Written on 19 March 2012.
Pr. Monique Valcour
Please introduce us to your research.
I have been studying careers and the intersection of work and personal life for several years. My passion is uncovering what helps people to have fulfilling jobs, careers and lives, and transmitting this knowledge to others. My research on work-life balance and career success has found that control over work time, autonomy, and challenging, meaningful work are related to better work-life balance, reduced conflict between work and personal life, perceptions of success and satisfaction. I have also found that supervisor support and work-life culture promote job performance and reduce turnover intent, so there are clear opportunities for managers to achieve gains that benefit both the employer and employee.
In addition, my research program has revealed that a strong sense of identity and self-efficacy–in other words, knowing what you want and believing that you are capable of achieving it–contribute to work-life balance, career satisfaction and success. Leaders who understand how to create the conditions that enable people to thrive have a real edge in promoting optimal performance and employee satisfaction. I think of leaders as stewards of energy and of meaning; the key is to help build, sustain, replenish and direct employees’ energy effectively. Work-life balance is a key piece of this puzzle.
What do you mean by work-life balance?Work-life balance refers to effectiveness and satisfaction in work and nonwork domains, low levels of conflict among roles, and opportunity for inter-role enrichment, meaning that experiences in one role can improve performance and satisfaction in other roles as well. I emphasize that work-life balance is a broad issue with relevance for all working people, because it is fundamentally about being able to do well at things we care about. There is no single ideal model of work-life balance; it depends upon people’s values, priorities, the demands they face in the different areas of their lives, and the resources they can access to meet those demands. The picture of work-life balance looks different from one person to another, as well as at different points in a person’s career and life. Companies that approach work-life balance solely in an effort to accommodate working mothers instead of looking for ways to enhance all employees’ multiple role performance and satisfaction miss out on opportunities to fully engage and develop their workforce.
Why should managers and businesses care about work-life balance? Isn’t it up to people to manage their own personal lives? That’s a very short-sighted view. It’s akin to putting all one’s money in a single place rather than investing it in a broad portfolio. A balanced portfolio of life roles enhances personal growth and career sustainability in the same way a diversified investment portfolio enhances financial growth and sustainability. There is a strong business case for supporting work-life balance. Furthermore, the highest-performing companies tend to view employees as a key stakeholder group, respect them as whole people, and support them in achieving a fulfilling life inside and outside of the organization, and with good reason: decades of research have shown that this approach is a cornerstone of sustained competitive advantage.
Is there an ethical dimension to this as well?Absolutely. In fact, this is one of the areas of interest of EDHEC’s International Ethics Board. Work-life balance is at the heart of the human side of sustainability within work organizations. Linking managerial practices to gender equity and to healthy, productive, and engaged employees, families and communities is a new frontier in business ethics with proven potential to help businesses thrive along with employees, their families and communities, and the society at large. My and other scholars’ research has shown, for example, that companies that truly value work-life balance do a better job of promoting women to the highest levels of leadership, and that parents’ work-life balance promotes positive outcomes for children. EDHEC Business School wants to make influential contributions in this area by providing actionable knowledge and linking the work-life academic community to business leaders who share a concern for workforce and career sustainability.
What are the building blocks for a company that wants to promote work-life balance?According to my research, the single most important component is an organizational culture that respects, values and supports work-life balance. This culture must radiate from the top of the organization and be reflected in the firm’s formal human resource policies and informal management practices. Employees need to have the support of their supervisors and co-workers in integrating their personal and family needs with their jobs, to have visible role models who succeed in the organization while achieving a good work-life balance, and to feel comfortable taking advantage of policies that support work-life balance. It is crucial to go beyond making statements that the company values work-life balance and putting flexible work policies on the books; managers need to be held accountable for work-life balance-related outcomes, such as high employee engagement, retention, and the promotion of women to positions of authority.