The Work-Family Interface in Global Context (Project 3535)


  • Karen Korabik, University of Guelph, Canada.
  • Zeynep Aycan, Koç University, Turkey.
  • Roya Ayman, Illinois Institute of Technology, USA.
  • Artiawati, University of Surabaya, Indonesia.
  • Anne Bardoel, Monash University, Australia.
  • Anat Drach-Zahavy, University of Haifa, Israel.
  • Leslie B. Hammer, Portland State University, USA.
  • Ting-Pang Huang, Soochow University, Taiwan.
  • Donna S. Lero, University of Guelph, Canada.
  • Tripti Pande-Desai, New Delhi Institute of Management, India.
  • Steven Poelmans, EADA Business School, Spain.
  • Ujvala Rajadhyaksha, Governors State University, USA.
  • Anit Somech, University of Haifa, Israel.
  • Li Zhang, Harbin Institute of Technology, China.

Description of Project:

Project 3535 was a collaborative cross-cultural investigation of the work-family interface. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected from nearly 3,000 employed parents from 10 countries on 4 continents.  A social policy analysis was also carried out. The study examined the antecedents (e.g., role demands, coping styles, and social support) and outcomes (e.g., turnover intent; job, family, and life satisfaction; work-family guilt) related to work-family conflict and work-family positive spillover. The results identified those processes that generalized over all countries, as well as those that were specific to certain cultural contexts. Each country was responsible for its own funding. Funding for the Canadian portion came from grants from the SSHRC.


This research consisted of three components:

  1. a qualitative analysis of focus group discussions
  2. a quantitative survey, and
  3. a social policy analysis

This research was based on the extension of a comprehensive, theoretical model (Frone, Yardley, & Markle, 1997) that included a large number of antecedents and outcomes in the work, family, and well-being domains, as well as important socio-cultural and moderating variables. It employed multiple methodologies, both qualitative and quantitative (Greenhaus & Parasuraman, 1999) and both emic (culture specific) and etic (pancultural) (Gelfand, Raver, & Erhart, 2002). Moreover, it utilized both micro- and macro-level approaches. It also made use of a multicultural and interdisciplinary team of international researchers so as to assure a deep understanding of the issues being studied and how they apply in different cultural contexts (Ayman, 1994; Gelfand et al., 2002). Furthermore, these expert researchers represented a wide number of cultures, selected based on theoretically important dimensions (Gelfand et al., 2002). Lastly, we tried to respond to Greenhaus and Parasuraman's (1999) call for more studies of W-F balance that use short-term longitudinal approaches and that examine gender differences and to Frone's (2002) desire that more emphasis be placed on the role of positive spillover, personal coping initiatives, and organizational W-F policies. Please refer to Korabik, Lero and Ayman (2003) for a more extensive discussion of the general methodology.

Research Findings: Focus Groups:

Work-Family Conflict

Focus group participants in all countries discussed work-family conflict being an issue, however, the focus of the discussions tended to differ in between countries. For example, in the Canadian focus groups, long hours, flexibility in scheduling, difficulties with childcare, lack of family support, and a difficulty with enforcing boundaries between work time and family time were discussed. Conversely, some participants also discussed the positive aspects of holding multiple roles, stating that they can strengthen relationships (especially with their partners), and that it helped them become positive role models for their children.

Similarly, those in the Israeli focus groups reported experiencing both work interference with family (WIF)and family interference with work (FIW), with problems such as difficulties getting to work with sick children, or having to leave training to get home to the family. They also discussed the difference between conflict and positive spillover, with comments explaining how work and family roles could complement each other.

Women in India also reported both WIF and FIW. They had more negative experiences to report compared to positive spillover. Further, they believed that multiple roles could be enervating along with being exhausting.

In Turkey, the focus group participants reported that they experienced conflict especially between work and parental roles. It was felt that the development and education of children were the primary responsibility of the women. Despite feeling many demands on their time, these women reported feeling that they have fulfilled lives and they are proud of the sacrifices they had made for their families (especially their children).

In the Ukraine, there was some disagreement about the extent to which work and family interfere with one another. The majority of participants indicated that work-family conflict was not an issue, while others said that the conflict was sometimes a problem or often a problem. The key reasons provided for the lack of balance included not having enough time or being too tired from work responsibilities to deal with responsibilities in the home.

In Australia, the focus of work-family conflict was on being a "proper mother" or a "super-mum". Women reported feeling as though they needed to choose between having a career versus having "just a job". They felt that they were experiencing hidden costs of working on their relationships.

Indonesian women discussed work demands such as ineffective management (meetings after work hours), lack of reliable administrative support system, indecisive leadership, and unskilled coworkers/subordinates. On the family side, they reported experiencing demands arising from the care and education of their children, unequal distribution of domestic chores with spouse, and unavailable or incompetent domestic helpers.

Negative Outcomes From Work-Family Conflict

In some cultures (e.g., US and Canada) work demands were heavier and there was more sacrifice of family time. By contrast, in other cultures (e.g., Turkey and Taiwan) family demands were heavier and there were more career sacrifices.

Canadian participants reported not having enough time for their partner, children, or themselves, having increased arguments with their partner, being tired, stressed, or distracted, or not having enough professional growth in their job.

Similarly, Indonesian women discussed having low work motivation, difficulty in concentrating on their job, withdrawing from their work, being stressed, lacking sleep, or experiencing negative emotions (such as being irritable, panicked, or sad).

Women in the Ukraine stated that they often did not complete their family responsibilities, they did not have enough time for their children, or they were not as focused on work as they felt they should be.

American participants felt that stress was one of the biggest outcomes they experienced from a lack of balance. They reported this stress occurring in both family and work domains. These participants stated that striving for balance between their work and family is very difficult, and that the inability to ultimately reach the balance is one of the reasons for the experience of stress and negative emotions such as frustration.

In Spain the lack of fit between work hours and family hours was a major factor (Poelmans, 2004.)

Participants in Taiwan discussed the more traditional obligations that exist for women to complete the housekeeping and take care of their children, parents, and parents-in-law. Women reported obtaining fewer opportunities to develop their own work careers when compared to men. Finally, there seemed to be different generational attitudes toward the unequal situation that exist for women dealing with work and family conflicts. The older generation of women was more accepting to the inequality that exists when compared to the younger generation.

Further, Turkish women tended to blame their husbands for not supporting career development for women and not sharing the household responsibilities. They often times blamed themselves for being perfectionists and not delegating responsibilities to others around them, especially their husbands. Finally, they believed that they needed to retrain themselves for a more egalitarian society.

Interestingly, guilt was a common outcome discussed by participants. Again, the themes that emerged regarding this guilt were quite different, however. Women in some cultures (e.g., India, Arab Israelis, and Australia) reported pressure to be a “superwoman”. Australian women were most likely to report experiencing guilt due to their inability to be superwomen, while women in the US mentioned feeling guilty about having to put their jobs before their families and their inability to be in two places at one time. Conversely, women in India and Turkey appeared to experience guilt more when they felt that they had ignored the academic achievement of their children. The Arab women in Israel who were interviewed spoke about feeling guilty for not fulfilling their traditional gender roles. Many of the Jewish Israeli women mentioned that they felt that they had moved from guilt to positive spillover as a function of their stage in life.

Coping and Social Support Strategies

Participants had many different coping strategies for dealing with the work-family conflict (WFC) they were experiencing. In India, women attempted to be a superwoman (or the "durga" of the many hands). Conversely, they also coped with the WFC by lowering their standards or focusing on quality time. Similarly, Israeli women reported either lowering their standards or being a superwoman. They also said that they work on coordinating their demands in order to cope with WFC. In Turkey, women reported lowering their standards, however, instead of lowering standards at home, they preferred lowering their standards at work. Canadians discussed trying to compartmentalize their work and family, trying to make their family their priority, negotiating their role with their partner, changing to a more family friendly job, or using organizational policies to help balance (such as flextime or job sharing). Most countries reported using social support as a method of coping with WFC. Commonly, spousal, family, and friend support were discussed. Interestingly, in the US, women were more likely to mention the use of social support as a coping strategy than men were. Participants in India also reported support coming from neighbours, paid help and household labour saving technology. Canadians discussed support coming from paid help and managerial support, and Israeli participants reported having support from their extended family and their community. Collectivistic cultures (e.g., India, Indonesia, Turkey, and Spain) had more extended family support. However, this can be a strain as well as a support (Aycan, 2005). Those in economically underdeveloped countries, had more access to paid household help. But, the quality not always high (Aycan, 2005). While these early results are intriguing, further analysis of these data will certainly serve to elaborate on and clarify these findings.

Research Findings: Survey in Canada (Pilot Study)

Greater work overload was correlated with both higher WIF conflict, r (15) = .59, p<.01, and higher WIFGt, r (15) = .73, p < .001. Likewise, greater family overload was associated with higher FIW conflict, r (15) = .51, p < .04, and with higher WIFG, r (15) = .61, p < .01, and higher FIWG, r (15) = .51, p < .04.  WIF conflict and WIFG were positively correlated, r (15) = .81, p < .001.  FIW conflict was positively related to both WIFG, r (15) = .54, p < .03, and FIWG, r (15) = .79, p < .001.

Key findings from Canada: 

  • several variables were associated with lower W-F conflict. These included having egalitarian (rather than traditional) gender-role attitudes, collectivistic (rather than individualistic) values, and the ability to multi-task.
  • W-F conflict was predictive of several negative outcomes (i.e., decreased job, family and life satisfaction; increased turnover intentions and psychological distress).
  • increased WIF was associated with increased guilt due to work interference with family (WIFG) which was in turn associated with lowered job and life satisfaction and increased turnover intentions and psychological distress.
  • increased FIW was predictive of lowered family and life satisfaction
  • increased FIW was associated with increased guilt due to family interference with work (FIWG) which in turn was associated with increased psychological distress
  • the effectiveness of family-friendly policies in reducing W-F conflict depended upon the type of policy and the type of employees. For managers, reduced work load policies were associated with decreased work overload which in turn was associated with decreased W-F conflict. By contrast, for non-managerial employees policies aimed at flexible scheduling were associated with increased job control which in turn was associated with lowered W-F conflict.

Research Findings: Multi-National Survey

Role Overload and Job Demands

In the US greater work and family overload was associated with greater time- and strain-based WIF, whereas greater family overload was associated with greater time- and strain-based FIW(Ishaya & Ayman, 2008). In Canada higher work overload was related to greater WIF conflict and WIF guilt. Higher family overload was related to higher FIW conflict and WIF and FIW guilt. Greater job demands were associated with more WIF conflict, whereas greater family demands were associated with more FIW conflict (Korabik & Lero, 2004; Korabik, McElwain & Lero, 2009). Moreover, in Canada, for managers reduced work hours were associated with lower work overload and less WIF, whereas for non-managers flexible scheduling was associated with higher job control and less WIF (Oliver, McElwain, Korabik, & Lero, 2008).

Job and Family Satisfaction; Turnover Intent

In the US, greater time-based FIW was related to less job satisfaction, whereas greater strain-based WIF was related to less family satisfaction (Velgach, Ishaya, & Ayman, 2006). In Canada, greater WIF was associated with less job satisfaction, whereas greater FIW was assocaited with less family satisfaction. Moreover,higher job demands were related to more WIF and greater WIF was associated with higher turnover intentions(Korabik et al., 2009). In Taiwan, greater work and family overload were associated with greater WIF and FIW. Higher WIF and FIW were related to lower job and family satisfaction (Huang, 2009).

Positive Spillover

In Australia, higher work-family positive spillover was related to higher job satisfaction and lower psychological distress and turnover intent. By contrast, higher family-work positive spillover was related to higher family satisfaction and lower psychological distress. Positive spillover originating from both work and home buffered the effects of negative spillover on job satisfaction and psychological distress (Haar & Bardoel, 2007, 2009).

Gender-Role Attitudes

Those in US, Canada and Spain were higher in gender-role egalitarianism than those in Taiwan. In all five countries, those with traditional attitudes were higher than those with egalitarian attitudes in both WIF and FIW (Poelmans, Ayman, Korabik, Rajadhyaksha, Huang, Lero & Desai, 2006). In India both men and women with traditional attitudes were higher than those with egalitarian attitudes in WIF and FIW (Rajadhyaksha & Velgach, 2009). In the US gender role attitudes were a better predictor of W-F conflict than gender. Those with traditionals attitudes were higher than those with egalitarian attitudes in both time- and strain-based WIF and FIW (Velgach, Ayman, Antani, & Ishaya, 2006; Velgach, Ishaya, & Ayman, 2006).

Coping and Gender-Role Attitudes

In Israel Somech and Drach-Zahavy (2007) found that 8 categories of coping were differentially related to WIF and FIW for men and women with traditional vs. egalitarian gender-role attitudes. Their 8 coping categories were: delegate at home and at work, good enough at home and at work, prioitize at home and at work, and super at home and at work.

Work-Family Guilt

In Canada, higher WIF conflict was associated with higher WIF guilt. Greater FIW conflict was directly related to greater FIW guilt. WIF guilt partially mediated the relationship between WIF conflict and psychological distress(Korabik & Lero, 2004; Korabik, McElwain & Lero, 2009).

Satisfaction with Supervisor and Policies

In the US, family-friendly organizational policies were related to lower strain-based WIF and time-based FIW (Velgach, Ishaya, & Ayman, 2006). In Canada, the more that men were satisfied with their supervisor and organizational policies, the less WIF they reported. Lower WIF was in turn associateed with higher job satisfaction, better ease of balancing and lower turnover intent. By contrast, the more that women were satisfied with organizational policies, the less WIF they reported. For women, lower WIF and FIW were associated with better ease of balancing (Lero, Korabik, & McElwain, 2006).

Social Policy Analysis

An extensive policy analysis was conducted to complement and contextualize the analysis of cross-national survey data. Information was compiled from national and international sources (OECD, ILO, the UN) to allow a rich description and comparative policy analysis of institutional factors that affect women's employment and opportunities for men and women to balance work and family responsibilities. Key domains included statistics on women's and mothers' education and labour force participation, dual-earner couples, gender equality policies, government financial support to families, and work-family policies including leave policies, child care provision, and policies related to part-time work and flexible work scheduling. Indexes and classificatory systems derived from the data, in conjunction with UN Gender Development Index Scores, will be correlated with obtained scores on the Gender Ideology Scale and considered as factors that directly and indirectly affect work-family conflict and the importance of employer-based work-family practices.

The main findings from the analysis are presented below. For more information see: Aycan, 2005; Lero & Bardoel, 2008

  • In countries where the human/gender development index is high (e.g., Australia, the US and Canada), there is high government and workplace policy support.
  • In countries where the human/gender development index is lower (e.g., India, Indonesia and Turkey), there is high extended family and paid worker support.
  • The level of institutional support for work-family provided by governments and organizations is perceived to be insufficient in all countries.
  • Developed countries fare better than underdeveloped countries. Although similar laws exist in underdeveloped countries, enforcement is a problem.


Presentations / Publications:

 Book cover of the book, The Work-Family Interface in Global Context. The Cover is an image of diverse people holding hands around the globe

The Work-Family Interface in Global Context (2017), Edited by Karen Korabik, Zeynep Aycan, Roya Ayman