Work-Family Support Programs as a Strategic Human Resource Initiative: SHRM Foundation Research

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Work-Family Support Programs as a Strategic Human Resource Initiative: A Meta-Analysis of Effects on Organizational Outcomes

Funded: November 2008  Completed: September 2010

Wendy J. Casper, Ph.D., University of Texas at Arlington
Marcus M. Butts, Ph.D., University of Texas at Arlington

Executive Summary

Is There a Business Case for Work-Family Programs?

Work-family programs are discretionary programs that go beyond the basic requirements of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and share the common goal of supporting employees’ family demands.  They include programs such as paid/unpaid elder care leave, flexible spending accounts for dependent care, elder care resource and referral, child care resource and referral, flexible spending accounts for elder care, and on-site child care. Such work-family programs are offered by organizations that believe doing so will benefit the business and enhance employee commitment and performance.  Despite this, there is no clear evidence that work-family programs impact business outcomes.  Wendy Casper and Marcus Butts investigated the business case for work-family programs by exploring the degree to which the availability and use of these programs relate to positive employee attitudes and performance.

Key Findings and Implications for Practice

  • Employees who use work-family programs have lower work-to-family conflict than those who don’t and this lower conflict translates into improved attitudes and performance. 
  • Merely offering work-family programs is related to greater perceptions of organizational support for family, and these perceptions of support improve job attitudes and performance.

  • The influence of work-family program availability on outcomes is stronger than the influence of work-family program use on outcomes.  Thus, offering work-family programs can result in improved attitudes and performance, even when use of these programs is low.  Offering work-family programs may have a positive effect on work-related outcomes regardless of whether an employee personally benefits.

  • Offering more work-family programs yields better results. The influence of offering work-family programs on attitudinal and behavioral outcomes is stronger when more programs are offered than when fewer programs are offered.  Offering a variety programs that address a broad spectrum of work-family issues is likely to result in the most favorable outcomes.

Bottom Line for Human Resources Management

There is evidence that work-family programs influence employee attitudes and behaviors in a positive way.  Making work-family programs available appears to have a positive influence on employee attitudes and performance outcomes, primarily through an influence on support perceptions. Moreover, although work-family program use relates to improved attitudes and performance, the influence of mere availability is stronger than the influence of use.  Thus, making work-family programs available may lead to favorable outcomes for organizations even when the use of these programs is low.

Study Methods

Results from 59 studies were examined and summarized quantitatively using a technique called meta-analysis. Meta-analysis was used to combine findings from past research studies to determine an expected actual relationship between use and availability of work-family programs and the outcomes of interest.  Of the studies in the sample, 30 studies examined program use and 43 examined program availability; 14 examined both use and availability.