Work-Life Balance Issues for Dual-Career Couples

By John Dudovskiy

Dual-Career CouplesSeveral decades ago there was a global social pattern where husbands were considered to be the breadwinners, whereas wives stayed at home and were mainly engaged in bringing up their children and doing household chores. However, this pattern has changed dramatically and irreversibly in global level in general and in Europe and USA in particular. As a result, today both, husbands and wives have their own career aspirations and this has caused a range of implications for their families, as well as, organisations employing them.

Dual-career couple has been defined as “a married couple where both husband and wife have different careers” (HR Dictionary, 2011, online). “For dual-career couples and working women, balancing work demands with personal and family responsibilities is difficult to do” (Jackson and Mathis, 2007, p.295), and the situations becomes even more challenging where dual career couples have a child or children.

Organisations have to introduce specific measures and initiatives in order to assist their dual-career couples and parent employees to achieve work-life balance, and thus to achieve their commitment and contribution to the achievement of organisational objectives in an effective manner.


The Issues Associated with Dual-Career Couples and Parent Employees

It is a fact nowadays that “the number of dual-career couples is increasing and the trend is worldwide. DuPont, for example, has 3,500 dual-career couples in the workforce of 100,000” (Aswathappa and Dash, 2007, p.160). Werner and DeSimone (2009) explain this dramatic increase in the numbers of dual career couples with increasing role and rights of woman in society and changing family values.

From a purely economical viewpoint increasing numbers of dual career couples, as well as, parent employees is considered to be a positive tendency, because this will positively contribute to the level of tax revenues and value creation and ultimately, increasing standard of life within a national economy. Moreover, dual-career couples and working parents may achieve significant results in their workplaces and this contribute to the level of their self-fulfilment.

However, dual-career couples and working parents might be subjected to pressure in their attempts to balance their work and family responsibilities. And this pressure is even greater when dual-career couples have a child or children and the pressure is associated with the child care when both parents are at work and a sense of guild felt by some working parents for not being able to spend enough time with their children.

Specifically, according to a survey conducted by Alcorn (2011, online) 43 per cent of working parents struggle with depression, whereas 80 per cent catch up on work nights and weekends, and 88 per cent have stated that they suffer from at least one stress-related health problem since becoming a working parent. Moreover, numerous other studies of the same nature have been conducted by other researchers and most of them have revealed the similar results stating that the segment of the workforce who has increased level of family responsibilities are subjected to the increased level of pressure as well.

Byars and Rue (2006) mention another reason and potential source of pressure among some dual-career couples where a couple may wish to have a child, but postpone the relevant plans due to the fear of implications of having child for  the career prospects of the female in the family.

It has been stated that “two-career partners need the dexterity to balance not only career and family life but also her and his careers so that both spouses prosper professionally in what they see as a fair way”(Lamanna and Riedman, 2006, p.315). However, in reality finding “a fair way” proves to be a highly challenging task to accomplish and it is rarely achieved without the help offered by employers.

Moreover, employee relocations are usually very stressful issue for dual-career couples, because accepting the relocation by one of the partners usually causes the partners living apart from each-other, or career disruptions for the other partner.  This specific issue is becoming more widespread with the increasing forces of globalisation and thus, the necessity for business is increasing to relocate some members of their workforce across national borders and continents.


Dual-Career Couples and Parent Employees in Large Organisations

Some of the leading multinational organisations have recognised and addressed the issue of increasing numbers of dual-career couples and parent employees among their workforce and candidates. Accordingly, they have devised relevant schemes and HR policies that aim to eliminate the negative effects of above discussed pressures on employees and consequently on the quality of their performance.

In other words, “social trends, such as the rise in dual career couples, increased worker demand for work-life balance and demographic changes are redefining an appropriate career proposition from employers” (Wilton, 2010, p.338). Specifically, the majority of propositions offered by large organisations are aimed at achieving the relocation of their workforce who are dual-careers and parents with less stress in personal and professional fronts.

For instance, “organisations are responding by using temporary transfers or helping to find work for the partner, sometimes in the same organisation” (Secord, 2003, p.59). Moreover, it also needs to be noted that  “many large organisations now offer one kind of job-finding assistance for spouses of employees who are relocated, including payment fees charged by employment agencies, job counselling firms, and executive search firms” (Sims, 2007, p.408). The most famous multinational corporations actively engaged in such practices include American Express, General Mills and 3M.

Some large organisations also offer their assistance for obtaining visas and work permits for the spouses of employees being relocated, and such an assistance can help the families of employees to deal with the stress associated with relocation in an effective way.

A number of leading multinational corporations have addressed the issues of challenging needs of dual-carer and parent employees earlier than others and have devised relevant policies and procedures starting from late 1980s. For example, “In 1989, AT&T announced a new contract that included a host of work-family programs, including a new flextime policy that allowed employees to take two hours off at a time” (Dobbin, 2009, p.179).

Dual-career couples with young children represent another important segment of the workforce that needs extra attention from management and HR department in terms of dealing with the combination of family and work responsibilities. “Flexible working schedules are the most frequent organisational accommodation to these couples. Other arrangements include leave policies under which either parent may stay home with a newborn, policies that allow work to be performed at home, day care on an organisation’s premises and job sharing” (Bohlander and Snell, 2009, p.232).

Commuter marriage support is another form of assistance offered by companies to their dual-career employees in occasions where it is impossible for them to be relocated together. Companies engaged in commuter marriage support organise family visits for their employees on weekends or other notable days and reimburse all or part of travel expenses. Offering such a support on an effective level can considerably reduce the level of stress for the employee and thus increase his productivity.

An interesting point of the issue is that the level of support offered to dual-career and parent employees by large organisations is not necessarily specified by formal HR policies of the organisation. Specifically, “according to surveys by Runzheimer International and ORC, nearly 50 per cent of firms offer some form of spouse assistance for dual-career international assignees. Of those firms, 87 per cent provide ad hoc interventions (helping as and when in ways that seem necessary) but only 13 per cent have formal policies” (Briscoe et al, 2008, p.183).

Some organisations also may choose to reimburse tuition fees for the members of employee’s families in occasions where in circumstances where the relocation of employee family members would involve changing educational establishments.

Briscoe et al (2008) mention partial compensation replacement for spouse as an additional measure engaged in by some organisations. According to this principle the spouse of employee who is being relocated with his or her family would be awarded a specific amount of money for sacrificing his or her career. However, the application of this practice is rare due to the expenses involved and this practice is be applied only in cases where highly qualified professionals or high achieving executives need to be relocated.

Moreover, a range of companies as Men’s Wearhouse, SAS Institute, Aflac, Bright Horizons, Alston & Bird, and others offer their employees the facilities of onsite child-care centre which is a clear example of an effective care for the personal and family issues of the specific workforce segment (Onsite child care, 2011, online). While providing onsite child-care centres is highly expensive to be organised, some companies choose to arrange and pay for offsite child care provisions.


Strategies for Small Companies to Deal with Dual-Career Couples and Parent Employees

The proportion of dual career couples and parent employees are increasing among the workforce and this relates to organisations of all sizes. However, while large organisations are dealing with this issue through introducing a wide range of relevant policies and initiatives, organisations of smaller sizes are finding this issue challenging to deal with due to their limited resources.

In other words, large size organisations can afford to offer financial compensations for the spouses of employees assigned for relocation, offer the reimbursement of tuition fees of their family members whenever necessary, assist with the employment of employee spouses once they are relocated and even they can organise onsite child care facilities for the children of parent employees.

However, small size organisations can not afford to implement most of these strategies of dealing with dual-career couples and parent employees due to the financial constraints and they are left to seek alternative options of attracting dual-career couples and parent employees.

It is important to note that small size companies can not choose not to employ dual career couples and parent employees because they can loose their competitive edge due to the low level of competency of the workforce, and even worse, the company might be accused of discrimination which would incur highly negative consequences on many levels.

Therefore, this paper proposes a set of cost-effective strategies small-sized companies can use in order to deal with the challenges associated with employing dual-career couples and parent employees in an effective manner, and thus ensuring the long-term growth of the company.



Telecommuting involves great level of flexibility in terms of choosing the location and working hours in order to accomplish job responsibilities (Torrington et al, 2008). This form of employment has been made possible by the advancements in information technology in general, and by the introduction of internet in particular.

Small-sized companies can employ dual-career couples and parent employees on the basis of telecommuting in order to provide them the possibility of doing the job in the comfort of their own houses and spending more time with their families. Moreover, telecommuting saves considerable amount of financial resources for the business as well, hence no resources would be spent on offices and facilities in order to accommodate the employees.

However, only a certain type of jobs can be done through telecommuting that includes programming, writing, online and telephone customer services, technical support etc.


Offering Job Sharing

Job sharing is other alternative small companies can use in order to address the unique needs of dual-career couples and parent employees in an effective way. The concept of job sharing has been introduced during the second half of the last century and gained popularity due to the advantages it offers to employees and employers.

According to the concept, two employees commit on performing the responsibilities of one full-time position on a part-time or reduced-time basis (Wood, 2009). Dual-career couples and parent employees can devote the rest of the time to their family responsibilities and thus relieve pressure on both fronts of their lives: personal, as well as, professional.

The quality of work can also be enhanced by job-sharing through each of the workers employed in the same position bringing fresh perspectives to existing problems associated with the job.


Career and Life  Counselling

Counselling related to professional and private lives of dual-career couples and parent employees provided by their employers can help them to acquire necessary skills that would help them to cope with the challenges of both aspects of their lives. To achieve the greater level of efficiency counselling should be provided by competent third party and it should be organised in a systematic manner.

Small companies can provide assistance to their dual-career couples and parent employees through providing counselling with minimum use of financial resources. Moreover, small companies can provide counselling opportunities within the company as well, whereby more experienced members of staff would provide emotional support to their junior colleagues in terms of maintaining work-life balance.

It is important for the in-house career and life counselling to be conducted within informal environment and the process to be highly confidential from other members of the workforce in order to avoid it becoming counter-productive. Moreover, it has to be ensured prior to the counselling that there is a mutual respect and bond between the employees who would be counselling and the ones being subjected to counselling.


Offering Flexible Time Off

Offering flexible time off opportunities to dual-career couples and parent employees represents another effective strategy available to small companies to be incorporated within their HR policies. This specific strategy is effectively being used by one of the market leaders in IT industry Hawlett-Packard (HP) where the vacation and sick leave periods of employees are combined in order to increase the amount of time employees can spend with their families.

Dual-career couples and parent employees would be able to use their flexible time off to correspond with the notable dates in their families such as wedding anniversaries, birthdays and other occasions. Moreover, the flexible time off can be selected to correspond with the holiday of the other partner in which occasion there will be a possibility for the partners to spend their holidays together and achieve greater level of work-life balance.


 Employing Both Partners

Increasing numbers of businesses are deciding to employ both partners of dual-career couples with the aims of achieving greater level of employee loyalty and eliminating potential difficulties in occasions where employee relocations are required.

Small companies can adopt this practice as well and thus increase the level of employee loyalty and motivation. However, the implementation of this specific recommendation requires further analyses taking into account a range of factors including the nature of the business, the team dynamics and the overall environment within the small company etc.

For instance, situations should be avoided where one representative of a dual-career couple is a team supervisor, whereas the other one is team member. Such a situation would negatively affect the team spirit within the company and this would have negative implications on the overall performance of the team.

Ideally, partners of dual-career couples should be employed within the different divisions of a company where they would have limited interaction during the work, but nevertheless, they can achieve greater level of work-life balance.


The Main Point

Dual-career couples and parent employees have additional family responsibilities on top of their professional responsibilities. Balancing both of these responsibilities proves to be a highly challenging task to accomplish and may cause pressure and stress for employees that will consequently lead to lower performances at work, as well as, issues in maintaining good family relationships. Companies need to be proactive rather than reactive in terms of assisting their employees to deal with these issues.

These issues are being dealt by large companies through implementing a set of specific strategies that mainly involve the use of financial resources such as providing compensations for family members for relocations and a range of other tangible benefits.

Small companies, on the other hand, cannot afford the same level of assistance for their dual-career couple and parent employees and mainly have to rely on a set of intangible means and strategies that would enable this specific category of the workforce to achieve the work-life balance with a greater level of efficiency.

Specifically, the strategies formulated for small companies in this paper consist of introducing telecommuting form of employment, offering job sharing options for employees, assisting dual-career couples and parent employees through internal and external career and life counselling, introducing flexible time off policies and employing both members of dual-career couples depending on the circumstances



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Category: HRM