SHRM Foundation Research
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SHRM Foundation Research


Strategies for Managing Work-Life Balance in Multinational Corporations

Funded: June 2006  Completed: June 2008

Helen De Cieri, Ph.D., Monash University, Australia
E. Anne Bardoel, Ph.D., Monash University, Australia

Executive Summary
Work-life balance issues are important for talent management and for developing a high performance workforce.  Work-life human resource practices can provide an incentive to increase motivation, job satisfaction and commitment and can be used to attract and retain the best talent.  However, managing work-life issues is a challenge for multinational corporations because local conditions can vary tremendously, making it less likely work-life balance policies will be effective across locations.  Therefore, there is a need for multinational corporations to develop international work-life balance strategies that establish global guidelines, while simultaneously allowing for local differences.  Helen De Cieri and E. Anne Bardoel examined how multinational corporations are addressing these challenges and the individuals who are on the front lines ensuring work-life balance policies are effectively managed. 


The majority of work-life policies are designed at global headquarters. Only some of the organizations indicated seeking local input in the design of work-life policies. 

  • In all of the multinational corporations there was evidence that policies planned at global HQ were not being implemented.
  • Headquarters were often unaware that policies were not being followed in local units.
  • There were instances of feedback from local units informing or changing global policy, and examples of local initiatives adopted globally or in other regions. 

Key informants noted a number of strategies to help ensure work-life policies are implemented and effective across locations.  They suggested the following ways to do this.

  • Respect and accept diversity.  
  • Have an understanding of local institutional and contextual conditions that might affect the implementation and effectiveness of work-life programs.
  • Learn about local influences that might impact global work-life policies and practices such as legislation, customer characteristics, market factors, and labor market changes.
  • Have local perspectives represented when policies are being cultivated to ensure their usefulness across regions.
  • Policies and expectations should be clear, but there should also be mechanisms for changing the policies to adapt to the regional needs. 
  • Educate local leaders about the policies so they can support them and ensure they are implemented appropriately. 

Study Methods
Key informants from 12 large multinational corporations were interviewed to learn about their work-life policies. Twenty-eight individuals from 9 different countries participated in this study and were asked: a) who has the responsibility, authority, and accountability for work-life management; b) who is responsible for ensuring policies are implemented; c) how can tensions related to global work-life management be resolved? 

Download the full research report (in pdf).