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Ahmad, Sariati and Skitmore, Martin (2003) Work-family conflict: a survey of Singaporean workers. Singapore Management Review 25(1):pp.

35-52. Copyright 2003 Singapore Institute of Management WORK-FAMILY CONFLICT: A SURVEY OF SINGAPOREAN WORKERS
Sariati Ahmad and Martin Skitmore School of Construction Management and Property Queensland University of Technology Gardens Point Brisbane Q4001 Australia


Corresponding Author: Professor Martin Skitmore School of Construction Management and Property Queensland University of Technology Gardens Point Brisbane Q4001 Australia

20 December 2001 (version 2)



Work and family are the two most important aspects of peoples lives and they often conflict. This paper examines the nature of that conflict and its effects on managers. An empirical survey is described, aimed at enhancing the understanding of the conflicts that individuals' experience, soliciting views on how individuals challenge/balance work and family life. This showed that, although most of the respondents would trade some earnings for family time, job related issues involving security, flexible working hours and high profile are valued ahead of leisure activities, but at a cost of behaviour-based, time-based and strain-based conflicts in that order.

Key Words: Work-family conflict, child-care, flexible working, family-friendly policies.


We all like and need money and have some healthy needs for status and recognition (Lewis and Cooper, 1995). These desires and needs, however, are everywhere scarce (Max Weber in Quah et al, 1991). Work (paid employment), representing one of the most central realms for most adults (Andrews and Withey, 1976; Gutek et al, 1991; Frone et al, 1992, Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985; Netemeyer et al, 1996; Carlson and Kacmar, 2000), offers a means of

3 satisfying them. Additionally, people like to feel necessary in their jobs - they wish to gain respect both from their employer and fellow workers and, in many instances, positively identify with a particular skill (Maslow, 1987).

Working is consistent with many peoples fundamental approach to life (Kofodimos, 1995:8). For instance, typical employing organisations encourage a competitive-control approach, which corresponds with the set of attitudes and behaviours traditionally seen as comprising effective leadership and management (Kofodimos, 1995). For many executives, the

association of competition and control with self-esteem is rooted in childhood, in which they were rewarded and disciplined according to a set of prescriptions for the kind of person they should be (Kofodimos, 1995). As a result, most executives give their jobs a high priority in their lives (Bartolom and Evans, 1980). Many professionals, managers and executives who have attained success and received rewards in their careers enjoy working and value the rewards and recognition they get from their work (1995:6).

Employees perceive their organisational commitment as an obligation to the organisation (Taylor et al, 1996). The organisation and the employee engage in a series of social

exchange transactions in which the organisation expects employees to be committed in return for a range of benefits and support offered. The involvement of the individual within a domain thus has a direct and positive relationship with satisfaction in that domain (Adams et al, 1996; Frone et al 1992; Weiner et al, 1987). To encourage this, employers try to reduce job dissatisfaction by providing better working conditions, improved earnings (Herzberg, 1966); child-care assistance, flexible working hours, and family leave (Gilbert 1985; Sekaran 1986; Zedeck and Mosier 1991); and to increase recruiting potential, morale, productivity, and quality (Goff et al, 1990). Professional and managerial women increasingly aspire to

4 both personal lives and careers (Schwartz, 1989) and, as the number of women in the workforce has continued to rise, day care and time off for pregnancy and child-rearing duties also have increased dramatically (Clay, 1989). As a consequence, many children spend significant amounts of time with adults and other children, adding diversity to their early childhood experiences (Googins, 1991).

Despite this, women continue to have difficulty fitting the model of a successful manager (Marshall, 1989). Also, although the increased formal participation of women in paid

employment while maintaining their traditional roles is a global phenomenon, the research into work-family linkages that this phenomenon has precipitated has been done mostly in Western societies. As a result, relatively little is known about work-family linkages in nonWestern societies (Aryee, 1992).

However, while the varying degree of professionalisation among occupations may subject workers to different work conditions and environments, which subsequently influence their quality of work life, there is evidence suggesting a convergence of experiences among workers in different professions (Chan et al, 2000). This suggests that experiences are likely to be similar across different industries and locations. To investigate this further, therefore, a group of Singaporean workers were surveyed. Singaporean males are beginning to be more involved in childcare responsibilities and household chores (The Straits Times, 31 August, 1994), which suggests that the findings of the study may also be applicable to most other countries in general due to the trend towards gender equality at home and work (Thomas and Ganster, 1995).


From a theoretical viewpoint, overall life satisfaction is considered to be simply a summation of the various domains of an individuals life (Bedeian et al, 1991; Greenhaus et al, 1987; Rice et al, 1992). Only over the last two decades has there been a realisation that these domains interact with one another (Carlson and Kacmar, 2000; Korman and Korman, 1980). Practically, working and living constitute the two primary pillars of existence, and every civilisation and society grapples with the delicate relationships that support these two functions (Googins, 1991). To date, work/family interaction is seen as family issues that are not directly related to the responsibilities of either the workplace or the public sector, the strong cultural mandates to keep government and corporations out of private family lives having served to maintain a hands-off policy (Googins, 1991).

It is clear though, that what one domain (eg. family) gains, the other (eg. work) loses (Googins, 1991). From the perspective of employers, a choice can be made between wanting employees to channel time and creativity into solving home dilemmas and having that same energy for the benefit of the workplace (Googins, 1991). Competitive-control behaviours tend to be more valued in hierarchical organisations than they are at home (Kofodimos, 1995).

In addition, the once traditional family pattern of breadwinner father, homemaker mother, and children is now a minority form in much of the industrialised world (Nieva, 1985; Burley, 1995; Lewis and Cooper, 1995; Burke, 1997). Both womens and mens family roles are changing dramatically (Cowerman, 1989; Burley, 1995; Lewis and Cooper, 1995; Burke, 1997). As well as women, more men are valuing shorter working hours and would trade

6 income for shorter hours to spend time with family and achieve a more balanced life (Lewis and Cooper, 1995). Successful executives wish that they had more time to spend at home, that their personal lives were more fulfilling, and that they could find a way to structure their lives differently without penalty, but they seldom act on these wishes because of the pressures of organisational demands (Kofodimos, 1995:7).

Such changes in family structures are likely to affect the experiences of women and men differently (Burke and Greenglass, 1989; Gallos, 1989) with the trends expected to be more marked for women (Cowerman, 1989; Burley, 1995; Lewis and Cooper, 1995; Burke, 1997). For example, it has been found that, regardless of employment status, women perform two or three times more household work than their partners (Demo and Acock, 1993). Researchers and organisations, however, have not considered the implications of these changes on work, family and career experiences of managers (Burke, 1997).


If forced to choose between work and family, people generally say that their family is more important than their work (Andrews and Withey, 1976; Gutek et al, 1991) and, currently, combining family and employment roles often creates stress, overload and conflict (Lewis and Cooper 1987, 1988a, 1988b; Neal et al, 1993). A popular focus of most related studies is work-family conflict, a concept underpinned by a scarcity of hypothesis (Aryee, 1992; Ahmad, 1996).

7 An early contribution is by Kahn et al (1964), who define work-family conflict as a form of inter-role conflict in which the role pressures from the work and family domains are mutually incompatible in some respect. That is, participating in the work (family) role is made more difficult by virtue of participation in the family (work) role. More recent studies have concentrated on the compatibility of role expectations (Frone et al, 1992; Netemeyer et al, 1996; Carlson and Kacmar, 2000:1032).

Perhaps the most important contribution is by Greenhaus et al (1985), who suggest that workfamily conflict exists when (a) time devoted to the requirements of one role makes it difficult to fulfil requirements of another; (b) strain from participation in one role makes it difficult to fulfil requirements of another; and (c) specific behaviours required by one role make it difficult to fulfil the requirements of another. In a more general sense, inter-role conflict is experienced when pressures arising in one role are incompatible with pressures arising in another role. Note again that role pressure incompatibility exists when participation in one role is made more difficult by virtue of participation in another role (Kahn et al, 1964).

Building on the work of others (eg. Adams et al, 1996; Bacharach et al, 1991; Frone et al, 1992; Higgins and Duxbury, 1992; Parasuraman et al, 1996, Rice et al, 1992), Carlson and Kacmar (2000) provide a basic model of the work-family conflict process. This postulates that a variety of antecedents (including role ambiguity, role conflict, time demands and involvement in both the work and family domains) lead to experienced conflict. The

antecedents to the two types of conflict result from both the situation and involvement of an individual. The situational variables of role conflict, role ambiguity and time demands have been found to directly and positively relate to work-family conflict (Bacharach et al, 1991;

8 Frone and Yardley, 1996; Greenhaus et al, 1987). As an individuals situational stressors within a domain increase, conflict results as one domain begins to interfere with the other.

These conflicts are related to outcomes such as job dissatisfaction, job burnout, and turnover (Burke, 1998; Frone et al, 1992; Greenhaus 1988; Pleck et al, 1980), as well as to outcomes related to psychological distress (eg. depression), and life and marital dissatisfaction (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985; Gutek et al, 1991; Voydanoof, 1988). The effects on the female partners are well known. The effect on a husbands level of work-family conflict is less clear-cut and is affected by whether his wife is employed outside the home (Greenhaus and Kopelman, 1981; Locksley, 1980; Pleck et al, 1980). However, husbands/partners of managerial/professional women experience more intense work-family conflict than husbands of non-managerial/non-professional women (Greenhaus and Kopelman, 1981). The elderly and vulnerable, as well as children, may also be affected (Finch and Mason 1993; Lazsco and Noden, 1992; Estess, 1993). Further effects are absenteeism (Goff et al, 1990),

presenteeism or lack of psychological availability at work (Cooper and Williams, 1994; Hall and Parker, 1993), accidents and loss of productivity (Ganster and Schaubroeck 1991), high turnover (Grover and Crooker, 1995) and wasted human potential (Wagner and Neal, 1994).


Data Collection

A questionnaire survey was conducted to examine and investigate the existence of the major work-family conflicts affecting workers in Singapore. The questionnaire was divided into Parts I and II, these being further subdivided into 3 sections and 2 sections respectively (see Appendix A). Section A of Part I comprised 10 questions relating to the background of the workers. Section B comprised of 15 questions encompassing the 3 different types of

conflicts expected, namely: time, strain and behaviour-based conflict. Section C included 5 questions on child care responsibilities. Section A of Part II listed a consolidated set of possible ideal circumstances for the workers to rank. In Section B, 5 short answer questions were provided to solicit respondents views on improvements to their quality of life and desired extent of organisation/employer involvement in this. Participants were advised that all responses would be treated confidentially.

The questionnaires were distributed to approximately 210 workers, the majority of whom are Singapore residents. 88 (42%) completed questionnaires were returned. Although the survey was aimed specifically at respondents with a technical background, 20% of the respondents were from administration or procurement divisions in their organisation.

10 Results

The results are provided in five sections below, comprising (1) general background, (2) conflict types, (3) parental involvement, (4) ideal necessities and (5) other improvement ideas.

General background

Table 1 summarises the general background of the respondents in terms of marital status, age range, number of working years and working hours per week. 81% of the respondents are married females, mostly with children. 99% work full-time, with 58% and 27% working between 36-44 and 45-60 hours per week respectively. No respondents are over 45 years of age. 92% of the respondents belong to dual income families. 55% of the respondents have children, with 92% of these having children below 4 years of age. Also, 30% of respondents have full-time or part-time maids or domestic helpers at home helping the family with housework and care-taking the children.

Conflict type

Fig 1 shows the percentage value of the mean responses for the various types of conflict experienced. This indicates a general agreement that conflicts exist, and suggests behaviourbased conflicts to be the highest, followed by time-based conflicts and strain-based conflicts.


Parental involvement

Work-family conflict is expected to relate to child rearing responsibilities. Having pre-school children at home has been consistently related to measures of work-family strain and conflict (Greenhaus and Kopelman, 1981) and having school-age children has also been associated with time shortage (Voydanoof, 1988). 53% of respondents get involved with their

childrens activities, with 17% and 21% respectively seldom or never attending their childrens activities. Most respondents gave lack of time as the reason for not being able to attend.

Ideal necessities

Respondents were given a list of 10 items that may/may not be essential in their daily lives. They were required to rate the items for importance. Table 2 shows the rank ordered mean responses. Job security is the most important issue. Convenient and flexible working hours come next, suggesting that this would provide a buffer in the balancing of work and family life. This is followed by high profile and income job (giving individual financial power) and job that offers opportunities. Issues involving leisure time are less rated. Although over the years, there has been a large increase in the provision of recreation and country clubs in Singapore, this is the least important issue to the respondents.


Other Improvement Ideas

In the final part of the survey, respondents were asked to provide short answers to 5 questions. Most respondents point to the importance of effectively changing their individual roles from being a worker to being a family person. To improve the interaction between work and family, some respondents emphasise the importance of not bringing work problems home and vice versa. Also, some respondents think that flexible working arrangements, such as the home task of child rearing, can be improved. Others consider time factors to be the essence for a balanced interaction between the two domains.

On questioned whether they would imagine withdrawing from their high-income salary for family/personal reasons, the majority of respondents are highly positive, the simple reason being that the family is regarded as the more important domain.

13 Discussion

The high proportion of female respondents is, of course, likely to bias the results. Womens multiple roles tend to be salient simultaneously while mens operate sequentially (Hall, 1972), and thus women may experience more role conflict as a result. Married professional women, by virtue of their investment in their training, are likely to perceive their work as another primary role, and thereby enhance the possibility of work-family conflict. In spite of recent studies (Greenhaus et al, 1989) that have demonstrated that men are equally susceptible to work-family conflict, Greenhaus et al (1989) argued that, in Asian societies, the motherhood mandate is firmly entrenched and therefore, married professional women may have more difficulty than men in managing the work-family interface and thereby experience more work-family conflict.

Work related stress was related to its within-domain outcome (job satisfaction) as previously documented by Kahn et al (1964). More importantly, work-family conflict serves as link between work-related role stress and marital satisfaction. These findings offer generalised support for the notion that stress produced within the work role may have dysfunctional consequences for non-work life (Bartolom and Evans, 1980; Greenhaus and Parasuraman, 1986).

One interesting outcome concerns the issue of money. Although 20% of the respondents strongly agreed that they would trade their income for lesser hours at work to spend time with their families, 35% of the respondents were neutral, with 25% unwilling to commit themselves.

14 31.15% of respondents agreed that strain-based conflict does not interfere with their family life. However, although conceptually distinct, it is likely that time-based and strain-based conflicts share several common sources within the work domain (Greenhaus et al, 1985), which suggests a contradiction between responses of this issue (strain-based conflict) and the responses from time-based conflict.

40% of the respondents agree that their families will accept and adjust to any necessary arrangements required. However, as Burke and Bradshaw (1981) propose, an individual exhibiting required behaviours (impersonality, logic, power, authority) at work, may be incompatible with behaviours desired by their children within the family domain. This suggests that, before accepting overseas or work-travel assignments, individuals need to scrutinise the issue within the family domain and try to resolve any conflicts or misunderstandings at an early stage.

The majority of the respondents are involved with child-care, however, 23% of them are never involved with the childrens activities. This could mean that respondents allow their partners or maids to be involved.


The results of the survey in Singapore indicate that, as expected, problems do exist in the interface between work and personal life. Although most of the respondents would trade some earnings for family time, job related issues involving security, flexible working hours and high profile are valued ahead of leisure activities, but at a cost of behaviour-based, time-

15 based and strain-based conflicts in that order. The suggested means of overcoming conflicts include the clear separation of work and family role and activities (not bringing work problems home) and somehow creating the family time needed by, for example, more flexible working arrangements. The practicability of this is a topic for further research.


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In our everyday lives, we have been in situation, whether intentionally or unintentionally, where work and family interferes one another. The following questions aim to identify the relationship between work and family interference.

************************* PART I
Please cross or circle the appropriate selection on the questionnaires, which you deemed appropriate and suitable to your present situation. Section A

Q1) PLEASE STATE YOUR LATEST/CURRENT DESIGNATION IN THE COMPANY: Q2) Years of working experience: 1 yr & less Q3) Age: under 24 Q4) Sex: 24 34 Female / Male 35 44 45 55 above 55 2yrs 5 yrs 6 yrs 10 yrs 11 yrs & more

Q5) Q6)

Are you a full-time employee:


How many hours do you work for the company in a week? 35 hrs or less 36 44 hrs 45 60 hrs 61 hrs or more


Marital status: Single Married Divorced/Widowed Others:

23 Q8) Q9) Q10) Is your partner working: YES / NO

Do you have any children: YES / NO Age of children: (Please state number of children in appropriate boxes.) (b) 5 - 10 yrs (c) 11 - 16 yrs (d) 17 and more

(a) 4 yrs or less

Q11) Please state if you have a dependant:

Q12) Do you have a domestic helper at home: YES / NO

************************* Section B You are to identify the current situation that you and your family are experiencing. For the following questions, please tick in the appropriate boxes your strength of agreement with the following statements: Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree and Strongly Disagree. Only one tick is allowed for each question.
Disagree Strongly Agree Strongly Disagree


My working hours prevent me from having more quality time with my family. My work responsibility time, demands more of me than my responsibility with my family. I would like to share the family responsibilities with my partner. My family is able to adapt to my working hours and work demands. I will trade my income for shorter hours at work to spend time with my family I still spend productive time with my family even when I spend overtime at work or working over the weekend. Taking care of my dependents affect my working time

Q2 Q3



Q6 Q7




My family is stressed because of my working-hour and work responsibilities. I am confident that my family understands my working situation/demands. I can adjust my role easily at work or with my family. Disagree Seldom Strongly Agree Strongly Disagree Never


Q9 Q10


I will agree to travel overseas if my work requires me to do so. If my work requires me to take up an overseas assignment, my family will accepts and adjusts to it. I work long hours because it gives me financial power that would benefit my family. My employer sends me for training/courses to improve my skills, although they are out of my working hours. My employer ensures safe and conducive working environment and practices fair judgement on my skill.





Section C For the following questions, aim on your present situation with regards to your childrens well being. Please tick in the appropriate boxes your strength of agreement with the following statements: Always, Seldom or Never. Only one tick is allowed for each question.




Q1 Q2 Q3

My family discusses things that would require more attention, eg. childrens school. I attend to all my children school activities whenever required. I spend the weekends with my family (partner and children). I will take time off from work and be with my children if they are sick and



Q4 Q5 has to be cared for at home. I use more of my time taking care of the childrens activities than my partner.



Section A In an ideal situation, please rank the following 10 items, in which the significant level 1 (most important) to 10 (least important). Items Social/Recreational Club membership High profile & income jobs. (provides financial power and money) Overseas holiday (with family) Social activities (does not include family outing) Convenient or flexible working hours. Job security. Jobs that offers opportunity for advancement and promotion Attending childrens school activities (eg. football match, sports day, etc) Weekend shopping or going for walks or picnics with your family. Discussions or casual conversation with family members in the evenings. Ranking

Section B Please provide short answers for the following questions.


How effective are you in the changeover your role from work to your family?



How would you describe/suggest on improving the interaction between your work and your family?


In what ways would your employer be able to assist you in implementing the improvement mentioned in Q2?


Would a more comprehensive government-scheme child-care system, be beneficial to you and your family?


Can you imagine withdrawing from your highly paid job for family children/dependants, reasons?

Thank you for your participation. These data will be used for research purposes only.


80% 69% 65%





15% 10% 6% 4% 5% 6% 1% Married 25-34 35-44 36-44 Single Divorced / Widowed Others 45-60 6-10 <24 2-5 11> 35< 1<

Marital Status

Age Range (yrs)

Number of working years

No. of working hrs/week

Table 1: Age, Sex, Number of working years and Working hours per week.

Ideal necessities Job security Convenient or flexible working hours High profile and income jobs (financial power) Jobs that offer opportunity Weekend shopping or going for walks Discussions or casual conversations Overeas holidays Attending childrens activities Social activities (not including family outings) Social/recreation club m/ship

Mean 7.93 7.58 7.10 6.87 5.66 5.08 4.89 4.28 3.82 1.69

Table 2: Ideal necessities in an individuals life.





34.71% 32.04% 31.15% 26.70% 24.03% 17.80% 15.13% 8.01% 18.69% 13.35% 10.68% 7.12% 4.45% 1.78% S. Agree Agree Neutral Disagree S.Disagree


Fig 1: Time-, based-, and behaviour-based conflict impeding an individual