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Exploring the barriers to work-life balance for women in Saudi Arabia

Bahudhailah, Mohammed O.


Mohammed O. Bahudhailah


Katy Graley

Stephen (Stephen Derek), 1979 Allen

Denise Thursfield


In recent years, the increasing demands of organisations on their employees, together with more family and non-work commitments, raise questions of how to balance these conflicting demands. This is especially relevant currently for women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), as they have high levels of educational attainment and are being encouraged into the workforce by government initiatives, yet are still expected to perform the traditional domestic roles assigned to them by religion and culture. Flexible work is considered in some cultures as one of the solutions that might resolve conflicts between employees' family life and work. The purpose of this research is to explore the barriers to work-life balance for women in Saudi Arabia. To achieve this aim, three questions are raised: 1) Do women in Saudi Arabia have autonomy and flexibility in their work? 2) Do women in Saudi Arabia desire to have autonomy and flexibility in their work? What might be the benefits for their work-life balance? 3) What barriers do women in Saudi Arabia face to achieving flexibility? Moreover, this study explores the impact of religion and national culture on the context of work-life balance, and the potential of flexible work and job crafting for achieving an environment of work-life balance. In order to assist in the identification and interpretation of issues influencing women's ability to achieve work-life balance, this thesis draws on work-family border theory. Semi-structured interviews were used in collecting data. Thirty-one women employees in the health, education, and banking sectors were interviewed, these being the main sectors of female employment in Saudi Arabia. The findings of this research show that women largely lack autonomy and flexibility in their work due to lack of formal policy, bureaucracy and stereotypical attitudes in the workplace. However, they desire to have autonomy and flexibility in their work, and perceive benefits to themselves, their families and their employers if such opportunities were made available. In addition, the findings provide a deeper understanding of the different problems which Saudi women face in achieving work-life balance. The factors identified in this study that prevent working women in Saudi Arabia from achieving a satisfactory balance between work and home include the culture, religion, transportation, lack of suitable childcare, and family and work responsibilities. The study shows how border theory can be developed by adding new constructs to expand Clark’s (2000) model to make better sense of the issues faced by Saudi working women, specifically the interacting influence of personal and institutional (including cultural) factors on the strategies employed by women to negotiate work/family borders. By drawing attention to dynamics previously neglected in the border theory literature, the study contributes to debates on how border theory can inform understanding of work-life balance in previously unresearched cultural contexts.


Bahudhailah, M. O. (2019). Exploring the barriers to work-life balance for women in Saudi Arabia. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Oct 21, 2019
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Business
Public URL
Additional Information Business School, The University of Hull
Award Date Jan 1, 2019


Thesis (4.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2019 Bahudhailah, Mohammed O. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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