Tipping the scales between work and home life

Is autonomy the key to balance? 

Traditional values all over the world depict women as the main homemaker and primary caregiver, which even in 2021 is something that is upheld by many modern households, despite work commitments. Women are confronted with the significant challenge of dividing their time between work and private life. They take on more family responsibilities and spend more combined time on work and family activities. 

However, juggling both home and job responsibilities means many women find creating the right balance tough, which has been found to have negative impacts on their well-being. Due to the expectations placed on women within the home, they may need additional resources in order to obtain a healthy work-life balance; one such resource being job autonomy.  

Dr Steven Brieger and his co-author Professor Dirk De Clercq (Brock University) have investigated the degree to which job autonomy, defined as the degree to which people experience freedom, discretion and independence within their jobs, has an effect on the ability of female entrepreneurs to find a good work-life balance. In addition, they posited that female entrepreneurs’ job autonomy should particularly have a positive impact on work-life balance in environments where women are discriminated against. Drawing from the Conservation of Resources Theory (COR), they proposed that the residual energy that women can gain through having control over their own workload, without being constrained by others, can contribute to fulfilment in their homelife commitments as well as in the workplace.  

In order to achieve a healthy work-life balance, many women choose to become self-employed as this is assumed to bring more freedom to coordinate work and family responsibilities by being able to choose their hours and schedules to fit around family commitments, such as dropping the children off to school.  Research shows that women are more likely to choose self-employment when there are children in the household. 

However, this picture of self-employment may be too rosy. The reality is that self-employment does not always provide the freedom that women desire. This is even more so in countries where women are neither culturally, nor institutionally empowered. In discriminatory environments, entrepreneurial women have less freedom in deciding on how they go about doing their work. Moreover, research shows that the self-employed, on average, have lower pay, work longer hours and have more stress at work than traditional employees.   

Despite this, those that are self-employed report that they are extremely satisfied with their work and life overall, due to the higher level of flexibility and independence, which is puzzling but may indicate a propensity for achieving a good work-life balance, despite the downfalls that come with self-employment.   

The study found that autonomy is particularly important for work-life balance in women as they feel satisfied in their ability to manage both their personal and work lives. This subdues the challenge of excessive workload that can come with being an entrepreneur, as women are able to manage their own tasks in accordance with their own personal and professional needs. In line with COR theory, they can better manage their own resources by having freedom in their own jobs, which increases the amount of energy that they can leverage within their work and home lives.  

In addition to investigating the role of autonomy in achieving a good work-life balance, Dr Brieger also explored how gender discrimination and perceptions of gender roles within different countries affects job autonomy and work-life balance. Being less able to access resources, such as financing and government support, in some countries contributes to unfavourable conditions for female entrepreneurs. 

Using this broad analysis, the benefits of job autonomy were found to be particularly prominent for women in discriminatory environments. Female entrepreneurs’ job autonomy is not only positively associated with a healthier balance between their work and private lives. The positive association of autonomy and work-life balance was also stronger in discriminatory socio-economic and institutional environments, indicating that female entrepreneurs’ job autonomy may spur their work-life balance to a greater extent when they face gender-discriminatory, macro-level environments that threaten their professional or personal activities. 

Finding the right work-life balance has been found previously to add to female entrepreneurs’ motivation, job satisfaction and overall performance. Discovering why some female entrepreneurs can achieve a healthy work-life balance is therefore an important challenge.  

“Female entrepreneurs’ work and family roles can create incompatible demands, with subsequent adverse effects on female entrepreneurs’ well-being. We have also seen that during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, female entrepreneurs perceived more significant work-life imbalances than male entrepreneurs, with negative consequences for their well-beingIn the UKfemale entrepreneurs reported stronger declines in happiness and the enjoyment of daily activities during the lockdowns. This indicates the importance of autonomy to balance work and life, and even more so in environments in which women are less empowered.” 

Steven BriegerAbout the researcher

Steven Brieger is Senior Lecturer in International Business in the Department of Strategy and Marketing. 

Read the papers

De Clercq, Dirk and Brieger, Steven (2021) When Discrimination is Worse, Autonomy is Key: How Women Entrepreneurs Leverage Job Autonomy Resources to Find Work–Life Balance. Journal of Business Ethics, 1-18.  


De Clercq, Dirk, Brieger, Steven and Welzel, Christian (2021)Leveraging the macro-level environment to balance work and life: an analysis of female entrepreneurs’ job satisfaction. Small Business Economics, 56(4), 1361-1384.