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Work-Life Balance, Management Practices and Productivity

In: International Differences in the Business Practices and Productivity of Firms


  • Nick Bloom
  • Tobias Kretschmer
  • John Van Reenan


Do “Anglo-Saxon” management practices generate higher productivity only at the expense of lousy work-life balance (WLB) for workers? Many critics of “neo-libéralisme sauvage” have argued that increased competition from globalisation is damaging employees’ quality of life. Others have argued the opposite that improving work-life balance is actually a competitive tool that companies can use to raise productivity. We try to shed some empirical light on these issues using an innovative survey tool to collect new data on management and work-life balance practices from 732 medium sized manufacturing firms in the US, France, Germany and the UK. First, we show that our measure of work-life balance is a useful summary of a range of policies in the firm – family-friendly policies, flexible working, shorter hours, more holidays, subsidised childcare, etc. We show that this worklife balance measure is significantly associated with better management. Firms in environments that are more competitive and/or who are more productive, however, do not have significantly worse work-life balance for their workers. These findings are inconsistent with the view that competition, globalisation and “Anglo-Saxon” management practices are intrinsically bad for the work-life balance of workers. On the other hand, neither are these findings supportive of the optimistic “winwin” view that work-life balance improves productivity in its own right. Rather we find support for a “hybrid” theory that work-life balance is a choice for managers that is compatible with low or high productivity.
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  • Nick Bloom & Tobias Kretschmer & John Van Reenan, 2009. "Work-Life Balance, Management Practices and Productivity," NBER Chapters,in: International Differences in the Business Practices and Productivity of Firms, pages 15-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:0441

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Philippe Aghion & Nick Bloom & Richard Blundell & Rachel Griffith & Peter Howitt, 2005. "Competition and Innovation: an Inverted-U Relationship," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(2), pages 701-728.
    2. Nicholas Bloom & John Van Reenen, 2007. "Measuring and Explaining Management Practices Across Firms and Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1351-1408.
    3. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 2002. "Information Technology, Workplace Organization, and the Demand for Skilled Labor: Firm-Level Evidence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(1), pages 339-376.
    4. John Budd & Karen Mumford, "undated". "Family-Friendly Work Practices in Britain: Availability and Awareness," Discussion Papers 02/01, Department of Economics, University of York.
    5. Nicholas Bloom & Christos Genakos & Ralf Martin & Raffaella Sadun, 2010. "Modern Management: Good for the Environment or Just Hot Air?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 120(544), pages 551-572, May.
    6. Charles F. Manski, 2004. "Measuring Expectations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(5), pages 1329-1376, September.
    7. Chad Syverson, 2004. "Market Structure and Productivity: A Concrete Example," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1181-1222, December.
    8. Gray, Helen, 2002. "Family-friendly working: what a performance! An analysis of the relationship between the availability of family-friendly policies and establishment performance," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 20082, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    9. Sandra E. Black & Lisa M. Lynch, 2001. "How To Compete: The Impact Of Workplace Practices And Information Technology On Productivity," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 83(3), pages 434-445, August.
    10. Stewart, Mark B, 1990. "Union Wage Differentials, Product Market Influences and the Division of Rents," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(403), pages 1122-1137, December.
    11. Donald Siegel, 1997. "The Impact Of Computers On Manufacturing Productivity Growth: A Multiple-Indicators, Multiple-Causes Approach," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 79(1), pages 68-78, February.
    12. Chad Syverson, 2004. "Product Substitutability and Productivity Dispersion," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 86(2), pages 534-550, May.
    13. Eric J. Bartelsman & Wayne Gray, 1996. "The NBER Manufacturing Productivity Database," NBER Technical Working Papers 0205, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Nickell, Stephen J, 1996. "Competition and Corporate Performance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(4), pages 724-746, August.
    15. Ichniowski, Casey & Shaw, Kathryn & Prennushi, Giovanna, 1997. "The Effects of Human Resource Management Practices on Productivity: A Study of Steel Finishing Lines," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 291-313, June.
    16. Matthew Gray & Jacqueline Tudball, 2004. "Family-friendly work practices: differences within and between workplaces," Labor and Demography 0405003, EconWPA.
    17. Sendhil Mullainathan & Marianne Bertrand, 2001. "Do People Mean What They Say? Implications for Subjective Survey Data," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 91(2), pages 67-72, May.
    18. Casey Ichniowski & Kathryn Shaw, 2004. "Using "Insider Econometrics" to Study Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 217-223, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Bloom, Nicholas & Van Reenen, John, 2011. "Human Resource Management and Productivity," Handbook of Labor Economics, Elsevier.
    2. repec:eee:indorg:v:52:y:2017:i:c:p:1-29 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Del Bono, Emilia & Vuri, Daniela, 2011. "Job mobility and the gender wage gap in Italy," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 130-142, January.
    4. Stephan Humpert, 2014. "Working time, satisfaction and work life balance: A European perspective," SPOUDAI Journal of Economics and Business, SPOUDAI Journal of Economics and Business, University of Piraeus, vol. 64(4), pages 3-17, October-D.
    5. Yamamoto Isamu & Matsuura Toshiyuki, 2014. "Effect of Work–Life Balance Practices on Firm Productivity: Evidence from Japanese Firm-Level Panel Data," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 14(4), pages 1-32, October.
    6. Edmans, Alex, 2011. "Does the stock market fully value intangibles? Employee satisfaction and equity prices," Journal of Financial Economics, Elsevier, vol. 101(3), pages 621-640, September.
    7. MORIKAWA Masayuki, 2010. "Insecurity of Employment and Work-Life Balance: From the viewpoint of compensating wage differentials," Discussion papers 10052, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Industry (RIETI).
    8. Nicholas Bloom & Raffaella Sadun & John Van Reenen, 2010. "Recent Advances in the Empirics of Organizational Economics," Annual Review of Economics, Annual Reviews, vol. 2(1), pages 105-137, September.
    9. Van Reenen, John, 2011. "Does competition raise productivity through improving management quality?," International Journal of Industrial Organization, Elsevier, vol. 29(3), pages 306-316, May.
    10. Sotiris Blanas & Adnan Seric & Christian Viegelahn, 2017. "Jobs, FDI and Institutions in Sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from Firm-Level Data," Working Papers 152465485, Lancaster University Management School, Economics Department.
    11. Joyce P. Jacobsen, 2009. "Accommodating Families," Chapters,in: Labor and Employment Law and Economics, chapter 11 Edward Elgar Publishing.

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    JEL classification:

    • J2 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor


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