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The role of organisational culture

Dutch research, October 2014

While a company’s work-home policy sends a signal and creates an organisational framework for decision making, an organisations culture will influence an employee’s practical experience of workplace flexibility. Does organisational culture also impact how its employees think, feel and act at home? This article explores the relationship between supportive and innovative organisational cultures, flexible work-home arrangements and employee work-home interference.

Organisational culture, though intangible in nature, has a meaningful effect on employees and organisational outcomes. “Culture” is commonly defined as referring to the taken-for-granted values, norms and underlying assumptions that characterise an organisation and its members, serving as a foundation for how the organisation works. However, company culture can extend well beyond the work domain. Employees’ thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that build up at work and are shaped by the work environment can be transferred to the home domain (referred to as “spillover”, or Work-Home Interference (WHI)). Culture can also implicitly determine the prioritisation of work and home obligations, e.g. the provision of work-home policies and how encouraged employees feel to make use of them can support or impede balance between these two domains.

This research, conducted by Sok (Hotelschool, The Hague), Assoc. Prof. Robert Blomme (Nyenrode Business Universiteit, Breukelen) and Tromp (Hotelschool, The Hague), examined the relationship between organisational cultures and work-home interference, both positive (where work experiences improve the quality of home life) and negative (when work and home pressures are mutually incompatible). They also examined the effect that the availability of flexible work-home arrangements has on this relationship.

The researchers found that both supportive and innovative cultures can have a positive impact on how people feel when they get home.  There are some differences, however, in relation to negative impacts, namely innovative cultures create more time based pressures – and therefore time conflicts at home, whilst supportive cultures create more strain based effects, leaving people feeling overwhelmed and exhausted when they get home.  Flexible work practices can help reduce the strain based impacts.

This research aimed to contribute to the ongoing development of work-home balance strategies through examining the previously unexplored relationship between different organisational cultures, WHI and flexible work-home arrangements.

The study tested three hypotheses:

  1. That more supportive organisational cultures will be related to more positive WHI and less stress and time-based negative WHI
  2. That more innovative organisational cultures will be related to more positive work-home interference, as well as more time-based and strain-based negative WHI
  3. That flexible work-home arrangements mediate (i.e. will be an explaining factor in) the relationship between a supportive organisational culture and positive, time-based negative and stress-based negative work-home interference.

To test these hypotheses, 418 alumni (226 males and 190 females) of two Dutch business schools were surveyed. These respondents were employed throughout the world in a range of industries.

A ‘supportive’ culture was defined as internally oriented and reinforced by a flexible organisational structure, a core belief being that the organisation expresses trust in and commitment to its employees.

An ‘innovative’ company culture was defined to be one with an external orientation, and a focus on the development of its employees to meet the ever-changing demands of the external world.

Work−home interference (WHI) was measured using a questionnaire that distinguished between three types of interference:

  • Positive – ‘I am able to organise things better at home because this is what I do at work’
  • Negative time-based – ‘My work schedule makes it hard to fulfil home obligations’
  • Negative strain-based – ‘It is hard to fulfil home obligations because my mind is occupied with things from work’.

Flexible work−home arrangements included such things as the possibility for flexible working hours.

This study’s findings indicate that differing company cultures have different relationships with positive and negative spillover from an employee’s work to home life. Additionally, flexible work-home arrangements were found to account for some of these relationships.

As predicted, the researchers found that more supportive workplace cultures were related to more positive WHI, as well as a less strain-based WHI. However, there was no relationship between supportive culture and time-based WHI. Interestingly, flexible work-home arrangements were shown to play a critical role in the relationship between a supportive culture and WHI. When considering flexible work-home arrangements as a factor, they were found to fully account for the relationship between supportive culture and both positive and strain-based WHI. Furthermore, it was found that the more of these arrangements available, the less time-based WHI was expressed. These findings suggest that, while supportive cultures may not influence the spillover of time-related problems from work to home, a supportive culture in combination with work−home-friendliness can assist in minimising stress that can come from work−home imbalance.

Also as predicted, more innovative organisational cultures were related to both more positive WHI and negative time-based WHI. Yet, there was no relationship between innovative culture and negative strain-based spillover into home life. This suggests that the typically more demanding environment of companies with innovative cultures does not impede positive nor affect strain-based spillover for their employees, though they may have more difficulty in balancing time demands of both work and home.

Given the importance employees place on work-home balance, which has been demonstrated by past research, HR and Business Managers should consider all workplace factors that contribute to this perceived balance. The results of this study indicate that organisational culture is one of these factors. Therefore, companies should be mindful of the extent to which their culture can impact employees’ home lives, as well as work lives, and take an active role to shape it accordingly.

The results of this study suggest that the combination of a supportive workplace culture and provision of flexible work-home arrangements is best to encourage positive and reduce negative spillover. However, it is worth noting that this study examined only two of many culture types, which are not mutually exclusive. Company cultures can be multi-faceted, though to reduce any negative spillover these facets may have on employee home life, employees should have access to, and feel supported in using, flexible work-home arrangements.

To read the full article, see Sok, J., Blomme, R. and Tromp, D. (2014) “Positive and Negative Spillover from Work to Home: The Role of Organizational Culture and Supportive Arrangements”. British Journal of Management, Vol. 25, pp.456-472.

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