Why family-friendly practices can also be performance-friendly

Employees may feel that family-friendly HR practices, such as on-site day-care facilities or flexible working, let them work more effectively. This in turn may enhance commitment and loyalty to the organisation

In what they claim is the first study to examine this, Jill Perry-Smith and Terry Blum from the Georgia Institute of Technology consider whether these practices have any impact on an organisation’s performance.

Instead of considering individual practices, they measured the effects of a whole series of work-life balance initiatives. This approach derives from theories on strategic HR management in which single interventions are considered to be less important than coherent “bundles” of practices, which are thought to have a more powerful impact on organisational performance.

Using data from a large study of US organisations, they surveyed 527 firms, considering performance and the presence of eight work-life policies. These included help with day-care costs; unpaid parental leave; and information about community day-care.

Results suggested a relationship between a bundle of family-friendly policies and higher organisational performance. This was strongest in larger companies and those with larger proportions of female employees.

But the study has limitations. First, all the data was collected by self-report – asking for perceptions of the key variables – which could be a factor when rating business performance. Second, all the data was collected at one time, so it is impossible to tell whether a causal link exists between family-friendly policies and performance. But, given that no similar research exists, this study suggests that the subject should be explored further.

J Perry-Smith, T Blum, “Work-family human resource bundles and perceived organisational performance”, Academy of Management Journal, Vol 43, 2000.

Rob Briner is senior lecturer in organisational psychology at Birkbeck College, London