Abstract Project managers in the construction industry, play an important role in achieving project objectives. Construction involves a demanding work environment with considerable potential to interfere with their family life in the way of time, strain and behavior. It is therefore important to understand the relationship between work and family life of construction project managers. The purpose of the study is to ? nd out whether the respondents experienced all forms of work-to-family con? ict greater than in the direction from family-to-work con? ict.
Using a validated multi-item construct-based questionnaire, a survey was carried out on a sample of construction project managers in China. The ? ndings showed that Chinese project managers experienced di? erent time-based and strain-based con? icts between the work interference with family con? ict (WIFC) direction and the family interference with work con? ict (FIWC) direction, but the same behavior-based con? ict between the WIFC direction and the FIWC direction. O 2010 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved. Keywords: Project managers; Work–family con?
ict; China 1. Introduction The area of work–family research has become a much investigated topic in today’s organizational behavior research as it has been shown to lead to undesirable outcomes associated with employee’s work life, family life, general health and well-being (Carlson, 2000; Bruck et al. , 2002). Most research on the work–family interface has focused on work–family con? icts as it is often thought that the incompatibility in role expectations between the two important focal points of adult life – work and family, results in con?
icts as these two life domains compete for the ? nite resources of time and energy that individuals possess (Netemeyer, 1996; Korabik et al. , 2008). Three forms of work– family con? ict have been identi? ed, namely: time-based con? ict, strain-based con? ict and behavior-based con? ict Corresponding author. E-mail addresses: [email protected] edu. cn (J. Y. Liu), [email protected] edu. sg (S. P. Low). 0263-7863/$36. 00 O 2010 Elsevier Ltd and IPMA. All rights reserved. doi:10. 1016/j. ijproman. 2010. 01. 012 * (Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985).
Each form of work–family con? ict is further distinguished between work interfering with family and family interfering with work (Gutek, 1991). The work–family experiences of employees in the construction industry have largely been ignored by construction researchers (Lingard and Francis, 2004). However, recent research in Australia suggested that construction involves a demanding work environment with considerable potential to interfere with employees’ non-work lives in a negative way (Lingard and Sublet, 2002; Lingard and Francis, 2004, 2006).
Project managers in the construction industry, play an important role in achieving project objectives and in ensuring the successful outcomes of projects. It is therefore important to know the relationship between work and family life of project managers in the construction industry. Although most research has suggested that employees experienced greater interference from work-to-family than from family-to-work (Gutek, 1991; Netemeyer, 1996), little is known about when the three forms of work–family con? ict are combined within these two directions (Carlson, 118 J. Y. Liu, S. P.
Low / International Journal of Project Management 29 (2011) 117–128 2000). Hence, the objectives of this study are to determine whether all three forms of work–family con? ict (timebased, strain-based, and behavior-based) experienced by Chinese project managers are greater from the work-tofamily direction or the family-to-work direction. The scope of this study is limited to construction project managers in China. It is therefore important to ? rst discuss the context of the Chinese construction industry, and to analyze the impact of Chinese culture, industry culture and enterprise culture on the balance and con?
ict between work and family life of Chinese project managers. 2. Culture and corresponding situation in construction National culture, industry culture and enterprise culture play a signi? cant role in shaping the relationship between work and family life of employees in the construction industry. While the responsibilities between work and family appear to be separate in the western culture, these are linked to each other in the Chinese culture (Moen et al. , 2008). Social culture put higher value on the success in career than in personal life, e. g. leisure. There is a Chinese idiom that says: ?
rst thrives then wife. This has two meanings: career is more important for a man than his own family life; and a good career can provide the family with su? cient ? nancial support and thus improve the quality of family life. In this case, acquiring a better career is also an expectation from the family. Work brings contribution to family, rather than competition with family life. The boundary between work and family life is not very clear in the Chinese culture (Moen et al. , 2008). Providing enough time for family life in the Chinese culture is less important than in the western culture.
Consequently, the main objective of a person is to make a living rather than to enjoy life in the Chinese culture. Furthermore, the Chinese traditional culture also emphasizes devotion and sacri? ce of family life for work. The construction industry has a demanding work environment in which participants are expected to work for long hours (Lingard and Sublet, 2002). Many enterprises encourage their employees to spend more time, and ? exibly, on work. The participants are required to work non-standard work schedules, including weekend work (Lingard and Sublet, 2002).
For example, in order to improve connectivity and to enhance work/life e? ectiveness and productivity, many construction companies supply connectivity devices, e. g. mobile phones, to their project managers. This implies that the work time of the project managers is expected to spill over into evenings, weekends and vacations. Moreover, construction employees bear signi? cant responsibility for project performance in areas such as cost, time, quality and safety (Lingard and Francis, 2006). The rapid development of the Chinese construction industry has brought about immense opportunities and challenges for project managers.
The Chinese construction industry has been expanding at a high growth rate over the past 20 years (see Fig. 1). In order to alleviate the e? ects of the recent global ? nancial crisis, the Chinese government has vowed to increase investments in housing and infrastructural works to stimulate the national economy. For example, China will have 15,000 km of new railways built and put into operations in the following 3 years, with 7000 km being passenger-only high-speed tracks. The total railway length will reach 120,000 km by 2020.
The National Bureau of Statistics of China shows that, compared to the same period a year ago, in the ? rst 2 months of 2009, the planned investments in construction of RMB 16,355 billion increased by 25. 4%; and the investments for newly commenced projects stood at RMB 744 billion, an increase of 87. 5%. Since joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Chinese government has embarked on the “Way Out” strategy and provided support for Chinese companies through loans, tax reliefs, ? nancial credits, insurance assistance, foreign exchange, etc. in an e? ort to encourage them to export their products and services overseas.
According to the China International Contractors Association, Chinese contractors have completed overseas contracts worth US$56. 6 billion, with a growth of 39. 4% in 2008 compared to 2007, and the volume of construction projects awarded in 2008 was US$104. 6 billion with a growth of 34. 8% compared to 2007 (Liu and Wu, 2008). It is therefore conceivable that a large number of large-scale projects are currently at the planning or construction stage either in China or overseas that are undertaken by Chinese contractors. This brings about a tremendous work burden on the Chinese project managers, among others.
In the present day context, clients are also increasingly turning to new procurement methods, e. g. Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contracts, as the procurement route for large-scale mega building projects. As a result, contractors would take all responsibilities from scoping the work to handing over the keys to the client. This requires a high level of management capacity, ? nancing prowess and reputation. To catch this wave of international construction works, Chinese contractors would need to advance along knowledge-intensive, skill-intensive and capital-intensive lines.
In order to improve project management performance, enhance the skills of practitioners, regulate building activities, and ensure quality and safety in construction, the Ministry of Construction (MOC) and the Ministry of Personnel 1800 Added Value (Billion RMB 1500 1200 900 600 300 0 1989 1992 1995 1998 Year 2001 2004 2007 Fig. 1. Added value of construction sector in PRC, 1989–2008 (source: National Bureau of Statistics of China). J. Y. Liu, S. P. Low / International Journal of Project Management 29 (2011) 117–128 119 in China have jointly issued Provisional Regulations relating to the quali?
cation of practicing constructors in 5th November 2002. This mandates the project managers in middle and large construction projects to possess the quali? cation of a constructor. In addition, rules for the implementation of registered constructor were issued by the MOC on 29th January 2008, which was subsequently replaced by the Ministry of Housing and Urban–Rural Development of the People’s Republic of China (MOHURD) later that year. There are two levels of quali? cations for constructors with their respective numbers: 157,501 ?
rst class constructors and 152,073 second class constructors with their quali? cations registered and valid as published in the website of the MOHURD on 10th June, 2009. All these opportunities and challenges in the Chinese construction industry bring about great pressure on the project managers, who have to work harder to get more experience and improve their competitiveness. The priority and balance between work and family life is inevitably encountered by Chinese project managers working in the construction industry. Moreover, most Chinese enterprises do not implement e?
ective arrangements relating to human resources to deal with the con? ict between work and family life, and the consequential pressure su? ered by their employees ( Chen, 2006). Although some enterprises may have registered some concerns and adopted limited practices in this direction, there is often a lack of a formal approach to do so ( Chen, 2006). China is still a developing country, where for most people a job is a means to make a living and to support their family. As a result, they have to follow the arrangements and to undertake the tasks required of them by their employers.
In order to maximize pro? ts, Chinese enterprises, especially those with poor management skills, often require their employees to work as long and as hard as they possibly can. The prevailing culture can play a role as a doubleedged sword. The spirit of devotion and loyalty may contribute to the development of these enterprises. However, if these enterprises ignore the needs of their employees wanting to lead a normal life and over-emphasize on sacri? ces from their employees, this may adversely a? ect the long term objectives of their organizations. This may lead to low e?
ciency or even cause the resignation of their employees. According to a survey conducted by the Project Manager Union in 2007, a private organization in China, the average salary of project managers in the construction industry is only RMB 114,000 annually. The survey also found that most of them are very dissatis? ed with their salaries. When compared with the IT and manufacturing sectors, the construction sector has the largest gap between expected salary and actual salary. The respondents also argued that their salaries depend on the scale of the project.
All these factors may cause the project managers to work longer and harder for the larger projects under greater pressure to achieve their objectives. 3. Work and family The separate-spheres model (see Fig. 2) which presents a segregated approach to work and family was advanced in the early literature on work and family (Chow and Berheide, 1988). It was assumed that an inherent separation existed between the two domains, and involvement in one arena would not necessarily impact the other (Barnett, 1999; Fredriksen-Goldsen and Scharlach, 2001).
The closing decades of the 20th century have witnessed an increasing number of women entering the workforce in almost all countries, notably women who are married and/ or with children (Barnett, 1999; Hein et al. , 2005; Korabik et al. , 2008). Moreover, the traditional family form has given way to newer ones such as dual-earner families and singleparent families with the shifts in socio-demographic trends (Barnett, 1999; Lingard and Francis, 2005). On the contrary, in China, most families have dual-earner or double-income couples since new China was founded in 1949.
However, in recent years, some people have become richer which makes it possible for one person in a household to a? ord all the living expense of a family. Consequently, full time housewives appear in some families. With the ageing of the population and increasing life expectancy, care for the elderly is also growing in importance as part of family responsibilities (Barnett, 1999; Hein et al. , 2005). The situation in China is even tougher. The one-child policy was introduced by the Chinese government in 1979. The policy works well in controlling the population to alleviate social, economic, and environmental problems in China.
However, the policy causes the “FourTwo-One” problem, i. e. one adult child is left with having to provide support for his or her two parents and four grandparents. As a result, the young generation today has to shoulder greater responsibilities than the older generations. This may cause more con? icts between work and family life. There is also evidence of a corresponding change in the expectations of employees, with men and women placing greater importance on both work and family involvement (Barnett, 1999; Lingard and Francis, 2006).
For example, Becker and Moen(1999) described how dual-earner couples decided to moderate work commitments in order to balance work and family. Similarly, Loughlin and Barling (2001) reported that the new generation of younger workers place greater value on “non-standard” work models that enable them to enjoy a more satisfactory work–family life balance. Given these changes, it can no longer be assumed that employees are free to devote all their energy to their work, nor can it be assumed that there is a clear separation between employees’ work and family lives (Lingard and Francis, 2005).
Kanter (1977) criticized the notion of a separate-spheres model which was advocated earlier and advanced an understanding of the inter-connected nature of employees’ work and non-work lives. The overlappingspheres model (see Fig. 3) which replaced the earlier separate-spheres model assumed that work and family are two spheres that overlap considerably; what happens in one sphere has a major e? ect on the other (Barnett, 1999).