio, 2014; Maertz & Boyar, 2011). However, despite its popularity, WLB remains one of the least stud- ied concepts in work–life research (Greenhaus & Allen, 2011). Valcour (2007) noted that it is “a concept whose popular usage has outplaced its theoretical development” (p. 1513). A reason for this is the field's struggle to agree on a common definition of WLB (Greenhaus & Allen, 2011). Another reason is that research on the positive individual outcomes of WLB has been relatively slow to accumulate (Greenhaus & Allen, 2011; Maertz & Boyar, 2011). In addition, most of the current studies focus on work–family balance, without considering individuals' broader lives including community, leisure, church, sport and other activities (Hall, Kossek, Briscoe, Pichler, & Lee, 2013). In this study we work with a relatively consensual definition of WLB as being an individual's assessment of how well her or his multiple life roles are balanced (e.g. Greenhaus & Allen, 2011; Haar, 2013; Kossek et al., 2014). We aim to contribute to WLB research at solidifying the concept of WLB by examining its relationship with four important individual outcomes: job satisfac- tion, life satisfaction, anxiety, and depression.

Furthermore, we know very little about the impact of cultures on the relationship between WLB and individual outcomes. A recent review of cross-national work–life research has identified only two cross-cultural studies focusing on WLB compared with 29 focusing

[email protected] (M. Russo), [email protected] (A. Suñe), [email protected]

362 J.M. Haar et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 85 (2014) 361–373

on conflict and nine on enrichment; the only cultural dimension examined in these studies was gender egalitarianism (Ollier- Malaterre, 2014). This is a clear shortcoming of current research given that numerous calls have been issued to broaden the scope and ambition of work–life research by conducting cross-national studies that consider the impact of multiple cultural dimensions (Greenhaus & Allen, 2011; Kossek, Baltes, & Matthews, 2011; Ollier-Malaterre, Valcour, den Dulk, & Kossek, 2013; Poelmans, 2005). In this paper we address this gap by testing whether the relationships between WLB, job satisfaction, life satisfaction, anxiety, and de- pression are moderated by two important cultural dimensions: (1) individualism/collectivism (I/C) and (2) gender egalitarianism (GE). Based on a sample of 1416 employees from seven distinct cultures – Malaysian, Chinese, New Zealand Maori, New Zealand European, Spanish, French, and Italian, we find strong support for direct effects of WLB across all of the study's samples. We also find moderating effects of I/C and GE on these relationships.

Our study makes three important contributions to the literature. First, we contribute to establish WLB as a solid construct that sheds light on major individual outcomes, thereby encouraging future research on WLB as a way to better understand a complex work–life interface, and encouraging practitioners to assess their employees' WLB as part of their HR efforts. Second, our study is unique in the burgeoning body of cross-cultural research on the work–life interface (for a review, see Ollier-Malaterre, 2014) since it is the first, to our knowledge, to focus on WLB rather than work–family conflict or work–family enrichment and to have collected evidence that two dimensions of national culture, i.e. I/C and GE, moderate the relationships between WLB and individual outcomes. The finding that WLB has beneficial outcomes for individuals across seven distinct cultures lends further support to the construct of WLB. Third, our study provides evidence that work–life concepts that originated in Western cultures are generalizable beyond these cultures — we do so by including cultures of growing interest in the literature (e.g. Malaysia and China) as well as understudied cul- tures (e.g. New Zealand European and Maori).

2. Theoretical background and hypotheses

2.1. Work–life balance

Consistent with recent theoretical advancements (e.g. Frone, 2003; Greenhaus & Allen, 2011; Haar, 2013; Kossek et al., 2014), we conceptualize WLB as an individual's perceptions of how well his or her life roles are balanced. This conceptualization of individuals subjectively gauging balance between the work and the rest of their life (Guest, 2002) is in contrast with prevailing views that considered balance to be equivalent to low role conflict (Duxbury & Higgins, 2001), to high role enrichment (Frone, 2003) or to an equal division of time and attention amongst the several roles that compose an individual's life system (Marks & MacDermid, 1996). Our definition is grounded in the perception-centred approach that considers work–life balance to be a holistic concept, unique for each person and that depends upon his or her life values, priorities and goals (Kossek et al., 2014).

With a few exceptions (see Hill, Yang, Hawkins, & Ferris, 2004; Lyness & Judiesch, 2014), cross-national research has mostly neglected work–life balance. However, there is general consensus amongst scholars that work–life balance is highly valued by nearly all employees (Kossek et al., 2014) and it has important implications on people's well-being and work productivity all over the world (Lyness & Judiesch, 2014). Interestingly, research conducted by IBM has shown that people's nationality does not translate in differences in the expressed desire for work–life balance (Hill et al., 2004). Regarding the effects of WLB, extant research shows that people who perceive balance between their work and life roles tend to be more satisfied of their life and report better physical and mental health (Brough et al., 2014; Carlson, Grzywacz, & Zivnuska, 2009; Ferguson, Carlson, Zivnuska, & Whitten, 2012; Greenhaus et al., 2003; Haar, 2013; Lunau, Bambra, Eikemo, Van der Wel, & Dragano, 2014). Building on these premises, in this article we hypothesize, for two reasons, that WLB will be positively related to job and life satisfaction and negatively related to mental health universally for all employees.

First, we believe that individuals who experience WLB may be more satisfied of their job and life “because they are participating in role activities that are salient to them” (Greenhaus et al., 2003; p. 515). Second, we believe that balanced individuals may be mentally healthier because they experience a sense of harmony in life and optimal psychophysiological conditions which enable them to meet the long-term demands of work and nonwork roles (Greenhaus et al., 2003). This may lead them to be less apprehensive about their abilities to conciliate work and nonwork commitments and also less prone to develop ruminating thoughts about the lack of balance in life that can deplete their physical and mental resources (Rothbard, 2001). Accordingly, we hypothesize that the benefits of WLB will be universal across all country cultures.

H1. WLB will be positively related to job satisfaction across cultures.

H2. WLB will be positively related to life satisfaction across cultures.

H3. WLB will be negatively related to anxiety across cultures.

H4. WLB will be negatively related to depression across cultures.

2.2. Moderating effects of individualism/collectivism

I/C is the cultural dimension that has received the “lion's share of attention as a predictor of cultural variation” (Brewer & Chen, 2007, p. 133). This dimension is also a powerful moderator of employee cross-cultural studies (Ramamoorthy & Flood, 2002), including work– family studies (Hill et al., 2004; Spector et al., 2004, 2007). I/C reflects whether people view themselves as independent (individualists)

363 J.M. Haar et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 85 (2014) 361–373

or are tightly linked to others as part of groups (collectivists) (Triandis, 1995). We follow House, Hanges, Javidan, Dorfman, and Gupta (2004), where in-group collectivism is defined as “the degree to which individuals express pride, loyalty, and cohesiveness in their or- ganizations or families” (p. 30). In essence, in individualistic cultures people tend to prioritize personal interests over common goals, whereas in collectivistic cultures people tend to prioritize common goals, including family ones, over personal needs.

A recent review of cross-cultural work–life research found no studies linking I/C and WLB (Ollier-Malaterre, 2014). However, there is considerable research showing that work–family conflict is less detrimental to individuals in collectivistic than in individualistic cul- tures (Lu, Gilmour, Kao, & Huang, 2006; Lu et al., 2010; Spector et al., 2004, 2007; Yang, Chen, Choi, & Zou, 2000). This can be explained by the presence of different appraisal mechanisms in different cultures (Aycan, 2008). In collectivistic cultures, work is viewed as a way of supporting a family (Redding, 1993; Redding & Wong, 1986) such that people tend to deem work–family conflict as an inev- itable life experience to promote wealth and financial stability for the family (Aryee, Luk, Leung, & Lo, 1999; Spector et al., 2007). In- stead, in individualistic cultures work is generally viewed as an individual achievement that contributes to self-actualization and that is incompatible with family roles (Spector et al., 2004, 2007); therefore people deem work–family conflict to be problematic and a threat to personal health and well-being (Aycan, 2008). Drawing on these assumptions, we expect WLB to be less strongly related to positive outcomes in collectivistic than in individualistic cultures. We reason that achieving balance should be more pivotal for peo- ple in individualistic cultures, as it is considered more essential in individualistic societies to live one's life to the fullest and to recover from the stress and strains associated with work roles (Spector et al., 2004, 2007). Instead, people in collectivistic cultures tend to per- ceive role imbalance in a less problematic way as they view it as an inevitable cost in promoting family well-being (Aryee et al., 1999). From this we can infer that individuals in individualistic cultures will benefit more from experiencing greater WLB as achieving WLB is more of a focus in their cultures and thus will weigh more towards their satisfaction and mental health. Accordingly,

H5. Individualism/collectivism will moderate the relationship between WLB and individual outcomes, such that:

H5. The positive relationship between WLB and (a) job satisfaction and (b) life satisfaction will be stronger in countries higher in

individualism. H5. The negative relationship between WLB and (c) anxiety and (d) depression will be stronger in countries higher in individualism.

2.3. Moderating effects of gender egalitarianism

GE reflects the presence of “beliefs [in the society] about whether members' biological sex should determine the roles that they play in their homes, business organizations, and communities” (House et al., 2004, p. 347). Low GE cultures are characterized by be- liefs in the traditional gendered division of labour, which depict men as breadwinners and women as caregivers and homemakers (Wood & Eagly, 2002). Notably, extant research has shown that in high GE cultures there is less adhesion to traditional gender pat- terns and it is considered personally and socially acceptable that both women and men pursue their own life goals and struggle to guarantee the desired level of involvement in both work and non-work roles (Lyness & Judiesch, 2014).

Research on the influence of GE on the work–life interface is still at a very early stage and cross-national research in particular is very scarce (Lyness & Judiesch, 2014; Lyness & Kropf, 2005). Lyness and Judiesch (2008) found a GE moderated relationship, with managers' self-rating of WLB more positively related to peer's and supervisor's advancement potential rating for female managers in high gender egalitarian cultures and for men managers in low gender egalitarian cultures. In this paper, we hypothesize that WLB will be associated with higher job and life satisfaction and lower anxiety and depression for individuals living in high GE cultures than for those living in low GE cultures. We contend that living in cultures where both men's and women's work and non-work role involvement is encouraged and considered socially acceptable can amplify the beneficial effects of WLB (Corrigall & Konrad, 2006). Conversely, in low GE cultures we believe that achieving WLB may be less beneficial as traditional gender role prescriptions are pre- vailing and may instil in the population the expectations that men should prioritize work over the family and women should do the opposite. Thus, experiencing WLB might not be perceived as beneficial as it might be in high GE cultures because it is inconsistent with societal expectations about gender division of labour. Accordingly,

H6. Gender egalitarianism will moderate the relationship between WLB and individual outcomes, such that:

H6. The positive relationship between WLB and (a) job satisfaction and (b) life satisfaction will be stronger in countries higher in

GE. H6. The negative relationship between WLB and (c) anxiety and (d) depression will be stronger in countries higher in GE.

Fig. 1 illustrates our general structural model.

3. Method

3.1. Samples and procedures

Data were collected from six countries (New Zealand, Spain, France, Italy, Malaysia and China) and included seven samples. Two separate samples were collected from New Zealand: Maori (indigenous people of New Zealand) and New Zealand European, the

364 J.M. Haar et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 85 (2014) 361–373

Fig. 1. General study model: Outcomes of WLB across cultures.

largest population group (equivalent to Caucasians in the US). Table 1 illustrates the descriptive data of the seven samples as well as of the combined sample. The authors personally collected data from four countries including both samples from New Zealand, while two research assistants native of China and Malaysia collected data from these countries. We used our networks to generate the largest number of employees from a broad range of organizations. Then, following basic principles of snowball sampling (Biernacki & Waldford, 1981), we asked recruited participants to recommend participation in the research to their contacts. The necessary require- ment to be included in the sample was being engaged in a full-time job. All surveys where English is not the first language were trans- lated into the native language (e.g., French, Italian, Mandarin) and then back-translated to minimize translation error (Brislin, 1980).

Overall, the combined sample includes 1416 employees of whom 546 come from collectivistic cultures (Maori, Malaysia and China). The average age was 37.6 years, gender was fairly evenly split (55% female) and the majority were married (70%) and parents (61%).

Table 1 Overall study demographics.

Country Demographics Sector

N Age (years) Gender (female) Married Parent Private Public Not-for-profit

New Zealand New Zealand Maori France Italy Spain Malaysia China

366 335 139 238 127 110 101

34.3 38.9 39.2 44.0 39.7 32.1 31.4

55% 63% 62% 43% 50% 48% 63%

70% 67% 80% 69% 78% 75% 47%

51% 69% 74% 60% 66% 63% 43%

56% 22% 74% 63% 62% 4%


40% 70% 22% 35% 36% 96% 38%

4% 8% 4% 2% 2% 0%


Total sample Collectivistic: Average age Gender Married Parents Industry:

1416 Maori, Malaysia and China (n = 546) 37.6 years (SD = 11.5 years) 55% female 70% 61% 46.8% Private 48.5% Public 4.6% Not-for-profit

365 J.M. Haar et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 85 (2014) 361–373

3.2. Measures

All samples used the same items, and except where noted, all items were rated on a 5-point scale (1 = strongly disagree to 5 = strongly agree). Items were averaged to produce composite indicators, with higher scores indicating higher values of the given mea- sure. All measures achieved adequate reliability within each country sample (all α N .70). We thus combined the seven samples to test our hypotheses (with alphas reported in Table 3).

3.2.1. WLB WLB was measured using a 3-item measure by Haar (2013). A sample item is “I manage to balance the demands of my work and

personal/family life well”. As this measure is still new, we conducted factor analysis (principal components, varimax rotation) for each distinct population and on the combined sample. The three items loaded onto a single factor universally across all seven samples with eigenvalues greater than 1; accounting for sizeable amounts of the variance and achieving adequate reliability in all samples as shown in Table 2.

3.2.2. Job satisfaction Job satisfaction was measured using 3-items by Judge, Bono, Erez, and Locke (2005). A sample question is “Most days I am enthu-

siastic about my work”.

3.2.3. Life satisfaction Life satisfaction was measured using the 5-item scale by Diener, Emmons, Larsen, and Griffin (1985). A sample question is “In most

ways my life is close to ideal”.

3.2.4. Anxiety and depression Anxiety and depression were assessed using 6-items by Axtell et al. (2002). This measure has been shown to have good psychomet-

ric properties (Haar, 2013; Spell & Arnold, 2007). The items were rated on a 5-point scale (1 = never to 5 = all the time). Presented with three adjectives for each measure, respondents were asked to indicate how often each adjective applied to them while they were at work.

3.2.5. Collectivism Collectivism was assessed by coding cultures using GLOBE scores for in-group collectivism (House et al., 2004). This approach is

superior to the typical dichotomous approach often used in the work–family literature (e.g. Spector et al., 2004), as it offers a range of scores that better reflect cultural variations across countries. New Zealand (European) was rated the most individualistic (3.67), and China the most collectivistic (5.8). One issue we came across was that the GLOBE study does not list New Zealand Maori as a sep- arate culture than the rest of the New Zealand population. Indeed, while making up 14% of the population, it is grouped into New Zealand culture as a whole. Since Maori have been found to have a strong collectivistic culture (Brougham & Haar, 2013; Haar, Roche, & Taylor, 2012) and prior research has widely documented that is distinct from the individualistic New Zealand European (Haar & Brougham, 2011; Podsiadlowski & Fox, 2011), we decided to use for this particular ethnic group the same score as in China (5.8). This score aligns with the GLOBE collectivism score for the Southern Asia cluster (Gupta, Surie, Javidan, & Chhokar, 2002), which provides an overall score for the six countries that make up the cluster. As such, we suggest that this provides a useful proxy for a collectivistic culture that aligns well with Maori (Brougham & Haar, 2013). Furthermore, we tested our model without in- cluding the Maori sample and we found no noticeable differences in our results. Therefore, we suggest that including the Maori sam- ple does not distort our overall findings and provides an additional rich new population to explore.

3.2.6. Gender egalitarianism Gender egalitarianism was assessed by coding cultures using the GLOBE scores (House et al., 2004). China was rated the least gen-

der egalitarian (3.68) with Italy the highest (4.88). As with collectivism, this approach is superior to the dichotomous approach but

Table 2 Results of exploratory factor analysis for WLB.

Responses were coded 1 = strongly disagree, 5 = strongly agree Factor loadings for each country

NZ NZ Maori France Italy Spain Malaysia China Combined

1. I am satisfied with my WLB, enjoying both roles .847 .906 .875 .873 .801 .912 .907 .874 2. Nowadays, I seem to enjoy every part of my life equally well .866 .904 .842 .870 .841 .882 .809 .875 3. I manage to balance the demands of my work and .821 .883 .910 .800 .886 .916 .867 .860

personal/family life well

Number of items in measure All analyses confirmed a one factor 3-item measure Eigenvalues 2.141 2.471 2.304 2.159 2.134 2.450 2.230 2.267 Percentage variance 71.4% 80.6% 76.8% 72.0% 71.1% 81.7% 74.3% 75.6% Cronbach's alpha .80 .88 .85 .80 .80 .89 .83 .84

366 J.M. Haar et al. / Journal of Vocational Behavior 85 (2014) 361–373

similarly, does not have a score for Maori. We followed the same logic outlined above for collectivism and used the same score as in China.

3.2.7. Control variables In line with prior research (Carlson et al., 2009), we included gender (coded as 1 = female and 0 = male) and work–family conflict

as covariates in our analyses. We used 6-items from the scale by Carlson, Kacmar, and Williams (2000) to measure work-to-family conflict (WFC) and family-to-work conflict (FWC). A sample item for WFC is “I have to miss family activities due to the amount of time I must spend on work responsibilities” and a sample item for FWC is “The time I spend on family responsibilities often interfere with my work responsibilities”.

3.3. Measurement models

To confirm the separate dimensions of the various study's measures in the combined sample, a CFA was run in SEM using AMOS 20.0. We followed Williams, Vandenberg, and Edwards (2009) recommendations regarding the goodness-of-fit measures: (1) the comparative fit index (CFI ≥ .95), (2) the root-mean-square error of approximation (RMSEA ≤ .08), and (3) the standardized root mean residual (SRMR ≤ .10). The hypothesized measurement model included seven distinct factors: WLB, WFC, FWC, job satisfaction, life satisfaction, anxiety and depression, and resulted in a good fit to the data, meeting all minimum requirements: χ2 (209) = 771.0 (p = .000), CFI = .97, RMSEA = 0.05 and SRMR = 0.04. The goodness of the hypothesized model was also confirmed by testing al- ternative models as advocated by Hair, Black, Babin, and Anderson (2010). Overall, the hypothesized measurement model did fit the data better than all the alternative models (results available from authors), which resulted in all alternative models being a significant- ly poorer fit (p b .001). This confirmed WLB to be a distinct construct from WFC and FWC.

Multi-group analysis CFA was conducted to establish measurement invariance between the seven samples (Bou & Satorra, 2010). While SEM model comparisons typically test chi-squared differences, this heavy reliance has been criticized (Schmitt & Kuljanin, 2008). This is because large samples and complex models are highly susceptible to significant changes in the chi-squared value. Cheung and Rensvold (2000) offered a number of alternative goodness-of-fit measures and we focus on the RMSEA because Meade and Kroustalis (2006) show that this measure is not affected by model complexity. Our model showed measurement equivalence as the difference in RMSEA between the seven samples; constrained and unconstrained models were very small at .002 (0.022 versus 0.024), which is below the critical value established by Cheung and Rensvold (2000). As such, this gives us confidence that the com- bined sample has metric invariance and can be analysed as a combined sample.

3.4. Analysis

Hypotheses were tested using SEM in AMOS v.20 to assess the direct (Hypotheses 1–4) and potential moderating effects of I/C (Hypotheses 5) and GE (Hypotheses 6), due to SEM being found to be superior to regression analysis (Cheng, 2001; Iacobucci, Saldanha, & Deng, 2007). Aligned with recommendations by Aiken and West (1991), the interaction terms were z-scored. Because the size of the structural models became overly complex when we included both moderators in the models, we ran two sets of mod- eration models for I/C and GE, respectively. For moderation analyses in SEM, all three z-scored WLB items were multiplied by the sin- gle GLOBE variable (I/C or GE score) to create a new variable in each model: (1) the interaction of WLB

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