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Work-Family Backlash

by Matthew B Perrigino, Benjamin B. Dunford, and Kelly S. Wilson 

Although continuing to capture the attention of scholars, the study of “work-family backlash” remains plagued by a lack of conceptual clarity. As a result, there is growing evidence to suggest that there is a dark side to work-life balance (WLB) policies, but these findings remain scattered and unorganized. We provide a synthesis of this literature, defining work-family backlash as a phenomenon characterized by negative attitudes, negative emotions, and negative behaviors – either individual or collective – associated with WLB policies (i.e., on-site provisions, leave policies, and flexible work arrangements) within organizations. We conceptualize and define four primary mechanisms involving multiple levels of analysis through which the phenomenon operates. More micro levels of analysis within organizations are characterized by (1) an inequity mechanism, (2) a stigma mechanism, and (3) a spillover mechanism. Although less developed in the literature to date, more macro levels of analysis – including the organization and societal levels – are characterized by (4) a strategic mechanism. We explain these four primary mechanisms – including the theories and literatures upon which they are grounded – and develop an original conceptual model to catalyze future research.

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