Author: Mordi, Chima
Date published: September 1, 2011
The paper aims to investigate the extent to which work-life balance practices are a reality for employees of organisations in the Nigerian private sector. It also examines if there are any barriers and reasons for the muted adoption of work-life balance policies in the Nigerian banking sector. Over the past three decades, there has been a widespread scholarly interest in the concept of work-life balance (Freeman, 2009; Moore, 2007). While extant work-life balance (WLB) studies have significantly furthered our understanding of the phenomena, there remains great unevenness within WLB studies in a non-Western context In essence, while WLB in the West has received enormous research exposure, far less attention has been devoted to exploring the concept of the WLB of individuals in Nigeria. Therefore, this is an attempt to contribute to the literature by exploring the current understanding of and attitude towards the issue of work-life balance among employees in Nigerian banks. This article is important in two ways. First, the authors believe that this study would be of great interest to academics and in particular banks and other international firms such as multinational corporations that are seeking to have joint ventures in Nigeria. Second, this article fills the research gap by using the spillzover model to explore work-life trends in Nigeria. The study is organised as follows: the second section conducts a review of prior studies on work-life balance followed by the research methods and data sources; the third section presents an evaluation of the features of the Nigerian labour market; the fourth section presents a discussion of the empirical evidence; and finally, the last section provides the conclusion and policy suggestions.
Literature Review on Work-Life Balance
There is no single universally acceptable definition of work-life balance; a lot will depend on the frame of reference scholars are using. The meaning or interpretation of the term varies with the age, interest, value, personal circumstance and personality of each individual (Torrington, Hall and Taylor, 2009). This resonates with Lee, Elke and Dobson (2009), who argue that an employee's 'age, life style and environment' play an important part in the individual's discernment of work-life balance. From the foregoing, the definitions can assume social, economic and legislative forms. According to Karatepe and Uludag (2007), WLB can be described as employees having the ability to fulfil both work and other responsibilities. Their definition is based on social issues associated with individuals 'irrespective of marital, race or gender' to attain an improved suit between paid work and personal life. The economic perspective was described by Russell, O'Connell and McGinnity (2009); it is described as companies encouraging individuals to achieve balance as a result of benefits they would gain such as high retention of staff, which is referred to as the TDUsiness case approach'. The main aim of the business case approach is that it results in a reduction in the absenteeism of employees and also portrays the organisation as a good employer. "The costs to your business for failing to improve worklife balance include: poor performance, absenteeism and sick leave; and higher staff turnover, recruitment and training costs." (Department of Trade and Industry, 2001)
However, the concept of WLB has been criticised on several fronts. For instance, Lewis, Rapoport and Gambles (2007b) argue that WLB as a concept is problematic. This is because people do not fragment work from life; actually, for people work is part of life. It is based on personal choice which varies from one person to another and may be difficult to quantify. Also, Freeman (2009) suggests that extant literature has identified four key problems which affect the implementation of WLB. This includes organisational culture, which rewards long hours and results in neglect of other areas of life. It also includes attitudinal problems, in the sense that sometimes middle management and supervisors resist policies on WLB issues. Another problem is the issue of "homo-sociability", which refers to the inclination of HR managers to recruit individuals who have traits that are similar to theirs.
Lastly, there is also the problem of lack of education and effective communication regarding WLB policy.
Five main descriptive models have attempted to conceptualise work-life balance (Guest, 2001); these include: i) the segmentation model, which states that work and life outside of work are mutually exclusive such that one sphere does not impact the other; ii) the spillover model states that work and life are interdependent and therefore influence each other. The other models tilt towards the spillover model: iii) the compensation model states that one sphere makes up for what is lacking in the other sphere; iv) the instrumental model states that one sphere emphasises the other sphere; and v) the conflict model states that each sphere has numerous demands, hence individuals have to prioritise and make choices that may lead to conflict. Again, it should be noted that there are various work-life balance theories (work/ life expansion theory (Barnett and River, 2004), work/ life border theory (Singh, 2004), balanced work/ life: a matter of balance (Limoges, 2003) and the theory of work-family enrichment (Greenhaus, 2006). This paper concentrates on the spillover model, although it is argued that the spill-over model is too broad to be useful. For Schoenfeld (2005), the general model of the model provides the flexibility to identify the state of worklife balance, which is the scope of the study.
Features of the Nigerian Labour Market
Nigeria is a West African country with a diverse ethnic grouping of over 250 ethnic groups. The official language is English and has a population of 149.23 million (CIA World Factbook, 2010). The workforce is estimated at 47.33 million, of which the labour force by occupation (2009 estimates) is as follows: agriculture 70%, the services sector had 20% and industry had 10% (CIA World Fact book, 2010). Nigeria also has an unemployment rate of 5.9% (CIA World Fact_book, 2010). The population below the poverty line was estimated at 70% in 2007. The Nigerian Labour Act of 1971 regulates the terms and conditions of employment in the country with the exception of wages. Nigeria is a strongly male-dominated society where a gender division of work prevails (Mordi, Simpson, Singh and Okafor, 2010). Hence, women engaging in traditionally "male" fields often find it difficult to integrate harmoniously work and family duties (Aluko, 2009). Ugwu (2009) found that dualcareer Nigerian couples experienced great stress because of multiple demands from work, family and community, and even the extended family does not help. As with many of the African countries, the extended family system is also a very common feature which provides help to support the family structure; but it comes at a cost to the individuals (Mordi et al, 2010). Generally, in Nigeria the issues enumerated above are further compounded by the cultural values and societal expectations of men and women. Work relations are often governed by patriarchal systems of socialisation and cultural practices (Mordi et al, 2010).
Research Methods Approach
This article employed a mixed method approach because WLB is viewed as a predominantly subjective and highly individualised phenomenon. To that extent, quantitative research methods are unlikely to provide a sufficiently rich understanding. For Neuman (2007), interviews, on the other hand, are one of the best ways of exploring these complexities; hence, this study will utilise a mixed method approach to gain an in-depth understanding of WLB. The survey instrument was a combination of two questionnaires which had been already validated and used in other published studies (in Schoenfeld, 2005; and BERR, 2008). A total number of 250 questionnaires were administered, of which 60.8% were retrieved. The sample technique was stratified. The sample was stratified because the respondents represented managers and non-managerial positions. Banks were selected because of their culture of working for long hours during the week and weekend. It is important to note that banks' long-hours working culture is becoming rife among private sector firms. Given the long-work hours culture, it would be interesting to know if WLB is taken seriously as an HR policy and how it is adopted or a barrier to its operations. The case study for this research was Unie Bank (a pseudonym for the leading bank). Unie Bank is one of the oldest and most formidable banks in Nigeria, founded in the early nineteenth century. The major activity of Unie Bank is to provide commercial banking services to corporate and individual customers. The bank was listed on the Nigerian Stock Exchange in the 1970s. The bank also has many subsidiaries, about 10,000 employees and numerous branches across the federation.
Data Analysis and Discussion
Demographic Characteristics and Work- Life Balance
The questionnaires were administered to 69 men (45.4%) and 83 women (54.6%), of which three-quarters (72.4%) were married and had children. The remaining 27.6% of the respondents were single and did not have children. Sixteen of the respondents (10.6%) were senior managers, 44 of the respondents (28.9%) were line managers and 92 of the respondents (60.5%) were nonmanagerial staff, all of whom participated in the survey. A high number of the respondents (71.3%) had young children which were aged between 0 and 9 years. The number of respondents with children aged between 10 and 18 years was 25.7%, while respondents with children above the age of 18 were 3%.
Employee's Perception of WLB
In terms of the employee's perception of work-life balance in Nigeria, 89% of the respondents pointed out that everyone should be able to balance their work and home life the way they wanted. Although 88% of the bank workers recognised that personal and work demands were overwhelming, they showed a deep organisational citizenship by being willing to disrupt their family lives for the sake of the business growth and profit. What is more problematic is that over 80% of the workers could not balance their work and life, and could not reach their personal and career goals satisfactorily. To that extent, 87% of the employees pointed out that work-life balance needs to be given immediate priority and that management should be a bit more pluralistic in terms of employers and employees jointly regulating issues related to work-life balance.
Flexible working arrangements
Employees within the bank pointed out that they worked for 12 hours a day. This is in addition to weekend work. Many struggled between family and work. As some respondents pointed out:
It is very difficult for us to meet up with family commitments. If not for our drivers and help we get from family relatives, it hard to manage the children and home. My wife and I work in banks and we hardly see the children till the weekend. Our work is sincerely affecting our lives but what we need the money, what can we do. . .
It is clear the bank employees want some form of work-life balance. In fact, 76% of the respondents were of the opinion that they would choose a flexible working pattern if it were available. According to one of the HR managers, the bank recognised the need for work-life balance:
we have flexible working patterns for our staff. Even though not all utilised it. We even have a lot of leave arrangements for the workers. I am sure if you asked the workers, they will tell you we have been generous and understanding with giving employees leave when requested. We know they have family and other issues that they have to attend to. We are supportive.
However, many of the employees appeared surprised that there was a flexible working arrangement. Some of them pointed out that they had never heard of them, while others said it was for top managers:
I don't even know what you mean by flexible working arrangement. It's the first I am hearing the word. This flexible working pattern you are asking is not used in Nigeria. I think it is foreign.
If there is flexible work, they must be using it only for the big senior executive. We have no choice, we have to report to work every day; if not, we will lose our work. I think you know it's hard to get job in Nigeria. We are suffering and smiling.
However, a few respondents within the IT department pointed out they enjoyed flexible work. What is apparent from the study is that there is a limited flexible working arrangement within the bank with 95.1% on full-time shifts, 3.7% on part time and 1.2% on teleworking. The case of the bank workers is not an isolated case, as this arrangement is replicated across many private sector companies. The interview revealed that the employees were not aware of some policies such as compressed hours or working from home (teleworking). Some of the reasons given during the interviews were that the current economic conditions in Nigeria did not support such flexible schemes. The employee relations officer pointed out that Nigerians are not used to such arrangements and find them rather odd: "we have various policies like term time and part time but most of the employee choose full time because they would earn more money from this working pattern". According to Mordi et al. (2010), there is a preference for conventional full-time permanent contracts. For Mordi, the preference comes from a realisation that the country has a weak and unstable industry with large reserves of surplus labour struggling for scarce jobs. As one of the respondents said:
" I count myself luck to have this job, the salary just keep me going, it is enormous having to do any other arrangements like part time. Part time would not be worth my while as a man, I need to be able to provide for my immediate and extended family, so I need all the money lean get" (Cashier officer).
The findings in this study align with other studies in that there appears to be little utilisation of work-life balance policies among those employees within the western hemisphere (Spinks, 2004). The low utilisation of work-life balance programmes has its probable root in the perception that adopting flexible working arrangements leads to less job security and hinders future career prospects (Rodbourne, 1996; Stevens, Brown and Lee, 2004). It seems that, though work-life programmes are available to employees, individuals and organisations have yet to fully embrace the idea. In Nigeria, there are similar problems but made worse by the ignorance exhibited by employers of the utility of WLB and the lack of information provided to the workers.
Factors impeding work-life balance in Nigeria
Lack of information and training
Employees in this bank were oblivious to some policies that were in place in the organisation such as leave, career breaks, unpaid leave, flexible working hours and compressed hours. It was clear that the employees did not even know where to find basic information on a number of policies. Sometimes information was known by chance through word of mouth or those close to managers that were aware of such information. It is clear from the interviews that both the employer and the employees need to be trained in the importance of WLB. Employers need to understand that having a healthy and less stressful workforce contributes to the improved mental and physical health, job satisfaction and job performance. When the employees were shown a list of other WLB policies and practices that exist in banks within the UK and US, the employees were excited at the prospect of having more days awarded to maternity leave, the introduction of paternity leave and more options to work from home. For one of the respondents, a management staff, he opined that giving workers more work-life balance options or policies will:
incur unnecessary cost. He pointed out that if the bank was to encourage people to work from home, for example, the bank will need to provide workers with computers at home, free Internet access and some money to fuel the generator. You know we have electricity problem in Nigeria.
Fear of legal implications of using work-life balance programmes
Again, when the information was known by employees, there appeared to be confusion as to the legal implications of employees requesting for more time. For instance, some of the employees who had taken maternity leave would have loved to have a longer period but the bank only offers the statutory requirement of three months. In the words of some respondents:
I would love to balance my family work and life but not many organisations offer such opportunity and with the high unemployment rate in the country, I don't have any alternative than do the long hours. (Manager)
Work-life balance is a luxury that only available in MNC, not banks, (customer relationship officer)
Another problem is the lack of a union voice on the issue of worklife balance and the welfare of bank workers. Many of the banks with unions are now increasingly derecognising the unions. Often the unions are just weak in actively challenging management on some of the onerous conditions of work which increase work-life conflicts among their members.
Conclusion and Recommendation
In summary, the institutional dynamics propelling work-life balance in the western hemisphere is weak in developing countries such as Nigeria. There is an urgent need to put in place regulatory systems and effective implementation structures to help managers reorganise and design work in such a way that it would be more humane. If the Nigerian private sector will compete effectively with the developed world, management would need to pay some more attention to the managing issues pertaining to work-life balance, particularly in an African society where roles are ascribed to people based on their gender. There must be a move from the growing conception that human resources are assets to be maximally exploited and disposed of without being considerate about creating an enabling environment where the workers' lives are balanced with work.
The perpetuation of this hybrid of the traditionalist approach and sophisticated paternalist management approaches used by many Nigerian banks may be counter-productive and may unlikely produce commitment, quality and continuity. Employers are quick to point out the issues of cost in not being able to offer more work-life balance initiatives. This unitarist managerial goal has led to the creation of structures which over the years have led to an atmosphere of job insecurity, fear and stress among workers. There is a need to overhaul the way work is designed to accommodate contemporary issues such as work-life balance. Work-life policies can allow organisations to gain a competitive edge by enabling it to attract and retain people, particularly women, with the best skills and experience and also result in low staff turnovers and giving the organisation the reputation of a good employer (Epie, 2006; Epie, 2009). A review of the existing policies is required to ensure they suit everyone and ensure employees are not overworked and given reasonable and realistic deadlines. HR managers play a key role in ensuring the success of WLB policies and practices. They should train the employees so that they can be aware of the policies available and also monitor the implementation of policies to ensure equality across the board.
In closing, these studies make four important recommendations. First, there is an urgent need to improve communication. There is a need to communicate clearly the bank's WLB policies and practices to its employees, to raise awareness further and improve the knowledge and understanding of relevant policies. This can be done by sending updated versions of WLB policies via the bank's intranet with names and details of individuals to contact for any further advice on WLB policies and practices at the bank. Second, consider implications for work-life balance in relation to workloads: guidelines should be developed which ensure that the employees are given duties which have realistic deadlines, and commensurate rewards should be given for extra hours. Third, consider the potential demand for further flexibility within working patterns such as flexible hours, compressed hours or working from home. It should be considered, subject to operational requirements, whether such practices could be extended. Hence, a pilot scheme could be carried out to test the feasibility of having more flexible work arrangements and to develop appropriate policies accordingly. There is, finally, a need to ensure fairness and consistency in the implementation of WLB policies.
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Chima Mordi* & Stella Ibiyinka Ojot
Brunei Business School, Brunei University, London, UB8 3PH,