Work and family life: Achieving integration


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Content type
Research report

December 1995

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Is it possible to integrate the roles of work and family, or will this remain a vision more than the reality? This question is explored in this book, which is based on two major studies conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the Australian Living Standards Study (1991-1993) and the Australian Family Formation Project (1981-1991). The authors examine how choices about paid employment are influenced by gender role attitudes and work and family priorities, and they look at parents' work satisfaction and the effect of work on family and personal life. They also examine the issue from the employers' point of view, outlining work practices implemented by leading edge corporations, such as flexible working hours and leave arrangements, to allow workers to better balance their work and family responsibilities and maintain a better quality of life. The book includes an overview of the changing context of work and family, and the legislative and policy situation in relation to work and family.


  • Acknowledgments
  • The Authors
  • List of Tables
  • List of Figures
  • Foreword
  • Contents
  • Introduction and Main Findings
    • l. Demographic, Social and Labour Market Trends
      • Family and social change
      • Women's and men's workforce participation
      • Workers with family responsibilities
      • Economic and labour market trends 
      • Summary 
    • 2. Impact of Change: Issues Raised by the Work and Family Nexus 
      • Needs of workers with family responsibilities 
      • Employer needs and concerns 
      • Impact of family on work 
      • Summary 
    • 3. The Research Setting 
      • Data and methods 
      • AlFS Australian Living Standards Study (ALSS) 
      • AlFS Australian Family Formation Project (AFFP) 
    • 4. Impact of the Work Environment 
      • The work environment 
      • Union participation 
      • Importance of working conditions 
      • Summary 
    • 5. Work Satisfaction and Life Satisfaction 
      • Work satisfaction 
      • The work environment: work satisfaction scales 
      • Work and life satisfaction 
      • Relevance of paid work to couples' levels of satisfaction 
      • Summary 
    • 6. Effects of Work on Family Dimensions 
      • A brief overview 
      • Positive and negative effects of work: ALSS and AFFP 
      • Moderating the effect of work on family life 
      • Summary 
    • 7. Work vs Family / Family vs Work 
      • Overview 
      • Work preferences (AFFP) 
      • Explanatory factors (AFFP) 
      • Decisions about employment (ALSS) 
      • Sharing work and family responsibilities 
      • Domestic roles over time 
      • Trade offs - time and money 
      • Summary 
    • 8. Family Caring: How Families Manage
      • Time off for caring 
      • Caring for other family members 
      • Organising time off to care for family 
      • Public or private responsibility? 
    • 9. Work and Family Diversity 
      • Sole parents 
      • Parents from non-English-speaking backgrounds 
    • 10. Social and Political Agenda: Family and Work Policy 
      • An Australian social and family policy perspective 
      • Legislation and industrial relations initiatives 
      • An overseas comparative perspective 
      • Summary 
    • 11. Employer Responses and Reactions 
      • Australian examples 
      • Overseas examples 
      • Holistic approach: work and family/quality of life 
      • Evaluating the cost-benefits of work and family policies 
      • Summary 
    • 12. Towards an Integrated Vision 
      • Equitable sharing between men and women 
      • Challenging the corporate culture 
      • Other benefits of flexible work and leave arrangements 
      • Some concerns 
      • Conclusions and implications - new partnerships 
  • List of References 


This book is the tangible product of a sponsorship which the Australian Institute of Family Studies received from Esso Australia to prepare, as a contribution to the 1994 International Year of the Family, a publication on how Australia is facing up to the challenge of achieving harmonisation between the demands of paid work and the responsibilities of family life, especially for employees who are also parents. I am delighted to be able to take this opportunity to give public expression to the Institute's gratitude to our sponsor.

The ways families organise their income earning and caring roles have changed profoundly over the past decades and the process of change looks set to continue well into the 21 st century. In 1995, in the majority of Australian families with dependent children, both mothers and fathers are juggling the demands of combining paid work with the responsible discharge of their family obligations. The conflict arises most saliently, perhaps, with respect to child care. However, in many families paid work has also to be combined with providing care for elderly family members as well as with other family and household routines.

Managing work and family roles creates both rewards and stresses for all family members. Employers are also increasingly recognising that many employees have dual roles, as parents as well as workers, and that family responsibilities can affect activity at the workplace and vice versa. Some leading edge companies are responding to this situation by providing a range of flexible working arrangements and leave entitlements to facilitate accommodation between workers' job and family demands.

Governments also play a role in this situation. In Australia, equal opportunity and sex discrimination legislation, along with government industrial relations policies, aim to encourage women and men to share more equally in the roles of paid employment and family care.

Despite these developments, there is still an expectation among many employers, and a perception among many career minded employees, that committed workers will devote themselves full-time to their jobs, without major disruption to their working day or week or year on account of demands from family responsibilities. Although many men are contributing more time to family tasks, women are still more likely than men to have to cope with the management of the 'second shift' and its attendant domestic tasks and family caring responsibilities.

Work and Family Life: Achieving Integration examines the impact of work conditions on family relationships, family functioning and family wellbeing, and assesses how attitudes and values towards work and family roles contribute both to preferences about labour force participation and to satisfaction with both spheres of activity. The pervasive influence of gender roles on the balancing of demands of family and work is a consistent theme.

The book raises critical and difficult questions about how responsibilities for managing the sometimes conflicting demands of work and family life, as well as the costs and benefits, can be more equitably shared between families, employers and the community at large. The evidence and arguments presented by Institute researchers Ilene Wolcott and Helen Glezer are intended to provoke both private and public debate and to contribute to the emergence of solutions to the dilemmas raised. If these objectives are achieved, thereby advancing the integration of work and family life beyond rhetoric and towards reality, the aspirations of the authors and the Australian Institute of Family Studies in writing and publishing this book will have been fulfilled.

Harry McGurk
Australian Institute of Family Studies

Introduction and Main findings

The changing roles of women and men and how they balance paid work and family caring is a subject of vital interest to families, employers and policy makers. How families organise their working and domestic lives is, at one level, a private matter. However, these decisions are influenced by and, in turn affect, many public spheres of life - health, education, leisure, law, taxation and social security provision. The relationship between home life and paid employment also underlies the debates about gender equality and children's rights.

Through an analysis of studies conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, this book explores how families perceive the connections between their work and family lives. Conclusions are discussed within the context of broader Australian and overseas trends.

The dominance of work and family issues on the political and industrial relations agendas would be considered incomprehensible to individuals who entered the workforce just three decades ago when marriage, for women, was a reason to be dismissed from many public service jobs and pregnancy the basis for the majority of women to retire from paid employment. Nowadays parliament debates child care rebates and paid maternity leave. Major newspapers feature articles on workers with family responsibilities. Widespread discussion on child care facilities, shared parenting and family leave to care for sick children is common. Enterprise bargaining agreements contain family-oriented clauses. Corporations vie for awards for providing family-supportive policies and benefits.

The environmental context in which families function and workplaces are organised has become more diverse. The nature of work has been transformed by the impact of technology and information dissemination. Shifts in the social and legislative terrain governing personal choices and opportunities, particularly in the domain of gender equality, have influenced family behaviour. The composition of families and the definitions of family life and what it means to be a husband or wife, a mother or father have broadened. The character and structure of work and enterprise principles have been redefined.

The relationships between family life and paid employment raise questions about how family members allocate time, energy and commitment; where satisfaction and stress levels intersect; and what values determine decisions about participation in paid work and family roles.

Design and Scope of the Book

This review of the interface between work and family examines how values and attitudes towards work and family life contribute to work preferences and satisfaction with work and family domains.

Chapters explore the impact of work conditions and benefits that can influence family functioning and workplace performance, and identify the effect of relevant family and individual characteristics in determining how families harmonise work and family demands. Government and employer responses to these issues are described, and implications for families, employers, governments and community arising out of the conclusions are discussed.

Data Sources

Two major studies conducted by the Australian Institute of Family Studies during 1991-92 form the major source of data on how families are responding to work and family matters.

These are the Australian Family Formation Project (wave 2)(AFFP) and the Australian Living Standards Study (ALSS). In addition, data from the Institute's Dependent Care Study (DCS) are drawn upon. The results of these studies are placed in the context of work and family in Australia and overseas. In late 1994, an additional 15 interviews with families were conducted. These case studies focus on the values and priorities that influence decisions about how paid work and family life are organised.

Main Findings

Work environment

Characteristics and conditions of jobs - hours and scheduling, leave benefits, level of autonomy and interpersonal relationships at work - have the potential to reduce or increase stress on workers with family responsibilities. Working time arrangements that can provide additional time for family life such as working fewer hours and only weekdays or daytime were rated more important by mothers than fathers, evidence that it is women more than men who organise work time to suit family needs. All parents in the Australian Living Standards Study valued a job that provides a sense of achievement, interest, good relationships with co-workers and supervisors and employment security.

Work and life satisfaction

The majority of ALSS parents were moderately satisfied with their working conditions and hours and more satisfied with their relationships at work. On these dimensions of the working environment, women working parttime were consistently more satisfied than men or women in full-time employment. Options for training was the one area where women working part-time had lower levels of satisfaction.

Overall, ALSS parents were satisfied with their life as a whole, particularly with family relationships. Working part-time clearly contributed to women's life satisfaction and their working part-time also enhanced their partner's life.

Effect of work on family and personal life

There is a reciprocal impact between work and family. The effect that work has on family life and vice versa depends on the various patterns of work conditions, family and personal characteristics. Men and women who were satisfied with their lives overall and had a sense of autonomy and control over their lives also experienced less negative consequences from their work to family life.

Balancing the often conflicting demands of work and family can be stressful for many families. When parents were working full-time, especially long hours, there was a greater degree of spillover (interference, stress or conflict) from their jobs to family life. Those in high status jobs with their associated long hours and pressure reported greater negative impact on family life. Both men and women experienced these tensions, particularly the time constraints on parenting. Nevertheless, gender role beliefs have a strong influence on the organisation of family and work lives; mothers contained the spillover from work to family by working part-time.

Family diversity

In both the Australian Living Standards Study and the Australian Family Formation Project there were few significant differences between employed sole parents and two-parent families on measures of work and family satisfaction and stress levels. Gender was more important than family status. Whether a sole parent or partnered, mothers expressed similar feelings about the effect work had on managing family tasks and relationships with children.

There were similarities rather than differences between parents of nonEnglish- speaking and English-speaking background on most work and life satisfaction measures.

Work and family decisions and preferences

Although parents in both studies showed some degree of flexibility in the sharing of work and family roles, it was clearly mothers who made the major accommodations necessary to meet consistent family caring demands by working in part-time jobs. In general. women with preschool children were most likely to prefer and to adjust their work schedules to part-time employment.

The majority of AFFP women with children in a couple relationship, whether they were currently working full-time or part-time, preferred to work parttime. With the exception of those with a youngest child under age four, the majority of women who were not in the workforce also preferred to work part-time. Very few men expressed a preference for part-time work and their preferences were not influenced by the presence or age of their children.

Managing family care

In order to meet family needs, workers with family responsibilities require child care when children are young, and they need some flexibility in time; they need leave in the early infant months, when family members are sick, and during school holidays.

Working conditions are an important factor in how families cope with family caring responsibilities. The majority of parents in permanent positions with entitlements to leave used some form of paid leave (their own sick leave, annual leave, special family leave). Parents who used their own sick leave when this was not strictly legal often felt gUilty; a problem that has been partly resolved in the recent industrial relations decision on Family Leave. The majority of parents who were not eligible for such leave used unpaid leave. Parents also used flexible work arrangements such as time in lieu, rostered days off and flextime.

Mothers took more time off work than fathers to care for children when they were sick. Grandparents were an important child care resource for many families.

Overall, the majority of ALSS parents were satisfied with their preschool child care arrangements, be they formal or informal.

Employer responses and reactions

Many companies, particularly leading edge corporations, have implemented a range of flexible working and leave arrangements that can assist workers with family responsibilities. Companies are still grappling with how to quantify or justify the cost-benefits of some policies. In some cases work and family policies are being mainstreamed into the broader concepts of business quality and quality of work/life.

For many employers, however, accommodation to meeting family needs through flexible work arrangements is still based on the premise that it will be women, not men, and not those in senior positions, who will take advantage of these policies. The introduction of new working conditions through enterprise bargaining mayor may not be conducive to integrating work and family roles.


The consistent and persistent preference of women with children for parttime employment and the evidence that there is little change in the division of labour within the household are testimony to the endurance of traditional behaviour regarding gender roles in the community.

The availability of flexible hours and leave policies enabled women and men in these studies to achieve some balance between work and family demands. However, so long as it is only women who take advantage of flexible working arrangements and men are content, acquiesce to or see no other option but to work schedules that foreclose greater family participation, there will be little change to this conclusion.

Corporate culture change has to be accompanied by social changes that facilitate and encourage alternative work and family patterns.

Social security systems, for example, have to accommodate varied patterns of integrating family caring and paid work. Access to community resources for child and elder care affects the ability to juggle work with family caring. Families, too, have to make decisions and perhaps, compromises about family, material and career priorities.

As this book describes, the majority of families were generally satisfied with their work and family arrangements, particularly where women worked part-time and the workplace was supportive. The achievement of a more integrated egalitarian sharing of work and family roles remains the vision rather than the reality.