Defining Work-Life Balance
The term work-life balance is commonly used to describe multiple role management; however, academic research has focused limited attention on the balance concept, instead focusing on related but distinct constructs, including work-life (or work-family) conflict and enrichment. The discrepancy between the popular terminology and the research operationalization stems, in part, from a lack of agreement on the definition itself ofwork- life balance (Greenhaus & Allen, 2011). As examples, the following are definitions offered by various researchers: balance occurs when conflict between roles is low and positive,
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enriching processes between roles are high (Frone, 2003); when personal resources are distributed across all life roles (Kirchmeyer, 2000); when an employee is fully engaged and attentive to all life roles (Marks & MacDermid, 1996); when an employee is equally satisfied and effective in various life domains (Greenhaus, Collins & Shaw, 2003; Kirchmeyer, 2000). Based on a comprehensive and critical review of these definitions, Greenhaus and Allen (2011) devised a new definition that allows for some idiosyncrasy: ‘an overall appraisal of the extent to which an individual’s effectiveness and satisfaction in work and family roles is consistent with their life values at a given point in time’ (p. 174). Generally, the concept of work-life balance within research remains elusive, and as such lacks programmatic research.
On the other hand, there is a considerable amount of research devoted to work-life conflict and, to a lesser extent, work-life enrichment. Building on Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek and Rosenthal’s (1964) classic role theory, Greenhaus and Beutell (1985) were the first to formally define work-family conflict as ‘a form of inter-role conflict in which the role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some respect. That is, participation in the work (family) role is made more difficult by virtue of participation in the family (work) role’ (p. 77). Subsequent researchers (e.g., Boswell & Olson-Buchanan, 2007; Hill, Erickson, Holmes & Ferris, 2010; Reynolds, 2005; Siegel, Post, Brockner, Fishman & Garden, 2005) expanded this definition to focus on work conflicting with any type of extra-work role (i.e., ‘life’), not necessarily limited to family. Examples of work-life conflict include situations such as working late and missing family dinners or being preoccupied while at work with a child’s poor school performance.
Researchers have acknowledged that not all interactions between work and non-work result in incompatibility. Numerous concepts (e.g., work-family positive spillover, Crouter, 1984; work-family facilitation, Grzywacz, 2000; and work-family enrichment, Greenhaus & Powell, 2006) refer to the beneficial transfer of resources or experiences from one domain to another. This occurs, for example, in the form of skills learned at home such as multitasking that make one a better employee, or a positive mood from work transferring to positive interactions with family members. The differences between each construct are slight, namely that positive spillover involves only the process of gains being transferred from one domain to the other, and enrichment and facilitation involve some type of enhanced functioning occurring from this spillover. The enrichment construct focuses on improvements in individual functioning, whereas facilitation involves the functioning of the overall work-family system (see Wayne, 2009, for discussion of the nuanced difference between constructs). Because of the degree of overlap and for ease of interpretation, we use the term work-life enrichment to refer to this class of constructs. Similar to work- family conflict, although initial conceptualizations were specific to the family domain, researchers have also considered the broader concept of work-life enrichment (e.g., Haar, 2013; Pedersen & Jeppesen, 2012).
Both work-life conflict and work-life enrichment are considered bi-directional (Frone, 2003; Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). That is, work can interfere with (or enrich) life and life can interfere with (or enrich) work. These constructs are empirically distinct and generally have unique patterns of correlates, particularly on the antecedent side, such that predictors of work-to-family conflict and enrichment tend to reside in the work domain (e.g., long work hours, work pressure, work support), whereas predictors of the family-to-work direction stem from the family (e.g., family demands, family stress) (Amstad et al., 2011; McNall, Nicklin & Masuda, 2010).
In the following sections we cover research that links work-life balance (where available), conflict and enrichment to retention-related concepts. The terms work-family, work-life and work-non-work will be used to describe the same general phenomena found in the literature. Our choice of nomenclature is based on the original terms researchers used when describing specific findings.