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Not All Work-life Policies Are Created Equal

Not All Work-life Policies Are Created Equal: Career Consequences of Using Enabling versus Enclosing Work-life Policies 

by Sarah Bourdeau, Ariane Ollier-Malaterre and Nathalie Houlfort 

Many employees hesitate to use work-life policies (e.g., flexible work arrangements, leaves, on-site services) for fear of career consequences. However, findings on the actual career consequences of such use are mixed. We de-bundle work-life policies, which we view as control mechanisms that may operate in an enabling way, giving employees some latitude over when, where and how much they work, or in an enclosing way, promoting longer hours on work premises. Drawing on signaling and attributional theories, we construe the nature of the policies used as a work devotion signal; specifically, we argue that supervisors attribute lower work devotion to employees who use more enabling policies than to employees who use more enclosing policies. However, this relationship is moderated by the employee’s work ethic prior to the use, by the supervisor’s expectations of the employee, and by the family-supportiveness of organizational norms. In turn, the work devotion attributions made by the supervisor lead to positive and negative career consequences for work-life policies users, depending on organizational norms. Our model opens up new research avenues on work-life policies’ implementation gap by differentiating between the policies and by teasing out the roles played by policies, organizational norms, supervisors, and employees. 

Published Online:22 Jun 2018

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