Monday, January 9, 2012

Is entrepreneurship the answer to achieving work-family balance


Many people (particularly women) see entrepreneurship as a way of achieving a better balance between work and family than that provided by paid employment. Fifty-eight entrepreneurs were interviewed in New Zealand (32 women and 26 men) in order to explore the work-family conflict they face, the techniques they use to achieve work-family balance and the effectiveness of these strategies. Our study finds that women entrepreneurs employ a number of flexible work practices, such as choosing where to work, when to work and with whom to work as well as managing their roles within the family. This study concludes that entrepreneurship may not be a panacea for achieving work-family balance. We offer some suggestions for how entrepreneurs may better achieve work-family balance.

Work-family balance refers to the extent to which individuals are both equally involved and equally satisfied with their work and family responsibilities (Greenhaus & Singh 2003). It is concerned with how organisations and employees manage their responsibilities for dependent family members, including children, elderly parents and sick or disabled adults. There are a number of different practices that organisations can undertake to assist employees to balance their work and families. These practices fall into broad categories; caring and flexible work and caring and financial assistance. Flexible work practices include; time off in lieu, annual hours, a compressed working week, extended leave, compassionate leave, leave for sick dependents, career breaks for family reasons, home working and teleworking. In terms of financial assistance, organisations can offer loans, allowances and contributory allowances towards childcare, childcare vouchers, workplace nurseries, shared nurseries and/or company nannies (EEO Trust 2005). Although a number of authors argue that the concept of work-family balance is cloudy and ill-defined (Felstead, Jewson, Phizackles & Walters 2002), work-life balance is usually defined as offering employees more control over their time (Arulappan 2003). Thus, work-family balance potentially removes role conflict by passing the management of roles over to the employee. 

Work-family conflict is essentially a form of role conflict, in which the demands of one role are incompatible with the demands of another (Frone, Russell & Cooper 1992; Kahn, Wolfe, Snock & Rosenthal 1964). Two forms of conflict can arise in such situations: work-family conflict, when work demands interfere with family responsibilities and family-work conflict, when family obligations interfere with work (Kossek & Ozeki 1998). Recent studies suggest that the negative effects of work-family conflict may be greater for women and for older workers (Martins, Eddleston & Veiga 2002). Work-family conflict involves stressors that relate to work characteristics (time pressure, work stressors) as well as family characteristics (parental demand and family support) (Kim & Ling 2001). Lately, researchers have recognised that work-family conflict is multidirectional (work-family conflict and family-work conflict) (Haar 2006). However, for the purposes of this study and other entrepreneurship studies (Shelton 2006) this distinction is not deemed important. 

Over the past 15 years or so people have become creative about managing the dual demands of work and family (Avery, Haynes & Haynes 2000). Research suggests that work-family conflict can impact on job satisfaction, family satisfaction and in turn, life satisfaction (Kopelman, Greenhaus & Connolly in Foley & Powell 1997). Lawrence (2006) would suggest that work-family conflict is becoming increasingly important, primarily because of longer working hours. The ability to manage non-work responsibilities is directly affected by this, thereby increasing levels of stress. This stress has been found to be a contributing factor in employee burnout (Haar 2006). In New Zealand, these factors are becoming more significant because of a tight labour market, employment growth and skill shortages in trades and some professions (Department of Labour 2007).
Research has focussed largely on the business case for organisations in implementing work-family balance (Harris, Lewis & Massey 2005; Yasbeck 2004), as researchers have studied the success of work-family balance measures. In the private sector, IBM increased flexibility in terms of the timing and location of work and a study of 6,451 IBM employees showed that employees felt they had greater work-family balance than before (Hill, Hawkins, Ferris & Weitzman 2001). In the public sphere, a study of federal government in the United States found that its use of on-site childcare and flexible work times helped workers (especially mothers) achieve work-family balance (Ezra & Deckman 1996).
While work-family balance is an issue for many workers, it is a particularly pertinent issue for women for a number of reasons. There is little doubt that there has been a rapid change to the composition and roles of families in recent years (Aldrich & Cliff 2003; White 1999). There are also now greater numbers of women in the workforce. Women's labour participation rates have increased significantly worldwide (Avery et al 2000; Moore & Buttner 1997) and these rising levels of women's participation in the workforce have contributed to changes in family life (Malveaux 1990). One of the most substantial changes in the composition of the family has been that women are having children later in life and are having fewer children (Statistics New Zealand 2005b). Assuming that a woman's role is to take primary responsibility for the care of the family are historical (Brush 1990; Wetherell 1977) and learned from infancy (Cromie & Hayes 1988). While gendered role stereotypes may have lessened over time, with more sharing of household duties and role reversals, others suggest that the roles women and men play in the family may not have changed substantially (Ufuk & Ozgen 2001). Traditionally, women are thought of as carers (Gilligan 1982) and have tended to be more involved in child-rearing (Mallette & McGuinness 1999) and socialisation of children than men (Cromie & Hayes 1988). However, parents are now having less of a role in socialising their children than in the past (Aldrich & Cliff 2003). 


While there are often many practices available to employees to manage work-family balance, the following discussion outlines the work-family conflict and work-family balance for entrepreneurs. One way of potentially achieving the desired levels of work-family balance is to become an entrepreneur. While the definition of entrepreneurs is the subject of much debate (Carland, Hoy & Carland 1988; Carter & Cannon 1988; Cunningham & Lischeron 1991; Hyrsky 1999), this study uses business founders who employ people (further discussion of this definition is detailed in the methodology section). They may be viewed as the 'most' entrepreneurial of all, compared to those who inherit a business, buy a business or are sole traders. While entrepreneurs are classed as moderate risk-takers, they have all invested risk (financial and personal) in order to start their new businesses. This is important to note, as it may impact on their work-family balance because they often risk family assets to fund the business (commonly borrowing against a house). This can put pressure on a relationship and increased pressure on the entrepreneur who knows they are putting their family in a difficult position. This may in turn put more pressure on the entrepreneur to work harder and further complicate their work-family balance.
Considerations towards the family are often cited in studies of women entrepreneurs as being important when deciding to start a business (Buttner & Moore 1997; Mallon & Cohen 2001; Williams 2004). Many women desire flexibility between their roles as professionals and as mothers and this is a factor in some women's motivations for leaving employment to become an entrepreneur (Buttner & Moore 1997; Mallon & Cohen 2001). Schindehutte, Morris and Brennan (2001) concluded that women are motivated to become entrepreneurs in order to achieve work-family balance. When evaluating studies which compare women and men entrepreneurs, we find that women entrepreneurs are more influenced by family-related factors than men (Collins-Dodd, Gordon & Smart 2004; Marlow 1997; Shane, Kolvereid & Westhead 1991; Still & Soutar 2001). While there has been strong growth in the numbers of women entrepreneurs worldwide (Minniti, Bygrave & Autio 2005), research on entrepreneurs and their experience of work-family conflict and balance is still relatively limited (Kim & Ling 2001; Loscocco 1997; Shelton 2006; Stoner, Hartman & Arora 1990). Some of the studies that examine work-family conflict and balance have focused on certain types of entrepreneurs, such as copreneurs and family businesses (Avery et al. 2000; Foley & Powell 1997; Smith 2000), or high-growth women entrepreneurs (Shelton 2006). It is also an important consideration when viewing entrepreneurship as work-family management strategies have the potential to determine the growth of a business (Shelton 2006).
This paper explores how entrepreneurs experience work-family conflict and their strategies for achieving work-family balance. The overall objective of the research is to investigate whether entrepreneurship is an answer to achieving work-family balance. While work-family conflict has been well researched, practical strategies for managing work-family balance have had limited attention in the literature, with Shelton (2006) being the first to propose such strategies (role manipulation). In this study we aim to go beyond such theoretical propositions and explore the actual ways in which entrepreneurs try to achieve work-family balance. Thus, little explanatory work has been done on how entrepreneurs balance their work and family and how effective these strategies appear to be. 

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