Empirical Association between Work-Life Conflict and Work-Life Enrichment and Retention-related Outcomes
In considering the impact of work-life balance on retention, we turn to research that examines the association between work-life conflict and enrichment and withdrawal attitudes and behaviours. The theoretical link between work-life conflict and withdrawal attitudes and behaviours lies in general stressor theories (e.g., Lazarus & Cohen, 1977). Work-life conflict is considered a psychosocial stressor, which can produce strain reactions. These reactions occur in many forms: poor physical health, diminished affect or withdrawal behaviours. Additionally, in the specific context of work-life conflict, work withdrawal behaviours may occur as a coping mechanism (i.e., quitting a job to alleviate constant work-life conflict). Furthermore, affective events theory (Weiss & Cropanzano, 1996) is relevant. This theory argues that work-related events impact emotional reactions, which in turn relate to attitudes and behaviours. Considering work-life conflict as a negative work- related event, negative emotional reactions may ultimately lead to dissatisfaction, withdrawal and other negative outcomes, such as production deviance (Ferguson, Carlson, Hunter & Whitten, 2012).
Empirical evidence supports the theoretical association between work-life conflict and withdrawal-related attitudes. Specifically, meta-analytic estimates suggest a small positive relationship between both work-to-life and life-to-work conflict and turnover intentions, and a small negative relationship between both directions of conflict and organizational commitment (Amstad et al., 2011; Meyer, Stanley, Herscovitch & Topolnytsky, 2002). Several researchers have also tested mediators of the work-life conflict/turnover intention association, including emotional exhaustion (Boles, Johnston & Hair, 1997; Hang-yue, Foley & Loi, 2005; Yavas, Babakus & Karatepe, 2008), job satisfaction (Boles et al., 1997; Hang-yue et al., 2005; Ozbag & Ceyhun, 2014; Rode, Rehg, Near & Underhill, 2007), life satisfaction (Rode et al., 2007), job stress (Chelariu & Stump, 2011), perceived organizational support (Liao, 2011) and leader-member exchange (Liao, 2011). Taken together, these mediation results suggest that work-life conflict leads to stress and negative attitudes towards the organization. This in turn prompts individuals to consider changing their job situation, presumably to reduce such conflict and negative outcomes.
Considerably less research has been conducted on turnover behaviours. Only five known peer-reviewed studies have examined actual turnover in five very different contexts: employees in a manufacturing and assembly plant (Carr, Boyar & Gregory 2008); fulltime working mothers following the birth of a child (Carlson, Grzywacz, Ferguson, Hunter, Clinch & Arcury, 2011); U.S. Army officers (Huffman, Casper & Payne, 2013); department store retail managers (Good, Page & Young 1996); and public accountants (Greenhaus, Parasuraman & Collins, 2001). Both Carr and colleagues (2008) and Greenhaus and colleagues (2001) found a direct link between work-to-family conflict and turnover, whereas the authors of the other three studies found support models indirectly linking the variables through mental and physical health (Carlson et al., 2011), job satisfaction (Huffman et al., 2013), and job satisfaction, organizational commitment and intention to leave (Good et al., 1996). Only Greenhaus and colleagues (2001) included family-to-work conflict, finding a non-significant association with turnover.
Research on work-life enrichment and turnover intentions has produced less consistent findings. A meta-analysis (McNall et al., 2010) of four studies (Balmforth & Gardner, 2006; Boyar & Mosley, 2007; Gordon, Whelan-Berry & Hamilton, 2007; Wayne, Randel & Stevens, 2006) concluded that the association between both work-to-family enrichment and family-to-work enrichment with turnover intentions was significant (r = 0.07 and 0.02, respectively). Studies published subsequent to the meta-analyses are mixed, as some researchers found a significant association between work-to-family enrichment and turnover intentions (Russo & Buonocore, 2012) but not to family-to-work enrichment (Haar & Bardoel, 2008), while others found that no direction of enrichment significantly related to intent to turnover (Hammer, Kossek, Yragui, Boder & Hanson, 2009; Karatepe & Magaji, 2008). These inconsistent findings, along with the large credibility intervals cited in McNall and colleagues’ (2010) meta-analysis, suggest the likely presence of moderators. Moreover, only one known study has examined enrichment in relation to actual turnover (Carlson et al., 2011), finding an indirect relationship between work-to-family enrichment and turnover as a result of physical health. Lastly, in contrast to research involving turnover intentions, studies linking work-to-family and family-to-work enrichment to organizational commitment have been fairly consistent, and one meta-analysis suggests a positive, fairly large association (McNall et al., 2010).
In summary, although there are some inconsistencies, research has generally found that experiencing work-life conflict elicits withdrawal attitudes and behaviours, and the experience of work-life enrichment results in favourable retention-related outcomes.