Work-Life Balance: Socioecological Determinants and Outcomes among Workers in Hong Kong


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date19 Jul 2021


Today’s workers give work–life balance (WLB) a very high priority, because having a balance between the work and personal life spheres can improve physical and mental health, ameliorate strained relationships and boost productivity. However, for most workers in Hong Kong, sustaining a healthy WLB is a daunting challenge. Workers in Hong Kong have the worst WLB when compared with workers in other cities in Asia. The International Labour Organisation has formulated a guide to the development of balanced work and leisure time to assist in achieving WLB. Numerous scholars have also explored the determinants that affect the WLB of workers, but very few studies have investigated the impacts of the direct and indirect determinants on WLB, and the dynamic interrelationship between WLB and its determinants and outcomes. Further, no research has explored the determinants of WLB from a socioecological perspective, and such a perspective will be important in understanding how an individual perceives WLB in a complex environment. Therefore, to address these research gaps, the present investigation aimed first at examining the impacts of long working hours on the health of workers. Then, the process of an individual’s perceptions of WLB and the consequences of WLB were explored. Finally, a structural model regarding the socioecological factors and the outcomes of WLB was validated and is documented in this thesis.

Three studies were conducted in the present investigation. In the first study, an extensive review of the literature published in the past twenty years on the effects of long working hours on the occupational health of workers was conducted, employing the meta-analysis technique. The results demonstrated that employees working long hours were vulnerable to suffering diverse types of occupational health problems. Poor sleep quality and exhaustion were the most severe health problem suffered by these workers. This review highlighted the deleterious effects of long working hours on the occupational health of workers.

In addition to the impacts of long working hours on workers, other factors affecting workers’ ability to sustain WLB were explored. The second study employed a qualitative approach. Individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with fifty workers, to explore their experiences and their attitudes regarding WLB. A grounded theory model of the dynamic interaction between WLB and socioecological factors was developed. It was found that WLB and personal context affected each other mutually, and that WLB was affected unidirectionally by the environmental context. The findings of this study provide research insight into constructing a reliable and exhaustive assessment model for WLB for future studies.

The factors affecting WLB and its outcomes were identified in the second study, and a structural model related to the interaction between WLB and these factors and outcomes was developed in the third study. A cross-sectional online questionnaire survey was conducted with 1,063 workers in Hong Kong. The results showed that personal feelings, behaviours and health were the crucial determinants of an individual’s own perception of WLB. Socioecological factors were identified as being social needs, which explained how a healthy WLB was able to be achieved when these needs were satisfied. Drawing on multiple discrepancies theory, the perceived gaps in meeting the social needs between expectation and actuality were associated with self-perceived WLB. This study extends our knowledge of the significant ripple effects of socioecological factors on self-perceived WLB, linking employee wellbeing and time allocation for personal activities.

Overall, the findings of this thesis can provide recommendations for human resource practitioners and employers to improve current work-life initiatives to foster organisational sustainability. It offers research insights for scholars to further investigate the issues related to WLB.