Over the past several decades scholars across the globe have focused a great deal of attention on work–family conflict (e.g. Allen, Shockley, & Biga, 2010; Poelmans, 2005; Yang, Chen, Choi, & Zou, 2000). Rooted in role theory (Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, Snoek, & Rosenthal, 1964), work–family conflict (WFC) is a specific form of interrole conflict in which pressures from the work (family) role are incompatible with pressures from the family (work) role. That is, participation in one role is made more difficult by virtue of participation in the other role (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). Research has demonstrated that WFC occurs in two directions, in that family can interfere with work (FIW) and work can interfere with family (WIF) (Gutek, Searle, & Klepa, 1991; Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1992; Mesmer-Magnus & Viswesvaran, 2005).
In considering work and family issues from a cross-national perspective, one aspect of context that is frequently discussed but rarely included in research is government-sponsored family-supportive policy. It is widely recognised that there are considerable differences across countries with regard to policies and laws designed to help individuals balance career and caregiving. Countries differ in the extent to which they sponsor paid leave for childbirth and adoption, paid sick leave, and paid annual vacation. To illustrate, the United States (US) provides no paid leave to mothers following the birth or adoption of a child, while Germany provides 52 or more weeks (Heymann, Earle, & Hayes, 2007).
Work–family researchers often advocate for greater family-related government social supports as a way to address the needs of working parents (e.g. Gornick & Meyers, 2003; Neal & Hammer, 2007). For example, the US is frequently referred to as “lagging far behind” or as “paling in comparison” with other industrialised countries in terms of policies designed to provide support to working families (e.g. Gornick & Meyers, 2003; Hammer & Zimmerman, 2011; Heymann et al., 2007; Ray, Gornick, & Schmitt, 2009). As noted by Williams (2010), “A growing number of American scholars document the lack of supports for working families and advocate adoption of European-style policies” (p. 6). Williams goes on to note that, “Failures of public policy are a key reason that Americans face such acute work–family conflict” (p. 8).
As the above statements suggest, arguments for greater governmental family supports, such as paid maternity leave, are predicated on the notion that the availability of such supports will result in less work–family conflict for employees. However, this is a taken for granted conjecture that has yet to be subjected to empirical scrutiny. Moreover, there are also advocates for a nongovernmental approach to work–family policy. The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) argues that rather than a government-imposed mandate, all employers should be encouraged to voluntarily provide paid leave for illness, vacation, and personal days to accommodate the needs of employees and their family members (SHRM, 2011).
The objective of the current study is to provide an initial test of the relationship between national paid leave policies and work–family conflict. We seek to determine whether the availability of such policies is associated with the work–family conflict reported by working married parents with children under the age of 5. We include the following policies: (1) duration of paid maternity leave, (2) duration of paid paternity leave, (3) duration of paid sick leave, and (4) duration of paid annual/vacation leave. In addition, we examine the local work environment and the interplay between local work environments and national policy by investigating interactions between national policy and informal work–family supports within organisations. Specifically, we investigate family-supportive organisational perceptions and family-supportive supervision as moderators (Allen, 2001; Hammer, Kossek, Yragui, Bodner, & Hanson, 2009). Our investigation includes both directions (WIF and FIW) as well as two forms (time and strain) of work–family conflict. Given the increasing calls for change in work–family policy at a national level, the current study represents an important contribution to the work–family literature.
Work–Family Conflict and National Policy
From a theoretical perspective, national policies such as paid time for sick leave and parental leave are thought to be beneficial to working parents because they serve as a resource that can help avert conflicts between work and family (e.g. Edwards & Rothbard, 2000; Goode, 1960). Paid leave policies act as a resource in that they enable employees to meet caregiving obligations while also remaining a viable member of the workforce. In countries such as the US, the responsibility for acquiring the resources that enable individuals to manage work and family responsibilities is primarily left to individuals and organisations (Neal & Hammer, 2007). Working parents are encouraged to rely on their own means for managing work and family, and the adoption of work–family arrangements within organisations is framed as a business case (den Dulk, 2005). In other industrialised countries the government takes a stronger role by mandating resources such as paid leave (Heymann et al., 2007).
While paid leave policies are frequently discussed as critical to reducing work–family conflict, there is a small but growing body of research that offers contradicting evidence. A recent qualitative study revealed that women in the UK and the Netherlands reported that national policy had not impacted their lives in any tangible way (Yerkes, Standing, Wattis, & Wain, 2010). In addition, the notion that individuals within the US experience the greatest amount of work–family conflict across the globe can be challenged. In a study investigating work–family pressures across 18 countries means ranged from 24.8 to 35.6 (Spector et al., 2005). Participants from the US reported the fourth lowest mean (26.8). Hypothesising that individuals living in countries with more generous country-level social supports (i.e. Sweden) would experience less work–family conflict than would individuals living in countries with less generous social supports (i.e. the UK), Strandh and Nordenmark (2006) investigated work–family conflict in five countries (Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, Hungary, and the Czech Republic) that differed in terms of the extensiveness of governmental supports. The results contradicted their hypothesis in that women in Sweden reported more conflicts between work and household demands than did any other category of people across all five countries. Similarly, Mortazavi, Pedhiwala, Shafiro, and Hammer (2009) found no differences in the amount of WIF or FIW experienced across individuals from the Ukraine, Iran, and the US. As noted by Yerkes et al. (2010), policies at the national level may not effectively connect with the day-to-day experiences of individuals who are combining work and family roles.
To further investigate this issue, we adopt a policy approach rather than a country approach. A policy approach differs from a country approach in several ways. First, in previous research country has essentially been used as a proxy for policy. In the current research we study policy directly and not only the existence of policy but specific policies and their duration. Second, policy and country are not interchangeable in that different countries can have the same policy. Third, a policy approach permits us to isolate specific policies. As research accumulates, this is important as it can help determine which policies may be more or less effective with regard to different outcomes. In sum, we conduct a direct test of the relationship between government-provided policies and work–family conflict by investigating the relationship between the length of different forms of paid leave and four forms of work–family conflict: time-based WIF, strain-based WIF, time-based FIW, and strain-based FIW. Because of the competing perspectives regarding the relationship between policy and work–family conflict, we pose the following research question.
- Research Question 1: Does duration of government-provided paid leave relate to work–family conflict?
Family-Supportive Work Environment
Although there has been limited research attention focused on the connection between national policy and work–family conflict, a substantial body of research has documented that more family-supportive work environments are associated with less work–family conflict. Within the work–family literature, two aspects of the work environment have received considerable attention, overall perceptions of family support and family-supportive supervision.
Multiple constructs have been developed that capture an overall assessment of the family-supportiveness of the organisation. They include work–family culture (Thompson, Beauvais, & Lyness, 1999), family-supportive organisational perceptions (FSOP) (Allen, 2001), face-time orientation (Shockley & Allen, 2010), and work–family climate (Kossek, Colquitt, & Noe, 2001; O'Neill, Harrison, Cleveland, Almeida, Stawski, & Crouter, 2009). In general, family-supportive organisations are those that give employees ample opportunity to have both a fulfilling work life and personal life and that do not expect employees to put work ahead of family. Perceiving that the organisation is more family supportive relates to a variety of positive outcomes that include less work–family conflict, greater job satisfaction, less intention to quit, and greater employee well-being (e.g. Allen, 2001; Kossek, Pichler, Bodner, & Hammer, 2011).
Supervisors have also been recognised as essential to enabling employees to manage work and family. Research results consistently indicate that individuals who report that their supervisors are more family supportive report less work–family conflict (e.g. Allen, 2001; Kossek et al., 2011; Lapierre & Allen, 2006; Thomas & Ganster, 1995). In addition, family-supportive supervision has been associated with positive job attitudes, less intent to leave the organisation, and more positive spillover from family to work (e.g. Allen, 2001; Hammer et al., 2009). Research from a leadership perspective has further documented that individuals who report high quality leader–member exchange with their supervisors also report less work–family conflict (Bernas & Major, 2000; Golden, 2006; Major, Fletcher, Davis, & Germano, 2008).
Most of the research on family-supportive environments and work–family conflict has been conducted in the US; however, there is some evidence that these concepts extend to other countries. O'Driscoll, Poelmans, Spector, Kalliath, Allen, Cooper, and Sanchez (2003) found that greater FSOP and family-supportive supervision was associated with less WIF and less FIW among a sample of New Zealand managers. Mauno, Kinnunen, and Pyykko (2005) found that a more supportive work–family culture was associated with less WIF. Most recently, in a five-country study, Lapierre, Spector, Allen, Poelmans, Cooper, O'Driscoll, Sanchez, Brough, and Kinnunen (2008) reported significant correlations between both directions of work–family conflict and FSOP. We further test these relationships in our multi-country sample. Based on previous research, and the fact that there is no obvious reason to expect informal family supportiveness to be ineffective in certain nations, we propose the following:
- Hypothesis 1: Greater family-supportive organisational perceptions are associated with less work–family conflict.
- Hypothesis 2: Greater family-supportive supervision is associated with less work–family conflict.
Research has yet to examine interactions between country policy and the organisational work environment in predicting work–family conflict. It seems likely that the family supportiveness of the work environment acts as moderator. Specifically, a lack of more proximal family support from the organisation may undermine the positive effects of national family-supportive policy. For example, when employees feel that the organisation and/or their supervisor is non-supportive of family needs, they may fear that taking advantage of available paid sick leave could jeopardise their career or standing within the organisation regardless of the source of the support. Those who have nationally sponsored paid leave may feel distressed if they feel pressured by their organisation to place work first and to minimise policy use. Supervisors can hinder the benefits associated with available supports through poor scheduling practices (e.g. demanding that employees work late) or through their own “career before family” attitudes (Hammer et al., 2009; Smith & Gardner, 2007). Accordingly, we propose the following:
- Hypothesis 3: Family-supportive organisational perceptions (FSOP) moderate the relationship between duration of paid leave and work–family conflict, such that the relationship is more negative when FSOP is higher.
- Hypothesis 4: Family-supportive supervision (FSS) moderates the relationship between duration of paid leave and work–family conflict, such that the relationship is more negative when FSS is higher.