Does Good Management Promote Better Work-Life Balance?

Awarded Scholars:
Nicholas Bloom, Stanford University
John van Reenen, London School of Economics
Raffaella Sadun, Harvard Business School
Project Date:
Jul 2014
Award Amount:
$150,000
Project Programs:
Future of Work

There have been dramatic workforce changes over the last forty years as women’s labor force participation has increased. Many of these workers have unpaid caregiving responsibilities for family members, young and old. A growing, but still small, number of workplaces have adopted work-life balance (WLB) practices to address their changing workforce. Such practices include flexibility about when one works, where one works, or how much one works, as well as policies regarding child- and family-care leave. However, policies and practices vary widely within the same industry and even within firms. What accounts for these differences in workplace flexibility arrangements?

The literature suggests that WLB practices improve firm performance by reducing tardiness, absenteeism, and turnover, and improving employee morale and mental and physical health, as well as enhancing recruitment effectiveness. But many employers cite costs and the need to remain competitive in a global marketplace as the main reason for not implementing such arrangements. Meanwhile, research on the impact of WLB practices on productivity and profitability are inconclusive.

Nicholas Bloom, Raffaella Sadun and John van Reenen suggest that limited understanding of the costs and benefits of WLB practices for firms’ (and countries’) productivity and the mechanisms through which they influence workers’ job satisfaction and firm profits is in part due to the absence of high quality data on the prevalence and measurement of these arrangements. To redress data limitations, Bloom and colleagues will conduct an innovative survey that systematically collects international data on management practices and work-life balance practices. Their aim is to determine whether or not such practices are important for the management of successful firms.

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