Work-life balance policies in high performance organisations: A comparative interview study with millennials in Dutch consultancies

Onno Bouwmeester*, Rose Atkinson, Lucie Noury, Riku Ruotsalainen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

The literature on work-life balance primarily focuses on how individuals cope with high work demands. This study, however, investigates how young professionals experience the work-life balance support offered by organisations. Twenty-four millennial consultants were interviewed to explore their perceptions of work-life balance and organisational support policies in an extreme work context. Twelve consultants worked for strategy houses with an average working week of around 60 hours, while the other 12 worked for general management consultancies with average working weeks of roughly 50 hours. Our comparative findings suggest that overall work-life balance perceptions stay positive in both settings. In strategy houses, where work pressures are highest, reported policies and practices go beyond health programmes, training and coaching, which are the most common work-life balance measures. Strategy houses monitor their consultants’ work-life balance experience weekly, provide options to outsource components of the work, and offer multiple forms of compensation. These further policies are much appreciated. Despite these positive assessments, we also observe an increase of negative work-life balance experiences due to the higher work pressures at strategy houses. There is, therefore, some ambiguity in the work-life balance perceptions of consultants, who recalibrate what are ‘normal’ work demands and reframe and refocus on the bright side of work life. Such occupational ideologies indicate a ‘dirty work’ experience.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGerman Journal of Human Resource Management
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2020

Keywords

  • Consultancies
  • extreme work
  • organisational antecedents
  • professional service firms
  • work-life balance perceptions
  • work-life balance policies

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