Cross-Cultural Human Resource Management: Work-Life Balance


In any organisation, the HR department has the objective of handling issues that relate to employees. Functional responsibilities of the HRM include training and development, recruitment and selection, employee conflict resolution, deriving employee motivation and job satisfaction programmes, and taking active roles in the establishment of remuneration programmes (Kramar & Syed 2012). It also has the responsibility of ensuring work-life balance (WLB). WLB is defined as ‘individual’s ability, irrespective of age and gender, to find a life rhythm that allows individuals to combine their work with other responsibilities, activities, or aspirations (Feldstead et al. 2002).

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The fundamental claim behind the significance of the deployment of WLB approaches within an organisation is that incidences of personal conflicts arise in situations where there is no balance between non-working and the working employee life. In the effort to leap from the benefits of ensuring good work-life balance, different organisations adopt diverse strategies of mitigating organisational conflicts through WLB. This paper provides a critical discussion (with examples) of the key differences in how employers and employees in the Western, developed economies and non-Western emerging markets may be dealing with work-life balance in different regions.

The Necessity of WLB

While operating in a knowledge-based economy, organisations encounter the challenge of retaining employees as one of the major strategies of workforce management. Addressing this challenge is essential to maintain a competitive advantage for an organisation (Harzing & Pinnington 2011). Employee satisfaction through WLB is essential.

Without the creation and maintenance of WLB programmes, organisations are exposed to the risk of employee conflict, which entails family roles and interference with work-life balance. The situation creates challenges or tension to the concerned employees. Such conflicts create incompatibilities between the employee’s individual life and family life. The outcome is to work pressure. Personal conflicts that are related to WLB challenges within an organisation create organisational and workforce psychological distresses.

Cegarra-Leiva, Sa´nchez-Vidal, and Cegarra-Navarro (2012) examine whether initiatives of WLB have any indirect impact on employee retention in an organisation. The study investigates whether such strategies stimulate high work satisfaction for employees in SME settings. The study recommends the improvement of employee satisfaction in the SME sector in the effort to increase workforce retention (Cegarra-Leiva, Sa´nchez-Vidal, & Cegarra-Navarro 2012).

For this goal to be realised, research findings indicate, ‘the existence of a WLB culture in an organisation will increase job satisfaction, and for that matter, it is essential for the managerial team to show commitment towards supporting a person-friendly organisation’ (Cegarra-Leiva, Sa´nchez-Vidal, & Cegarra-Navarro 2012, p.103). This recommendation is essential in establishing the role that is played by WLB to enhance organisational performance through workforce satisfaction.

However, the empirical approach that Cegarra-Leiva Sa´nchez-Vidal, and Cegarra-Navarro (2012) deploy introduces a limitation to the study, and hence reliability of its finding in the HR studies. The study assumes that respondents know well the mechanism of their organisational operations. It also uses reports, which may have the implication of leading to biased findings.

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Lewis and others, as discussed by Kramar and Syed (2012), studies WLB by conducting interviews on participants who are drawn from Japan, South Africa, and India. Lewis asserts that the new economy emphasises that work intensification constitutes an emerging global phenomenon. This claim suggests that working for long hours equates to employee commitment to an organisation.

For instance, one of the participants from South Africa informs Lewis and others that working for long hours means that one is effectively contributing to creating an organisational difference. According to the researchers, a management consultant in India also asserts that working for long hours ‘has become so entrenched, especially in the new economy where people have got to work hard and literally give up their personal lives’ (Kramar & Syed 2012, p.388).

This scenario creates a personal-life conflict. Japan also echoes a similar concern of work-life balance akin to its low birth rates. The nation is also working on mechanisms of engaging men in domestic and childcare work. However, concern remains that men dominate full-time jobs while part-time jobs are denominated by women who do not gain from the benefits that are associated with full-time jobs.

The study by Lewis and others provides evidence concerning the significance of WLB in workplaces in both the developed and developing nations across the globe. For instance, in the case of Japan, WLB can enable women to take active roles in full-time jobs and yet fulfil their cultural responsibilities as childcare takers. In the South African and Indian contexts, working for long hours at the expense of employee personal life may not necessarily translate into organisational effectiveness or creating organisational differences in terms of increasing productivity. This situation is perhaps disadvantageous to organisations since their main objective entails enhancing organisational productivity through the employees. How can employers and employees in the western, developed nations, and non-western or emerging markets deal with WLB in different regions?

Dealing with WLB

Developed Western Nations

Although different approaches are deployed to enhance WLB in developed economies and the emerging markets, a similarity is also evident in such approaches. For instance, the emerging and developed economies borrow best practices in HR as prescribed by research on HRM to influence their WLB practices. For instance, wide research has been conducted on how WLB can help mitigate the problem of poor job satisfaction, which leads to high retention rates.

For instance, Mendenhall and Milhouse (2001) assert that turnover is an essential variable that is directly correlated with poor job satisfaction. Based on this assertion, the current HR practices that are helpful in enhancing job satisfaction are rested on the platform of WLB. According to Lambert (2007, p. 13), such practices ‘foster the employee’s quality of life and, as a consequence, workers will be more satisfied, motivated, and committed to a firm’. The existence of scholarly evidence on the value of WLB in terms of enhancing job satisfaction and employee retention within an organisation does not imply the nonexistence of scholarly literature that presents converse findings.

For instance, Poelmans, Chinchilla, and Cardona (2003) confirm that the deployment of WLB best practices within an organisation is not adequate. Rather, in addition, organisations also need to consider the creation of a culture that supports WLB approaches (Poelmans, Chinchilla, & Cardona 2003). WLB is not just an organisational performance enhancement set of best practices that are deployable by any organisation without the establishment of the means of enhancing their effectiveness in the realisation of the desired goals.

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In developed economies, WLB best practices take various aspects. One of such aspects is a flexible work arrangement. Boone and Van Den Bosch (2007) provide evidence of the positive impacts of flexible work arrangements on employee non-work and work attitude. Nevertheless, this work is not supported by empirical evidence. Focusing on empirical evidence, Hill et al. (2008) conclude that some initiatives of flexible work arrangement may have limited impacts on the attitudes of employees towards their work. Since a positive attitude is an essential factor in determining levels of task errors, such a mindset is also an essential factor that influences the performance of an organisation. This observation opposes the dominant notion in South Africa and India, as revealed by Lewis and others, as quoted by Kramar and Syed (2012) that working for long hours translates into better organisational performance through increased productivity.

From the work of Hill et al. (2008), flexible work arrangements may have limited impacts on the performance of an organisation. Attitude towards work is also an essential element for employee turnover. Therefore, the work of Hill et al. (2008) suggests that flexible work arrangements have a little implication on employee retention. In light of this criticism, there is a growing scholarly body on the consensus that WLB practices are significant in enhancing organisational performance.

For instance, in empirical research that seeks to relate WLB and variables of job characteristics, Hayman (2009) observes that flexible work schedules have a direct relationship with individual life balance. The study deduces that providing flexible work schedules plays central roles in integrating individual life with work and family life. The applicability of Hayman’s (2009) findings to all organisations in the western nations has limitations. The study only draws 56 per cent of its participants from administrative staff in a single university. The variables used in the study are also not exhaustive. Hence, some essential variables that may contribute to the realised relationships may not have been reflected in the results of the empirical study.

In the context of developed nations, upon building on the above arguments, Hausknecht, Hiller, and Vance (2008) confirm that employees are discontented with an organisation when their work and life are not balanced. The researchers further emphasise the importance of ensuring that employees are maintained happy since WLB can be an instrumental tool for enhancing employee satisfaction (Hausknecht, Hiller & Vance 2008).

This observation implies that unsatisfied employees are incapable of delivering their task within an organisation in an effective and efficient way. The situation makes the organisation experience crisis in terms of performance. Directly congruent with this claim, Hausknecht, Hiller, and Vance (2008) suggest that an organisation that encounters problems in terms of implementation of WLB experiences vicious cycle of the organisational crisis starting with unbalancing of employee work-life. The outcome is discontentment, which leads to poor employee performance, and hence organisational crisis in terms of productivity. Contentment is one’s work is an important aspect of enhancing job satisfaction. This feeling can only occur if the work does not conflict with employees’ personal lives.

The connection between WLB and job satisfaction suggests job satisfaction fosters WLB. HR management literature, such as a study by Bowden and Mulnix (2005) also indicates that satisfied employees are more likely to execute their roles within an organisation better in relation to dissatisfied employees. Indeed, job satisfaction relates to employee motivation. According to Hausknecht, Hiller, and Vance (2008), the US HRM model recognises that employee motivation and job satisfaction are both essential components for enhancing organisational performance.

This claim suggests probabilities of the existence of a relationship between WLB and organisational performance. Crede et al. (2010, p. 246) define job satisfaction as a ‘pleasurable or positive emotional state, resulting from the appraisal of one’s job experience’. This definition articulates job satisfaction with employee positive emotional reaction. Organisations attempt to measure qualitatively and quantitatively levels of job satisfaction to help predict crucial organisational behaviours such as the capability to retain employees and organisational performance (Crede et al. 2010). Positive job behaviours create better job-personal life fit.

Developing or Emerging Economies

Work relationships in developing countries, especially in the Asian region, are influenced by various religious cultures. For example, in China, Confucianism, which is a philosophical or an ethical system, influences WLB structures. Confucianism constitutes a teaching that is developed from a Chinese philosopher, Confucius (Xinzhong 2000). The practice comprises sophisticated systems that define and govern etiquettes and duties of people in different relationships, including work relationships.

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However, most of its focus is on humaneness, household roles and commitment, and allegiance (Wah 2001). Any work must then not contravene these roles. The Chinese approach to work relationships differs from the situation in developed nations concerning their work relationships and personal responsibilities. Unlike the Chinese context, western approaches are not influenced by religious beliefs such as Confucianism, but a set of collectively bargained rules and regulations.

With reference to Confucianism, beliefs that define various gender roles within a society ensure societal stability. Confucianism teaches that if not married, virtuous women must follow the lead given by their fathers. However, when they get married, they should follow directions offered by their husbands. Upon the death of their husbands, Confucianism requires women to follow principles of chastity. Xinzhong (2000) observes that this cult condemns many women to loneliness and immense poverty. People who choose to remarry acquire a social stigma. Confucianism regards women as best suited to home-based chores such as weaving while men are the family heads. This practice suggests that work, which violates these gender-attached roles, fails to foster good WLB.

Imperial western powers resulted in unprecedented alteration of traditions of Confucian religious traditions that existed in Asia. Consequently, no other tradition of the Asian continent was greatly affected as the Confucian way of life. The idea was to make the Chinese traditions reoriented with concepts of globalisation, westernisation, and modernisations as the main paradigms of fuelling the spreading of imperialism that was championed by the western nations. The merger between the western religious teachings and Confucianism introduced a paradox that was resolved by scholars who linked religious beliefs, core value, and goals.

The results included the enrichment of Confucianism to assume a new neo-Confucian paradigm. Consequently, Confucianism is no longer taken as an ancient philosophic, political ideology, or religious tradition, but a concept that is open to future and modern world (Karsten & Illa 2005). The idea of neo- Confucianism is to promote healthy interactions between the Chinese way of life and other cultures in the modern world. This observation suggests that in the modern Asian world, traditions such as Confucianism no longer define the Asian life concerning chores that any formal work can interfere with. However, neo-Confucianism still influences theories of work in organisations in the developing Asian economies (Yum 2007).

Nations where Chinese people have settled are greatly influenced by Confucianism. Such nations include Vietnam, China, Japan, Taiwan, and Korea among others. Recognising these immense impacts, the question that remains is whether any popular culture can be applied in WLB practices in the Asian region. In the neo-Confucian culture, despite these nations being inspired by Confucianism, no single person identifies himself or herself as a Confucian.

However, the concept of Confucianism serves as a complementary ethical principle that helps in guiding beliefs and ideologies, including Marxism, Islam, Buddhism, democracy, and capitalism among others. The central concern of the Confucian culture is to prescribe some fundamental guidelines of promoting good cultural behaviours during interactions in and outside work environments. For instance, reading Ebrey’s book on Zhu Xi’s family rituals, a description of the chores that different people undertake at different ages in the society is given.

In the book, one sees the divisions of work within all members of the society. For instance, Ebrey (2001) writes that boys at the age of six learn how to write while girls are given simple women task. While division of tasks is crucial, Confucianism faces critics for its failure to accord equal rights to all people, particularly in terms of access to women education and confinement of women to home-based chores.

The culture insists that work should not contravene such tasks if WLB has to be maintained. For example, Ebrey (2001, p. 33) says that girls ‘at the age of 10 need to be fully involved in household chores, for instance weaving, cooking, and breeding silkworms since these tasks are the best for women’. In a society with gender and age-based roles, conflicts emerge when the formal work fails to leave adequate times for employees to attend their traditional tasks.

A apart from religiously defined roles, which any good WLB should adhere to, there are challenges of people being overworked in developing nations. As suggested Kramar and Syed (2012) reveal, more working hours are equated to productivity. For instance, many western-based manufacturing organisations outsource their manufacturing operations to the developing world to take the advantage of low production cost.

For example, Nike, Inc. faces criticism that it uses a minimal portion of the cost of production of its pair of shoes (70 pounds) in the payment of labour in developing nations where it outsources its manufacturing. Nevertheless, amid the high calls for Nike, Inc. to ensure that workers within its Asian production plant are remunerated accordingly, the company ‘treats the sweatshop allegation as an issue of public relations rather than an issue of human rights’ (Boggan, 2001, Para. 21). Measures to provide good working conditions at Nike, Inc. plants in the Asian countries face challenges that emanate from managers and employees.

Managers bribe auditors so that they can report on lesser working hours and higher pay rates (The Economist 2012). On the other hand, workers, particularly the immigrants, are normally willing to work longer hours so that they can maximise their savings. Through the company’s watch, Tom Connor, the company holds, ‘upon finishing work in a Nike contract factory, the great majority of Nike workers will go back to rural areas marked by extreme poverty’ ( Boggan, 2001, Para. 10). Due to this poverty, employees have a little bargaining power with employers. The outcome is work conflict with their personal lives since they have no say about it.

In Indonesia, about 25 percent of all workers in outsourced production plants are placed on temporary contracts. In Philippines, the number hiked to 85 percent by 2006. Worse still, these employees were subjected to compulsory over time. Besides, they were supposed to meet high production targets whilst receiving low wages. In Indonesia, at the Sukabuni factory for making converse shoes, workers complained that they had experienced encounters of direct abuse from their supervisors, something that Nike, Inc. did not deny.

However, the company is quick to confirm that it can only do little to stop it. As Kramar and Syed (2012) observe, this situation suggests that employees in developing economies experience poor WLB. They can do nothing to correct the situation. Nussbaum (2003) asserts that people in African cultures are seen as tools of production whose productivity can be increased by working longer hours while doing highly specialised repetitive tasks.

This plan compares with Taylor’s approach to management of work as he asserts that high specialisation ensures that employees perfect certain tasks so that they (tasks) become easier to execute quicker upon learning. Uba (2010) demystifies this approach in an African context by claiming that globalisation has facilitated the sharing of knowledge and best practices in the management of human resource. Similar to the developed economies, the emerging economies can also benefit from better outputs when they establish good WLB policies.

Conclusion and recommendations

While developing the capacity to compete with other organisations, operational efficiency is important for any organisation. Such efficiency cannot be achieved with conflicts between work and employee personal lives. As revealed in the paper, in the western or developed economies, there is an intense focus on enhancing the productivity of people by ensuring a good fit between work and their personal lives. This finding opposes the developing or emerging economies’ approach to work-personal life fit since they focus on longer hours of work as a mechanism of increasing employee productivity.

In the Asian region, there is a high utilisation of religiously inclined paradigms of enhancing work relationships. In the globalised business environment, organisations seek strategies to improve their performance. From a wide body of literature on WLB, the paper has confirmed that WLB is necessary to induce worker motivation and job satisfaction. The benefits of this relationship are only applied to promote the organisations and employees in terms of WLB in the developed economies.

Therefore, the emerging economies should focus on putting in place strategies for enhancing employee satisfaction with their work. Satisfaction, as an indicator of employee retention, which is related to WLB, helps in creating a positive work attitude. This situation results in reduced turnover and absenteeism. These two elements affect the productivity of an organisation. Thus, organisations in the emerging economies are recommended to implement WLB practices in the effort to facilitate employee retention whilst increasing their performance.

One way of accomplishing this goal is by deploying developed economies, which invest heavily in human resource development as a mechanism of enhancing employee positive attitudes towards work. This strategy can help in ensuring that any job meets the employee needs. Besides, such employees will be motivated while working for organisations where their job responsibilities and commitment do not conflict with their personal lives.


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