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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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This chapter was published in:
  • Richard B. Freeman & Kathryn L. Shaw, 2009. "International Differences in the Business Practices and Productivity of Firms," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number free07-1.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 0441.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:0441
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
    Phone: 617-868-3900
    Web page: http://www.nber.orgEmail:


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    1. Chad Syverson, 2004. "Market Structure and Productivity: A Concrete Example," NBER Working Papers 10501, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Stewart, M.B., 1989. "Union Wage Differentials, Product Market Influences And The Division Of Rents," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 323, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
    3. Nicholas Bloom & John Van Reenen, 2007. "Measuring and Explaining Management Practices Across Firms and Countries," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1351-1408, November.
    4. Casey Ichniowski & Kathryn Shaw, 2004. "Using "Insider Econometrics" to Study Productivity," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(2), pages 217-223, May.
    5. Nickell, Stephen J, 1996. "Competition and Corporate Performance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(4), pages 724-46, August.
    6. Nicholas Bloom & Christos Genakos & Ralf Martin & Raffaella Sadun, 2008. "Modern Management: Good for the Environment of Just Hot Air?," Discussion Papers 08-009, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    7. Lisa M Lynch & Sandra E Black, 2002. "How to Compete: The Impact of Workplace Practices and Information Technology on Productivity," Working Papers 02-04, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
    8. Timothy F. Bresnahan & Erik Brynjolfsson & Lorin M. Hitt, 1999. "Information Technology, Workplace Organization and the Demand for Skilled Labor: Firm-Level Evidence," NBER Working Papers 7136, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Eric J. Bartelsman & Wayne Gray, 1996. "The NBER Manufacturing Productivity Database," NBER Technical Working Papers 0205, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    10. Philippe Aghion & Nick Bloom & Richard Blundell & Rachel Griffith & Peter Howitt, 2005. "Competition and Innovation: An Inverted-U Relationship," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 120(2), pages 701-728, May.
    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. Helen Gray, 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.
    13. 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.
    14. John Budd & Karen Mumford, . "Family-Friendly Work Practices in Britain: Availability and Awareness," Discussion Papers 02/01, Department of Economics, University of York.
    15. Chad Syverson, 2003. "Product Substitutability and Productivity Dispersion," NBER Working Papers 10049, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Charles F. Manski, 2004. "Measuring Expectations," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 72(5), pages 1329-1376, 09.
    17. 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.
    18. Matthew Gray & Jacqueline Tudball, 2004. "Family-friendly work practices: differences within and between workplaces," Labor and Demography 0405003, EconWPA.
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