Since the pioneering work of Pleck (1985), a general consensus that has guided research in the domain of work–family conflict is based on the notion that work and family influence each other. It has been well established in the literature that the conflicting expectations associated with the demands of work and family have detrimental effects on the well-being of the individual (Allen, Herst, Bruck, & Sutton, 2000; Cohen & Kirchmeyer, 2005; Eby, Casper, Lockwood, Bordeaux, & Brinley, 2005; Kossek & Ozeki, 1998). Psychological strains experienced due to work–family conflict act as immediate predictors of both organisationally and personally valued outcomes. This rationale, which is inherent in our approach, is consistent with the logic of an organisational stress–psychological strain model (Beehr, 1995; Cohen & Wills, 1985; Karasek & Theorell, 1990).
Earlier research into the nature of the effects of work–family conflict on various organisationally valued outcomes has produced fairly consistent results. The positive and significant relationship between work–family conflict and strain has been confirmed in many studies (Burke, 1988; Greenglass & Burke, 1991; Kinnunen & Mauno, 1998; Netemeyer, Boles, & McMurrian, 1996). Work to family conflict has also been positively related with important negative work outcomes such as job tension (Netemeyer et al., 1996; Stewart & Barling, 1996), work stress (Frone, Russell, & Cooper, 1992; Frone, Yardley, & Markel, 1997; Grandey & Cropanzano, 1999; Judge, Boudreau, & Bretz, 1994), and substance abuse (Frone et al., 1997). Job burnout (an intense form of psychological strain), in particular, as an outcome has received much attention. In the meta-analysis conducted by Allen et al. (2000), the weighted mean correlation between work to family conflict and job burnout was 0.42.
While the research on the relationship between work and family is not new, it is only recently that this relationship has begun to be examined for its generalisability in non-Western organisational contexts (Aryee, Fields, & Luk, 1999; Hill, Yang, Hawkins, & Ferris, 2004; Spector, Allen, Poelmans, Lapierre, Cooper, O'Driscoll, Sanchez, Abarca, Alexandrova, Beham, Brough, Ferreiro, Fraile, Lu, Lu, Moreno-Velazquez, Pagon, Pitariu, Salamatov, Shima, Simoni, Siu, & Widerszal-Bazyl, 2007). Recent findings clearly indicate the nature of relationships between work and family, and related outcome variables such as experience of stress and subjective well-being are governed by similar processes (Aryee, Srinivas, & Tan, 2005; Glazer & Beehr, 2005; Yang, 2005). However, it is likely that cultural variations might affect the strength of relationships between work–family conflict and outcomes in different national contexts (Spector et al., 2007; Yang, 2005; Yang, Chen, Choi, & Zou, 2000). Yang et al. (2000) found that work–family conflict had similar effects on valued work outcomes for both American and Chinese employees. Similar results have been found in cross-cultural research where differences are found only in the strength of the relationship between stressors and stress across national and cultural boundaries (e.g. Glazer & Beehr, 2005). We propose that individuals are likely to respond in a similar fashion to negative experiences like work–family conflict regardless of their national origins; however, the effects of national differences may be present in influencing the strength of the relationship between work–family conflict and psychological strain. This discussion leads to the first hypothesis:
- Hypothesis 1: Work–family conflict is positively related to psychological strain. We expect this pattern of relationship to be valid in all five national contexts (i.e. the United States, Canada, India, Indonesia, and South Korea).
Moderating Role of Decision Latitude
Karasek (1979) conceptualised decision latitude as the extent to which the work environment enables one to exercise greater control over the pace of one's work activities and in the process allows for some discretion in the structuring of duties and responsibilities. In other words, it conceptualises autonomy in a work setting (Westman, 1992).1 Past research has been largely concerned with the direct relationship between decision latitude/job autonomy and work–family conflict (Ahuja, Chudoba, Kacmar, McKnight, & George, 2007; Anderson, Coffey, & Byerly, 2002; Andreassi & Thompson, 2007; Bakker & Geurts, 2004). The central argument is that control over work allows employees to manage the simultaneous demands of work and family and therefore may lower the experience of work–family conflict (Anderson et al., 2002; Bond, Thompson, Galinsky, & Prottas, 2003; Galinsky, Bond, & Friedman, 1996; Masuda et al., 2012). However, it must be noted that many studies find no support for this argument (e.g. Ahuja et al., 2007; Andreassi & Thompson, 2007). On the contrary, the findings of the National Study of the Changing Workforce show that autonomy is negatively related to work–family synergy for women (Beutell, 2010). The evidence for the direct effect of decision latitude/job autonomy in lowering work–family conflict is somewhat mixed. Hence, there is a clear need to move beyond examining the direct effects of decision latitude and to test the moderating influence of decision latitude on work–family conflict processes.
The major thesis of the job demands–control model is that though excessive work demands are associated with higher levels of psychological strain, the impact of these demands is reduced or moderated by the amount of control that the employee has over important aspects of his or her work role (Karasek, 1979). Although Karasek's model does not include family variables, work–family conflict can be conceptualised as a form of work-related stressor. We suggest that due to the blurring of boundaries between work and family, work–family conflict has become a common occurrence in an individual's work life (Conley, 2009). Based on Karasek's theory, it is argued that when employees lack control in their job to deal with the competing demands of work and family, it manifests as anxiety and psychological strain. The rationale for this is rooted in “learned helplessness” (Maier & Seligman, 1976; Wright & Grant, 2010), a situation characterised by a psychological state where people feel powerless to change their self or situation regardless of the circumstances. In a demanding work environment (as was the case in Karasek's, 1979, cross-national investigation) or in a situation of persistent work–family conflict, a lack of decision latitude or responsibility is likely to lead to feelings of learned helplessness.
When an employee with high decision latitude experiences conflict between work and family, he or she can more effectively organise the various duties and responsibilities associated with work (Grzywacz & Marks, 2000; Kossek, Lautsch, & Eaton, 2005). Given the changing nature of the workplace and the increasing overlap of work- and family-related demands, it is likely that individuals who have more decision latitude in their work roles are able to deal with work–family conflicts more effectively and hence experience lower levels of psychological strain (Schieman & Glavin, 2008). Hence, we hypothesise:
- Hypothesis 2a: Decision latitude moderates the relationship between work–family conflict and psychological strain in such a way that it reduces the strength of the relationship between work–family conflict and psychological strain.
Cross-Cultural Differences in the Moderating Role of Decision Latitude
Based on the discussion above, it is clear that decision latitude is an important moderator of the relationship between work–family conflict and psychological strain. However, it is not clear to what extent decision latitude is able to exercise moderating influences in countries that are dissimilar from Western countries such as the United States, Canada, and the UK. One cannot assume that decision latitude is likely to moderate the relationship between work–family conflict and psychological strain in similar fashion across national and cultural boundaries. There are significant variations in the way individuals construe the meaning of work (MOW International Research Team, 1987), as well as in how far work-related responsibilities and duties should be allowed to intrude into the domain of family and personal lives (Cleveland, McCarthy, & Himelright, 2008; Triandis, 1973, 1994).
The organisational practices that encourage higher levels of decision latitude in Western countries are based on the assumption that when individuals experience greater control over the flow and schedule of their work activities, they tend to be more motivated and satisfied and at the same time better able to cope with stressful job experiences (Boyd, Bakker, Pignata, Winefield, Gillespie, & Stough, 2011; Hirst, Budhwar, Cooper, West, Long, Chongyuan, & Shipton, 2008; Nauta, Liu, & Li, 2010; Smith, Peterson, & Wang, 1996). However, the validity of this assumption is open to question when we take this notion for further testing in non-Western contexts characterised by high power distance. Power distance as a cultural dimension refers to the “extent to which less powerful members of society expect power to be unequally distributed and/or accept this unequal distribution” (Hofstede, 2001, p. xix). In countries characterised by high levels of power distance, decision latitude may not be valued, as the cultural norms dictate that one must be obedient and respect the authority of one's supervisor (Smith & Hume, 2005). Performing independently and exercising decision latitude may be viewed as challenging the supervisor's authority and may even be seen as threatening the supervisor's power (Aryee & Chen, 2006; Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005; Tata, 2000). Employees in these countries are expected to perform their work-related duties and responsibilities in line with the formal expectations of their supervisors and others in the organisational hierarchy (Chen & Farh, 2001; Hofstede, 1994; Hofstede & Hofstede, 2005).
As a result, there is likely to be reluctance on the part of employees to seek a relative sense of autonomy and freedom in performing the duties and responsibilities associated with their work role (Hampden-Turner & Trompenaars, 1993; Ollo-López, Bayo-Moriones, & Larraza-Kintana, 2011). Also, it has been found that power distance negatively moderates the relationship between empowerment and job satisfaction in high power distance countries (Hui, Au, & Fock, 2004). Hence, work organisations that emphasise the importance of job autonomy and decision latitude are not likely to be perceived as being motivating in high power distance contexts (Hirst et al., 2008). In fact, providing greater autonomy may sometimes be incongruent with cultural expectations concerning the role of authority in the organisational hierarchy. As a result, organisational interventions such as increasing decision latitude could indeed be perceived as confusing by employees.
In addition, the cultural dimension of collectivism is likely to influence the efficacy of the moderating role of decision latitude. The cultural values of a society largely determine the nature of the relationship between work and family (Cleveland et al., 2008; Frone, 2003; Powell et al., 2009; Quick, Henley, & Quick, 2004). In collectivistic countries, family-related concerns usually take precedence over work-related duties and responsibilities (Spector et al., 2007; Yang, 2005). The centrality of the work or the family role influences the decisions made by the individual (Carlson & Kacmar, 2000). Given the low centrality of work life in collectivistic contexts, individuals are not likely to strongly rely on work-related strategies such as decision latitude in dealing with work–family conflict. Rather, it is our contention that the high salience of family life in collectivistic contexts leads individuals to seek support from family members in dealing with conflicts between work- and family-related demands. Collectivists are also likely to view work and the economic rewards of working in organisations as important means for sustaining their families. In collectivistic countries, members of one's family are keenly aware of the various demands that are present in the work context of the working family member. They are socialised to provide ample amounts of support to the individual to perform work-related duties and responsibilities and also make sure that the relationship between the demands of work and those of the family is not particularly troubling or stressful (Poelmans, 2005; Yang et al., 2000). As a result, one does not necessarily require a great deal of job autonomy or decision latitude in order to manage the interface between work- and family-related roles and expectations.
Based on the above discussion, we expect the moderating role of decision latitude to be weaker in the high power distance and collectivistic contexts of India, Indonesia, and South Korea than in the low power distance and individualistic contexts of the United States and Canada. This is due to the relatively low levels of importance attached to job decision latitude in high power distance countries. Coupled with this is the lack of need for higher levels of decision latitude due to greater support from the workers' families. This leads to a further hypothesis:
- Hypothesis 2b: The moderating effect of decision latitude on the relationship between work–family conflict and psychological strain will be stronger in the United States and Canada than in India, Indonesia, and South Korea.
Mediating Role of Psychological Strain
Although many studies of the domain of work–family conflict have examined the direct relationship between work–family conflict and the organisationally valued outcomes of job satisfaction, organisational commitment, and turnover intentions, the mediating effects of psychological strain have not been extensively examined. Many researchers have cautioned that these studies miss an important mediator between negative experiences and work outcomes (Beehr, 1995; Beehr & Bhagat, 1985; Beehr & Glazer, 2001). Negative experiences such as work–family conflict have some direct human consequences such as anxiety (a form of psychological strain), which then influences organisationally important consequences such as job satisfaction and organisational commitment (Glazer & Beehr, 2005). According to this perspective, work–family conflict is likely to initiate a quick response in an individual (e.g. anxiety or tension), which results in strain either in psychological or physiological form. This outcome of strain is likely to have a direct impact on the organisationally valued outcomes of job satisfaction, organisational commitment, and turnover intentions. Psychological strain in our research model is the immediate outcome of work–family conflict, which, in turn, adversely affects job satisfaction and organisational commitment and positively affects turnover intentions. Hypothesis 3 is concerned with the mediating role of psychological strain in the relationship between work–family conflict and the work outcomes of job satisfaction, organisational commitment, and turnover intentions.
- Hypothesis 3: Psychological strain fully mediates the relationship between (1) work–family conflict and job satisfaction; (2) work–family conflict and organisational commitment; and (3) work–family conflict and turnover intentions. We expect this to hold across the five national contexts (i.e. the United States, Canada, India, Indonesia, and South Korea).