Perceived balance but experienced imbalance: the superficial and unsustainable work-life balance for Chinese employees

Xu, Mengyi (2019) Perceived balance but experienced imbalance: the superficial and unsustainable work-life balance for Chinese employees. In: 37th International Labour Process Conference (ILPC), Vienna, Austria.

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Underpinned by work-life/family and HRM literature, this research seeks to gain a robust understanding of the work-life balance (WLB) discourse in the Chinese context. While work-life issues in newly industrializing economies are gaining increasing salience, the perception and experience of Chinese employees’ WLB remain under-researched and vague. Drawn from the overall-based approach (Grzywacz and Carlson, 2007), work-life discourse is contextually scoped from national, organisational, and individual level to understand Chinese employees’ perceptions; the JDR model (Demerouti, et al., 2001) is applied as the framework to examine the influence of dominated work elements on employees’ WLB experience. This research is exploratory in nature and it adopts a case study using mixed methods that ensures the research validity and reliability. Data obtained from 312 questionnaires and 23 interviews in two Chinese state-owned business groups offers the robust information related to Chinese employees’ perceptions and experience of WLB in breadth and depth. Similar to the existing work-life research, findings indicate, being impacted by multidimensional factors, especially the work demands, Chinese employees tend to embrace work-life integration and enrichment rather than identifying with the traditional segregation and conflict perspectives dominant in western literature; while a relatively positive WLB picture is painted from Chinese employees' perceptions, it can argue to be superficial and unsustainable: the long working hours, heavy workload, and employer-friendly flexibility have been largely eroding their personal life, which critically challenge the reported balance. The contradiction in essence may mainly derive from the irreconcilable work-life collisions between employee's ever-growing needs of better life and the logic of productivity orientation under the market economy, and the power differentials of employment relationship. Employees, as passive recipients of the organisations and managers have to suppress and internalise their ever-growing needs for better work and life and yield to the exogenous forces to trade off a relatively WLB making work enrich life. Given that, we argue although Chinese culture, such as 'harmony' and 'self-dedication' contributes to interpret the work-life integration and enrichment (e.g. Ling and Powell, 2001; Lu et al., 2010), it tends to rhetorically decorate a decapitalized society and less powerful to explain the work-life nature and relationship. The research contributes to validate western frameworks in the non-western context and a critical analysis of how the contextually influenced meaning of work-life discourse is suitable through mixed methods. The surficial and unsustainable WLB Chinese employees experiences is the epitome of work nature and lived work-life experience in the context of globalising capitalism, which can apply for the wider workforce in most of Global North and South even there is the particular relevance in Chinese context. Having understood the unoptimistic work-life picture, this research calls for the work-life management within the organisations: it needs to clarify the work-life demand for, as well as the development and effectiveness of, HR practices in addressing WLB issues, in an age of rapid transformation.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: Work-life balance, Sustainability, Work intensification, Labour process
Faculty: Faculty of Business & Law
SWORD Depositor: Symplectic User
Depositing User: Symplectic User
Date Deposited: 26 Feb 2020 09:30
Last Modified: 09 Sep 2021 18:55

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