The experiences of work-life balance, stress, and coping lifestyles of female professionals: insights from a developing country

Publication Date06 May 2020
Date06 May 2020
AuthorBabatunde Akanji,Chima Mordi,Hakeem Adeniyi Ajonbadi
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
The experiences of work-life
balance, stress, and coping
lifestyles of female professionals:
insights from a developing country
Babatunde Akanji
Elizade University, Ilara-Mokin, Nigeria
Chima Mordi
Brunel Business School, Uxbridge, UK, and
Hakeem Adeniyi Ajonbadi
Faculty of Business, Law and Social Sciences, Birmingham City University,
Birmingham, UK
Purpose Given the limiting conditions of the gender roles confronting professional working women and
drawing on spillover theory, the purpose of this paper is to explore the experiences of work-life balance with an
emphasis on the causes of the imbalances, perceived stress, and coping techniques experienced by female
medical doctors in an African context Nigeria, a geographical location that is considered under-researched.
Design/methodology/approach The qualitative data is based on one-to-one in-depth interviews with 52
Nigerian female medical doctors.
Findings Based on the findings of the thematic analysis, it is clear that time squeeze, as a well-known factor
in the medical profession, exacerbates negative work-home interference. However, other themes, such as
patriarchal proclivities and task-pay disparity, that affect female doctors but are rarely considered in studies on
work-life balance also emerged as sources of stress and work-family conflicts, leaving these doctors to devise
individual coping methods as mitigating strategies.
Research limitations/implicationsThe study relies on a limited qualitative sample size, which makes the
generalisation of findings difficult. However, the study contributes to the limited literature on the implications
of stress and work-family incompatibilities facing women in a society that is not particularly egalitarian, with
an extremely pronounced culture of masculine hegemony that is contrary to western cultures. The article
unveils the socio-cultural difficulties of the work-life demands facing women specific to the Nigerian society
and experienced with a different level of intensity.
Originality/value The majority of the research on work-life balance has been undertaken in western
countries and has focused on various professional groups and organisations, including the health sector.
Nevertheless, work-lifebalance is a novel concept within the Nigerian work environment, where female medical
doctors, as a professional group, are rarely studied. The article also provides valuable insights into the macro-
contextual features influencing the work-life balance of Nigerian professional women.
Keywords Coping strategies, Female doctors, Work-life stress
Paper type Research paper
The practice of medicine in Nigeria is a respected occupation, with highly talented workers
trained following the introduction of western standards and ethical practices to the Nigerian
health sector. However, work in this sector is notoriously intense, with growing concerns of
medical doctors experiencing job stress associated with the profession (Aslam et al., 2014).
Evidence from developed economies, such as the United Kingdom, Norway, and the USA,
underscores factors that undermine the work output and work-life balance (WLB) of medical
professionals, such as high job demands and low autonomy (Walsh, 2013). Historically, WLB,
as a social concept, is largely concerned with the inherent demands and struggles
experiences of
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 28 January 2019
Revised 17 December 2019
24 March 2020
Accepted 25 March 2020
Employee Relations: The
International Journal
Vol. 42 No. 4, 2020
pp. 999-1015
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ER-01-2019-0089
encountered in managing work and non-work-related activities, and its propositions often
prioritise the experiences of working mothers (Lewis and Humbert, 2010). While significant
research has been undertaken on WLB in western countries (Wilkinson et al., 2018) and parts
of Asia (Rajadhyaksha, 2012), similar studies in African contexts remain in their nascent
stages. In particular, little is known from developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, such as
Nigeria, which has a unique sociocultural, inegalitarian and collectivistic traditions (Mordi
et al., 2013) unlike the individualistic and economically developed cultures of the west
(Hofstede, 1980). Therefore, this article is a rudimentary effort to fill this gap in response to
calls for context-specific studies focusing on Africa in order to extend knowledge and
broaden our understanding of WLB challenges, especially in the medical profession (Adisa
et al., 2017).
Notable demographic changes since the 1980s have led to the increase of female
participation in the labour market, arising from their desire to seek economic independence,
prove their self-worth, and most importantly, break age-long glass ceiling ideologies that
women are not good enough for professional and managerial positions (Agarwal and Lenka,
2015). However, employment relations in most developing countries, like Nigeria, are
organised based on gender role norms, creating an excessive subordination of women
because men are socialised to become breadwinners, while women are always expected to be
home carers (Abubakar, 2018). This situation perpetuates a high role overload and caregiving
strain, rendering female medical doctors particularly sensitive to work-family issues
(Mushfiqur et al., 2018). Focusing on contributing to contemporary debates on women, work,
family, stress and coping lifestyles and specifically informed by work-life spillover theory,
this study seeks to address the following research question in a non-western context: what are
the WLB challenges and stress experiences confronting female medical doctors, and how do
they cope with negative work-family spillover?
In addressing this research question, the article is organised as follows: a brief overview of
WLB and spillover theory is given, followed by a review of stress, gender and coping
strategies in the relevant literature. Thereafter, the employed study methodology is
explained, along with the studys findings and discussions. The article concludes by
explaining the studys implications, limitations and areas for future research.
WLB and spillover theory
WLB has become a somewhat ubiquitous social construct associated with numerous
organisational efforts and public policies aimed at enhancing flexible work arrangements,
equity and family-friendly outcomes (McDonald et al., 2013). These policies are often aimed at
making working adults achieve a balance by gaining sufficient control and autonomy over
where, when and how they work to enable them fulfil their responsibilities both inside and
outside paid work(Visser and Willaims, 2006, p. 14). This ideal stateis becoming more
difficult as organisations now push for almost round-the-clock working hours (Shockley et al.,
2018), which is becoming problematic, especially for those with caring responsibilities.
Although, the adoption of the term work-lifeas opposed to work-familyhas gained
widespread recognition and paved the way for the universal adoption of a more inclusive
terminology. Exponents of work-family studies suggest that WLB has risen from claims of
social justice and a need to redress gender discrimination, such as the work-family needs
of women not being treated fairly (Lewis and Humbert, 2010). Given the limiting conditions of
gender roles confronting working professional women, it has become more difficult to meet
care roles satisfactorily. Nowadays, family commitments are a big obstacle to womens career
While a plethora of research on the WLB experiences of professional women in developed
western nations exists, far less attention has been devoted to similar studies in developing
contexts, like Nigeria, where the institutional and cultural systems differ from those in the

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