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How religion influences Indonesian workers to seek work-life balance

Studies show overwork leads to negative outputs and could even kill workers. Despite these findings, achieving work-life balance still has been a utopia for many.

My ongoing research reveals how religious fundamentals influence workers to balance the time they devote to work and family – known as work-family balance (WFB).

A worldwide career study defines WFB as a part of work-life balance (WLB), with WFB more specifically addressing the balance of work and family matters.

I conducted the research in Indonesia, a nation with the biggest Muslim population in the world. Apart from Islam, by law, Indonesia recognises five other religions: Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism.

After collecting questionnaire responses from 1,147 respondents with different religious backgrounds in Indonesia, my study confirms religiosity positively and significantly influences the importance of work-family balance.

Research context

My research frames a unique Indonesian religious characteristic to explain Indonesians’ preference for having a work-family balance.

I chose religiosity as the variable of interest, based on numerous survey results that show Indonesians value religion highly.

In surveys by reputable research institutions like Pew Research Center, World Values Survey and Gallup, a massive proportion (more than 90%) of Indonesians surveyed said religion is essential to their life.

Bringing religion to work has been evolving into a buzz phrase, with (religious) employees demanding to bring their whole selves to work.

At the same time, all religious teachings in Indonesia highlight the importance of taking good care of families.

This is stated for Muslims in the Quran, for Christians in the Bible, for Buddhists in the Sigalovada Sutta which collects the preachings of Buddha Gautama, for Hindus in the Grihastha Ashrama, a book discussing life stages according to Hindu belief, and for Confucians in the Analects.

My research applies two questions to measure how religiosity influences work-family balance.

These questions reflect how someone’s life is based on their religion and how important it is for this person to strike a balance between work and family.

The results suggest the more religious individuals are, the more they think having a work-family balance in their career is essential.

Religion: a brake to withstand overwork

Besides the direct effects of religion on WFB, I argue that religion also indirectly drives individuals to aim for this balance in their careers.

For instance, among other factors explaining WFB importance are parenting responsibilities and love of the family.

Religion permeates individuals’ mindsets and behaviours. It thus seems plausible to expect it influences their sense of responsibility for and love of family.

Furthermore, the concept of an afterlife that religion teaches should shape religious individuals’ mindset that what matters more is life after death, far beyond the current life. Hence it makes no sense for them to lean heavily toward work (current life) at the expense of families (that have more meaning for the afterlife).

My survey result reveals all generations rate the importance of having a work-family balance highly (more than 90%). This means managers had better ensure that work demands do not stop employees from taking good care of their families.

We also learn that Indonesians do want to bring their religion to work. An accommodating workplace for religious expression could help build a good employee-employer relationship.

Last but not least, considering work-family balance is a manifestation of religious practices, failure to accommodate such a balance inherently offends workers’ preference and their religion.

How different generations value WFB in regards to religion

The highest correlation between religiosity and WFB importance was found among Baby Boomers (the generation between the ages of 57 and 75), followed by generation Y (25 to 40) and then generations X (41 to 56) and Z (up to 24 years old).

WLB values in different generations. Author, Author provided

Career stages potentially explain the different results across generations.

The least-affected-by-religion groups in terms of perceiving work-family balance as important are generations Z and X.

These generations are experiencing drastic economic changes. It’s commonly suggested an individual’s financial condition influences religiosity: the more economically advanced, the further the individual moves from religion.

For generation Z, working is a new experience where they earn their first salary and go from being a dependent family member to an independent young worker.

Meanwhile, having worked for some time, generation X will generally achieve a higher position and economic benefits. That also explains the middle position (generation Y) condition. Generation Y has passed the euphoria of being paid, productive individuals, but is not yet receiving much more financially.

At last, it is relatively easy to justify Baby Boomers’ pattern.

Consistent with many other studies’ findings, the older individuals are, the more they will turn to religion for making decisions about life (and career).

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