Employee Relations 29:4 What Work? What Life? What Balance? Critical Reflections on the Work-Life Balance Debate 9781846635199, 9781846635182

The articulation of work and life, cast as work-life balance, has become a key feature of much current government, pract

177 55 697KB

English Pages 111 Year 2007

Report DMCA / Copyright


Polecaj historie

Employee Relations 29:4 
What Work? What Life? What Balance? Critical Reflections on the Work-Life Balance Debate
 9781846635199, 9781846635182

Citation preview

er cover (i).qxd



Page 1

ISSN 0142-5455

Volume 29 Number 4 2007

Employee Relations The International Journal

What work? What life? What balance? Critical reflections on the work-life balance debate Guest Editors: Doris Ruth Eikhof, Chris Warhurst and Axel Haunschild


Employee Relations

ISSN 0142-5455 Volume 29 Number 4 2007

What work? What life? What balance? Critical reflections on the work-life balance debate Guest Editors Doris Ruth Eikhof, Chris Warhurst and Axel Haunschild

Access this journal online _______________________________ 323 Editorial advisory board _________________________________ 324 Introduction: What work? What life? What balance? _ 325 Work-life balance – the sources of the contemporary problem and the probable outcomes: a review and interpretation of the evidence Ken Roberts ___________________________________________________


Controlling working time in the ward and on the line Sarah Wise, Chris Smith, Raffaella Valsecchi, Frank Mueller and Jonathan Gabe__________________________________________________


Work and life: can employee representation influence balance? Jeff Hyman and Juliette Summers __________________________________


Work-life balance: contrasting managers and workers in an MNC Fiona Moore ___________________________________________________

Access this journal electronically The current and past volumes of this journal are available at:

www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm You can also search more than 150 additional Emerald journals in Emerald Management Xtra (www.emeraldinsight.com) See page following contents for full details of what your access includes.



CONTENTS continued

Employee availability for work and family: three Swedish case studies Ann Bergman and Jean Gardiner __________________________________


Work and family balance through equal employment opportunity programmes and agreement making in Australia John Burgess, Lindy Henderson and Glenda Strachan __________________


www.emeraldinsight.com/er.htm As a subscriber to this journal, you can benefit from instant, electronic access to this title via Emerald Management Xtra. Your access includes a variety of features that increase the value of your journal subscription.

How to access this journal electronically To benefit from electronic access to this journal, please contact [email protected] A set of login details will then be provided to you. Should you wish to access via IP, please provide these details in your e-mail. Once registration is completed, your institution will have instant access to all articles through the journal’s Table of Contents page at www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm More information about the journal is also available at www.emeraldinsight.com/ er.htm Our liberal institution-wide licence allows everyone within your institution to access your journal electronically, making your subscription more cost-effective. Our web site has been designed to provide you with a comprehensive, simple system that needs only minimum administration. Access is available via IP authentication or username and password. Emerald online training services Visit www.emeraldinsight.com/training and take an Emerald online tour to help you get the most from your subscription.

Key features of Emerald electronic journals Automatic permission to make up to 25 copies of individual articles This facility can be used for training purposes, course notes, seminars etc. This only applies to articles of which Emerald owns copyright. For further details visit www.emeraldinsight.com/ copyright Online publishing and archiving As well as current volumes of the journal, you can also gain access to past volumes on the internet via Emerald Management Xtra. You can browse or search these databases for relevant articles. Key readings This feature provides abstracts of related articles chosen by the journal editor, selected to provide readers with current awareness of interesting articles from other publications in the field. Reference linking Direct links from the journal article references to abstracts of the most influential articles cited. Where possible, this link is to the full text of the article. E-mail an article Allows users to e-mail links to relevant and interesting articles to another computer for later use, reference or printing purposes. Structured abstracts Emerald structured abstracts provide consistent, clear and informative summaries of the content of the articles, allowing faster evaluation of papers.

Additional complimentary services available Your access includes a variety of features that add to the functionality and value of your journal subscription: Xtra resources and collections When you register your journal subscription online, you will gain access to Xtra resources for Librarians, Faculty, Authors, Researchers, Deans and Managers. In addition you can access Emerald Collections, which include case studies, book reviews, guru interviews and literature reviews. E-mail alert services These services allow you to be kept up to date with the latest additions to the journal via e-mail, as soon as new material enters the database. Further information about the services available can be found at www.emeraldinsight.com/alerts Emerald Research Connections An online meeting place for the research community where researchers present their own work and interests and seek other researchers for future projects. Register yourself or search our database of researchers at www.emeraldinsight.com/ connections

Choice of access Electronic access to this journal is available via a number of channels. Our web site www.emeraldinsight.com is the recommended means of electronic access, as it provides fully searchable and value added access to the complete content of the journal. However, you can also access and search the article content of this journal through the following journal delivery services: EBSCOHost Electronic Journals Service ejournals.ebsco.com Informatics J-Gate www.j-gate.informindia.co.in Ingenta www.ingenta.com Minerva Electronic Online Services www.minerva.at OCLC FirstSearch www.oclc.org/firstsearch SilverLinker www.ovid.com SwetsWise www.swetswise.com

Emerald Customer Support For customer support and technical help contact: E-mail [email protected] Web www.emeraldinsight.com/customercharter Tel +44 (0) 1274 785278 Fax +44 (0) 1274 785201

ER 29,4


Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 4, 2007 p. 324 # Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0142-5455

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Professor Greg J. Bamber Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia Dr Boyd Black Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland Professor William N. Cooke Douglas A. Fraser Center for Workplace Issues, Detroit, USA Professor Linda Dickens University of Warwick, Coventry, UK Professor Hans-Jurgen Drumm University of Regensburg, Regensburg, Germany Professor Patricia Fosh University of Wales College of Cardiff, Cardiff, UK Professor Patrick Gunnigle University of Limerick, Limerick, Ireland Richard Holden British Energy Generation UK Ltd, East Kilbride, UK Professor Jan Kees Looise University of Twente, Enschede, The Netherlands Professor Csaba Mako St Stephen University, Budapest, Hungary

Professor Mick Marchington Manchester School of Management, UMIST, Manchester, UK John Monks General Secretary, European Trade Union Confederation, Brussels, Belgium Professor Richard Painter Staffordshire University, Stoke-on-Trent, UK Professor Nancy Papalexandris Athens University of Economics and Business, Athens, Greece Mr Ed Rose Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UK Professor Edward Snape Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong Professor Tan Chwee Huat National University of Singapore, Singapore Professor Brian Towers Nottingham University Business School, Nottingham University, Nottingham, UK Professor Adrian Wilkinson Griffith Business School, Griffith University, Australia

Introduction: What work? What life? What balance? Introduction The articulation of work and life, cast as work-life balance, has become a key feature of much current government, practitioner and academic debate. The main message of this debate is the need for “good work-life balance”. However, the debate and subsequent policy are too often based on assumptions about work and life derived from blunt readings of empirical data or misconceptions about employee attitudes to work and life. What is required therefore is analysis that explores the back-story to work-life balance debate as well as the operation of work-life balance policies. Compiling critical reflections on many aspects of the work-life balance debate, this special issue of Employee Relations hopes to initiate such analysis. All of the articles in this special issue are drawn from a stream on the work-life boundary at the 24th Annual International Labour Process Conference hosted by the University of London in 2006. This stream resulted from our dissatisfaction with much current debate about work-life balance. Our individual and collective research over the years has revealed that only some workers experience work and life as separate and balanceable. For other workers, work and life are intertwined, even amalgamated, so that they cannot or do not want to distinguish and disentangle work and life (see for example Eikhof and Haunschild, 2006; Warhurst, 1996; Warhurst et al., 2008; but we are not alone in this observation, see for example Nippert-Eng, 1996; Salaman, 1974; Sennett, 2004; Westwood, 1984). The work-life balance debate seems to centre on a number of questionable assumptions and perceptions: that work is experienced as negative, with long working hours a particular problem; that “life” can be equated with caring responsibilities, most particularly childcare, with the result that women are the primary target of work-life balance provisions; and that work and life are separable and in need of being separated. Such assumptions need to be interrogated and it is the aim of this introduction to begin that critical reflection. The contributions to the special issue then unpack in more detail the issues of working time (Roberts), the control of working hours (Wise et al.), the influence of employee representation (Hyman and Summers) and the state (Burgess et al.) on, and occupation (Moore) and industry (Bergman and Gardiner) differences within, work-life balance practice and policy. Working out the work in work-life balance Generally, the work-life balance debate assumes that individuals have too much rather than too little work – a debilitating long working hours culture is said to be pervasive (IDS, 2000). In Italy the concern about working time features in Basso’s (2003) Modern Times, Ancient Hours, in the US in Schor’s (1991) The Overworked American and in the UK in Bunting’s (2004) Willing Slaves, in which it is claimed, playing on the book’s sub-title, work is not just ruling but ruining our lives. In France campaigns for reducing working time have rallied around the phrase “work less, live better” (cited in Fagnani and Letablier, 2004). Consequently, it is the – more or less explicit – premise



Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 4, 2007 pp. 325-333 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0142-5455

ER 29,4


that work is bad and to be contained, and throughout work-life balance debate and practice, working time is the stated point of intervention. That work can have a debilitating effect on life is not new. Although not framed as such, work-life balance featured in earlier debate about the hidden injuries of work and the effects of these injuries on workers’ lives. Studs Terkel’s (1972, p. xiii) influential US book Working starts thus: “This book, being about work, is, by its very nature, about violence – to the spirit as well as to the body. . . . The scars, psychic as well as physical, brought home to the supper table and the TV set, may have touched, malignantly, the soul of our society.” More recent, and similarly influential, analyses echo this theme. Australian Barbara Pocock (2003, p. 153), for example, picks up on the moodiness at home that results from working excessively long hours, the guilt that parents feel for not attending their children’s “significant events” at school and the fraying of community fabric as workers’ time to run local clubs disappears: “Grumpy people do not make great lovers, fathers, mothers, drivers, neighbours or golfers” she states. What are different now are the context and the solutions to these perceived problems. In the past, from the human relations school of the 1930s to the behavioural psychology interventions of the 1950s to the socio-technical systems of the 1970s, solutions to debilitating work were sought in job redesign and better management that aimed at “humanising” the workplace. Despite claims that work is not just ruling our lives but ruining our lives, workplace practices feature remarkably little in current work-life balance debate. Instead, the solution is said to be rolling back work in order to provide remedial opportunity for workers to recover from work. However, a slight of hand occurs at this point because the most common policy prescription by government and practice offered by employers is not to shorten working hours but to provide employees with more flexibility in their working hours, for instance by part-time working or flexi-hours. Two indicative examples from two anonymised British supermarket chains are provided by Nickson et al. (2004). Box 1: Work-life balance policies at British supermarket chains “Lifestyle options” at Yellow Supermarkets. Job sharing, term-time contracts, career leave, fostering and adoption leave, dependency leave, maternity leave, paternity leave, child break, enhanced parental leave – eligibility extended to all parents with children under five, compassionate and emergency leave, unpaid leave for child’s first day of school. “Work-life balance” at Blue Supermarkets. Term-time contracts (parents do not need to work during school holidays), variable hours contract (flexibility in hours worked during term-time and holidays), dual store contracts, part-time working, job share, enhanced maternity leave and pay, paternity leave, parental leave, career break schemes of up to five years for childcare, special leave for up to one year for personal development or caring responsibilities, subsidised workplace nurseries in certain locations and dependency leave (Nickson et al., 2004).

Employers have their own interest in flexible working hours (Wise et al. in this issue; see also Schneider et al. 2006). Having to service a 24/7 economy, employers need to deviate from the 9 to 5 work day. Flexible working hours schemes are offered as

work-life balance allowing employers to appear employee-friendly whilst meeting business needs. Other useful work-life balance provisions, such as cre`ches, are a more expensive option for employers and are less prevalent. In Schneider et al.’s (2006) research, 83 per cent of employers in German Rheinland-Pfalz offered flexible working hours and only 30 per cent other types of work-life balance provision. The perception of employer-employee win-win may well therefore be a one-sided gain. As Wise et al. note, the flexibility needs being met tend to be those of employers rather than employees. As the above examples also reveal, flexible working arrangements have a common theme – workers having caring responsibilities. The common premise is that work-life balance provisions are introduced to help employees reconcile what they want to do (care) with what they have to do (work). However, there is ambiguity here. Current public discourse aimed at the prime targets of work-life balance programmes (young working mothers) promotes, even idealises, work. In lifestyle magazines, TV drama and “Yummy Mummy” novels aimed at affluent, suburban thirty-something females, work features as a place of intellectual expression and personal achievement as opposed to the loving but intellectually stultifying and socially under-appreciated realm of school runs, grocery shopping and coffee mornings (see also Behr, 2007). Under these circumstances, work can represent escape and self-expression. Indeed, academic research has found that, for women, having more than two children leads to longer working hours “as a means of escaping family stress” (Cowling, 2005: 30) - a point also argued by Hochschild (1997). Even when work is experienced as stressful, workers may prefer it to home Trinca and Fox argue in Better than Sex; “running parallel with the exhaustion and long hours in the workplace there [is] a sense of excitement and purpose about work. It seem[s] that many people fe[el] real at work, where life [is] sometimes smoother than at home” (Trinca and Fox, 2004, p. 7). This experience raises a key point. Not only do work-life balance programmes pay little attention to deleterious work per se, they also ignore the possibility that work can be a source of satisfaction and self-fulfilment. As Isles (2004, p. 23) states, “work can make a major contribution – for some the major contribution – to overall life satisfaction” (emphasis in the original). Two-thirds of both UK men (66 per cent) and women (68 per cent) are satisfied or very satisfied with their current job according to Isles, who even argues that around 8 per cent of the UK workforce or 2.4m workers prefer work to home, suffering “work-lust”. Thus, premised on negative and reductionist assumptions about work, the work-life balance debate fails to capture more varied employee attitudes to and engagement with work. This can be counter-productive, for, as Moore points out in her contribution to this issue, whether work-life balance is achieved can depend more on employee work attitudes than on employer work-life balance provisions. Back to life The UK’s Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS), published in 2004, shows that work-life balance polices within workplaces are becoming much more widespread. A closer look at these policies reveals that the work-life balance debate also has a particular perception of life – one centred on caring responsibilities. It is nearly exclusively childcare that features in any recognition of life, accompanied only by the occasional mentioning of care for elderly dependants, as if workers’ lives were only



ER 29,4


constituted around (child)care responsibility. As the 2004 WERS survey shows, the UK’s increased work-life balance policies centre on term-time working (up to 28 per cent of workplaces since the 14 per cent reported in the 1998 WERS survey), parental leave (73 per cent from 38 per cent) and paid paternity leave (92 per cent from 48 per cent) (Kersley et al., 2006). Furthermore, the care responsibilities underpinning these policies are regarded as those of women. As McDonald et al. (2005, p. 481) note, “although ostensibly gender neutral, these policies in practice revolve around facilitating the working conditions of women”. And although both men and women might experience work as debilitating of their lives, work-life balance polices and practices are targeting at that group of the workforce – women – who still carry most responsibility for childcare, even in “gender neutral” Sweden, as Bergman and Gardiner note in their contribution to this special issue (see also Hu¨lskamp, 2007; Niejahr, 2007). This narrow equating of “life” with care within work-life balance debate is an outcome of two related interests, that of government and that of employers. Although the phrase “work-life balance” insinuates a fulfilled, holistically balanced life, for neither governments nor employers is worker self-fulfilment the main concern. For government, the issue is not having better lives but breeding new lives; more specifically the reproduction of the future labourforce at a time when birth-rates are in decline (EC, 1999). Only five EU countries had natural population increases by 2004. For the others, population increase occurred through migration. Over 2003, the total EU population increased by 1.2m but of which births accounted for only 0.2m (EC, 2004). The concern is that with less of the population of working age whilst the number of pensioners expands, the government revenue base shrinks whilst expenditure increases. In the UK alarmist headlines scream of a “baby crisis” and the “potentially disastrous consequences as work pressures force young women to shelve plans for a family” with childlessness forecast on a scale not seen since the First World War (Hinsliff, 2006, p. 1). Put succinctly, the problem for government is to find measures that enable parents to both work and spend time at home with their (hoped for) children. Conversely, the problem for employers is that employees, especially women, do have children and, with a shrinking labour force, measures need to be found to draw into work the reserve army of mothers. Indeed, the “foundations” of work-life balance debate lay with employers with perceived recruitment and retention problems recognising the increase in the number of “parents . . . who have to fit their working lives around their childcare responsibilities” (IDS, 2000, p. 1). The solution is the introduction of “family-friendly” flexible employment. However, flexibility has to be compatible with business needs (IDS, 2000) and is introduced as firm financial circumstances allow, as Schneider et al. (2006) show for Germany. Employers seem to offer few work-life balance provisions that exceed the statutory minima set by government (Hyman and Summers; Burgess et al. in this issue). As with government, employers also recognise that it is women who still have most responsibility for childcare. Consequently, despite the rhetoric of work and “life”, the emphasis for employers is on women being able to tip the balance in favour of work or, more prosaically, being able to get out of the home and away from their children. An indicative example of this approach is provided by German company Wintershall AG below.

Box 2: Work and life services at Wintershall AG Despite a good reputation, Wintershall AG, located in a less attractive German town, had trouble attracting the right employees. The company introduced “Work & Life Services”, which established a corporate kindergarten and acts as an agency providing babysitters, au-pairs and emergency nannies. Employees on parental leave are continually updated on company news. “Parent and kid” workplaces were configured with a desk and toys for childcare emergencies. Work & Life Services also helps new employees to find schools for the children of its employees. As a result, the percentage of mothers who did not return from parental leave dropped from 90 per cent to nearly 0 per cent, parental leave now lasts 18 month on average compared to 34 months before and the number of specialists recruited from overseas has nearly tripled (Nuri, 2006).

Thus, although the state and employers come at the problem from different angles, the problem is commonly defined: the desirability and feasibility of separating life and work in order to accommodate domestic responsibilities, meaning family needs – both having and not having families. Undoubtedly, caring responsibilities and especially care for young children pose unresolved problems for many (and indeed female) workers but this narrow perception of life unnecessarily limits work-life balance policy and practice. Even for those who can neatly separate work and life, life outside work consists of more than care but standard work-life balance provisions neither attempt to lessen violence to the body nor take “life” in all its rich varieties into account. Beyond the gripe In assessing the work-life balance debate, it is important to understand not only the underlying assumptions about work and life, but also about the relationship between the two. Generally, work is assumed to have a negative impact on life. However, closer examination of the central concern, lengthening working hours, indicates that this assumption is too simplistic. Importantly, it should be recognised that the premise of a harmful long hours culture is misconceived; even more so when worker attitudes to any long working hours are examined. Put more strongly, the long working hours problem is being over-stated. First, historically, the UK and the rest of the EU have falling hours of work (Roberts, in this issue). Second, although the UK has relatively long working hours compared to other core EU countries, research by Flexecutive (cited in Isles, 2004) found that satisfaction with work-life balance is effected more by work colleagues than the number of hours worked. Sixty per cent of all workers are satisfied with their working hours. Only a minority want to work more flexibly (22 per cent). As Roberts argues, it may be that individual working hours are decreasing whilst the hours worked by households are increasing with more dual income and neo-traditional families as more women participate in the labour market. However, even in dual income families in which both parents work full-time, less than a third of respondents (29 per cent) in the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes 2003 said that their hours of work are too long. This response is common across all other family types: single parent, neo-traditional and breadwinner (Mitchell, 2005, p. 37). Moreover, there is no axiomatic demand for reduced working hours, even for those working longest hours. For instance, less than one-third of workers in Australia think that their working hours are too long (Martin and Pixley, 2005). Other Australian studies reveal that partnered men are happiest working full-time, even up to 50 hours



ER 29,4


per week. In fact, that they do so “is the major contributor to both partners’ life happiness” because of the consumptive power gained (Booth and van Ours, 2005, p. 20). Indeed, analysing the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia Survey, these authors conclude that for both men and women job satisfaction is independent of hours of work. Such data indicates that the assumed simple, negative causal relationship between work and life is, at the very least, more complex. Other Australian data reveals that of more effect than working hours are job satisfaction and age. The latter finding is particularly interesting; older workers in Australia, those aged 55 þ years are considerably more likely to state that work interferes with their family/personal life and to prefer shorter working hours than those likely to have young families (21-34 years) (Martin and Pixley, 2005). Analysing European Foundation data from across the core 15 EU countries, Cowling (2005, p. 30) reveals that the critical determinant of long working hours – 60 þ – is industry and it is men who are more likely to work these hours. In Europe, marital status seems to have the biggest impact on working hours. Single men and women are least likely to work long hours and recently singled women as well as widowed men and women most likely, suggesting work as sustenance in times of personal difficulty; providing opportunity for socialisation or distraction and an “escape from domestic stress”. For men, there is no relationship between having children and working long hours; for women there is, but the evidence is mixed. Supporting our earlier points, analyses of working hours suggest that work might be a source of satisfaction for some workers, or at least positive gain. Many workers who do work long hours do so because they want to, regarding work not as debilitating but affirming. Just over one-fifth of UK workers want to work more hours (Cowlin, 2005), with 40 per cent of those wishing to do so because they enjoy work (Isles, 2004). Of those workers who already work long hours, most (60 per cent) do so because they want quicker promotion, according to Isles. Not surprisingly, working longest hours is a “positive personal choice” to “get on”, according to Cowling (2005, p. 35). Most workers (64 per cent) who want to work more hours wish to do so to earn more money. A third of part-time workers want to work more hours for the same reason. Consequently, there is no evidence, Cowling states, that long working hours increases or decreases job satisfaction, suggesting that “for many workers a long hours culture may not be so deleterious to their enjoyment of work” (Cowling, 2005, pp. 30-31). In the light of this evidence, long working hours per se can not be regarded as the main obstacle to work-life balance. Rather, other factors seem to cause workers to experience a time squeeze. In the UK, of slightly more importance to both men (77 per cent) and women (70 per cent) than their jobs is leisure (Isles, 2004) and the main reason stated for wanting to work less hours is not to spend more time with friends (21 per cent) or children (21 per cent) but to have more leisure time (45 per cent) (see also MacInnes, 2005). Workers without care responsibilities may even resent work-life balance policies that centre on parents and carers (CIPD, 2007). A linked factor might also be rising consumptive aspirations; with aspirations rising more than average incomes. To summarise Schor (1998), if in the 1950s we strove to keep up with the Jones’, who were typically our neighbours and therefore had similar income levels as ourselves, then today our reference group is Friends, characters of a television show who are young, urban professionals and whose income is considerably higher than that of the average viewer. As a consequence, we need to work more and longer to be able to

pay for what we want or at least make the monthly payments on credit card bills. This unsustainable addiction to consumption has been termed “afflueza” by Hamilton and Denniss (2005), who explicitly link excessive consumption, indebtedness and overwork. Moreover, it seems that this powerful cycle of work and spend is becoming entrenched. Pocock (2006, pp. 16-17) has revealed a “competitive consumption” amongst young Australians fuelled by corporate advertising and marketing strategies, and which contrasts with the relative frugality and thriftiness of their parents. If men and women now need to work and have dual incomes in order to meet these consumptive aspirations, of more significance for women than long paid working hours as a source of dissatisfaction might be male partners who insufficiently contribute to household labour. Although more women are now entering the labour market and undertaking paid employment, consequential, complementary male propensity towards undertaking unpaid domestic labour has generally not increased, whether these men work full or part-time. As Pocock (2003) rightly agues, with current patterns of work and labour market participation and stasis in the domestic relations and roles between men and women, work and care collides. Having to undertake a “second shift” in the home therefore might account for why Australian women at least are happier with shorter working hours (Booth and van Ours, 2005). Better work-life balance might be attained not with flexible working for women but persuading men to finally shoulder equitable domestic responsibility. Again, the signs are not good, Pocock’s (2006, p. 143) research also revealed 40 per cent of young Australian males to be “open minimisers”, who plan for their future wives to do all the housework and less than two-thirds of young females expect to share this housework equitably. Concluding remarks Our brief overview of some of the issues overlooked in the work-life balance debate indicates that what is needed is a more nuanced appreciation, and research agenda, of the complex relationship between work and life that goes beyond the current zero-sum assumptions of work-life balance and perceptions of work and life. First, the debate on work-life balance needs to bring the workplace and work experience back into the frame of analysis. So far, work features almost exclusively as paid labour and is assumed to be a negative experience, overspills from which are to be contained. This assumption contradicts the central tenets of human resource management, organisational behaviour and psychology which all claim that work can be satisfying, motivating and self-fulfilling. Moreover, containing work rather than reforming it also distracts attention from an important potential source of life satisfaction: work itself. Second, work-life balance debate needs to progress to a more holistic understanding of life. Life is implicitly assumed to be a positive experience that individuals prefer to work. This crude generalisation is of little use for understanding and shaping concrete work-life balance practices for specific organizations and occupations. Moreover, life is too readily equated with care responsibilities, and more precisely, with female care responsibilities. Whilst care commitments, and especially those of women, do continue to be an important issue, it is essential to be aware of and overcome this particular understanding of life and the limits it imposes on the work-life balance debate.



ER 29,4


Third, the empirical premises that work-life balance policy and practice draw upon need to be examined. It is highly questionable whether work and life do constitute separated spheres; rather, there is mutuality between the two. While workers may feel pressured for time, neither lengthening working hours, nor long working hours are likely to be the sole or even main reason. The feeling of being caught in a time squeeze may rather result from, for instance, changed aspirations of lifestyles and consumption or gendered domestic labour arrangements. None of these issues feature saliently as requiring intervention within current work-life balance debate. Drawing on conceptual and empirical material and ranging over manufacturing and services in different countries, the contributions to this special issue interrogate many of these issues. In so doing, the contributions challenge some of the assumptions and perceptions that currently feature in the work-life balance debate, and begin mapping out the terrain for further and better research about the relationship between work and life. Doris Ruth Eikhof, Chris Warhurst and Axel Haunschild Guest Editors References Basso, P. (2003), Modern Times, Ancient Hours, Verso, London. Behr, R. (2007), “For publishers, every day is Mother’s Day”, Observer, 18 March, p. 14. Booth, A.L. and van Ours, J.C. (2005), Hours of Work and Gender Identity: Does Part-time Work Make the Family Happier?, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Canberra. Bunting, M. (2004), Willing Slaves, Harper Collins, London. Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) (2007), “Extending the right to flexible working could boost business and reduce chances of a divided workforce”, available at: www.cipd.co.uk/publicsites/cScape.CIPD.PressOffice/Templates/PressRelease Cowling, M. (2005), Still at Work?, Work Foundation, London. European Commission (1999), The Future European Labour Supply, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg. European Commission (2004), Employment in Europe 2004, Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg. Eikhof, D.R. and Haunschild, A. (2006), “Lifestyle meets market. Bohemian entrepreneurs in creative industries”, Creativity and Innovation Management, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 234-41. Fagnani, J. and Letablier, M.-T. (2004), “Work and family life balance: the impact of the 35-hour laws in France”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 551-72. Hamilton, C. and Denniss, R. (2005), Affluenza, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest. Hinsliff, G. (2006), “Overwork triggers £11 billion baby crisis”, Observer, 19 February, p. 1. Hochschild, A. (1997), The Time Bind, Henry Holt & Co, New York. Hu¨lskamp, N. (2006), “Mu¨tter – Fachkra¨fte im Wartestand”, Personalwrtschaft, Vol. 6, pp. 10-12. Income Data Services (2000), “Income Data Services Work-life balance”, IDS Studies, p. 698. Isles, N. (2004), The Joy of Work, Work Foundation, London. Kersley, B., Alpin, C., Forth, J. and Bryson, A. (2006), Inside the Workplace, Routledge, London.

McDonald, P., Guthrie, D., Bradley, L. and Shakespeare-Finch, J. (2005), “Investigating work-family policy aims and employee experiences”, Employee Relations, Vol. 27 No. 5, pp. 478-94. MacInnes, J. (2005), “Worklife balance and the demand for reduction in working hours: evidence from the British Social Attitudes Survey 2002”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 43 No. 2, pp. 273-95. Martin, B. and Pixley, J. (2005), “How do Australians feel about their work?”, in Wilson, S., Meagher, G., Gibson, R., Denemark, D. and Western, M. (Eds), Australian Social Attitudes, UNSW Press, Sydney. Mitchell, D. (2005), “Making families work”, in Wilson, S., Meagher, G., Gibson, R., Denemark, D. and Western, M. (Eds), Australian Social Attitudes, UNSW Press, Sydney. Niejahr, E. (2007), “Der heimliche Pflegenotstand”, DIE ZEIT, Vol. 12, p. 28. Nickson, D., Warhurst, C., Lockyer, C. and Dutton, E. (2004), “Flexible friends? Lone parents and retail employment”, Employee Relations, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 255-73. Nippert-Eng, C. (1996), Home and Work, University of Chicago Press, Chicago. Nuri, M. (2006), “Work-Life-Balance in Kassel”, Personalwirtschaft, Vol. 6, pp. 12-14. Pocock, B. (2003), The Work/Life Collision, Federation Press, Leichhardt. Pocock, B. (2006), The Labour Market Ate My Babies, Federation Press, Leichhardt. Salaman, G. (1974), Occupation and Community, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. Schneider, N., Ruppenthal, S. and Ha¨user, J. (2006), “Lippenbekenntnis zur Work-Life-Balance?”, Personalfu¨hrung, Vol. 1, pp. 26-9. Schor, J. (1991), The Overworked American, Basic Books, New York. Schor, J. (1998), The Overspent American, HarperPerennial, New York. Sennett, R. (2004), Respect, Penguin, London. Trinca, H. and Fox, C. (2004), Better Than Sex, Random House, Sydney. Terkel, S. (1972), Working, Avon, New York. Warhurst, C. (1996), “High society in a workers’ society: work, community and kibbutz”, Sociology, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 1-19. Warhurst, C., Eikhof, D.R. and Haunschild, A. (Eds.) (2008 forthcoming), Work Less, Live More?, Palgrave, London. Westwood, S. (1984), All Day, Every Day, Pluto, London. About the authors Doris Ruth Eikhof is Lecturer in Organization Studies at the Department of Management, University of Stirling. Her research interests include creative industries, changing forms of work and organizations, work-life boundaries and organizations and lifestyles. She can be contacted at [email protected] Chris Warhurst is Professor of Labour Studies and Co-Director of the Scottish Centre for Employment Research at the University of Strathclyde. His teaching, research and writing focus on labour process and labour market issues and developments. He can be contacted at [email protected] Axel Haunschild is Professor for Human Resource Management at the University of Trier. His research interests include changing forms of work and organization, creative industries, the institutional embeddedness of work and employment, and organizational boundaries. He can be contacted at [email protected]



The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm

ER 29,4

Work-life balance – the sources of the contemporary problem and the probable outcomes


A review and interpretation of the evidence Ken Roberts University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this article is to consider why work-life balance has become a major issue, and the likely outcomes of the widespread dissatisfaction with current work schedules. Design/methodology/approach – The article reviews international evidence on hours of work and time use, and the academic literature on employees’ attitudes towards their hours of work, and perceptions and complaints about work-life imbalances. Findings – Working time has not lengthened and complaints about time pressure are unrelated to hours actually worked. The sources of the widespread dissatisfaction with current work schedules will lie in a combination of other trends – increased labour market participation by women, work intensification, the spread of feelings of job insecurity, more work being done at odd hours, the spread of new information and communication technologies, free time increasing more slowly than spending power and aspirations, and relatively long hours becoming most common among employees (and the self-employed) in higher status jobs. An outcome is unlikely to be a general downward trend in hours worked on account of the substantial opportunity costs that would often be incurred by employees, and because some (mainly middle class) employees have access to a number of effective coping strategies. Research limitations/implications – Nearly all the evidence considered (and available) is from Western countries. Practical implications – Regulation of working time with the aim of delivering more acceptable work-life balances needs to deliver flexibility (at employees’ discretion) rather than any standard solution. Originality/value – The article offers a synthesis of evidence from sources that are rarely drawn together – mainly labour market research, and leisure studies. Keywords Job satisfaction, Hours of work, Lifestyles Paper type Literature review

Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 4, 2007 pp. 334-351 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0142-5455 DOI 10.1108/01425450710759181

Introduction How and why have work-life balance and the encroachment of paid work into employees’ own time become major public issues? This ongoing debate may not be entirely due to, but it has been substantially ignited and shaped by, the publication in 1991 of Juliet Schor’s The Overworked American. This book became an academic best seller in the USA. It seemed to be telling Americans things that they like to hear – that they are working too long and too hard for their own good, and that they ought to ease up. Rather than actually easing up, it appears that Americans prefer to congratulate themselves on their selfless sacrifice. As Schor’s thesis became known internationally, overwork was identified as a problem throughout the modern world (for example see Garhammer, 1998; Zuzanek et al., 1998), and overwork has become established as the

virtually uncontested source of work-life balance problems. The work-life balance terminology has been adopted only during the last 20 years, but the issue is much older. How married women workers balance their “two roles” has been an issue since their labour market participation began to rise following the Second World War. The problems of workers on shifts, or unsocial hours as these schedules came to be described, have been recognised and investigated since the 1950s. However, since the publication of Schor’s book, work-life balance has been presented as a general problem affecting men as well as women, and irrespective of whether their normal hours of work are particularly unsocial. Schor offered two principal explanations of why Americans were overworking. She was critical of how workers had become victims of a work-and-spend culture, but her main strictures were reserved for employers who were accused of abusing their labour market power to over-ride workers’ interests. An implication of Schor’s diagnosis is that workers need protection either through collective bargaining and agreements, or by law – statutory ceilings on working time, as in the EU’s 48-hour directive. Regulation, it is claimed by some, is the route to an optimal work-life balance. This approach seems plausible. It certainly seems to be the case that labour market regulation leads to aggregate reductions in paid working time. “Less work” has been a consistent trade union demand throughout the history of collective bargaining and in the enlarged (post-2004) EU mean reported hours of work are longest in those countries (the UK plus the new post-2004 member states) where labour market regulation is weakest (see Table I). However, is regulation really the key to achieving an optimal work-life balance? Or, contrary to the current conventional wisdom, are the least regulated economies and labour markets (as in the USA) producing the optimal outcomes? Certainly, the “knowledge” developed by economists about how market forces are the best mechanism for taking different interests into account and achieving optimal outcomes has tended to be disregarded. Another possibility, more consistent with the evidence and analysis that follow, is that presenting the options along a continuum from tight to zero regulation has become outdated, and that the issue today is not whether to regulate but exactly what the regulations should be. This article proceeds by considering whether working time has lengthened and finds that there has been no such general trend in any country. It then considers whether complaints about time pressure are associated with especially long hours of work and finds that this is not the case. The following sections introduce alternative explanations for the spread of dissatisfaction with work schedules, then the coping strategies that are available to some sections of the workforce. Likely outcomes, and the kinds of regulation (if any) by trade unions and governments that would lead to more acceptable work-life balances are then discussed. Working time It is important to return to basics and ask why work-life balance has become a public issue. It cannot be a straightforward consequence of either Schor’s book or the lengthening of hours of paid work because, except possibly in North America (see Schor, 1991; Zuzanek et al., 1998; but see the powerful reservations of Robinson and Godbey, 1999), there is simply no evidence of a recent upward trend. There are many people in a number of countries claiming to be working longer than in the past (see for example Heisz and LaRochelle-Cote, 2003; Swan and Cooper, 2005). It is doubtless the

Work-life balance


ER 29,4


Table I. Usual hours worked per week: full-time employees 2002

Latvia UK Romania Slovakia Poland Slovenia Czech Republic Bulgaria Estonia Greece Hungary Malta Spain Portugal Austria Cyprus Germany Sweden Ireland Lithuania Luxembourg Belgium Finland Denmark Netherlands Italy Norway France EU 15 Acceding countries



42.5 40.6 41.4 41.4 39.9 41.0 40.4 40.8 40.4 39.7 40.3 38.7 39.5 39.2 39.9 39.6 39.2 39.6 37.7 38.5 37.9 38.3 38.2 37.7 38.1 36.4 37.6 36.9 38.6 40.2

44.8 44.9 42.1 42.1 43.1 42.0 41.9 41.4 41.8 41.9 41.5 41.1 41.0 41.1 40.1 40.4 40.3 40.1 40.7 40.5 40.3 39.7 40.0 40.1 39.1 39.8 39.0 38.2 40.8 42.4

Source: Eurostat (2002)

case in all countries that some individuals, and probably particular occupational groups, have lengthened their hours of work. However, there is no country, not even the USA, in which there is uncontested evidence of an overall lengthening of work schedules in the late-twentieth century. There is often a difference between the hours that people claim to work and the hours that they actually work (as measured by time diaries). People tend to exaggerate their hours of work when asked to name their normal or average weekly hours; and the longer they really work, the more they tend to exaggerate. This discrepancy can be seen in Table II where the data are from the UK 2000 Time Use Survey (ONS, 2000a). Respondents who claimed to work up to 19 hours per week were in fact averaging 14.9; those who claimed to work 20-29 hours averaged 22.6; and those who claimed to work 30-39 hours averaged 33.1. Those who claimed to work longer were indeed working longer, but not to the extent that they claimed (and very likely believed). Those respondents who said that they worked 40-49 hours were averaging 37.7; those who claimed to work 50-59 hours averaged 41.7; and those who claimed to work in excess of

Main activity Sleeping Eating and drinking Personal care Employment Study Housework Childcare (own household children) Voluntary work and meetings Social life and resting Entertainment and culture Sport and outdoor activities Hobbies and games Reading TV and video Radio and music Travel Other

0-19 hours

20-29 hours

30-39 hours

40-49 hours

50-59 hours

60 hours and more

516 81 47 128 40 191 30 18 78 6 14 21 20 132 7 98 12

501 77 50 194 12 200 39 14 78 7 10 15 22 119 5 88 10

502 75 47 284 4 143 19 12 69 6 12 19 18 123 5 94 7

496 74 44 323 5 115 15 10 65 7 15 17 19 129 5 95 7

481 75 41 357 3 111 17 8 60 7 12 17 20 123 5 96 7

478 74 40 408 2 97 15 8 58 6 12 17 15 104 4 95 5

Source: Eurostat (2002)

Work-life balance


Table II. Average minutes per day spent in different activities by number of hours (reported) usually worked per week, UK adults (respondents with jobs)

60 hours were really averaging just 47.6. This data, of course, assumes that time budget evidence is more trustworthy than individuals’ own estimates. In the UK reported hours worked have fluctuated trendlessly since the 1970s (see Labour Force Survey, various years). Previously, the long-term trend had been downwards. The absence of any clear recent trends over time in the evidence from reported (and probably exaggerated) hours of work is corroborated by data from time budgets. UK males of working age were spending far less time in paid work in 2001 than in 1961 (see Table III). Women of working age were spending on average an extra 20 minutes per day doing paid work in 2001 (which will have been due to their increased labour market participation) whereas men were spending 109 minutes less. When the analysis is confined to employed adults, and to working days only, the trends are still downwards except in the case of males with higher education whose mean paid work time increased by 12 minutes per workday between 1961 and 2001 (see Table IV). As already noted, there are variations in reported average weekly hours of work in different EU countries (see Table I). Time diary evidence confirms that such differences exist but simultaneously exposes difficulties in giving an unequivocal answer to

Men Women

Paid work 1961

Paid work 2001

Unpaid work 1961

Unpaid work 2001

Non-work 1961

Non-work 2001

434 183

323 203

83 303

146 277

923 954

971 959

Source: Gershuny (2005)

Table III. Minutes per day, all UK adults aged 20-60

ER 29,4


Table IV. Minutes per day, UK employed adults, 20-60, work days only

Table V. Time use in Europe, selected countries, 2002 (men and women aged 20-74, minutes per average day)

questions about which countries work longest. Among the seven countries in Table V (the participants in the European Time Use Survey), Sweden’s 20-74 year olds were spending the most hours in paid employment on a typical day. This working pattern is not because a normal working week in Sweden is particularly long. In 2002 Swedish females in full-time jobs were reportedly working slightly longer than average across the pre-2004 EU15 while Swedish men in full-time jobs were working slightly shorter hours than the EU15 average (see Table I). The total adult population’s paid workload in Sweden is relatively high on account of its relatively high rate of full-time female employment. There are some interesting contrasts in Table V. In Spain people work fewer hours than in Britain yet have less free time mainly because in Spain more time is spent sleeping and on personal care. So would the Spanish or the British feel the most pressed for time? The lightest paid workloads in Table V are in Germany and Belgium, but only Germany has more free time than the UK population because Belgians spend more time on domestic work and (as with the Spanish) also on personal care. Whether full-time and part-time employees’ hours of work are examined separately or aggregated makes a big difference to where countries appear to stand in average hours of work league tables. Bonney (2005) has disputed whether Britons really are working longer than most of their European counterparts (as suggested by the data in Table I). He points out that the UK is among the European countries with a high proportion of employees in part-time jobs, and that, when their working time is

Men Without higher education With higher education Women Without higher education With higher education

Paid work 1961

Paid work 2001

Unpaid work 1961

Unpaid work 2001

Non-work 1961

Non-work 2001

556 525

519 537

47 51

93 85

837 863

828 818

468 467

423 463

141 126

199 167

831 848

818 810

Source: Gershuny (2005)

Sleep Other personal Employment Study Domestic work Free time Travel








503 130 196 9 198 317 87

516 144 186 14 231 293 57

495 158 155 14 197 338 83

531 181 181 15 208 266 58

486 140 212 17 186 313 86

502 161 154 15 216 306 87


Notes: a Data from Spain is not strictly comparable as the definitions of some activities differ; b Includes “other personal” Source: MacInnes (2006)

159 49 197 282 71

included, the UK’s overall averages of hours worked per day and per week (32) decline substantially and cease to look exceptionally high. Nothing above is disputing that complaints about time pressure (alternatively called “time squeeze” or “time crunch”) are widespread and have become more common. In all modern societies for which evidence is available large sections of the population claim that their lives have speeded up, become more hurried and harried; and work is usually cited as the source of these developments and problems (see for example Duxbury and Higgins, 2003; Menzies, 2005). In Britain satisfaction with hours of work has declined sharply since the early-1990s (Taylor, 2002). These experiences are not disputed. Rather, the intention above has been simply to show that lengthened hours of work cannot be held responsible because there has been no such lengthening. As indicated, it is not straight-forward to determine which countries have the longest work schedules and where the people have the least free time, but no-one has shown that complaints about time pressure are cross-nationally associated with the relative “weights” of paid work in different countries. Perhaps most crucially, it is not the case that within countries the people who work longest are the most likely to complain about time pressure (see Schneider et al., 2004; Zuzanek, 2004). This evidence is blithely ignored by most commentators. Working time (whatever its length or scheduling) generates reported time pressure and stress when, and only when, it leads to social and emotional conflicts (Zuzanek and Mannell, 1998), and such conflicts are not associated with either particularly long or particularly short work schedules. Southerton and Tomlinson (2005) report that feeling “pressed for time” is related not to total time spent at work but to a wide variety of other predictors. These predictors include being self-employed or employed in a service job, being aged under 50, not working fixed hours, describing oneself as ambitious, having omnivorous leisure interests, going out regularly to meet other people and being female. It is difficult to identify a common denominator in this list but it is among these predictors that we need to search for clues as to why more people today report role overload and work-life balance problems. Further clues can be found in Southerton and Tomlinson’s observation that reported time pressure can mean several different things: being short of time overall, having problems in co-ordinating with others, and experiencing “hotspots” when there is simply too much that needs to be done while otherwise those concerned have plenty of spare time. Why do people feel more time pressured? So what is responsible for the spread of dissatisfaction with working time, and for time pressure and work-life balance becoming public issues? The most likely answer will lie in a combination of the following: . Higher rates of labour market participation by women. Mothers with paid jobs and young dependent children, and care-givers more generally, are more likely than other employees to complain of time pressure (Cinnamon and Rich, 2002; Duxbury and Higgins, 2003; Elloy and Mackie, 2002; Garhammer, 1998; Zukewich, 2004: Zuzanek, 2004). Southerton and Tomlinson (2005) exceptionally found that although the women in their data set were more likely than men to complain of time pressure, having young dependent children increased complaints of time pressure among men but not among women. However, although their analysis is recent, the data set analysed by Southerton and

Work-life balance


ER 29,4





Tomlinson was assembled in the late-1980s when it was less common than it is today for mothers to return to paid work prior to their children reaching school age. All the relevant studies have found that the combination of paid work with the responsibilities of being a principal carer exacerbates reported time pressure, and it is women with young children who are the most likely section of the population to complain that they have simply “no time” for themselves (Daly, 1996; Menzies, 2005; Shaw et al., 2003). It should be noted, however, that in the UK and The Netherlands, Cousins and Tang (2004) have found that men are more likely than women to complain about work-family conflict (which is different than, and not necessarily related to, time pressure). Work intensification. This intensification has affected employees at all levels. It has often accompanied the introduction of new (labour saving) technology and de-layering in the management grades (Noon and Blyton, 1998; Warhurst and Thompson, 1998). It seems that almost everyone in the workforce has come under pressure to take on more tasks, more responsibilities and generally to do more. The lunch hour, and tea and coffee breaks, appear to be things of the past. Nowadays these occasions are often spent at the desk, catching-up on reading and paperwork (Reeves, 2002). This is one of the reasons why, even if they are not working longer, people are likely to feel that their work is making greater demands on them and having a greater impact (for good or ill) on their overall quality of life. More widespread feelings of job insecurity. Mean periods spent in jobs have not declined and the rate of involuntary terminations has not risen but employees today have greater fears about the prospect and likely consequences of job loss than was the case in the past (Doogan, 2001; Gallie et al., 1994; Taylor, 2002). Moreover, increasing numbers of workers face regular staff appraisals, some in firms where company policy is to fire the weakest (Scullen et al., 2005). “Jobs for life” have not become a thing of the past. They were very exceptional in the past and today there are still plenty of employees – in health services and education for example – who are able to enjoy life-long careers in their occupations. There was plenty of labour market mobility during the post-Second World War decades of full employment. Feelings of insecurity can make people reluctant to leave any job. It is also the case that (officially) voluntary terminations often occur in a context of anticipated redundancies and the offer of (apparently) generous severance packages. Workers who feel insecure are thereby likely to feel “under pressure” constantly or intermittently, and may well feel that their quality of life in and out of work is suffering. Working at odd hours. More paid work is being done at odd hours for a variety of reasons (Bosworth, 1994; Hewitt, 1993; Van den Broek et al., 2002). Some reasons for extending hours of work into evenings, night times and weekends are long-standing. In some industries the technology requires production to be ongoing. Introducing shifts is a long-standing way of coping with upturns in demand and of gaining maximum returns from expensive capital equipment before it ceases to be state of the art. Other reasons are not entirely new but have become more common. Globalisation has led to more firms needing to be open whenever markets, customers or suppliers in London, Los Angeles or Tokyo, for example, are trading. Perhaps most important of all, many consumer services




have to be provided at the times of demand, that is, when customers have leisure time. The growth of leisure time and spending has lead to more workers being required to sacrifice their own leisure or at least displace it temporally. Some of the fastest growing types of employment in present-day Britain are in low (skill and pay) level consumer service occupations (Goos and Manning, 2003). Their greater prevalence does not appear to have alleviated any of the familiar problems (for employees) of working unsocial hours. These include synchronisation problems within households and conflicting demands on the same periods of time, and making it difficult for households to maintain routines, which is what most try to do (Breedveld, 1996a). New technology. ICT, especially the mobile phone, the Blackberry, the internet and the laptop, lead to employees being able to work in any place and at any time. Hence railway carriages, car parks and airport lounges (among other places) have become workplaces for the public as well as staff (Felstead et al., 2005). What is “possible” easily becomes what is “expected”. Employees who are enabled to work at weekends may feel that doing so is necessary in order to demonstrate career commitment. Staff who are given mobile phones with which they are able to make contact with colleagues, bosses or subordinates at any time of their own choosing are also vulnerable to being contacted by any of these parties at times that are inconvenient for the recipient. Even though their hours spent actually working may not be exceptionally long, such staff may feel unable to “switch off” completely for long unbroken periods. Free time increasing more slowly than people’s incomes and spending aspirations (as originally envisaged by Linder (1970)). Free time is increasing but very slowly in Britain; by just five minutes per day on average for 20-60 year old females, and by 48 minutes for men, between 1961 and 2001. Even for men, the pace of increase has amounted to little more than one extra minute of free time per year (see Table III). Free time has actually declined on workdays for employed adults (see Table IV). This decline has been due to increases in time spent doing unpaid work (mainly housework, child-care, shopping and other odd jobs) rather than the expansion of paid work time. Spending power has grown at a much steeper rate than the time available in which to spend the money – up by 140 percent in real terms for the average UK household between 1980 and 2003-2004 (ONS, 2002b). The steepest increase between these years (by a huge 283 per cent) was on spending on leisure services. People have been able to spend, and have been choosing to spend, much more on leisure rather than increasing their spending on other things. An indication of how this development has made life faster and more pressured, can be gleaned from time budget data (see Table VI), which shows that, especially on working days for full-time employees, people are now switching between activities more frequently than was the case in the past. This is one quantifiable indicator of life speeding up. The long hours culture. Nowadays the longest hours are worked by people in the professional and management occupations, the so-called chattering classes, who can be relied on to elevate their problems, or their heroic endeavours, into public issues (Hogarth et al., 2001; Inkson and Coe, 1993; Inkson and Coe (1993); Oliver, 1998). Time budget data demonstrates the turnaround that has occurred in Britain

Work-life balance


ER 29,4


Table VI. Number of activities per day (UK adults)

Workdays Men without higher education Women without higher education Men with higher education Women with higher education Non-workdays Men without higher education Women without higher education Men with higher education Women with higher education

Full-time employees 1961

Full-time employees 2001

Part-time employees 1961

Part-time employees 2001

7.0 8.3 7.8 8.7

8.0 9.3 8.8 9.9

7.7 12.5 9.7 10.9

9.5 11.7 9.6 12.1

9.8 11.2 10.6 11.5

10.5 11.3 11.2 11.9

9.9 12.0 11.2 13.7

11.4 12.4 11.4 12.4

Source: Gershuny (2005)

since the 1960s. In 1961 the best-educated men worked for fewer hours than less educated males; by 2001 the best-educated people were working the longest. Among women in 1961 there was little difference in hours worked by educational level; by 2001 the best-educated women were working on average for 40 minutes per day longer than other female employees (see Table IV). In 2001 managers and professional men and women were working 225 minutes per day on average (including non-working days), against 198 minutes in the intermediate occupations and 173 minutes among manual employees (see Table VII). Gershuny (2005) has argued that busyness (not leisure) has now become the “badge of honour”, inspiring emulation in all occupational strata. This reason could be why so many higher-level employees are now claiming that they work longer than they actually do: over-work (the reality or just the appearance), not leisure, has probably become today’s status symbol. Irrespective of whether busyness is emulated for status reasons, today’s high status “hard working families” are not loathe to draw attention to their endeavours. Busyness as a “badge of honour” could be one of the underpinnings of the “long hours culture” that many professional and management staff experience (and complain about). They feel – rightly or wrongly but probably rightly in many cases – that it is necessary to arrive well before and leave work long after official start and end times (Swan and Cooper, 2005). Doing otherwise, they feel, will be interpreted by colleagues and bosses as betraying a lack of organisational and career commitment. Individuals can experience these pressures, and therefore feel under pressure, irrespective of the hours that they themselves actually work. Despite these problems of higher level occupational groups, the next section argues that objectively measured work-life balance problems appear most serious, and least solvable, in working class households (Breedveld, 1996b; Warren, 2003). Constraints, options and likely outcomes Ever since W.I. Thomas (1927) coined the phrase, social scientists have recognised that “when people define situations as real they become real in their consequences”. There

Main activity Sleeping Eating and drinking Personal care Employment Study Housework Childcare (own household children) Voluntary work and meetings Social life and resting Entertainment and culture Sport and outdoor activities Hobbies and games Reading TV and video Radio and music Travel Other

Managerial and professional


Manual and routine

Long-term unemployed/ never worked

491 88 45 225 5 163

503 85 47 198 4 184

513 84 47 173 5 179

533 105 52 8 7 239





17 73 7

17 76 6

15 79 5

24 96 5

16 24 32 122 6 95 8

13 20 27 137 7 83 10

13 17 25 168 8 79 10

13 26 40 187 11 64 12

Source: Eurostat (2002)

is impressive evidence that large sections of the labour forces in modern societies feel overworked. Dissatisfaction with working time is widespread, and likewise complaints of time pressure and dissatisfaction with existing work-life balances. Long hours may not be the basic cause of the complaints and problems but shorter hours could still ease the predicaments even if the prime sources were not eliminated. Is this a likely outcome of the current condition? Much international attention has been paid to developments at Volkswagen in Germany and nationwide in France in the 1990s. In 1994 the working week at Volkswagen was reduced to 28.8 hours. France legislated a 35-hour maximum workweek in 1998. Both measures were controversial at the time and their impact remains in dispute because in each case the implementation was uneven (for example, some overtime was permitted in France, and some employees were already working no more than 35 hours), and in neither case did all other things remain equal. At Volkswagen employees lost their 13th month of pay – an annual bonus – and average take-home pay declined by 10.4 per cent. In France there were no outright pay cuts but several years of pay stagnation followed the implementation of the 35-hour law. In both France and at Volkswagen there were reports of work intensification – squeezing periods of non-work out of working time and raising production quotas. At Volkswagen and in France, employers gained opportunities to use labour more flexibly. There is evidence from both Volkswagen and France that workers who received it appreciated having more free time, but as explained above, other things did not remain equal. Perhaps the two most noteworthy features of these “experiments” are, first, that each was

Work-life balance


Table VII. Average time (in minutes per day) spent in different main activities by socio-economic class (UK adults)

ER 29,4


introduced not primarily to achieve better work-life balances but to save or to create jobs. In 1994 Volkswagen had decided that 31,000 out of its 108,000 German workforce were surplus to requirements. In 1997-1998 in France unemployment stood at 12.5 per cent. Second, neither “experiment” endured. In 2006 at Volkswagen standard hours of work were raised to 33 for production and 34 for administrative staff with no corresponding increase in pay (see, on Volkswagen, Blyton and Trinczek, 1996; Dribbusch, 2006; Rosducher and Seifert, 1996). France’s 35-hour law was not fully implemented until 2000-02 but by 2004 permitted overtime had been extended to a level that made the original reform meaningless (on France’s 35-hour law, see Estevao and Sa, 2006; Fagnani and Letablier, 2004; Frost, 2005; Hayden, 2000). In each case the reversal was justified by an alleged need to boost competitiveness so as to avoid further lay-offs or to achieve a further expansion in employment (by 2001 unemployment in France had declined to 8.8 per cent). Contrary to what appeared possible in 1994-1998, Volkswagen and France have not led a Europe-wide downward lurch in hours of work. Such a trend is an unlikely outcome from current complaints of overwork and work-life imbalance firstly because many of those concerned, and the allegedly overworked managers and professionals in particular, have other ways of coping and, second, because there are theoretical grounds for believing that the current packages of problems and benefits that workforces are experiencing are, as judged by their own actions, preferable to any alternative, realisable packages. Surveys repeatedly find that people who report that they work long hours (over 40 hours per week) say that they would like to work less (Fagan, 2002; Viasanen and Natti, 2002). In practice, as argued above, they probably actually work fewer hours than they report. British males’ ideal work-week (according to their own stated preferences) would last just 37 hours, and women’s would last 30 hours, shorter than for men but somewhat longer than women currently achieve on average (Fagan, 2002). Many workers say that they would be prepared to trade pay for shorter hours at work (Reeves, 2002). However, it should be noted, firstl, that how people answer always depends partly on the options offered. When offered the option, many people say that they would prefer flexible hours to shorter hours (Smith and Carroll, 2002). Second, there can be a difference between what people say and what they actually do, and words alone will not moderate market or employer pressures. Workers, like all actors all of the time, operate in constrained situations; the constraints arising from the behaviour of other actors who are also trying to realise their preferences. Gratton and Taylor (2004) suggest that the only options confronting some employees are long hours or no hours, but this is manifestly incorrect. There are far more employees currently working around 40 hours per week than working 50 hours and more. If they wished to do so, the long hours employees would not find it difficult to switch to shorter hours or otherwise less demanding jobs. In practice, this is rarely a reason given for job changing (Bonney, 2005). The German time pioneers, who are paraded as true “pioneers” by Horning et al. (1995), who had voluntarily chosen to downshift substantially and who had accepted commensurate drops in their earnings, remain very rare exceptions, and were regarded as peculiar by most of their German colleagues. The real constraint that confronts employees who work long hours is that they would be unable to downshift while retaining their current jobs, status, salaries and career prospects. In other words, their situation is not one of “no choice” but of preferring the balances of advantages and problems that accompany

their current hours to the packages that are available in shorter hours jobs. It should also be noted that not everyone objects to long and intrusive workloads. Some say that they enjoy their challenging work and choose to let their jobs dominate their lives (Lewis, 2003; Oliver, 1998). Employers who respected workers’ real preferences would presumably be rewarded via the relative ease with which they were able to recruit and retain staff, not needing to pay an inconvenience premium, and avoiding unorganised resistance. Haworth and Veal (2004) have argued that, in the final analysis, in real life situations, profit maximisation is decisive but should this drive lead to long or otherwise injurious hours of work that override workers’ real preferences? If the effects were sufficiently detested, there should be compensatory benefits (as described above) for employers who acceded to requests to downshift. The reality is workers’ preferences and actual life situations are more complicated and their ways of dealing with their problems are more varied than most analyses of work-life balance issues suggest. Instead of opposing and actively resisting, and thereby moderating employers’ demands, workers (some more than others) who are working long hours or who, for whatever reasons, complain about time pressure can devise ways of coping. Employees whose workloads are longest and most arguably the most intrusive (as explained above, nowadays including many professionals and managers), have access to, and have been adopting or developing, a series of coping strategies: . Buying time (by paying others to do tasks such as repair and clean homes and cars etc.). Households in the highest income decile spend over 20 times as much as the poorest decile on leisure goods and services such as sports, holidays, the cinema, the theatre and other forms of entertainment but they also spend over ten times as much on time-savers such as restaurant and cafe meals, telephone communication and motoring, and over six times as much on household and personal goods and services (Family Expenditure Survey, 2000). Working class households are far less likely to have the resources to cope in these and other ways that are described below. This reason could be why manual occupations work fewer hours on average, especially females in manual jobs who are just as exposed as their middle class counterparts to pressures from the “double burden”, and manual employees are just as likely as managers and professionals to work at odd hours, and are also at least as vulnerable to work intensification and job insecurity. . Achieving and exercising time sovereignty – being able to decide exactly when to work at odd hours. There is a profound class difference here. Managers and professional employees tend to work at home when they work outside their normal hours whereas when the manual grades work during the evenings and weekends this work usually requires their attendance at defined workplaces outside the home such as pizza restaurants or bars. The higher-level occupations have the greatest scope to decide exactly when they will work at odd hours (and sometimes during normal hours as well). They can make sure that their work does not prevent attendance at a key sports fixture or family celebration. Low-level employees are more likely to find that putting such private interests first invites dismissal (Van den Broek et al., 2002). For manual occupations, labour flexibility usually means at the employers’ discretion. Flexibility tends to have different meanings at different occupational levels. For low-level

Work-life balance


ER 29,4 .


employees, non-standard schedules are less likely to alleviate than to intensify conflicts between jobs and other demands on the employees’ time (Presser, 2003; Scott-Dixon, 2003). Modifying social networks into consistency with the demands of long hours or otherwise demanding jobs (Gatenby, 2004; Jackson, 2004; Jenkins and Osberg, 2003). Long hours (and variable, unsocial hours in particular) make it difficult for large (and to a lesser extent smaller) groups of people with common interests to meet together regularly, at the same times, week-in and week-out. So team sports tend to be replaced by individual exercise. People who are able to do so pay for membership at private gyms where they can attend as and when they choose. Club sports operate with pools of players who play as and when they are able, but not in every fixture. Friendships, even marriages, operate without the same frequency and regularity of shared activities that are possible when people work shorter and more regular hours. Married couples in present-day Britain spend just two-and-a-half hours on a typical workday, and three-and-a-half hours on a typical weekend day, doing shared activities, and these activities tend to be eating, housework and watching television (Gatenby, 2004). Real couples do the same things at the same times hardly more frequently than pseudo-couples (males and females paired at random) (see Sullivan, 1996). However, it should be borne in mind that long, variable, and unsocial hours of work need not sentence people to solitary, home-based leisure. They can remain gregarious and enjoy high levels of participation in out-of-home recreation but not at exactly the same times or among exactly the same groups of friends week-in and week-out. Social networks become singularised and loose for individuals. Members of the same families, neighbourhoods and workplaces cease to be drawn together as frequently, and therefore become less solidly bound together than in the past. As is so often the case, there are marked social class differences in people’s ability to develop social networks that are consistent with working long hours or at odd hours. Such differences are due to their differential access to financial and relevant social capital. High-level long hours employees tend to explain why they accept these schedules in terms of job satisfaction; low-level employees tend to say that they need the money (Taylor, 2002). Middle class couples, who overall have the longer joint hours of paid work, manage to spend more time together than working class couples who work fewer hours overall but are more likely to work at (different) odd hours (Warren, 2003).

These are some of the reasons why employers have not been pressured into alleviating time pressures on their employees, and why very long reported hours of work (over 60 per week) do not depress rates of participation in leisure activities except time spent watching television (see Table II). Employees who work relatively long hours are not really sacrificing leisure activities. Rather, it appears, they are making it possible to partake in their preferred forms of leisure (which often involve substantial cash outlays). Conclusions One conclusion to be drawn is that while complaints about work-life balance may be common in all occupations, these occupations do not face exactly the same problems

and have unequal access to coping strategies. Like much else, the character of the problems and the availability of coping strategies are class-related. Such differences need to be recognised in any search for solutions. It should be recognised that an all-round reduction in hours of work is unlikely to be a satisfactory solution to any occupation’s problems if only because current work-life balance problems have not been created by increases in working time (there has been no general increase) and complaints about time pressure are not objectively related to the number of hours that people actually work. Shorter work schedules are undoubtedly welcomed by some employees and make it easier for many to achieve more enjoyable or less irksome work-life balances but there is unlikely to be any “one size fits all” solution awaiting discovery then application. Recognising this reality is not necessarily to advocate wholesale deregulation of labour markets – abdication by trade unions and governments – but there are multiple indications that since the 1970s there have been changes and therefore that the aims of regulation may need to be rethought. . During the long decline in working time from the nineteenth century to the 1970s, most gains in free time were achieved during economic upturns, when organised labour had muscle (Bienefeld, 1972). Since the 1970s negotiated or government enforced collective downshifts have occurred in the shadow of unemployment, or threatened or actual redundancies. . Up until the 1970s each collective downward step in working time was consolidated. Since then, as at Volkswagen post-1994 and in France post-1998, there have been retreats. . As mean earnings rise, the costs of reducing working time increase, and as Schor (1991) recognised, these penalties will be amplified in consumer cultures where there are constant and myriad invitations to consume. . As educational careers lengthen (and therefore the costs increase), whoever pays (increasingly the “consumers”) needs to recover the costs of the “investments in human capital” (the costs of education and training). . It is not obvious that the productivity per hour gains that were once available when shortening the work schedules of manual occupations are available when dealing with present-day managers and professional staff. These workers are likely to become more effective the more time they spend reading or networking, depending on the particular occupation. It is perhaps noteworthy that Europe’s politicians are among the occupations that are exempted from the EU’s 48 hour ceiling on working time. This article has indicated how work-life balance debates are mis-conceived. As a consequence, subsequent policy prescriptions too need to be re-considered. Maybe in the twenty-first century the aim of regulation in hours of work should not be everyone working less or reducing the current wide inequalities in working time. An alternative aim would be flexibility for employees as well as or instead of employers, and in all occupations, not just those of the middle classes. Finally, there should be acknowledgement that for some employees the problems of coping with the status quo may well be a more attractive package than any of the realisable alternatives.

Work-life balance


ER 29,4


References Bienefeld, M.A. (1972), Working Hours in British Industry, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London. Blyton, P. and Trinczek, R. (1996), The Reincarnation of Worksharing as a Response to Job Cuts, Hans Bockler Foundation, Dusseldorf. Bonney, N. (2005), “Overworked Britons? Part-time work and work-life balance”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 19, pp. 391-401. Bosworth, D. (1994), Sunday Working: An Analysis of an Employer Survey, Employment Department Research Series 33, Sheffield. Breedveld, K. (1996a), “Working odd hours: revolution in time or storm in a tea-cup?”, paper presented at World Leisure and Recreation Association Conference, Cardiff. Breedveld, K. (1996b), “The double myth of flexibilisation: trends in scattered work hours and differences in time sovereignty”, paper presented to conference on New Strategies for Everyday Life, Tilburg. Cinnamon, R.G. and Rich, Y. (2002), “Gender differences in the importance of work and family roles”, Sex Roles, Vol. 47, pp. 531-41. Cousins, C.R. (2004), “Working time, work and family conflict in the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 18, pp. 531-49. Daly, K.J. (1996), Families and Time: Keeping Pace in a Hurried Culture, Sage, Thousand Oaks. Doogan, K. (2001), “Insecurity and long-term unemployment”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 15, pp. 419-41. Dribbusch, H. (2006), “Union agrees to more working hours to safeguard Volkswagen”, available at: http://eurofound.europa.eu/eiro/2006/10/articles/de0610039i.html (accessed 8 February, 2007). Duxbury, L. and Higgins, C. (2003), Work-Life Conflict in Canada in the New Millennium, Health Canada, Ontario. Elloy, D.F. and Mackie, B. (2002), “Overload and work-family conflict among Australian dual career families”, Psychological Reports, Vol. 91, pp. 907-13. Estevao, M.M. and Sa, F. (2006), “Are the French happy with the 35-hours workweek?” paper presented at IZA European Summer School in Labor Economics, Munich. Eurostat (2002), Eurostat Labour Force Survey, 2002, Eurostat, Luxembourg. Fagan, C. (2002), “How many hours? Work time regimes and preferences in European Union countries”, in Crow, G. and Heath, S. (Eds), Social Conceptions of Time, Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp. 69-87. Fagnani, J. and Letablier, M.-T. (2004), “Work and family life balance: the impact of the 35-hour laws in France”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 18, pp. 551-72. Felstead, A., Jewson, N. and Walters, S. (2005), Changing Places of Work, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. Frost, L. (2005), “France waters down controversial 35-hour workweek”, Financial Times, 22 March, p. 2005. Gallie, D., Marsh, C. and Vogler, C. (Eds.) (1994), Social Change and the Experience of Unemployment, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Garhammer, M. (1998), “Time pressure in modern Germany”, Society and Leisure, Vol. 21, pp. 327-52. Gatenby, R. (2004), Married Only at the Weekends? A Study of the Amount of Time Spent Together by Spouses, Office for National Statistics, London.

Gershuny, J. (2005), “Busyness as the Badge of Honour of the New Superordinate Working Class”, Working Paper 2005-09, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, Colchester. Goos, M. and Manning, A. (2003), “Lousy jobs and lovely jobs: the rising polarisation of work in Britain”, working paper, Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, London. Gratton, C. and Taylor, P. (2004), “The economics of work and leisure”, in Haworth, T.J. and Veal, A.J. (Eds), Work and Leisure, Routledge, London, pp. 85-106. Haworth, J.T. and Veal, A.J. (2004), Work and leisure: themes and issues, in Haworth, J.T. and Veal, A.J., (Eds), Work and Leisure, Routledge, London, pp. 213-230. Hayden, A. (2000), “France’s 35-hour workweek”, Canadian Dimension, February, available at: http://web.net/32hours/france’s.htm (accessed 8 February, 2007). Heisz, A. and LaRochelle-Cote, S. (2003), Working Hours in Canada and the United States, Statistics Canada, Ottawa. Hewitt, P.B. (1993), About Time, IPPR/Rivers Oram Press, London. Hogarth, T., Hasluck, C., Pierre, G., Winterbottam, M. and Vivian, D. (2001), Work-Life Balance 2000: Results from the Baseline Study, Research Report 249, Department for Education and Employment, Sheffield. Horning, K.H., Gerhard, A. and Michailow, M. (1995), Time Pioneers, Polity Press, Cambridge. Inkson, K. and Coe, T. (1993), Are Career Ladders Disappearing?, Institute of Management, London. Jackson, J. (2004), “Players blow whistle on Sunday soccer”, The Observer, 14 November, p. 13. Jenkins, S.P. and Osberg, L. (2003), “Nobody to play with: the implications of leisure coordination”, paper presented at IZA Conference of the International Research Consortium on the Economics of Time Use, St Gerlach. Lewis, S. (2003), “The integration of paid work and the rest of life. Is post-industrial work the new leisure?”, Leisure Studies, Vol. 22, pp. 343-55. Linder, S. (1970), The Harried Leisure Class, Columbia University Press, New York. MacInnes, J. (2006), “Work-life balance in Europe: a response to the baby bust or reward for the baby boomers?”, European Societies, Vol. 8, pp. 223-49. Menzies, H. (2005), No Time, Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver. Noon, M. and Blyton, P. (1997), The Realities of Work, Macmillan, Basingstoke. Oliver, J. (1998), “Losing control”, Management Today, June, pp. 32-8. ONS (2002a), UK 2000 Time Use Survey, Office for National Statistics, London. ONS (2002b), Family Expenditure Survey, Office for National Statistics, London. Presser, H.B. (2003), Working in a 24/7 Economy, Russell Sage Foundation, New York. Reeves, R. (2002), “The Precious Time Poll: about time”, The Observer: Real Time, June 29, pp. 4-9. Robinson, J.P. and Godbey, G. (1999), Time For Life, Pennsylvania State University Press, Philadelphia. Rosducher, J. and Seifert, H. (1996), The Reduction of Working Hours and Employment: Reduction of Working Hours in West Germany and its Significance for Employment Policy, Hans Bo¨ckler Foundation, Du¨sseldorf. Schneider, B., Ainbinder, A.M. and Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2004), “Stress and working parents”, in Haworth, J.T. and Veal, A.J. (Eds), Work and Leisure, Routledge, London, pp. 145-67.

Work-life balance


ER 29,4


Schor, J. (1991), The Overworked American, Basic Books, New York. Scott-Dixon, K. and Doing, I.T. (2004), Doing IT, Sumach Press, Toronto. Scullen, S.E., Bergey, P.K. and Aiman-Smith, L. (2005), “Forced distribution rating systems and the improvement of workforce potential: a baseline simulation”, Personnel Psychology, Vol. 58, pp. 1-32. Shaw, S.M., Andrey, J. and Johnson, L.C. (2003), “The struggle for life balance: work, family and leisure in the lives of women teleworkers”, World Leisure Journal, Vol. 45 No. 4, pp. 15-29. Smith, M. and Carroll, M. (2002), “Employment patterns for the future: balancing work and family life in two local authorities”, in Crow, G. and Heath, S. (Eds), Social Conceptions of Time, Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp. 109-25. Southerton, D. and Tomlinson, M. (2005), “‘Pressed for time’ – the differential impacts of a ‘time squeeze’”, Sociological Review, Vol. 53, pp. 215-39. Sullivan, O. (1996), “Time co-ordination, the domestic division of labour and affective relations: time use and the enjoyment of activities within couples”, Sociology, Vol. 30, pp. 79-100. Swan, J. and Cooper, C.L. (2005), Time, Health and the Family, Citigroup, London. Taylor, R. (2002), Britain’s World of Work – Myths and Realities, Economic and Social Research Council, Swindon. Thomas, W.I. (1927), “The behavior and the situation”, Publications of the American Sociological Society, Vol. 22, pp. 1-13. Van den Broek, A., Breedveld, K. and Knulst, W. (2002), “Roles, rhythms and routines: towards a new script of daily life in the Netherlands”, in Crow, G. and Heath, S. (Eds), Social Conceptions of Time, Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp. 195-214. Viasanen, M. and Natti, J. (2002), “Working time preferences in dual earning households”, European Societies, Vol. 4, pp. 307-29. Warhurst, C. and Thompson, P. (1998), “Hands, hearts and minds: changing work and workers at the end of the century”, in Thompson, P. and Warhurst, C. (Eds), Workplaces of the Future, Macmillan, Basingstoke, pp. 1-24. Warren, T. (2003), “Class- and gender-based working time? Time poverty and the division of domestic labour”, Sociology, Vol. 37, pp. 733-52. Zukewich, N. (1998), Work, Parenthood and the Experience of Time Scarcity, Statistics Canada, Ottawa. Zuzanek, J. (2004), “Work, leisure, time-pressure and stress”, in Haworth, J.T. and Veal, A.J. (Eds), Work and Leisure, Routledge, London, pp. 123-44. Zuzanek, J. and Mannell, R. (1998), “Life cycle squeeze, time pressure, daily stress, and leisure participation: a Canadian perspective”, Leisure and Society, Vol. 21, pp. 513-44. Zuzanek, J., Beckers, T. and Peters, P. (1998), “The harried leisure class revisited: a cross-national and longitudinal perspective. Dutch and Canadian trends in the use of time: from the 1970s to the 1990s”, Leisure Studies, Vol. 17, pp. 1-19.

Further reading Garhammer, M. (1999), “The institutionalisation of work and shifting boundaries between work and leisure time”, paper presented at International Institute of Sociology Congress, Tel Aviv. Institute of Management (1993), Managers Under Stress, Institute of Management, London.

Vittgerso, J., Akselsen, S., Evjemo, B., Julsrud, T.E., Yttri, B. and Bergvik, S. (2003), “Impacts of home-based telework on quality of life for employees and their partners: quantitative and qualitative results from a European survey”, Journal of Happiness Studies, Vol. 4, pp. 201-33. About the author Ken Roberts is Professor of Sociology at the University of Liverpool. His areas of interest are young people’s transitions into the labour market and the sociology of leisure. He can be contacted at [email protected]

To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected] Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints

Work-life balance


The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm

ER 29,4

Controlling working time in the ward and on the line


Workplace Research Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia

Sarah Wise Chris Smith School of Management, Royal Holloway University of London, London UK

Raffaella Valsecchi Greenwich Business School, Greenwich, UK

Frank Mueller School of Management, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, UK, and

Jonathan Gabe Department of Health and Social Care, Royal Holloway University of London, London UK Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this article is to assess whether tele-nursing in Scotland (NHS24), when compared with traditional face-to-face nursing, facilitates greater employee control over working time and therefore a potentially better work-life balance. Design/methodology/approach – The article draws on evidence from two independent research projects; a survey of 64 ward nurses and midwives, which involved face-to-face interviews; and a field study of tele-nursing in a large site in Scotland, using interviews and observations of 15 nurse advisors or tele-nurses. Findings – Three elements of work organisation are central in shaping nurses’ working hours and their control over the balance between their work and their home life: the management of working hours; the degree of mutual dependency of nurses within teams; and the nature of patient care. Research limitations/implications – The two pieces of research reported offer a strong basis for comparative study. However, the two projects were designed independently, though research questions overlapped and one researcher conducted the field work in both settings; there is an imbalance in the number of interviews conducted in each setting; and the nurse advisor interviewees are of the same clinical grade, whereas a variety of grades and clinical areas are represented among the hospital nurse interviewees. Originality/value – This is the first study of work-life balance amongst tele-nurses. The research demonstrates that call centre work has rationalised, depersonalised and yet enabled more “control” by nurses over their work-life balance, while paradoxically offering less autonomy in their task environment. In conventional work settings professional values make it difficult for nurses to disengage from the workplace. Keywords Nursing, Call centres, Hours of work, Team working, Scotland, National Health Service Paper type Research paper Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 4, 2007 pp. 352-366 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0142-5455 DOI 10.1108/01425450710759190

Introduction The work-life balance agenda has grown out of the family-friendly policies introduced to assist the increasing number of workers combining paid employment with care responsibilities. Government and advocacy literature has attempted to broaden the

discourse but, with the exception of the Working Time Directive, legislative and the majority of voluntary employer initiatives in the UK are concerned with leave and flexible working for family reasons. The persistently gendered division of labour at home (Warin et al., 1999; Gershuny, 2001) means that the majority of employees that seek to change the balance between their work and non-work time are women with children (Stevens et al., 2004). Managers of female-dominated teams have reported frustration in granting family leave, part-time and other forms of flexible working when the employers of their male partners do not (Lewis, 2001; Bond et al., 2002). The scale of this challenge for the National Health Service in Scotland (NHSS) is enormous: of its 67,000 nursing and midwifery workforce, 60,000 or 90 per cent are women (ISD, 2006). In addition, the nature of traditional nursing work presents significant barriers to implementing policies and practices associated with achieving employee work-life balance. Nursing care is usually given directly at the point-of-need and often round the clock, reducing opportunities for the temporal and spatial flexible working options such as flexitime or home working available in other occupations. Increased work intensity, a cause and consequence of a shortage of qualified nurses willing to work as nurses (Shroud, 1999; Buchanan and Considine, 2002), has led to low staffing levels in many areas reducing the opportunity for flexible working still further (Bond et al., 2002; Yeandle et al., 2002; Kodz et al., 2002). Finally, shift work, a feature of many nursing jobs can make it difficult to manage care and other non-work responsibilities, maintain relationships and participate in community and personal development activities. The negative impact of working hours on nurses’ non-work lives is a key contributor to high staff turnover in traditional nursing (Buchanan and Considine, 2002; Wise, 2004; Tailby, 2005). When first launched, the Scottish tele-nursing service NHS24, like its English equivalent NHS Direct, was promoted as providing two kinds of career opportunities for nurses: professional advancement through the development of clinical skills in a nurse-led service; and a different working hours environment to retain nurses who might otherwise leave nursing. The aim of this article is to examine this latter view, that tele-nursing, in comparison to traditional face-to-face nursing, facilitates greater employee control over working time and therefore a potentially better work-life balance. Repeated studies have found that for employees to derive benefit from work-life balance initiatives, fundamental issues around work organisation, job design, resourcing and workplace culture must be addressed (see for example Lewis, 2001; Crompton et al., 2003; Bond et al., 2002; Rapoport et al., 2002; Kodz et al., 2002; Yeandle et al., 2002; Lewis and Cooper, 2005). From a labour process perspective working time is one aspect of wider control relations that employers develop to manage the indeterminant factor in production/work, namely the human element. Work roles are constructed within a wider set of social relations between employers and workers, which are structurally antagonistic, and require control mechanisms because mutual agreement over work effort is not possible. Thompson and Ackroyd (2005, p. 708) have noted that “in most [work] settings there are several discrete and hybrid control systems in operation”. In the public sector, authority relations have traditionally been drawn from mandates of expertise and professionalism, but also bureaucratic rationality based partly on the formal imperative for budgetary accountability and the deployment of expert knowledge. Administrators and managers seek to control

Controlling working time


ER 29,4


professional workers’ time and performance indirectly through scheduling the flow of work, numbers of patients, students, clients etc. reducing the professional workers’ ability to control their tasks and time (Ackroyd and Bolton, 1999; Kirkpatrick et al., 2005). However, nurses remain a persistently autonomous occupational group of expert workers, a status that can serve to mediate bureaucratic controls (see Ackroyd and Bolton, 1999). Holding constant the same occupational group, this article takes a labour process perspective to report changes to management and normative/self control mechanisms involved in shifting the location and the practice of nursing, from the ward to the call centre. The article examines how this spatial and organisational shift impacts nurses’ ability to control their working time through a variety of formal and informal flexible working practices and by accessing the critical area of leave policies. This analysis, ultimately, sheds light on nurses’ opportunities for shaping work-life balance in the ward and on the line. Background and methodology The article draws on evidence from two independent research projects. The first was conducted in a large acute NHSS Trust in late 2003 (Wise, 2004). The Trust comprised two large teaching hospitals and two acute care of the elderly hospitals. The majority of the 3,700 nurses employed by the Trust undertook what could be described as traditional, face-to-face nursing work. Hospital wards are staffed round the clock but peak workload is normally during the day. Activities are often dictated by the “patient day” which might include getting patients up, fed and medicated, being available for doctors’ rounds, and preparing patients for and returning from surgery. However, nurses’ working hours and shift arrangements were by no means homogeneous. Some clinical areas did not normally involve night work and/or did not adhere to the “patient day” model (e.g. outpatients and theatres) and therefore had different working hours practices to suit their operational needs. Autonomy at the department and even the ward/unit level also contributed to variability as local nurse managers presided over different shift work regimes. The research explored, inter alia, how these different shift-working practices affected nurses’ ability to manage their non-work responsibilities. The fieldwork involved face-to-face interviews with a sample of 64 nurses and midwives from across the Trust, representing a broad range of clinical areas and grades. A questionnaire survey was also distributed to all qualified nursing and midwifery staff employed by the Trust, but for purposes of this article we only draw on evidence from the interviews. The second research project was conducted in one of three NHS24 call centres in the summer of 2005 as the Scottish element of a UK-wide project. NHS24 in Scotland was launched later than NHS Direct in England and is a more centralised organisation with three large contact centres (Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen) compared to 22 smaller contact centres in NHS Direct. NHS24 is available round the clock but its primary role is to provide an out-of-hours nurse-led telephone triage service and has been fully operational across Scotland since 2004. When a patient telephones a general practice (GP) office outside of practice hours they are redirected to an NHS24 contact centre, the preferred nomenclature over “call centre”. Patients’ details and basic symptoms are collected by a call handler (not a qualified nurse) and then put directly through to a nurse or, in busier periods, into a queue for a nurse to call back (the

call-back queue). Nurses assess the patient’s condition and guided by decision-support software, dispense homecare advice, arrange an appointment at a GP or out-of-hours centre or, in urgent cases, to accident and emergency. The research aimed to see what role professional labour in a public sector played in mediating the technological and managerial pressures of call centre work, including issues of control over working time (Mueller et al., 2003; Smith et al., 2006; Gabe et al., 2005). Fieldwork, involving interviews, observation and questionnaires of call handlers, nurse advisors and managers was conducted in two sites in NHS Direct in England as well, but this article draws only on the Scottish case study. This article utilises data from the 15 nurse advisor interviews and interviews with team leaders and managers. Analysis is at an exploratory stage. These two research projects do provide a basis for comparative study but some limitations should be noted. First, while there are overlapping research questions, the projects were designed independently though one researcher conducted the field work in both settings. Second, there is an imbalance in the number of interviews conducted in each setting, the hospital research being larger in scale. Finally, organisational differences mean that all of the nurse advisor interviewees are of the same clinical grade doing relatively homogenous jobs, whereas a variety of grades and clinical areas are represented among the hospital nurse interviewees. Work-life balance policy intentions The UK Health Departments have recognised the need to address the question of work-life balance for NHS employees, adopting the logic of a “business case” for helping employees to better manage their work and non-work time. It is suggested that by offering a range of working patterns and being supportive of employees’ non-work responsibilities employers can improve their labour market competitiveness and staff morale and achieve increased productivity, retention rates and reduced absences (Bevan et al., 1999; DoH, 2000; PIN, 2000; DTI and Scotland Office, 2001; Scottish Executive Health Department, 2001, 2002, 2004). Senior nurses and nurse managers in both work settings recognised nurses’ need to exert some control over their working hours and access to leave to meet non-work commitments. Some of the older nurses interviewed recalled that as late as the 1970s women were expected to give up their nursing profession on childbirth and, in one very conservative hospital, on marriage. Nurse managers now use a “business case” rationale in granting part-time hours, fixed shifts and leave to retain nurses over the life course, primarily for child care reasons but increasingly to meet elder care responsibilities and leading up to retirement. When the hospital interviews were being conducted, NHS24 were recruiting for the local site offering employee-choice working hours to lure experienced nurses away from their existing hospital jobs that had a direct impact on the wards. We’ve had a lot of people leave us to go to NHS24 because they’re offering the shifts they want . . . people will move to an environment, which supports their home life (Nurse Manager, Urology).

Despite a widespread nursing shortage, or to be more precise, a shortage of qualified registered nurses willing to work in nursing (Shroud, 1999), the NHS, in common with many health services worldwide, are pressing ahead with a series of service redesign

Controlling working time


ER 29,4


initiatives, including NHS24, which rely on an increased supply of nursing labour to substitute for more limited and expensive medical labour (SEHD, 2005; Buchan and Calman, 2004). While this broadened clinical nursing career horizons, nurse managers in NHS24 said there were simply not enough experienced nurses to meet demand, a problem brought about in part by unrealistic deadlines set by bureaucrats. Responsibility for out-of-hours services was being passed from GP co-ops to NHS24 and the timing of implementation was determined by the change-over date to new GP contracts, rather than the availability and readiness of skills to operate the innovative and ambitious new service. Bureaucrats in the service redesign department were spreading nursing labour ever more thinly which seriously constrained local nurse managers’ ability to meet the work-life balance promises made by officials in the employee relations department. Adequate staffing is a baseline requirement for employee work-life balance both in terms of controlling work intensity and the length of working hours and for employees to be able to take time away from the workplace (through leave or flexible hours) when needed (Bond et al., 2002; Yeandle et al., 2002; Kodz et al., 2002). Our research revealed that two years after the initial NHS24 recruitment drive which employed work-life balance as a primary tool, promises of employee-choice working hours could not be kept. All new staff were informed that shift patterns were non-negotiable, many nurses (known as “nurse advisors”) described the working hours as inflexible and staff turnover was high. In analysing the interview evidence from the two research sites, three elements of work organisation emerged as pivotal in determining nurses’ working hours and their control over the balance between their work and their home life: the management of work hours; the degree of mutual dependency of nurses within teams; and the nature of patient care. Shaping these three elements were various forms and degrees of bureaucratic control mediated, but in some cases compounded, by the normative and self-control associated with professional nursing. Managing working hours Most ward nurses had a 12-hour shift pattern, working three or four shifts per week, rotating between day shift (around 7 am to 7 pm) and night shift (7 pm to 7 am). The pattern was intended to promote continuity of care over the course of a day so, for example, a patient would receive pre and post operative care by the same nominated nurse. With only two shifts per day, rather than the previous three, it also reduced the time spent on “handover” between nurses and was therefore deemed to be more efficient. These shifts were popular since working hours were compressed hours, increasing the number of rest days. However, when working three or more consecutive shifts, there could be little engagement in non-work activities other than eating and sleeping, a particular problem for those with care responsibilities: As a parent working 12-hour shifts means you can go nearly 84 hours without seeing your child, this is frustrating when you are regularly doing three days in a row (Staff Nurse, ICU).

Wards typically employed around twenty staff around half of which were professional nurses, the remaining being clinical support workers. Each ward had its own rota or “off duty” created by a charge nurse, the line manager for the ward. Off duties were created manually, balancing guidelines on skill mix, minimum staffing requirements to meet service needs and, crucially, individual requests for rest days and leave. In most

wards shift patterns changed from week to week and most had three weeks notice or more of their shifts. However, some were only given one or two weeks advanced notice, which made it difficult to plan activities outside work. Some nurses had been granted fixed shifts to give them the predictability they needed to plan childcare, others were struggling to cope:

Controlling working time

The option of working set days and nights is not available in the department where I work so I cannot get childcare. As a result I stay up all day, work all night and stay up all the next day (Staff Nurse, General Ward).


The devolved management of working hours therefore led to a large degree of variability in nurses’ ability to balance their work and home life. In common with other sectors, line managers’ competence, attitudes and approach to a large degree determined the degree of control nurses had over their working hours and the extent to which this was experienced as equitable within the team (see also Bond et al., 2002; Yeandle et al., 2003). The majority of charge nurses viewed their role as a mediator in a self-managed team, balancing the individual and service needs and allowing nurses some control over their working hours, one describing this need for control over hours as part of nurses’ “stress management”. A smaller number were authoritarian, retaining control over nurses’ working hours by disallowing practices, such as fixed shifts, which were perhaps allowed in an identical ward next door. In NHS24 the model of work organisation removed control of working hours from the work team and placed it in the hands of administrators utilising technology to manage workflow. NHS24 operated on a “virtual” model, which meant calls could be dealt with by a nurse in any of the three contact centres in Scotland. Local “teams” comprising around 20 nurse advisors and call handlers were formed to institute a line management structure, but in practical terms the work team was Scotland-wide. Despite being employed at a higher nursing grade than Charge Nurses, Team Leaders in NHS24 were not responsible for nurses working hours. Rotas were created on a Scotland-wide basis using call centre software administrated by the Central Resource Team (CRT), none of whom were nurses. Many nurse advisors felt this made NHS24 less responsive to their need to control their working hours than other nursing environments they had worked in. With an eight-week rolling rota, hours were more predictable than on the ward, eliminating problems associated with not being able to plan in advance. However, the organisation was not able to cope with either ad hoc needs to deviate from this rota, for example for a family wedding, or more permanent changes to working hours. When an ad hoc or permanent need for a shift change or annual leave arose, nurse advisors were supposed to submit their request to the CRT that made decisions through a technical assessment of overall service needs. Since every shift was short staffed, and could not be filled by temporary agency labour as it might be in the ward, nearly every request was refused. Whereas in the ward these decisions were based to a greater or lesser extent on negotiation and individual relationships, in NHS24 they were remote and rational: The Central Resource Team co-ordinate the . . . I won’t say shifts . . . I suppose the man hours required for every time of the day based on call volumes . . . if there’s not enough folk available at a certain level then you won’t get your request so it’s not anything personal . . . (Nurse Advisor, NHS 24).

ER 29,4


However, in keeping promises of employee-choice working hours made in the early days, team leaders had responded to individual requests to alter the length and timing of shifts to facilitate work-life balance and thus retain staff: I think it’s more flexible [than the wards] . . . I was able to change shifts by an hour, starting my night shift and finishing it . . . because I was finding it difficult to get someone to be there for [my children] on the Monday morning . . . (Nurse Advisor, NHS24).

Team leaders had bypassed the CRT by granting these requests resulting in a much greater variety of shifts than was found on the wards. They also sanctioned individual requests for time off or a shift change without even notifying the CRT. The team structure was ill-defined and team leaders reported that some nurse advisors put their request to different team leaders until they got the answer they wanted. In granting these requests, team leaders were exercising the type of discretion they may have previously enjoyed being in charge of a ward, but they did not bear responsibility for the consequences of those decisions as they would on the ward. In this way, there is a clash between a new bureaucratic or technical control system removed from the work situation, and more indulgent, professional control in the work site. At the time of research, these two systems were in conflict. The locus of control over nurse advisors’ working time was so ambiguous that that shifts were chronically understaffed. Team working The team structure, in particular the mutual dependence of nurses’ working hours within teams, were sharply contrasted in the two work settings. In the wards, nurses’ working hours were completely dependent on those of their immediate colleagues. Nurses often helped each other out by swapping or covering each others’ shifts. However, the dependence could cause problems. If one person was granted their request for a rest day on a Saturday, their colleague might have the request rejected. This was a frequent source of tension on the ward. Managing the “request book” (where nurses wrote their requests for leave and rest days) was an important part of the charge nurse role. There are members of staff who abuse the request book and others who are compensating for them. If I give a request and someone else has a problem with it I encourage staff to speak to each other about it – make them discuss it like adults (Charge Nurse, Cardiothoracic ITU).

Since charge nurses were keen to retain nurses over the life course, requests from parents for greater control over their working hours were often given priority. Traditionally “shift-parenting” (working unsocial hours while a partner who works regular hours cares for the children) was a common strategy among nurses. Some parents utilised this strategy while others actively avoided it, seeking to maximise the amount of quality time spent as a family unit in the evenings and at weekends (La Valle et al., 2002). Resentment was occasionally expressed towards those who were perceived to be working fewer unsocial hours, particularly weekend working: I would say I work a lot more weekends than some people because they have childcare needs . . . That’s the way the NHS is going – they want to attract people by telling them they can dictate their hours and they can to some degree but you can’t change the NHS that much. I just hope when I have kids I get weekends off (Staff Nurse, Orthopaedic Ward).

Working in teams can create pressures for workers to remain visible by working long and inflexible hours (Evans et al., 2004). Teams frequently “self-manage” by putting

pressure on team members to put work before family and work long hours (Barker, 1993; McKinlay and Taylor, 1996), such behaviour being most typical where self-management is practiced. In hospital nursing this level of normative control was mostly confined to the higher grades. However, high workloads meant many ward nurses worked through their breaks and after hours, largely driven to meet patients’ needs (see below) but also by a desire not to let their colleagues down. Staff nurses often described the working of extra shifts and overtime as “helping out” the charge nurse and/or the team. Many reported feeling guilty about taking sick leave or carers’ leave to look after their children since they envisaged the negative impact their absence would have on their colleagues (Crompton et al., 2003). Since wards were often already short-staffed, if they were replaced at all it would be by a bank or agency nurse unfamiliar with the ward, and hence increasing the workload on regular members of the nursing team:

Controlling working time


When you take time off you are aware that you are leaving your colleagues stuck and that’s at the back of your mind . . . in general you can’t give much notice so you feel guilty (Senior Staff Nurse, Medical Admissions).

It was also the case that the nature of the work in the two settings had implications for teamwork and the management of absence and leave. Thus whereas in wards nurses are engaged in collective tasks where teams were structured through common tasks, tele-nurses operate calls as individuals, only drawing on the support of other nurses when their personal knowledge or the decision support medical software (CAS – Clinical Assessment System) did not support their judgement. In most cases, nurse advisors act autonomously, and interact through the CAS system to manage the caller/patient needs. This system does not mean that professional values are not important, as nurse advisors stress their knowledge, autonomy and professionalism in the interactions they have with callers in order to differentiate themselves from typical call centre workers (Smith et al., 2006; Mueller et al., 2003; Hanlon et al. 2005; Collin-Jacques and Smith, 2005). However, it does mean that in comparison with working in hospital wards, tele-nurses can handle tasks independently, which had the effect of individualising working hours. Teams were not essential to the operation of the “virtual” organisation and changes to shift patterns and high staff turnover meant that the teams that had been constructed in NHS24, what we would see as artificial teams, quickly fell apart: . . . probably because of the wide variety of rotas . . . to be honest with you, I can’t tell you who’s on my team . . . I possibly work with some of them but maybe I don’t (Nurse Advisor, NHS24).

Informal negotiation and relations of reciprocity utilised in the ward setting were therefore largely absent in the contact centre: . . . in a self-contained unit, say a hospital ward, you can really just communicate with the people around you verbally and come to some agreement . . . the problem is that [NHS24] is not a self-contained unit, you’re dealing with the whole organisation so I’m basically competing [for annual leave] with another five hundred odd Nurse Advisors [across Scotland] (Nurse Advisor, NHS24).

Through the rigidity of the fixed rota system and CRT refusing so many requests for changes, there were high numbers of nurse advisors trying to swap shifts, mostly


ER 29,4


trying to trade away unsocial hours – the peak hours for NHS24. Unlike the hierarchy of the ward, NHS24 nurse advisors are the same grade and in the virtual workplace a nurse advisor working in Glasgow can swap with any nurse advisor in Scotland. Despite this greater substitutability, nurse advisors could rarely arrange a shift swap. Notification of available overtime and requests for swapping shifts from nurse advisors all over Scotland were handled remotely through the email system. Unlike in a ward setting, personal relationships were unimportant, so these appeals could be easily ignored: Well you’re not asked directly, it’s all done electronically . . . you get an email that is sent out to all front-line staff . . . they’ll put what hours and what time, again usually in the evenings or night shift or weekends, that need to be filled and you just email back and say what you can do . . . so you see it’s not a question of saying “no” . . . (Nurse Advisor, NHS24).

The desire not to let colleagues down – often very strongly felt in the wards – was not detected at NHS24. None of the nurse advisors reported feeling guilty about taking sick leave or time off for their care responsibilities, which one team leader believed had contributed to high sickness absence at the time of interviewing. Nurse advisors could not envisage the impact their absence would have on colleagues since they may not know whom they would be working with in their call centre, let alone in the rest of Scotland. In NHS24 there was less evidence of the elements of peer-control and responsibility associated with professional work and nursing in the ward. The technical and impersonal aspects of work load planning distanced contact centre nurses from the collective pressures found in more meaningful, task-centred forms of team working found on the wards. In this sense bureaucratisation has created the impersonal efficiencies and also rigidities as nurses struggled to manipulate their way through the system. This system increased individualism, and reduced the moral hazard of close-knit team working on the ward that often put pressure on nurses to favour work over non-work in the interests of colleagues. Nevertheless, the system of balancing hours was not transparent or equitable, and hence created problems for managers planning workloads as well as nurse advisors coping with work-life balance. The nature of patient care The comparison of two different types of work setting showed that nurses’ opportunities to shape working hours were not only influenced by the shift patterns available and the systems for allocating and swapping shifts. Rather, the quality of the work itself was also crucial. Contact with patients is an important source of job satisfaction for nurses and often the main reason for staying in the job (Newman et al., 2002; Wise, 2004). In the ward, work intensification and labour substitution strategies were eroding the quality of patient encounters which nurses needed to deliver the standard of care they desired and were educated to provide; a long standing cause for frustration in nursing (Pembry, 1985; Proctor, 1989; Davies, 1995; Grimshaw, 1999). Ackroyd and Bolton (1999, p. 374) noted that with speed-up in the number or “throughput” of patients in hospitals there was a straightforward intensification of work for nurses who “must work harder unless they are prepared to disregard their own ideas and standards about what is appropriate to adequate hospital care”. This situation was evident across the wards and departments where nurses’ commitment to

patient care made it difficult for them to walk away at the end of a shift and even to take the rest breaks to which they were entitled. Sometimes missing breaks was due to a crisis such as a cardiac arrest or death of a patient but often it was due to the sheer volume and intensity of work. It has suited the people who run the NHS that nurses are conscientious, that they will stay until the job is done properly – they use the good will of the staff (Senior Staff Nurse, Medicine for the Elderly). All staff nurses stay on after hours, do extra duties they’re not paid for etc. to cover staff shortages – this has been going on for the 25 years I’ve been a nurse. The NHS wouldn’t survive if we didn’t do it (Staff Nurse, Medical Admissions).

Ward nurses, working on their own and with other healthcare professionals, can be involved in the entire “patient journey” from admission, treatment, rehabilitation through to discharge. NHS24’s nurse advisors’ patient encounters were, by contrast, remote and relatively brief. Callagham and Thompson (2001) have noted that call centres combine technical and bureaucratic forms of control and this applies as much to nurses as it does to customer service representatives. However, the occupational control, which nurses possess due to their technical expertise, exists within the call centre as much as on the ward and this mediates their autonomy in important ways. Nevertheless, being in some way “paced by the call” through a series of short, one-off transactions from remote callers creates a sense of bureaucratic disengagement, isolation and distance that is not present in ward conditions. Moreover, the clinical software that nurse advisors were required to use, CAS, steered the consultation between nurse advisors and callers, and nurses also relied on CAS to compensate for knowledge gaps. Through the constant streaming of calls there was a sense of “machine pacing” or “technical control” that meant nurses were less engaged with each patient. This was a contradictory pressure, and nurse advisors struggled between quality and quantity – typical of call centre work – but insisted, due to clinical and safety needs, that quality had priority. Nevertheless, streaming, distance, variety, symptomatic response and the non-holistic aspect of the interaction with callers created a feeling of separation that was less obvious in the ward setting. Paradoxically however, nurse advisors experienced as much, if not more contact with patients since task variety was much lower than on the wards. Like nurses on the ward, nurse advisors often did not take the breaks they were entitled to, but few stayed after hours. Most believed that the intensity of their work made it impossible to work the 12-hour shifts and additional hours they had worked on the wards. However, the nature of the patient transaction made it easier for nurse advisors to walk away at the end of their shift. More research is needed to examine the conflict between bureaucratic and technical control evident in NHS24, and professional/self control typical of the occupational training and identity of nurses as professionals. It was evident in the contrast between the two work sites that while performance targets in both were threatening traditional forms of team-working and occupational controls, the nature and allocation of work were putting greater pressures on professional controls in the more formally bureaucratic and rationalised world of NHS24 than in the ward setting. The values of being a nurse remained strong in the two settings. However, it could be predicted that this sense of self will be changed through the call centre environment because there

Controlling working time


ER 29,4


were no team support mechanisms in place to reinforce these occupational values and the individualising effects of the system technology promotes greater self-interest. While nurses in the ward tended to put professional duties before their own work-life balance, nurses in NHS24 were much less likely to do so. This finding hints at an interesting aspect for the wider discussion of work-life balance. Nurses in NHS24 may be better able to control their work and non-work hours, but the decrease of professional identity and a prospective decrease in job satisfaction may lead to imbalances in other, non-time-related dimensions of work-life balance. Conclusion This article has noted that nursing presents problems for work-life balance because it is female dominated and intrinsically family unfriendly, and because care is a continuous not neatly segmented process. Moreover, due to the budgetary pressures on health services, most nursing workplaces are tightly staffed, thus presenting additional capacity constraints on flexible working and nurses’ ability to maintain family and community relationships. These features of nurses are typical of our two work situations. However, we have shown that in some key respects the two work settings offer different strategies for nurses to integrate work and life. While the findings for NHS24 are preliminary, we can make the following observations in terms of contrasting the differences between the two work settings with regard to nurses’ work-life balance or interaction. Call centre working in general individualises work and reduces collective and team-based working. The nurse advisor has more autonomy over the particular call and does not rely on the input of other nurses or health professionals, thus creating a strong sense of individual working which has the effect of reducing normative and self-control associated with the more team-based working on the wards. Moreover, the standardisation of calls created through the clinical software CAS and more frequent interactions with callers in repetitive, short encounters reduced the contact with particular patients and the “whole nursing” process and sharpened the divide between working and non-working time, hence facilitating management of this divide for the individual nurse. Because the nurse advisors did not have to leave a critical incident or patient, or deal with distraught parents or relatives face-to-face, they could more easily end a shift, walk away from work and decline overtime working. In other words, call centre working created a space for self-interest amongst nurses and therefore the capability for avoiding the moral pressure for overwork or work-first decisions regarding work-life choices. However, the absence of control by team leaders over work allocation created something of a “free for all” over planning absences for caring or personal time. This “free for all” was in contrast to the more local and efficient practices in the team-working environment of the hospital ward, where patients, self- identity, moral and collegial reciprocities produced over-work but also a more transparent and perhaps fairer basis for accounting between work and non-work. NHS24 increased bureaucratic (inflexible) control by formalising rules, de-particularising social relations and increasing the operational scale of the workplace, and this had a depersonalising effect on work border management. It was harder for nurse advisors to cooperatively or collectively manage time, especially the unexpected requests for changes to working hours. Formal processes for such requests were more remote and inflexible. As a consequence, nurses abandoned formal routes,

and found informal and personal means of pursuing their particular needs, which meant harrying team leaders or managers until requests were granted. This deviation from formal procedures signified the weakness of internalised normative controls, the greater individualism afforded by the system and the looseness of the bureaucracy where the determined individual could find loopholes and weak links. Hence, fairness and transparency were questionable. The scale of the organisation of NHS24 increased technical control of tasks and labour “substitutability”. Unlike the mixed grade hierarchy of the ward, NHS24 nurse advisors were all the same grade and substitutable with one another across Scotland. However, finding another nurse to change shifts or hours was harder due to the impersonal nature of the system, the heterogeneous nature of the shifts worked and the fact that most requests were for similar reasons, to escape unsocial hours. So while on the one hand NHS24 facilitated a more detached form of working, with weaker moral or normative controls and team cohesion for self management, the technical organisation of the bureaucracy did not facilitate ease of work-home integration or management, hence the greater frequency of such things as sickness absence. Overall, our research on NHS24 as a nurse-led call centre suggested that the system acted to individualise and rationalise working time, which shaped the nurse’s ability to manage work and non-work time. In ward working, the integration of the two spheres was not without its problems and contradictions, with team and local level controls creating more transparency but also greater peer-pressure and self-management. Further research is needed to establish whether the findings from this first study of work-life balance on tele-nursing reflect teething problems from a moment of mixed and contradictory controls at the beginning of a service or a sharper divide between the realities of being a nurse in two sharply different work situations. References Ackroyd, S. and Bolton, S. (1999), “It is not Taylorism: mechanisms of work intensification in the provision of gynaecological services in an NHS hospital”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 369-88. Barker, J.K. (1993), “Tightening the iron cage: coercive control in self-managing teams”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 38, pp. 408-37. Bevan, S., Dench, S., Tamkin, P. and Cummings, J. (1999), Family-friendly Employment: The Business Case, DfEE Research Report RR136. Bond, S., Hyman, J., Summers, J. and Wise, S. (2002), Family-Friendly Working? Putting Policy into Practice, York Publishing Service for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, York. Buchan, J. and Calman, L. (2004), Skill-Mix and policy Change in the Health Workforce: Nurses in Advanced Roles, OECD Health Working Papers 17. Buchanan, J. and Considine, G. (2002), “Stop telling us to cope! NSW nurses explain why they are leaving the profession”, ACIRRT, University of Sydney. Callagham, G. and Thompson, P. (2001), “Edwards revisited: technical control and call centres”, Economic and Industrial Democracy, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 13-37. Collin-Jacques, C. and Smith, C. (2005), “Nursing on the line: experiences from England and Quebec (Canada)”, Human Relations, Vol. 58 No. 1, pp. 5-32. Crompton, R., Dennet, J. and Wigfield, A. (2003), Organisations, Careers and Caring, Policy Press, Bristol.

Controlling working time


ER 29,4

Davies, C. (1995), Gender and the Professional Predicament of Nursing, Open University Press, Buckingham. DoH (2000), for Investment; A Plan for Reform, The Stationery Office, London. DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and Scotland Office (2001), Work-life Balance: The Business Case, DTI, London.


Evans, J., Kunda, G. and Barley, S.R. (2004), “Beach time, bridge time, and billable hours: the temporal structure to technical contracting”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 49, pp. 1-38. Gabe, J., Valsecchi, R., Elston, M.A., Mueller, F. and Smith, C. (2005), “Is nursing down the line part of a professional project? NHS Direct in England”, paper presented at the 100th meeting of the American Sociological Association, Philadelphia. Grimshaw, D. (1999), “Changes in skills-mix and pay determination among the nursing workforce in the UK”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 13 No. 2, pp. 295-328. Gershuny, J. (2001), Changing Times, Oxford University Press, New York. Hanlon, G., Strangleman, T., Goode, J., Luff, D., O’Cathain, A. and Greatbatch, D. (2005), “Knowledge, technology and nursing: the case of NHS Direct”, Human Relations, Vol. 58 No. 2, pp. 147-72. Information Service Division (2006), NHS Scotland Workforce Statistics September 2006, available at: www.isdscotland.org Kirkpatrick, I., Ackroyd, S. and Walker, R. (2005), The New Managerialism and Public Service Professions, Palgrave, Houndmills. Kodz, J., Harper, H. and Dench, S. (2002), Work-life Balance: Beyond the Rhetoric, Institute for Employment Studies Report 384, IES, Brighton. La Valle, I., Arthur, S., Millward, C., Scott, J. and Clayden, M. (2002), Happy Families? Atypical Work and its Influence on Family Life, Policy Press for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Bristol. Lewis, S. (2001), “Restructuring workplace cultures: the ultimate work-family challenge?”, Women in Management Review, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 21-9. Lewis, S. and Cooper, C.L. (2005), Work-Life Integration, Wiley, Chichester. McKinlay, A. and Taylor, P. (1996), “Power, surveillance and resistance: inside the factory of the future”, in Ackers, P., Smith, C. and Smith, P. (Eds), The New Workplace and Trade Unionism, Routledge, London. Mueller, F., Valsecchi, R., Smith, C., Elston, M. and Gabe, J. (2003), “Private sector recipes in the public sector: the case of NHS Direct”, paper presented at the 18th Annual Employment Research Unit Conference: The End of Management? Managerial Pasts, Presents and Futures, Cardiff Business School, Cardiff. Newman, K., Maylor, U. and Chansarkar, B. (2002), “The nurse satisfaction, service quality and nurse retention chain: implications for management of recruitment and retention”, Journal of Management in Medicine, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 271-91. Pembry, S. (1985), “A framework for care”, Nursing Times, 11 December, pp. 47-9. PIN (Partnership Information Network) (2000), Family Friendly Policies, available at: www. scotland.gov.uk/library3/health/pinffp.pdf Proctor, S. (1989), “The functioning of nursing routines in the management of the transient workforce”, Journal of Advanced Nursing, Vol. 14 No. 3, pp. 180-90.

Rapoport, R., Lewis, S., Bailyn, L. and Gambles, R. (2004), “Globalization and the integration of work with personal life”, in Poelmans, S.A.Y. (Ed.), Work and Family: An International Research Perspective, Erlbaum, Mahwah. Scottish Executive Health Department (2001), Caring for Scotland: The Strategy for Nursing and Midwifery in Scotland, The Stationery Office, Edinburgh. Scottish Executive Health Department (2002), Facing the Future, Scottish Executive Health Department, Edinburgh. Scottish Executive Health Department (2004), Nursing and Midwifery Workload and Workforce Planning Project, Scottish Executive Health Department, Edinburgh. Scottish Executive Health Department (2005), Framework for Developing Nursing Roles, Scottish Executive Health Department, Edinburgh. Shroud, S. (1999), Return to Nursing Survey, NHS Executive, Leeds. Smith, C., Valsecchi, R., Mueller, F., Gabe, J. and Elston, M.A. (2006), “Experts, call centres and the discourse of labour transformation: nurses and the case of NHS Direct”, paper presented at the International Conference on Organisational Learning, Knowledge and Capabilities, University of Warwick, Coventry. Stevens, J., Brown, J. and Lee, C. (2004), The Second Work-Life Balance Study: Results from the Employees’ Survey, Employment Relations Research Series 27DTI, DTI, London. Tailby, S. (2005), “Agency and bank nursing in the UK National Health Service”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 369-90. Thompson, P. and Ackroyd, S. (2005), “A little knowledge is still a dangerous thing: some comments on the indeterminacy of Graham Sewell”, Organization, Vol. 12 No. 5, pp. 705-10. Warin, J., Solomon, Y., Lewis, C. and Langford, W. (1999), Fathers, Work and Family Life, Family Policy Studies Centre, London. Wise, S. (2004), “Work-life balance and areers in NHS nursing and midwifery”, Employment Research Institute, Napier University, available at: www.napier.ac.uk/depts/eri/research/ esf.htm Yeandle, S., Crompton, R., Wigfiled, A. and Dennett, J. (2002), Employed Carers and Family-Friendly Employment Policies, Policy Press for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Bristol. Yeandle, S., Phillips, J., Scheibl, F., Wigfield, A. and Wise, S. (2003), Line Managers and Family-Friendly Employment: Roles and Perspectives, Policy Press for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, Bristol.

Further reading Bond, S. and Wise, S. (2003), “Family leave policies and devolution to the line”, Personnel Review, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 58-72. Bunting, M. (2004), Willing Slaves, Harper Collins, London. Coyle, A. (2003), Women and Flexible Working in the NHS, Working Paper Series 9, Equal Opportunities Commission. Galinsky, E. and Stein, P. (1990), “The impact of human resource policies on employees: balancing work/family life”, Journal of Family Issues, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 368-83. Kodz, J., Davis, S., Lain, D., Strebler, M., Rick, J., Bates, P., Cummings, J., Meager, N. and Anxo, D. (2003), Working Long Hours: A Review of Evidence, Employment Relations Research Report 16, DTI, London.

Controlling working time


ER 29,4


Parasuraman, S. and Greenhaus, J. (1997), Integrating Work and Family: Challenges and Choices for a Changing World, Quorum, Westport. Perlow, L.A. (1998), “Boundary control: the social ordering of work and family time in a high-tech corporation”, Administrative Science Quarterly, Vol. 43, pp. 328-57. Scottish Executive Health Department (2000), Our National Health: A Plan of Action, A Plan of Change, The Stationery Office, Edinburgh. Thomas, L. and Ganster, D. (1995), “Impact of family-supportive work variables on work-family conflict and strain: a control perspective”, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 80 No. 1, pp. 6-15. Wise, S. (2005), “The right to time off for dependants: contrasting two organisations responses”, Employee Relations, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 126-40. About the authors Sarah Wise is Senior Researcher at Workplace Research Centre, University of Sydney, Australia. She can be contacted at [email protected] Chris Smith is Reed Professor of Organization Studies at School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London. He can be contracted at [email protected] Raffaella Valsecchi is Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and Social Research Methods at Greenwich Business School, University of Greenwich. She can be contacted at [email protected] Frank Mueller is Professor of Organisation Analysis and International Business at School of Management, University of St Andrews. He can be contracted at [email protected] Jonathan Gabe is Professor of Sociology at Department of Health and Social Care, Royal Holloway, University of London. He can be contacted at [email protected]

To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected] Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm

Work and life: can employee representation influence balance?

Work and life

Jeff Hyman Department of Management Studies, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK, and


Juliette Summers Department of Management, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this article is to assess the influence of different forms of organisational representation on the provision of work-life balance employment policies. Design/methodology/approach – The article uses on-site semi-structured interviews with employees, HR and line managers and trade union representatives in four case studies as well as survey responses from a total of 17 institutions in the financial services sector. Findings – Employees do influence work-life balance issues in the financial services sector, and work-life balance initiatives had greater breadth, codification and quality where independent unions were recognised. In all cases however, the extent of departure from minimal statutory levels of provision was not great. Research limitations/implications – The nature of the study and its focus on Scotland may limit the generalisability of the findings into other sectors or regions. Practical implications – In light of the evolving work-life balance legislative framework, this article should be of practical interest to trade unions, practitioners and academics. It demonstrates that organisations and unions need to retain and develop a focus on work-life balance applications. Originality/value – The article indicates the prevalence of management control of the work-life balance agenda and management’s discretion in the operation of work-life issues. Employees and their representatives accepted this control, and their private individualised responsibility for balancing work and life, without challenge. These results inform current understanding of how work-life balance legislation, based on a voluntarist agenda, translates into practice. Keywords Job satisfaction, Trade unions, Employee participation, Human resource management, Financial services, Scotland Paper type Research paper

Introduction: work-life tensions and their resolution Traditionally, temporal terms of employment have been determined unilaterally by the employer according to their operational needs. In sectors with strong union representation, employees may have been able to negotiate terms for working time, but its formal provision was in the hands of employers. And this remains so, despite the right to request flexible working introduced in 2005. There has been no formal expectation on employers to accommodate to the out-of-work needs of employees. Any The authors would like to thank the Joseph Rowntree Foundation for funding the project on which this article is based. Particular thanks are offered to Barbara Ballard of Joseph Rowntree Foundation for her continual support and enthusiasm for this project. Thanks are also extended to Sue Bond and Sarah Wise for their assistance in preparing data for this article and to the referees and editors for providing valuable comments.

Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 4, 2007 pp. 367-384 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0142-5455 DOI 10.1108/01425450710759208

ER 29,4


conflicts between work and home were expected to be resolved in the private domains of the employee with minimal interference to work. Management attitudes toward work-life conflicts can be surprisingly resistant to change. The 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS) study shows that 69 per cent of managers in the private sector believe that it was the responsibility of individuals to balance their work and domestic demands (Kersley et al., 2006, p. 271). A recent study indicated that spill-over from work to home was absorbed largely through adjustments employees made to their domestic lives (Hyman et al., 2005). Nevertheless, there have been shifts towards making work-life boundaries more permeable. Policy interest stems from the economic desirability of raising levels of employment participation of women with young children (Hardy and Adnett, 2002) and is accompanied by a growing sensitivity to tensions employees face between work and non-work lives, especially in terms of child-care. Work-life tensions have been compounded by factors such as work intensification, long working hours (see Green, 2001; Taylor, 2001) as well as extended shift working and unpredictable (and often unpaid) overtime to meet extended work schedules (Hyman et al., 2003). Perhaps in consequence of the interplay between these factors, reported levels of stress-related illness and absence have reached significant levels (see, e.g. Cooper, 2000). In addition, the UK policy perspective on equal opportunity and work life balance has been increasingly influenced by the European Employment Strategy (Hardy and Adnett, 2002) in which a social justice case for family-friendly working is founded on offering greater equality of opportunity for employed parents, especially women, in terms of pay, advancement and in working conditions (Roper et al., 2003). The practical consequence of these developments has been a whole raft of new policy and legislative changes. In 1998, the Working Time Directive was passed, followed by the Part-Time Directive in 2000, offering equal rights to part-time employees. The Maternity and Parental Leave Directive contained in the 1999 Employment Relations Act (ERA), offered improved maternity rights and, for the first time, opportunities for unpaid leave to working parents. Paid maternity leave rights have been subsequently enhanced. The 1999 Act also provided employees with the right to take a reasonable amount of (unpaid) time off to deal with domestic emergencies, which could also include paternity leave. The 2002 Employment Act provided opportunities for employees to request flexible working arrangements from their employers. Since 2003, fathers can also take up to two weeks paid paternity leave. From an organisational perspective, policy concerns have also been buttressed by a business case which links improved labour recruitment, retention, greater commitment and enhanced performance with appropriate work-life and flexible work arrangements (Cully et al., 1999; Dex and Smith, 2002). In an associated endorsement, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has promoted flexibility as a means to remove “unnecessary obstacles that prevent parents from achieving their full potential within the labour market” (cited in Taylor, 2001, p. 9). Sensitive to employer demands to retain and enhance the policy emphasis on labour market flexibility, the Government has addressed the issues of family-friendly employment. Its approach provides a low-lying platform of minimum rights for employees alongside positive encouragement for individual employers and their staff to make voluntary collective and individual agreements on issues of parental leave, providing that these at least meet the minimum statutory rights. These statutory

regulations are determinedly minimalist, with much leave being unpaid, no requirement for employees to take leave, and no attempts to define “reasonable” time or circumstance in terms of domestic leave. Indeed, without enhancement, and associated with low pay and the current opt-out potential from the Working Time Regulations, opportunities for employees to choose shorter working hours are limited (see McKay, 2001, p. 293). There is, however, potential scope for employers and employees to establish enhanced arrangements. A recent Labour Research Department Guide emphasises this point: . . . trade unions and workplace negotiators, in particular, have a key role to play in improving the basic entitlements contained in the regulations (Labour Research Department, 2000, p. 5).

Recognising potential advantages in terms of member recruitment and for heightened organisational influence, the labour movement has readily embraced the issues of family-friendliness, flexibility and work-life balance. A number of negotiated enhancements have been achieved, notably in the public sector (see Bargaining Report, May 2002). White collar unions have undertaken campaigns to raise the issue of family policies with employers with the aim of extending membership. It is clear that the government is offering opportunities for employees to express their voice over a popular issue, which attracts considerable and growing attention. Employers, unions and pressure groups all claim that they recognise and seek to resolve work-life conflicts. This favourable context provides an opportunity to identify the extent to which employees’ voice has been expressed in a flourishing sector of the economy and whether different patterns of influence can be linked with different representative arrangements. Work-life balance and employee voice Debate continues over the extent and forms through which employees can and should influence issues that concern them at work. Central to this debate have been declines in trade union membership and activity and the concomitant rise in the use of human resource management techniques which promise direct communication between individual employee and employer but effectively extend little organisational influence to employees (see, e.g. Marchington, 2000). From a union perspective, declines in membership, recognition and authority have left both employees and unions exposed to organisational decisions that could undermine security and employment conditions. This position has been critiqued from the perspective of social justice, claiming that at a time of product and labour market turmoil, employees should have the means to seek stability. An alternative argument is that by providing employees with a recognised and representative “voice”, for instance via trade unions, economic performance is enhanced rather than disrupted (Nolan and Marginson, 1990). This issue has been cogently summarised in Millward et al.’s (2000) rhetorical question derived from successive WERS and WIRS analyses: “Have employees lost their voice?”. Nevertheless, in a number of sectors the pace of membership decline has been arrested and in some cases reversed (Dawson, 2003, p. 130; Bradley et al., 2000, p. 161). Since 1997, successive Labour governments have attempted to balance (or consolidate, depending upon point of view, Bradley et al., 2000) promotion of deregulated flexible labour markets with a more participative dimension for union inputs, through endorsement of European Works Councils, recent

Work and life


ER 29,4


Information and Consultation regulations, and voluntary initiatives such as partnership. This weakly-interventionist “third-way” tends to eschew direct employment regulation but does offer access for employee inputs into decision-making (Roper et al., 2003). Further, a modified voluntarism, the scope of which was steadily eroded during the Conservative years in office, is still visible in areas such as vocational training (Taylor, 2001). In this relatively more benign climate, unions themselves have attempted to realign their appeal to potential and existing members by addressing contemporary issues such as health, non-standard working conditions and the interests of women employees (see, e.g. Williams, 1997; Waddington and Whistler, 1997; Heery, 1998), although there is some contention that trade unions can be gender blind (see Yates, 2006, Lindsay et al., 2005). With much of the rhetoric of the new activism directed to appeal to individual interests through collective representation, an examination of employee influence over family and work-life balance issues presents an excellent opportunity to consider the extent to which employee voice over a specific and highly visible issue is both being vocalised and responded to by employers. The main policy emphasis is to reconcile the demands of work with family life. This article therefore examines the extent to which employee voice is exerted through the voluntary establishment and development of family-friendly employment policies in the financial services sector. This sector shows at least some ostensibly favourable conditions such as relatively stable employment, high profile encouragement of family-friendly working by some leading financial institutions (the campaigning group, National Work-Life Forum has been supported by a number of retail banks), labour shortages coupled with high proportions of female employees of child-rearing age, and some active union measures to seek and consolidate membership growth (Gall, 2001). Evidence is sought for impacts of employee voice into organisational decisions regarding family-friendly employment policies by exploring three different contexts: with union recognition, with staff associations and without formal collective arrangements for representation. If unions have been unable to make significant headway under these potentially favourable conditions, the issue of a new vitality and enhanced role as an employee mouthpiece becomes questionable. The study The research was funded by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation as part of its Work and Family Life programme. The study presented consisted of two linked phases. In the first phase, profiles of family-friendly arrangements were identified in 17 finance sector organisations located in Scotland through a questionnaire checklist mapping out the details of the family-friendly provisions supplemented by interviews with managers. Relevant formal documentation was also collected. The fourth section of the article examines this profile. As part of this phase, the impetus for the introduction of family-friendly provisions was explored, along with evidence of pressures to change family-friendly programmes, with particular emphasis on the roles of employees and their representatives. This data is presented in the fifth section. In the second phase, empirical studies were conducted in four case-study companies, drawn from the larger sample, between June 2000 and January 2001. This phase consisted of more intensive investigation of the ways in which family-friendly provisions operate in practice in diverse settings. At least one company from each of

the main representative categories was selected, namely, one with independent union recognition, two with in-house staff association and one without formal representative status. The views of four main groups in the family-friendly decision-making process were sought, namely, line managers, employee representatives (where applicable), human resource specialists and employees. A total of 57 semi-structured interviews were conducted with the first three groups while a written questionnaire was distributed to samples of employees. A total of 1,118 were sampled, producing 533 usable responses, representing a response rate of 48 per cent. Findings from the case-study phase are presented in the sixth section. Profiles of family-friendly arrangements The 17 organisations studied in the first phase of the study together employed over 50,000 staff in Scotland. All interviews were conducted at the head offices where the frameworks for the policies were established. From the companies that provided data, the mean proportion of women employed in the companies was 59 per cent and the average age of employees was 34 years. The sample consisted of four banks, all of which recognised a union, seven insurance/assurance companies, all except one with staff associations, one general finance company with strong mortgage interests which recognised a company union and five fund managing companies without formal representation. The patterns of union recognition, non-recognition and staff association representation reflected the traditions of the finance sector in respect of both the assurance companies and the banks. Banking institutions have tended to recognise trade unions, with UNiFI being the dominant union. Staff associations, unaffiliated to the Trades Union Congress (TUC), have dominated the insurance/assurance sector, though some companies recognise the Amicus general union. In other cases, recent shifts from in-house staff association to TUC recognised trade unions have taken place. The establishments without formal representation tended to be small fund manager companies with a mean staff compliment of 194 for their Scottish operations. The mean number of employees in Scotland for the Staff Association companies was 3,079 and 7,020 for the unionised companies. There was neither trade union recognition nor staff association presence in any of the five fund managers included in the study. Again, this trend is not unusual in small, independent private sector service organisations. Company respondents were first asked whether they had introduced any family-friendly provisions beyond the Regulation minimum levels. Results are shown in Table I. To illustrate the patterns of provisions, companies are classified according to their form of employee representation. The table illustrates three main points. First, union recognition made voluntary initiatives across the spectrum of family-friendly provisions more likely. Second, smaller independent finance houses without formal employee representation offered some enhancements beyond the statutory requirements. Third, initiatives for family-friendly provisions were less commonly found in companies with in-house staff associations. Only four companies, all with recognised trade unions, had taken tentative steps to provide direct support for childcare. One bank had introduced a pilot nursery place scheme paying so many hours per month at the nursery. However, they were considering abandoning the scheme due to “absolutely terrible take-up”. Another bank offered childcare vouchers as an option in its flexible benefits scheme. An assurance

Work and life


ER 29,4


Table I. Family-friendly provisions and presence of employee representation

Union recognised: Assur 1 Bank 1 Bank 2 Bank 3 Bank 4 Fin 1 Assur 6 Staff association: Insur 1 Assur 2 Assur 3 Assur 4 Assur 5 No representation: FM 1 FM 2 FM 3 FM 4 FM 5

Enhanced parental leave

Enhanced maternity leave



Enhanced maternity pay

Maternity returner bonus











Under review

Paid paternity leave






company included interest free salary advances for childcare costs. The fourth company was reviewing potential childcare support options. A similar exercise was undertaken to identify the presence of flexible working practices, such as part-time working. These practices were more commonly found within the finance sector organisations than were family-friendly policies. The patterns were consistent irrespective of the form of employee representation. One possible explanation is that there had been insufficient time for the legislatively supported family-friendly provisions to be introduced at company level. A faster pace of implementation of family-friendly provisions does appear to be associated with independent union presence. An alternative explanation is that flexible working practices are more consistent with employer needs to provide increasingly continuous service facilities. These may be more easily achieved through retaining experienced staff through a combination of flexible working practices. Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that managers interviewed tended to think of family-friendly employment exclusively or largely in terms of temporal flexibility. Rationale for the establishment of family-friendly provisions and flexible working practices For a more detailed review of the implementation of family-friendly provisions and flexible working practices, organisations were analysed in groups according to the type of employee representation.

Organisations without formal representation Interviews were conducted with management representatives in five organisations that had no formal arrangements for employee representation. A number of common themes emerged from these interviews. First, the introduction of family-friendly provisions and flexible working practices was motivated largely by issues of labour competitiveness. As one HR manager stressed: Current voluntary provisions are in place because of retention, not attraction. If you are flexible, you will retain people (HR Manager, FM 4).

Second, with management concerns for employee retention operating as a prime stimulus, family-friendly programmes in these organisations were primarily initiated and driven by management, without formal employee involvement in developing the individual policies. Third, there were two main consequences of this management emphasis: the arrangements were largely informal, often without written details, and they were allocated to individual employees at the discretion of their line managers. For example, a senior manager commented on the formalisation of family-friendly provisions: We don’t have a formal flexi-system but we do allow each department to run their own flexi system so we will have certain people that take certain days off in lieu and things like that so they can work a wee bit flexibly. If they’ve clocked up extra hours they can take some time off if they need away early (Senior Manager, FM 2).

At FM 3, the difficulties faced by staff, and which compounded by a patronising stance adopted by managers, were described by the Director of Personnel: Women returners usually ask for part-time and are often initially refused by the managers but work through it by negotiation. The women have to work pretty hard at convincing their managers but this is not a bad thing because then they are sure about what they want to do (Director of Personnel, FM 3).

A fourth characteristic of these small organisations was that their “traditional environment . . . has been largely driven by men [and] this sort of thing just isn’t in their frame of reference” (Head of HR, FM 4). Similar reasons for not formalising the family-friendly provisions agenda prevailed at FM 3: [There is a] lack of female employees at the top, [they are] employed in lower status jobs and the male driven organisation means that formal policies have not been pursued so far (Director of Personnel, FM 3).

The final point is that these small companies were sensitive to legislative and other external changes. Many had started recruiting specialist HR managers, though often with little formal power, and who were trying to use combinations of legislation, formal benchmarking, informal soundings and social change arguments to convince their (male) superiors to adopt more progressive and embedded policies into these companies. However, as one Head of Personnel commented: “It’s evolving gradually. If you make quick change, people sort of back off.” Organisations with staff associations Companies recognising staff associations tended to be assurance-based. The conservative and staid image of insurance has changed dramatically in recent years

Work and life


ER 29,4


as intense competitive pressures have forced most of the companies to expand their operations into other financial services such as mortgages. Some had merged or been taken over and others were engaged in demutualisation exercises. Most had opened up call-centre operations whilst reducing the number of branch outlets (see Gall, 2001). Nevertheless, vestiges of the “old world” remained in their adherence to company-dependant in-house staff associations. Progress on implementing universal coverage family-friendly provisions in these companies has not been rapid, either. Compared to the informal approaches adopted in the non-union finance houses, more structured approaches were utilised to deal with employee issues. Many of the companies had established variants of staffing committees reporting to executive boards or other senior bodies. Nevertheless, staff association membership on these committees was either on a minority basis or employees were not represented at all. Hence one company had a policy-vetting committee, composed of senior managers, which made the final decision on policies presented by the Staff Relations Department. Where employee representatives were present on committees, their influence was not palpably strong: . . . non-unionised but have a Staff Association and there is a consultative process rather than negotiation . . . Ultimately, if we don’t agree we can say “we’ve consulted and we are going to do it anyway” (Assistant General Manager Personnel, Assur 4).

Apart from the more structured approach to employment relations that might be expected in large companies, similar constraints towards family-friendly provisions as those noted for the non-unionised companies above were identified. In some cases the culture seemed to be rather more resistant to change. In particular, the masculine ethos was identified as especially pervasive by a number of HR specialists (see also Franks, 1999, p. 45). A second potential obstacle to change was the generally weak position of the HR function within the management hierarchy. Since they were largely seen as an advisory body for line managers, the scope for many HR specialists to engineer strategic change appeared to be limited. However, the issue of “business needs” emphasised throughout the interviews provided opportunities for the human resources staff (and occasionally the staff association) to press for family-friendly arrangements. Recruitment and retention were identified by most respondents as pressure points for offering family-friendly concessions. As with the non-union group above, this was often undertaken in a pragmatic, individualised way, without codification, with the discretion of line managers providing the principal source of concessions granted. Benchmarking and staff loss were stated as the principal catalysts for drawing attention to changing terms and conditions. Whilst enhanced voluntary family-friendly provisions were hard to find among these companies, flexible working patterns were common and, indeed, were treated by many companies as the embodiment of family-friendliness, notwithstanding their introduction primarily to serve the needs of the organisations. Unionised companies Details from seven unionised companies are available. These include four banks and three assurance/insurance companies. All were large organisations or part of major financial sector conglomerates. The recognised unions were Amicus and UNiFI and

one TUC recognised single-company union. One bank recognised both UNiFI and a rather weak staff association and for this reason is covered in this section. As with the non-union and staff association companies, recruitment and retention along with meeting business needs for service provision have provided the major stimuli for adopting family-friendly provisions. As one manager commented:

Work and life

. . . the most important reason for having family-friendly provisions is retention and attracting the best employees . . . that’s the whole business case. We’re not going to chuck money away, but if people have been invested in for training, it makes sense to try and retain them (HR Manager, Bank 4).


Again in common with the other companies, management discretion in dealing with employees and their requests was also prevalent. The differences were that in unionised companies there were joint forums established for unions to contribute to these issues. Also, at least to a modest extent, unions appeared to have made an impression with their family-friendly agendas. The entitlements introduced tended to be codified and included in staff handbooks. At Assur 1, for example, through concern for staff retention, the company established a joint working party on the grounds that “we have a very good relationship with the union . . . they don’t push for ridiculous agendas” (Staff Development Manager). Nevertheless, the company quickly established boundaries: It was essentially about flexibility. . . I don’t think people were daft enough to think that we had a huge pot of money, things like a cre`che, absolutely no. The union did not push for any of these other types of measures (Staff Development Manager, Assur 1).

Notwithstanding the presence of the union, most of the agenda was: . . . driven by HR from an employee relations standpoint although they do talk to them (unions) and allow them to throw their tuppence in and we’ll take their views and see where we’ll go from there (Staff Development Manager, Assur 1).

At Bank 4, it was made clear by the manager interviewed that “anything that is going to change substantially the way people work is bound to involve the unions”. Though when asked whether issues like home working will be negotiated the reply was less positive for the unions: “I think as a huge business case it will probably be consultative.” In other words, it would be management determined with some union input, rather than jointly determined through negotiation with the union. In summary, it appeared that unions, especially with market and legislative support, were able to raise family-friendly issues on to the agendas of consultative and other joint bodies. However, there was little evidence in this sector of formal agreements based on joint negotiations between the parties. The tendency was for unions to raise or pursue a matter and for management to respond according to its priorities. There may have been some fringe negotiations but the outcomes for establishing policies were still largely management determined. Operationalising the policies: four case studies The four case studies examined the extent of employee influence on workplace family-friendly employment policy decisions, the ways in which any influence is expressed (specifically individually or collectively) and the implications of these findings for employee influence generally. The four companies studied are called Castle

ER 29,4


Funds, Edinburgh Life, E-Bank and North Bank. Castle Funds, a fund management company, employed 213 staff. No formal representative system operated in this company though a Staff Relations Committee with nominees from each operational area had been established for communication and consultation purposes. Edinburgh Life was an established assurance company, employing 12,000 worldwide. The company had an in-house non-TUC affiliated staff association (ELSA). All staff were automatically members of ELSA and committee members were elected. E-Bank was a retail tele-bank owned by Edinburgh Life. E-Bank employed 1,200 staff, mainly in Scotland. Staff at E-Bank had the same ELSA representative arrangements as Edinburgh Life, though the two associations acted independently of one another. North Bank was a retail bank with approximately 800 branches in its network. It converted from building society status in 1997. North Bank recognised and negotiated with one TUC-affiliated, company-based union with around 80 per cent membership density. Castle funds The Staff Relations Committee (SRC) had some policy input but on the whole it exerted very little influence on decision-making. Any influence that the SRC exerted over policy tended to be informal. While issues could be brought to the attention of senior management via the SRC, the policy decision rested with the senior management group. Managers saw the SRC as a communications mechanism with senior management, with the employee nominees serving as information channels. While the employee members reported that some family-friendly provisions had been introduced through “consultation”, they also stated that suggestions made by the SRC were only sometimes taken seriously by management, depending on the issue raised. In the words of one manager, this lack of decision-making influence meant that “a lot of people see it [SRC] as a waste of time, especially if ideas keep getting knocked back”. Overall, the SRC did not appear to have had a significant impact on the family-friendliness of employees’ working lives. Policy level influence remained in the gift of senior management, while operational level influence was practically non-existent. Employee members received no family-friendly policy training from either the SRC or the company. Despite their role as information channels, only one of the three representatives interviewed was familiar with statutory family-friendly provisions. Edinburgh life Edinburgh Life shared a common ancestry with E-Bank, but both companies and their representative bodies worked independently of one another. Nevertheless, the in-house representative body at Edinburgh Life, ELSA, operated under similar terms of reference, membership structure and in a comparable corporate culture as the staff association at the bank. ELSA was supported by senior management and HR specialists, reflected in a formal partnership agreement, and at least tolerated by line managers. One possible explanation of this support may arise from the perceived lack of influence (or threat) provided by ELSA. Until recently, management was not procedurally bound to consult formally with staff representatives. One representative recalled that: They [management] used to do this sneaky thing where they would call us for an information session on something they had already made a decision on and then tell the staff that ELSA

had been consulted when we had just been informed. If it was something staff didn’t like they would be angry with ELSA but we had no say in the decision (Staff representative, Edinburgh Life).

Nevertheless, representatives and managers appreciated ELSA as a “barometer of how things will be received by the staff” and for “sharing information” as well as for articulating employee opinion before it coalesced into an “issue”. Both management and staff seemed inclined to support ELSA in preference to a trade union. Staff had been asked to vote if they wanted to keep ELSA as opposed to an external union, and in the words of one representative, the “staff wanted to keep ELSA”. However, there was little obvious enthusiasm among constituents for ELSA either. According to one representative, “at the election they were struggling to get nominations. I think it is a combination of staff not really bothered and lack of faith in ELSA.” Managers appeared happy with this quiescent relationship, described by one as “good, co-operative, but ELSA don’t achieve much. They [management] use ELSA to bounce ideas off but they don’t have a say. Consultative rather than negotiating.” Originally, senior management spearheaded ELSA, and, according to one representative, the General Manager “went through a huge exercise to promote ELSA to increase awareness”. The representative judged the relations between the company and ELSA as “very good. It’s the organisation’s baby. It invented it and gave it to staff to use.” Consequently, it was difficult to find concrete evidence that ELSA had been instrumental in improving family-friendly employment. The extended coverage of parental leave from five years to eight years was attributed to the influence of ELSA, but this “success” was scarcely commented upon by interview respondents. Some representatives cited the increase in company provision for paternity leave from three to five days as an example of ELSA’s direct influence. In the words of one representative: “I’m not sure if paternity leave was actually promoted through ELSA, but it was brought up through ELSA.” One manager, however, stated the main reason that the number of days was increased “was on the basis of managers operating their discretion”, which seems to confirm ELSA’s somewhat subsidiary role in initiating change. For this same manager, even when success could be attributed to ELSA, the link too ELSA was viewed as only partial: I don’t think things have been introduced because of ELSA. I think management would have introduced them anyway. ELSA is important for sharing information. It’s shared up-down, down-up, up to a point (Manager, Edinburgh Life).

ELSA representatives received very little training in their general responsibilities and none in dealing with family-friendly issues. Their operational role seemed limited to the occasional support of employees when disputing implementation of company policy or exercise of management discretion with their line managers. Nevertheless, these protective roles were carried out only rarely. E-bank As with Edinburgh Life, the status of the representative body at policy decision-making level at E-Bank appeared to be greater than that at Castle Funds. According to staff representatives, ELSA had the support of the Director of E-Bank, was “supported wholeheartedly by the Executive”, and Personnel was also reported to be “very pro ELSA”.

Work and life


ER 29,4


However, ELSA was valued by management principally as a communications mechanism and not in a formal decision-making role. It was used to sound out policies before broadcasting them to staff. Employee representatives saw their role as one of information sharing, communications with staff, or even to “canvass for management” in the words of one representative. Although ELSA was consulted concerning new policies, it had no official remit in decision-making. ELSA had enjoyed some successes regarding family-friendly provisions. A database of employees looking for job shares had been established on the back of an ELSA suggestion. Changes to shift patterns had been modified after consultation with ELSA, and ELSA had brought up the issue of the entitlement of partners in same-sex couples to partner’s benefits under the company pension scheme – which the company accepted as policy. However, while these successes suggested that ELSA influenced new policies, management’s view was that “a lot of the time it is things that senior management would have done anyway” (Call Centre Manager, E-Bank). This view was also recognised by the employee representatives: We can’t change very much because we’re not a union. We say how the staff are feeling and then it is up to the company whether they take it on board and what they do about it . . . it is basically a management decision, we can give feedback but it is basically up to the manager (ELSA Representative, E-Bank).

Therefore, while ELSA could raise issues with management, it had no formal influence to prevent these issues from being ignored. We do push for things that we don’t get, like childcare. We have pushed for a cre`che on the premises and they have refused, saying it is because of insurance (ELSA Rep and Call Centre Team Manager, E-Bank).

The above issues indicate that the actual influence of the employee representative body on family-friendly decision-making at E-Bank was both informal and relatively weak: management controlled the agenda. It was clear that the representatives saw their role as one where they were not to “cause waves” or to “stir up trouble”. They did not go beyond their information sharing and advisory role: A father asked me recently if he might be able to get time off to go to pre-natal classes with his wife, I phoned Personnel for him and they said he would have to strike up a deal with his manager (ELSA Rep, E-Bank).

While their informative role was emphasised, the paucity of decision-making influence exerted by ELSA at all levels meant that “nine times out of ten we can’t actually help, we can just give advice – they have to go to their managers” (ELSA Representative, E-Bank). The relatively weak impact of ELSA on policies at E-Bank might explain why one representative reported that staff were “not that bothered” about these representative arrangements. Given the consultative role earmarked for ELSA, the policy decision-making locus remained with senior management, and the operational decision-making locus with line managers. Significantly, in contrast to ELSA’s positive relations with senior management, the employee representatives and many of the line managers interviewed reported a distinctly negative atmosphere between line managers and ELSA. This impacted on the influence of the employee representative agency at the operational level of family-friendly polices.

North Bank Unlike Castle Funds and E-Bank, the independent North Bank union had a formal input and influence over decision-making at the central level and was “taken very seriously” by senior management. Yet, despite the union’s formal input at policy level, Human Resource and line managers disagreed with the union representatives about its actual level of influence over implementing policy. They maintained that the company only implemented those policies raised by the union that it would have done anyway. In the end the “company has driven most of the family-friendly provisions rather than being pushed into them by the union” (Equal Opportunities Manager, North Bank). The impression of union influence was created because the “union only succeeds where the company lets it... the company will go with the union when it suits them. The union is not as powerful as it might be” (Training Manager, North Bank). Even some employee representatives agreed with this view. One union representative reported that at national level, the company would “pretty much do everything to push what they want through”. Despite the union’s formal decision-making input at national level, the relationship between union and line managers at North Bank looked different at the operational level: “the union doesn’t have the same teeth that it does at national level” (Union Representative, North Bank). Some employee representatives reported far less positive experiences: At local level you are definitely looked on by management as an interference (Union Rep, North Bank).

At the operational end of family-friendly policy in particular, the influence of the union appeared to be significantly weaker. While at national level union decision-making input was formalised and negotiative, at local level union representatives had no decision-making role. Similar to the other case study sites, their role was to inform members of their rights as and when members came to them with problems. However, both this local level informative role and higher-level union influence over national policy was weakened by the attitude of the members who were described as both apathetic and as fearful of rocking the boat. The weakness of union influence was attributed to the membership’s unwillingness to take action: People don’t even vote. Everybody moans but when it comes down to it they won’t do anything about it (Branch manager, North Bank).

The lack of action by the membership was also attributed to a fear of confronting managers and a lack of job security among employees (and by default also among their representatives), People are scared of conflict, particularly with the managers that they work with . . . (Union Rep, North Bank). A lot of people will ask me for information and ask me not to do anything about it . . . people don’t want to rock the boat (Union Rep, North Bank).

Therefore, despite the signs of union influence at national level, issues of relative power distribution between employees, union representatives, and their managers at branch

Work and life


ER 29,4


level were having a significant impact on the operationalisation of family-friendly policies within North Bank. This unwillingness of local representatives to confront management over issues had implications for the union’s ability to represent its members effectively in the face of management resistance. Some employee representatives may have been unintentionally allowing family-friendly practice to diverge from union negotiated national policy. Even though formal family-friendly provisions at North Bank were more extensive that in either Castle Funds or E-Bank, the influence of union negotiated policies was diluted at branch level. This was the consequence of the membership’s and employee representatives’ reluctance or inability to engage in adversarial relations with management at North Bank. Discussion The study assessed the influence of different forms of organisational representation on the provision of family-friendly employment policies. It questioned whether employees’ lost voice was returning, and if so, under what conditions, and whether it was being listened to. The area of family-friendly employment is one in which all the social partners have expressed positive interest, and the overall sectoral context was favourable. Within this framework it emerged that the spread of initiatives and extent of codification were greater where independent unions were recognised. Similarly, the quality of initiatives to employees, e.g. in terms of paid leave, was higher than in companies with staff associations. There also tended to be consultative forums available to discuss family-friendly issues. In small companies without formal representation there was a spread of initiatives, but these tended to be informal and subject to the individual discretion of managers. In all these cases, however, the extent of departure from minimal statutory levels of provision was not great. Analysis of the profiled companies reveals that in all companies, irrespective of representative format, the prime impetus for management to introduce policies were business concerns, and especially concerns over recruitment and retention of scarce labour. Meeting legislative requirements was another, though less compelling factor. Managers largely interpreted family-friendliness as equalling temporally flexible work arrangements and few attempts were made by companies to extend family leave provisions beyond the legal minima laid down in the Regulations. Where unions were recognised, there was little evidence of collective bargaining to establish family-friendly arrangements, and perhaps for this reason, company representatives reported little pressure from union or staff association representatives regarding further family-friendly concessions. As with the small companies noted above, line management discretion over implementing family-friendly provisions and flexible working was prominent. Even in a unionised setting where four-fifths of employees were union members, the level of representative influence was highly circumscribed. Bearing in mind the degree to which discretion over policies was delegated to immediate line managers, lack of influence at this level is an important factor. This weakness was further compounded by the lack of training and degree of ignorance exhibited by line managers about employee leave rights offered by the Regulations (see also Bond et al., 2002). Further, little, if any training by representatives in family-friendly issues was reported by

employee representatives. It is perhaps not surprising that in none of the companies survey respondents cited employee representatives as important sources of information on family-friendly provisions (see Bond et al., 2002, p. 61). Even at wider establishment or organisational levels, the influence of union or staff association was questionable. Many managers commented that their companies only introduced those initiatives that they wanted. The consequences of this dominance can be seen in the greater incidence of flexible working approaches designed to enhance operational capability. Derived from the HR agenda of direct participation, one possibility is that individual employees were empowered to negotiate individually with their managers over work-family issues. Survey respondents in the four case studies were asked to indicate their perceived levels of involvement in decision-making in the provision and practice of family-friendly provisions and atypical working practices in the organisations. Few respondents felt that they were able to make a difference to the sorts of family-friendly arrangements introduced in their organisation. There were marginal differences between the organisations: 19 per cent of respondents at Castle Funds, 12 per cent at E-Bank and North Bank and only 8 per cent at Edinburgh Life felt they could influence family-friendly provisions. The majority of employees at Castle Funds were professionally qualified, and the culture emphasised a strong individualistic ethos to their work. The company was also faced with considerable competition for the services of these staff, so it is not surprising that a higher proportion of individual employees at Castle Funds felt able to influence policies. Over half the respondents across all organisations were of the opinion that: “I am never asked my views about family-friendly working arrangements available in the workplace”. There were no appreciable differences between organisations. Conclusions This article pursued two research questions: whether employees have a voice over work-life issues and, if so, how instrumental this voice is in helping to establish family-friendly employment policies within organisations. With regard to the first question, and echoing recent WERS analysis, it found that employees do have voice of some kind in financial sector services (Kersely et al., 2006; Gall, 2001). In larger organisations the dominant voice tends to be a collective one, expressed either through independent trade unions or by employer-supported staff associations. Typically, smaller enterprises lack collective means of expression, though there was some evidence of direct communication between individual employees and their employers. Family-friendly policies appeared to be more widespread and more deeply embedded in enterprises that recognised unions. This association of course does not a priori infer that unions have a more effective voice. The four case studies examined the influence of different arrangements for articulating employee voice in greater detail. Both management accounts and the existing family-friendly arrangements showed little indication of significant operational impact by trade unions, staff associations or individual employees. This study predates the Information and Consultation of Employees Regulations, resulting from the 2002 EU Directive. Nevertheless, the identified structural constraints suggest that this new requirement is unlikely to make a large impact in the short time it has been in place.

Work and life


ER 29,4


Several factors help to explain the apparent poverty of influence. In all four companies, line managers were offered the discretion or prerogative to apply policies according to organisational or even departmental needs. Employees and their representatives abided by this situation without challenge, suggesting an acceptance of the hegemony of “management’s right to manage” and employee tolerance of private responsibility for work-life balance. Where the union was recognised, acceptance was compounded by a general accommodative stance toward the employer and by absence of negotiation over family or domestic issues, which accords with the findings of Lindsay et al. (2005) on the variability of equal opportunities policy approaches within Scottish trade unions. Although many local reps were female, there was patchy awareness of work-life policy or legislation. Invariably, the union would be involved through consultative or informative discussions, rather than by collective bargaining. Even if union representatives had been willing to confront managers in a more assertive way, for example over the lack of uniformity of provision associated with the differential exercise of managerial discretionary powers, they were well aware (as were managers) of the overall apathy or passivity of their members. Yet despite a relatively tight labour market and management claims that work-life balance policy was prompted by recruitment and retention concerns, employees at North Bank were sensitive about “rocking the boat” and had accepted the notion of job insecurity – which ultimately supported management’s control over their working time. Without strong member support, representatives would have limited opportunities and few resources with which to pressure managers to codify or to enhance company family-friendly arrangements. A final component emerging from the case studies is that many managers (and some trade unions, see Bond et al., 2002) continue to adopt a gendered and possibly marginalised perspective of work-life issues, indicating not just a management hegemony but a broader male/cultural hegemony of the traditional breadwinner, full-time employee model which recent weak legislation and the current voluntarist approach to work-life issues has done little to alter. Though the union role was not palpably developed, levels of accommodation were higher and overall provision lower where staff associations formed the main instrument for employee voice. There were, however, instances at the small fund management company of individual employees negotiating informal arrangements with their managers to suit their individual circumstances. It should be borne in mind though, that labour at the “professional” end of the financial services sector has been in short supply, and that high proportions of these staff were highly educated, independent and assertive professionals operating in a tight labour market. In all cases, indeed, the major factor influencing employers to implement or extend family-friendly policies has not been collective or individual employee pressures but labour market conditions backed by minimal statutory requirements. The management of time is an essential workplace process over which employees, especially those with domestic responsibilities, need a measure of control in order to combat tensions between the demands of work and home. Evidence from the finance sector indicates that despite some softening of the political climate toward trade unions and a sectoral environment typified by scarcity of labour, there is little evidence that employees, whether individually or acting collectively, have been able to make any significant impressions on the work-life agendas of companies. Earlier research has indicated that long working hours, another major dimension of potential work-life

conflict, have scarcely been touched either by the Working Time Regulations or by high-profile concerns expressed in the media and elsewhere. In terms of work-life balance and family-friendly working (and indirectly, equal opportunities) the evidence suggests that the voices of employees remain firmly muted in this growing sector of the economy. References Bond, S., Hyman, J., Summers, J. and Wise, S. (2002), Family Friendly Working? Putting Policy into Practice, York Publishing Services, York. Bradley, H., Erikson, M., Stephenson, C. and Williams, S. (2000), Myths at Work, Polity Press, Cambridge. Cooper, C. (ed.) (2000), Theories of Organizational Stress, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Cully, M., Woodland, S., O’Reilly, A. and Dix, G. (1999), Britain at Work, Routledge, London. Dawson, P. (2003), Understanding Organizational Change, Sage, London. Dex, S. and Smith, C. (2002), The Nature and Pattern of Family-Friendly Employment Policies in Britain, Policy Press, Bristol. Franks, S. (1999), Having None of it: Women, Men and the Future of Work, Granta, London. Gall, G. (2001), “From adversarialism to partnership? Trade unionism and industrial relations in the banking sector in Britain”, Employee Relations, Vol. 23 No. 4, pp. 253-75. Green, F. (2001), “It’s been a hard day’s night: the concentration and intensification of work in late twentieth century Britain”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 39 No. 1, pp. 53-80. Hardy, S. and Adnett, N. (2002), “The parental leave directive: towards a family-friendly social Europe?”, European Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 8 No. 2, pp. 157-72. Heery, E. (1998), “The re-launch of the Trades Union Congress”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 36 No. 3, pp. 339-60. Hyman, J., Scholarios, D. and Baldry, C. (2005), “Getting on or getting by? Employee flexibility and coping strategies for home and work”, Work, Employment & Society, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 705-26. Hyman, J., Baldry, C., Scholarios, D. and Bunzel, D. (2003), “Work life imbalance in call centres and software development”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 41 No. 2, pp. 215-39. Kersley, B., Alpin, C., Forth, J., Bryson, A., Bewly, H., Dix, G. and Oxenbridge, S. (2006), Inside the Workplace: Findings from the 2004 Workplace Employment Relations Survey, Routledge, London. Labour Research Department (2000), Parental and Dependency Leave, Labour Research Department, London. Lindsay, C., Munro, A. and Wise, S. (2005), Scottish Trade Unions’ Approaches to Equalities: A Mapping Study, Research Report for STUC, One Workplace Project. McKay, S. (2001), “Annual Review Article, Between flexibility and regulation: rights, equality and protection at work”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 39 No. 2, pp. 285-303. Marchington, M. (2000), “Teamworking and employee involvement: terminology, evaluation and context”, in Procter, S. and Mueller, F. (Eds), Teamworking, Macmilllan, Basingstoke. Millward, N., Bryson, A. and Forth, J. (2000), All Change at Work?, Routledge, Basingstoke. Nolan, P. and Marginson, P. (1990), “Skating on thin ice? David Metcalf on trade unions and productivity”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 227-48.

Work and life


ER 29,4


Roper, I., Cunningham, I. and James, P. (2003), “Promoting family friendly policies: is the basis of the government’s ethical standpoint viable?”, Personnel Review, Vol. 32 No. 2, pp. 211-30. Taylor, R. (2001), The Future of Employment Relations, Future of Work Programme Seminar Series, Economic and Social Research Council, Swindon. Waddington, J. and Whiston, C. (1997), “Why do people join unions in a period of membership decline?”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 35 No. 4, pp. 515-46. Williams, S. (1997), “The nature of some recent trade union modernization policies in the UK”, British Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 35 No. 4, pp. 495-514. Yates, C. (2006), “Challenging misconceptions about organizing women into unions”, Gender, Work and Organisation, Vol. 13 No. 6, pp. 565-84. Further reading Bargaining Report (2002), “Parental Leave and Pay”, Bargaining Report, Vol. 227, May, pp. 7-9. About the authors Jeff Hyman is Professor of Management in the Department of Management Studies, University of Aberdeen. He can be contacted at [email protected] Juliette Summers is Lecturer in Human Resource Management in the Department Management, University of Stirling. She can be contacted at [email protected]

To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected] Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm

Work-life balance: contrasting managers and workers in an MNC

Work-life balance in an MNC

Fiona Moore Royal Holloway, University of London, London, UK


Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this article is to compare and contrast the workers and managers of an Anglo-German MNC, focusing on how each group attempts to maintain an acceptable work-life balance. Design/methodology/approach – The article is based on a two-year-long ethnographic study, including in-depth interviews, participant-observation and archival research. Findings – Although the bulk of the company’s work-life balance initiatives focus on the managers, and the managers display greater loyalty to the company, the workers are better able to achieve work-life balance. Neither group displays a more positive attitude to their work; however, the managers focus more on achieving status and the workers on personal satisfaction. Research limitations/implications – The findings challenge assertions that “flexible” working practices are good for work-life balance, that managers are better able to maintain a good work-life balance than workers, and that the development of an appropriate work-life balance policy assists in ensuring company loyalty and positive attitudes to work. Practical implications – This article suggests that flexible working may contribute to poor work-life balance, and that success may be less an issue of developing work-life balance policies and more of encouraging a healthy attitude towards work. Originality/value – This article focuses on the occupationally stratified aspects of work-life balance, comparing managers and workers within an organisation. Keywords Flexible working hours, Job satisfaction, Industrial relations, Multinational companies, United Kingdom, Germany Paper type Research paper

Introduction With the rise of studies on work-life balance, many researchers have debated whether flexible working practices have had positive or negative effects on the ability of employees to maintain a positive work-life balance. Most of these studies, however, treat organisations as a unit, without considering different effects at different levels. Through an ethnographic study of a European multinational corporation, this article compares how issues relating to work-life balance have affected managers and shop-floor workers. The extant literature on the subject of work-life balance tends to make three assumptions: (1) that workers are worse off than management when it comes to work-life balance issues; (2) that improving a company’s employees’ work-life balance leads not only to greater productivity but to greater company loyalty and job satisfaction; and (3) that work-life balance can best be maintained by programmes and initiatives taking advantage of flexible working practices.

Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 4, 2007 pp. 385-399 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0142-5455 DOI 10.1108/01425450710759217

ER 29,4


This article argues that despite the bulk of the studied company’s initiatives for maintaining good work-life balance focusing on managers, and that the managers display greater loyalty to the company, workers are in fact better able to achieve a balance between their work and other commitments. It will also consider the idea that instilling good work-life balance practices is less a matter of formal work-life balance initiatives than of encouraging healthy attitudes towards work. Before presenting a review of the literature, the following briefly outlines the scope of this study. While there is much discussion on maintaining a “good” work-life balance in the literature, it can sometimes be difficult to ascertain precisely what this means. Frame and Hartog (2003), for instance, imply that good work-life balance means that employees feel they are freely able to use flexible working hours programmes to balance their work and other commitments (family, hobbies, art, travelling, studies and so forth), rather than focusing exclusively on work. Hobson et al. (2001) define it as employees having the ability to fulfil both work and other responsibilities. For this article, “good” work-life balance is defined as a situation in which workers feel that they are capable of balancing their work and non-work commitments, and, for the most part, do so. “Culture” is also difficult to define satisfactorily; however, it is used here to refer to the norms and values of a particular group (here, the group shall be taken to mean the organisation, the wider community or the particular organisational stratum under consideration, as indicated). As this study is qualitative and “good” work-life balance is subjective, experiential criteria are used to measure work-life balance. Namely, the analysis refers to the extent to which interviewees’ indicate that they feel that they can manage their commitments to their own satisfaction, and the way in which such issues are discussed (e.g. do people boast about spending as much time as possible in the office). As individuals determine whether their work-life balance is “good”, methods that rely on individuals’ own statements about their experiences to ascertain the quality of their work-life balance can be taken as valid. Flexibility and stratification The issue of work-life balance is summed up in Hobson et al.’s (2001, p. 38) proposition that “personal and work-related problems invariably arise when individuals fail to effectively fulfil fundamental life or family responsibilities”. The study of work-life balance initially emerged in the 1970s, as a “women’s issue”, then, in the late 1980s, studies of work-life balance began to focus more on the development of effective recruitment/retention policies (Frame and Hartog, 2003). While early research considered individual psychology and motivation (e.g. Greenhaus and Beutell, 1985), for the most part the studies of the late 1980s through to the end of the 1990s focused more on policy development. Recently, research in this field has focused on benefits for the organisation. Hobson et al. (2001, p. 41), for instance, say that “critical support provided by an employer can be expected to result in heightened efforts on the part of an employee to reciprocate . . . This could be in the form of increased motivation, productivity, attendance, commitment, loyalty and so forth”. They continue in the same (perhaps overly) optimistic vein: At a time when many corporate leaders lament the demise of employee commitment, loyalty and motivation, the value of effective work/life balance programmes cannot be

underestimated . . . Such efforts clearly communicate that employees are valued as human beings. The resulting psychological bond has dramatic implications for corporate success (Hobson et al., 2001, p. 43).

Leaving aside that such statements are doubtful in terms of the lived experience of most employees, other studies have also suggested that this may be a problematic equation. Cousins and Tang’s (2004) survey of the UK, Sweden and The Netherlands, for instance, suggests that despite the fact that Sweden has the most family-friendly and gender-equal policies on work-life balance, both Swedish men and women have a harder time maintaining their work-life balance than in other countries. It thus seems that earlier studies focusing on policy and the benefits of work-life balance in terms of company loyalty ignore key issues. More recently, studies relating to work-life balance have focused on the concept of the “flexible firm” (Frame and Hartog, 2003), which can be seen as having two related meanings. The first refers to firms which use telecommunications and scheduling to allow employees to work at times and in locations which are most convenient for them (Hobson et al., 2001). The second refers to companies which enlarge and reduce workforces as needed, through using contract and temporary labour (Frame and Hartog, 2003). The possibility of being able to work at any time and in any place has been seen as opening the way up to being able to adjust one’s schedule to fit in all of one’s commitments Hobson et al. (2001) suggest while, by contrast, Frame and Hartog (2003, p. 359) criticise the new “flexible” hiring of a temporary workforce quoting Lewis and Dyer (2002, p. 304) as saying “family oriented policies often do not apply to this contingent and peripheral workforce”. However, a closer consideration suggests that this situation may not necessarily be the case: Stopper et al. (2003), for instance, imply that the fact that it is now possible to work 24/7 means that there is more pressure for employees to do so. It is thus not clear which aspects of the new flexibility of firms are a positive, and which a negative, development for the maintenance of work-life balance. While both gender and cultural diversity have been a focus of work-life balance research (see Frame and Hartog, 2003), occupational differences within organisations has received little attention. While Lambert and Haley-Lock (2004) take an “organizational stratification approach” to consider how different levels in the workplace receive benefits, they focus mainly on how workers in the lower strata of the organisation are excluded from work-life balance policies and programmes, rather than considering what they actually do in this regard. In sum, the extant literature on work-life balance indicates that the impact of flexible working, and of family-friendly policies, on work-life balance is not clearly understood, and that differences at different levels of the organisation are noted but not empirically explored: it is simply assumed that there is a positive correlation between strong work-life balance programmes and loyalty to the company. An outline of the case study Before addressing the central questions of this article, the following briefly outlines the research methods and case study. Methodology This article is based partly on participant observation fieldwork at an Anglo-German automobile factory and partly on interviews with employees. In 2003, the author spent

Work-life balance in an MNC 387

ER 29,4


three months on the line in the Final Assembly Area (usually referred to as “Assembly”) of the plant, working as a temporary employee of the firm (known officially as an “associate”) with the knowledge and permission of the management. As the study progressed, the author also informed the workers with whom she was associated of its nature (the decision not to inform them initially was made on the grounds that it might adversely affect manager-worker relations if workers misunderstood the nature of the study). Subsequently, the author spent twelve months, intermittently, working with a group of managers from the Human Resources department on two projects, one involving the development of a management education programme aimed at teaching managers how to use ethnographic techniques in their daily activities, and one aimed at assessing how the workforce felt about the plant’s management style and working on ways of improving managerial practices. The plant did not ask for confidentiality in publications; however, this article opts for partial confidentiality, disguising the identities of all interviewees and does not refer to the company by name, though the company is identifiable from secondary material. The formal interviews were conducted with 13 staff members. Ten were in white-collar managerial and/or coordination functions and three were shop floor managers. Most of the interviewees were associated with the Final Assembly Area or the HR department, but there were also four involved with Paint Shop or Body in White (the area where the unpainted car is assembled) as well. Most formal interviews were recorded; in some cases, follow-up interviews were conducted. Informal, unrecorded discussions were held with workers on the line during the period of fieldwork (about fifteen core informants), as well as with the three HR managers with whom the author worked on the two projects mentioned above. For practical reasons, formal recorded interviews with shop floor workers were not possible. Group discussion sessions were also held with eight line managers, none of who formed part of the earlier sample, with two HR managers from the above-mentioned project presiding. While qualitative methodologies have been criticised for being too anecdotal and difficult to generalise from (Chapman, 1997), they have benefits that may be useful in this situation. Qualitative methodologies are particularly useful at producing an image of the lived experience of employees of a given firm. Consequently, they are invaluable in situations where there has been a body of empirical work done on a subject, and yet some of the results produced have been anomalous or unexpected: for instance, in this case, the discrepancy between Cousins and Tang’s findings and the earlier articles emphasising the role of policy in maintaining work-life balance. An ethnographic study of both workers and managers thus allows the comparing and contrasting of their experiences of work-life balance and the impact of company policies, and, as such, this approach provides insight into how organisational or occupational-stratum culture affects work-life balance, as well as shed some light on the contradictory results of earlier studies. The factory: history, working patterns and social composition The factory under study started out as a small domestic British car manufacturer in 1912 (Newbigging et al., 1998). The plant remained more or less under the same ownership until the late 1960s. During this time, it integrated into the local town,

developing its own sports teams, volunteer fire brigades, bands, and social clubs (Bardsley and Laing, 1999; Newbigging et al., 1998). In the mid-1990s, after a period of financial difficulties, the company was sold to a German multinational manufacturing group (Scarbrough and Terry, 1996), which was the plant’s owner at the time of the study. Today, the organisation emphasises its flexibility in terms of its employment policies. Two-thirds of the shop floor workforce are employed through a temporary labour agency, with the explicit proviso that this is the section of the workforce most likely to be reduced during lean times. During periods of greater production, however, a team of workers from a Continental European factory were imported temporarily. The factory operated on a shift system of two sets of four-day weekday shifts of ten hours each; the day shift running Monday through Thursday, with Friday as a day off for all employees and the evening shift running Monday through Friday, with a rotating day off. There was also a three-day weekend shift of twelve hours each; the night shift on Fridays would start and finish two hours later than on other days of the week. The layout of the plant and its operation encourages a separation between the workers and the managers. While the workers are largely to be found in the Final Assembly building, managers, with the exception of the line managers, can be found in a series of office blocks nearby. The workers do the physical labour, while the managers write reports, make presentations, and otherwise engage in the conceptual work of the corporation. Both groups also have different relationships to the product and the firm: asked what it was that they liked about working for the company, most managers cited “pride in the product and the company’s good reputation”, while workers cited “good wages and good relationships”. This finding was borne out by responses given by both groups in a 2002 plant-wide employee survey. Geography and attitude to the company thus divide workers and managers. The two groups are also, however, divided in other ways. The managers of the plant are for the most part White, either British or German and to be about 70 per cent male to 30 per cent female. The workers, however, are somewhat different. At the time of fieldwork, the ethnic composition of employees in Assembly, according to the company’s own statistics, was slightly over two-thirds White, with the remaining third being approximately evenly divided between British Black/Afro-Caribbean and Asian associates; the gender ratio was slightly over 90 per cent male. The discrepancy between managers and workers in terms of gender ratio can be explained by the fact that, in British society, work in an automobile factory is considered a masculine occupation (many colleagues expressed surprise when they heard about the fieldwork location, asking if the author found it physically difficult and/or faced hostility from male associates, neither of which were the case), whereas, although male-dominated, managerial work is considered more suitable for both genders. While ethnic diversity was not seen as an issue, the management of the plant were concerned about gender issues and, in particular, in increasing the number of women workers. The disparity is easily explained by the fact that gender and, in particular, the perceived need to manage work-life balance so that women can form a greater part of the labour force, had been the subject of a number of initiatives by the British government at the time (see BBCi, 2003). Furthermore, managers were largely unaware of ethnic diversity

Work-life balance in an MNC 389

ER 29,4

issues in the organisation, particularly as they related to the shop-floor workforce (discussed in detail in Moore, 2007). The plant thus maintained a flexible workforce, in which the workers and managers are divided in key aspects. The issue examined here is whether it is the managers or the workers who benefit the most from the firm’s work-life balance policies, and which group is better able to maintain an acceptable work-life balance.

390 The maintenance of work-life balance: policy and practice This section considers the way in which both managers and workers were treated by the firm in terms of work-life balance policies and practices. It will then analyse which group best indicated that they were able to balance their commitments both at and outside the workplace. Managers While the managers of the firm benefited strongly from the firm’s work-life balance policies, they also found it very difficult to maintain an appropriate work-life balance in practice, due to the macho, long-hours norms of British managerial culture, coupled with a rivalry between the British and the Germans. In the company, there were a number of policies and programmes in place to encourage managers to maintain a good balance between work and personal commitments. Initiatives already introduced included a cre`che and flexible working hours; initiatives under consideration included working longer shifts and taking an extra day off per week with the hours made up, and a “Wheel of Life” development exercise, in which managers would grade their different commitments on a wheel. At the time of the study, a working group had been set up to address the issue of work-life balance. The managers are thus well served by the firm’s work-life balance policies. Nevertheless, managers in the HR department admitted that the company was in much the same situation as that described by Frame and Hartog: The long hours culture [sic] of British industry is associated with employees’ commitment to productivity . . . Time is seen as a commodity; those who give more of their time are more likely to be valued than those who work fewer hours, and are perceived to be both less productive and less committed (Frame and Hartog, 2003, p. 360).

HR specialists at the company said that there was competition between managers in terms of how many hours each worked. One, Linda, said, “when people are on holiday they want to be called up, it makes them feel indispensable”. The biggest problem faced by the work-life balance working group, according to her, was how to keep people “from thinking this is just about fun”; the group was referred to as “lifestyle management” rather than “work-life balance” in order to avoid these perceptions. In order to have the work-life balance programmes accepted, furthermore, they had to be couched in macho terms. Linda said “It’s about recognising that every now and again you need to walk away, even though it hurts you”. The way work-life balance initiatives were pitched meant it was debatable whether the underlying problem will be addressed by these programmes. The problem was exacerbated by the managerial stratum’s Anglo-German ethnic makeup. Differences in attitudes to time had become something of a flashpoint: whereas earlier studies in banks suggested that the Germans tended to be better able

than their British colleagues to maintain good work-life balance (Moore, 2005), here there seemed to be competition between the groups as to who could work the longest. This may in part have been related to cultural differences (one HR manager, Rick, remarked that where the British will work longer hours during the week if it means they can leave early on Fridays, the Germans view this pattern of working late on weekdays and taking Friday afternoon off as unacceptable, meaning that both groups regarded each other as “lazy”). However, it also seemed to be a development of tensions between the two groups elsewhere in the organisation, independent of national culture. The work-life balance issue was thus exacerbated by the divisions within management. Although there are a number of policies in place and in development to encourage the managers to maintain a better work-life balance, their long-hours norms and internal rivalries were such that the initiatives have met with little success. Flexible working has thus made for more, rather than fewer, problems in maintaining managers’ work-life balance. Workers Among the shop-floor workers, however, the situation was the opposite. While few of the firm’s work-life balance policies applied in practice to this group of the workforce, they were better able to maintain a good work-life balance than the managers because of the use of the shift system, and, in the final analysis, through selecting their jobs to fit their lifestyles. There were few official policies in place regarding the maintenance of work-life balance that applied to the shop-floor workers. The main policy was one allowing certain people to work on a permanent day-shift instead of alternating day and night shifts as most workers did (which was uncommon, and those who had made such an arrangement were open to accusations of malingering). Although the cre`che was ostensibly for the use of all employees, the fact that it opened half an hour after the first shift started meant that it was not of much use to shop-floor workers. The expression “work-life balance” was seldom heard on the line. The largely temporary work force were the focus of almost no formal policies aimed at improving their work-life balance. On an informal level, however, the situation was different. The workers were quite adept at improvising and developing their own means of maintaining a work-life balance, even if this occasionally came into conflict with the aims of the managers. For instance, an unofficial prayer room had been set up for Muslim employees. Furthermore, the author was told (and, on one occasion, witnessed) that employees who were unable to get official time off to participate in personal activities would simply fail to turn up for work; while too many such absences would result in disciplining, they were tolerated to a limited extent. Although the making of money was a key value of the assembly line culture, people were not penalised for refusing to work longer than necessary: on one occasion the line manager asked if the author would work on her day off, for overtime pay, and, when the author refused, the only negative response was one colleague, Oksana, saying later that she thought it was foolish to turn down “big money like that” (and even then, she ceased arguing when the author explained she had personal commitments). On the shop floor, then, there was little of the pressure to work the overtime experienced by managers.

Work-life balance in an MNC 391

ER 29,4


The maintenance of work-life balance came particularly into play, however, in terms of people’s choice of work. After wages, one of the main reasons people cited for working at the plant was that, as the shift structure allowed one an extra day off a week than is usual in factories in the region, they were able to spend more time with their children. Some, including Oksana, chose to work a permanent nightshift so as to be able to take care of their children or grandchildren in the afternoons, admitting as such during conversations on the line. Another woman elsewhere on the line, talked about caring for her grandchildren during her time off work while her daughter worked at another job, fitting both of their job patterns around their childcare needs. The weekend shift, which had longer hours than the weekday ones but only lasted three days, was also said to be popular with workers who had family commitments: as one HR manager, Steve, put it, “There’s not a lot of difference between a ten and a twelve hour day, and most people would rather work extra hours and get an extra day off.” He also mentioned that, for two-income families, “one partner can work all week, the other at weekends, and they get their evenings together.” Many shop-floor staff thus maintain their work-life balance through making personal choices about the sort of shift pattern that they chose within the organisation. Furthermore, the choice to take or leave a job at this plant also can be seen as a form of work-life balance maintenance. Cases of people leaving their jobs because of conflict with family commitment were often reported: one shop-floor supervisor, Michael, said, referring to working the Friday night shift, “you get people who’ve been divorced . . . if it’s Saturday access, and it’s your only day with your kids . . . and I know a few lads left because of it”. This can also be inferred from the fact that the bulk of female workers were either under 25 or over 45 years of age, suggesting a lifestyle pattern involving working at the factory until becoming pregnant for the first time, leaving in favour of no or a more childcare-friendly job until the children are old enough to take care of themselves, then returning. One woman in her sixties remarked, “It’s good to have a job you can do once the children are older.” The workers thus treated work at the factory as something that could, and should, be fitted around one’s other commitments. There were also a number of people on the line who said they were only working at the factory for a brief period, intending to leave when circumstances changed: students working during their summer vacation, ex-refugees, artists going through a lean period, housewives wanting to make “Christmas present money” and so forth. A typical example was one member of the author’s assembly-line team, David, who had a freelance job in the visual arts, and who stated that he was working at the factory only until his partner, then unemployed, found a steady job in her field so that the couple would have a regular income. When the author revisited the line briefly a year after the study, she was asked by a number of people if she would be coming back for a few months, as they were used to the idea of postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers doing periodic stints at the factory, leaving when an academic post was obtained, and returning when the grant or contract expired. Working temporary contracts could thus be seen as a way of maintaining work-life balance over time and was treated as such by the workers in their descriptions of their lifestyle. Work-life balance is thus no less a priority for workers than it is for managers, though workers find themselves with far less official support from the organisation in their efforts to maintain this balance. However, to judge by their descriptions of their lifestyles, the workers do better than the managers in terms of maintaining a positive

work-life balance through arranging their choice of jobs, and even their choice of employer, around their outside commitments. Job satisfaction and company loyalty This section analyses whether the maintenance of a good work-life balance (in the opinions of the employees) does encourage company loyalty and the development of positive attitudes to work among employees, with a view to further exploring the veracity of claims which are frequently made in the literature about work-life balance. Managers Despite the earlier works asserting that work-life balance leads to strong company loyalty and positive feelings about their jobs (Stopper et al., 2003; Hobson et al., 2001), the managers displayed more company loyalty, in the conventional sense, than did the workers, despite their relative lack of success in terms of maintaining a work-life balance which they considered good. Most of the managers interviewed were planning a long-term career with the company; some managers had been with the firm, despite the changes in ownership, for 20 years and others, while they might have moved around to different operations within the group, nonetheless remained with the same company. By contrast the workers would generally leave the firm if they found that their needs were not being met. The usual response from managers who felt they were not being well treated by the company was to try and address the problem within the company itself. The general attitude among the managers seemed to be that, if one gave time and effort to the company, the company – or, at any rate, one’s peers and superiors – would reward that time and effort. This expectation resonates with Spinks’ (2004, p. 6) observation that the main problem with encouraging staff to maintain work-life balance is persuading middle management (who are traditionally the most focused on career mobility) to develop good work-life balance habits (ironically, one of the managers in charge of the case study company’s work-life balance programme complained that, having been elevated to this position, she was finding it very difficult to set an example). Managers’ loyalty to the company thus did not seem to be dependent on the presence or absence of flexible working or work-life balance programmes but to be an underlying value of self-sacrificing loyalty to the organisation – a situation which is actually working against the development of good work-life balance practices in the company. In terms of their attitudes to work, managers tended to express ambivalence. As mentioned above, managers highlighted prestige-related aspects when describing what they liked about the company, rather than relationships: pride at working for an internationally recognised multinational company rather than finding the work personally fulfilling. Managers talked often about “being excited” about a particular project with which they were involved but, again, the focus was on the prestige and innovation of the work and its potential benefit to the company (with the managers receiving reflected glory) rather than on the work itself. It is also significant that the HR managers were only able to get their work-life balance programme accepted to any degree when it was framed in terms of making sacrifices, not for oneself or one’s family, but for the company. The self-sacrificing ethos of the managers thus persisted in terms of their criteria for, and attitude to, work; their attitude was ambivalent rather

Work-life balance in an MNC 393

ER 29,4


than unreservedly positive or negative, and focused on the achievement of status rather than personal fulfilment. Workers Among the workers, company loyalty was more strongly related to lifestyle choice, and the role the factory plays in this lifestyle. Typically, workers joined the company looking for a permanent job; if they were satisfied with the conditions and the atmosphere, they planned to remain with the company until they retired or were made redundant. They had few career ambitions involving the company; their goal was simply to be offered a permanent contract, and few progressed beyond this situation, nor indeed wanted to. Another significant share of the workforce joined the company with the deliberate intention of leaving after a particular period, which is more or less firmly defined, depending on the individual. Some workers, as noted above, returned on a periodic basis as their lifestyle permitted. Finally, some workers joined the company without a clear idea of how long they would stay or with the intention of taking the job on a trial basis and continuing with it “if it works out”. In all cases the workers were less focused on promotion and the achievement of high status within the organisation than the managers. Line managers were often viewed with suspicion by the workers, promotion to this level was considered a poisoned chalice, and few further promotion opportunities existed for workers. Rather, prestige on the line was usually obtained less through promotion than through the ability to learn and do a number of different processes. Among the workers, then, while some displayed what might be termed “company loyalty”, they did so only because it suited their personal plans, not because they possessed a psychological contract with their employer. The workers were less focused on promotion and the achievement of high status within the organisation than the managers. Often the company reinforced the impression of workers as an expedient group, as the following excerpt from the author’s field notes indicate: I arrive for my assessment and interview fifteen minutes early. It is a cloudy and cool day. The candidates gather in the reception area until being ordered to stand out on the tarmac to await collection by the representative of [temporary labour agency]. When the representative arrives, the candidates are led on a long trek to the [temporary labour agency] offices where we are then told that the lift is not working (we are not told that the lift on the other side of the building is operational). We are ushered into a large, spare room which does not appear to have been redecorated or refurnished in some time, where we are told that the heater does not work.

Workers frequently complained that they felt like “the company doesn’t care about you”, and, while they were not in general discontented, the opinion usually expressed was that the company was a good place to work because of the high wages and pleasant co-workers rather than because of a positive relationship with the company as a whole. Company loyalty did exist for workers however, but on an entirely different level. The presence of the factory in the area for over 90 years meant that people, even if they did not actually work there, viewed it as “our factory”. The public outcry at times when it seemed as if the factory was going to close was notable. The reason why one particular previous owner was singled out for special scorn in older workers’ reminiscences was because “they didn’t care about the plant, they just wanted to sell

off the land”. There was also an expectation that the company should “give things back to the people”, through maintaining a philanthropic presence. It is thus not so much that workers lack company loyalty, that loyalty was socialised rather than personalised: “if the company gives to us and to our community, then we will give our labour to the company, but if they do not hold up their end of the bargain, we will move elsewhere”. This situation, as with the managers, impacts on the workers’ ability to maintain a good work-life balance. As childcare and family commitments are a priority for the workers, they feel that the company should respect these commitments. Additionally, their reciprocal attitude towards the company meant that the workers felt few qualms about leaving, temporarily or for a long time, if it suited them. As the company did not expend much effort on them, they did not feel pressure to stay and sacrifice their time. Although they were able to maintain a better work-life balance than managers, the workers did not necessarily have a more positive attitude to their work or their employer. If a worker had a problem (a difficult relationship with their line manager for instance), they would generally ignore the situation until it became too difficult for them to work, at which point they would quit their job and look for another, whereas managers were more inclined to try to find solutions within the company. While it is thus true to say that, for the workers, the ability to maintain a good work-life balance did give them a positive attitude to work, the correlation was at the individual than the organisational level. In sum, both workers and managers displayed company loyalty and job satisfaction, regardless of the work-life balance situation. However, work-life balance did make a difference in terms of the criteria for, and expression of, this loyalty and positive attitude: the group with the good work-life balance tending to express generalised loyalty and a reciprocal attitude to their employer; the group with the poor work-life balance focusing on self-sacrifice and the achievement of prestige through their status as conditions for loyalty and job satisfaction. Analysis: the balancing act The situation at the company with regard to work-life balance appears at first paradoxical. The managers, on whom the bulk of work-life balance policies and programmes were targeted lavished, and who display the strongest company loyalty (in the conventional sense), are, in fact, the least able to maintain a good work-life balance. By contrast, the workers, who were largely left to their own devices and had no qualms about leaving the company if the work did not suit them, had fewer problems in this regard. Furthermore, while both groups achieved satisfaction through their work, their criteria for doing so differed strongly, with work-life balance mattering more to the workers than the managers as a necessary condition for job satisfaction. These findings support earlier psychological studies of work-life balance. Greenhaus and Beutell (1983, p. 83) stress the notion of role salience, noting particularly, that “as a person’s career subidentity grows, he or she becomes more ego-involved in the role and may exhibit higher levels of motivation”. They also recall Cousins and Tang’s (2004) findings that imply that the more a company works to ensure staff loyalty through instigating work-life balance programmes and family-friendly policies, the more motivation there is for workers to feel as if they

Work-life balance in an MNC 395

ER 29,4


“owe something” in return to the company. The above presented findings confirm that the employee’s personality and connection s/he feels to the company are key in maintaining a good work-life balance; however, it underlines that a level of detachment from the company may be a very important factor in maintaining good work-life balance. Furthermore, the ability to maintain a good work-life balance did not necessarily affect attitude to work and job satisfaction. Both workers and managers appeared to express more or less the same amount of satisfaction with their jobs and with the company in their interviews and conversations despite the fact that the workers were able to maintain a better work-life balance than the managers. The key difference appeared to be that the managers were, in fact, obtaining job satisfaction from their poor work-life balance, in that they felt it marked them out as “indispensable” to the company which is a “key player” in the industry. By contrast, the workers’ level of job satisfaction was predicated on their ability to maintain a good work-life balance, and, if these conditions were not met, they would leave. This finding would suggest that attitude to one’s job affects one’s ability to maintain a good work-life-balance rather than vice-versa. It is possible, however, that this finding may be an outcome of particular circumstances. The company under study was situated in a locality where there was a wide range of unskilled jobs potentially available to workers, and the study took place during a period of relative economic prosperity for the UK a whole. It may thus be the case that this economic profile fuels a situation in which the workers are better able to organise their work-life balance than the managers. However, it should be pointed out that the managers had, if anything, more freedom to adjust their working situation to their liking, due to their skill level and occupational position, and yet, they did far worse on this score than the much more vulnerable workers. This study thus indicates that it is at the very least possible for subordinate groups with relatively limited employment choices to construct a better work-life balance situation than superordinate groups who have been given every possible support by their employers. This situation, furthermore, does not appear to be simply a case of difference between blue- and white-collar workers. Research in UK branches of German banks revealed that there was a number of local (mainly British) staff who treated their jobs in much the same way that the shop-floor workers in the research reported here treated theirs: they would take a job, then leave to raise children, then come back to work on temporary contracts once the children were in school. Other staff would work in banking only until they had enough money to pursue the less lucrative career that they truly wanted (see also Courtney and Thompson, 1996). This difference in work-life balance maintenance is thus not just one between workers and managers. Furthermore, the firm’s integration into the local community appeared to be crucial to the situation. The workers, regardless of whether they were actually working for the company at the time or not, felt a diffuse loyalty which appeared to make for closer relations with the company in the long rather than the short-term of the self-sacrificing loyalty of the managers, for whom such sacrifice eventually led to “burnout” in many cases. It would also appear that, if people want to maintain a good work-life balance, the best way is not to instigate policies and programmes but to encourage a different attitude towards the company, one focused on more reciprocal social arrangements and less on promotion, hierarchy and self-sacrificing work patterns. The key to achieving a

good work-life balance may therefore be that company policies should focus less on formal work-life balance programmes, and more on achieving integration with the community and fostering a sense of respect between employees at different levels. The other key finding of this study relates to the impact of flexible working programmes on work-life balance. The general result seems to have been that whether this is a good or a bad thing for employees depends very much on the circumstances of the individual. One contributing factor to the situation, for instance, might be the fact that the workers are employed for set hours – beyond which they are paid overtime – whereas, with the managers being increasingly encouraged to work flexibly, there are fewer firm social boundaries between work and personal time. Furthermore, while both workers and managers experienced ethnic diversity in the workplace, the fact that this was very much focused around a divisive rivalry between English and German staff for the managers played into the problems they had in maintaining an appropriate work-life balance, where the more varied nature of diversity on the line meant that binary divisions were less likely to occur. Flexible working programmes thus may not necessarily be the best way to encourage employees to maintain a good work-life balance and may indeed achieve the opposite result. It is thus worth examining how companies’ flexible working programmes are used in practice and considering whether, in fact, a system of set hours might not be more conducive to maintaining a good work-life balance in some cases. Conclusion The main conclusions of this article are three-fold. First, the findings imply that studies of work-life balance in (multinational) corporations need to focus less on work-life balance policies, and more on the implications of other areas of corporate policy for the lifestyles of employees at different levels of the organisation. This study clearly demonstrates that two different groups in the studied company – workers and managers – have quite different issues and needs when it comes to work-life balance. Nor is it necessarily true that the lack of formal policies aimed at workers means that they lose out in work-life balance terms. Paradoxically, it might thus be that a company can best encourage good work-life balance practices among their workers by not establishing work-life balance provisions and focusing instead on other areas of policy which contribute to the relationship between workers, community and company. The second key finding is that the issue of company loyalty, job satisfaction and work-life balance is more complex than it might seem at first, when seen in terms of worker-manager contrast. Initially, it seemed that in the case of the managers, company loyalty was incompatible with the maintenance of work-life balance. Further investigation suggested, however, that while the workers were not less loyal to the company than the managers, this loyalty took a more diffuse form. Furthermore, there was no real correlation between job satisfaction and ability to maintain a good work-life balance. Rather than focusing on work-life balance in and of itself, then, this study suggests that companies should view work-life balance as a factor of other aspects of the company’s relationship to its workers and community, and work on developing its connections to internal and external stakeholders (see also Frederick, 1998). This case study comparison of managers and workers in a particular Anglo-German MNC suggests that, first, company loyalty and the existence of

Work-life balance in an MNC 397

ER 29,4


formal work-life balance programmes might actually have a deleterious effect on work-life balance maintenance; second, that whether flexible working practices have a positive or negative influence on work-life balance depends on the circumstances of the individual; and finally, that, if companies are serious about encouraging good work-life balance among their employees, the best tactic might be to focus on a long-term programme of reciprocal relations with the local community rather than on short-term practices aimed at the retention of specific staff. References Bardsley, G. and Laing, S. (1999), Making Cars at Cowley: from Morris to Rover, British Motor Industry Heritage Trust, Stroud. BBCi (2003), “Women work longer hours”, 10 October, available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/ business/3178554.stm Chapman, M. (1997), “Preface: social anthropology, business studies and cultural issues”, International Studies of Management and Organization, Vol. 26 No. 4, pp. 3-29. Courtney, C. and Thompson, P. (1996), City Lives, Methuen, London. Cousins, C.R. and Tang, N. (2004), “Working time and family conflict in the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 531-49. Frame, P. and Hartog, M. (2003), “From rhetoric to reality. Into the swamp of ethical practice: implementing work-life balance”, Business Ethics: A European Review, Vol. 12 No. 4, pp. 358-67. Frederick, W.C. (1998), “Creatures, corporations, communities, chaos, complexity”, Business and Society, Vol. 37 No. 4, pp. 358-89. Greenhaus, J.H. and Beutell, N.J. (1985), “Sources of conflict between work and family roles”, Academy of Management Review, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 76-88. Hobson, C.J., Delunas, L. and Kesic, D. (2001), “Compelling evidence of the need for corporate work-life balance initiatives: results from a national survey of stressful life-events”, Journal of Employment Counselling, Vol. 38 No. 1, pp. 38-44. Lewis, S. and Dyer, J. (2002), “Towards a culture for work life integration”, in Cooper, L. and Burke, R.J. (Eds), The New World of Work, Blackwell, Oxford, pp. 302-16. Lambert, S.J. and Haley-Lock, A. (2004), “The organizational stratification of opportunities for work-life balance”, Community, Work and Family, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 179-96. Moore, F. (2005), Transnational Business Cultures: Life and Work in an MNC, Ashgate, Aldershot. Moore, F. (2007), “What women really want: gender, ethnicity and job expectations on an automobile factory assembly line”, in Okeley, J. (Ed.), Identity and Networks, Berghahn, Oxford. Newbigging, C., Shatford, S. and Williams, T. (1998), The Changing Faces of Cowley Works, Robert Boyd Publications, Witney. Scarbrough, H. and Terry, M. (1996), Industrial relations and the reorganization of production in the UK Motor vehicle industry: a study of the Rover Group, Warwick Papers in Industrial Relations 58, University of Warwick, Coventry. Spinks, N. (2004), “Work-life balance: achievable goal or pipe dream?”, Journal for Quality and Participation, Vol. 27 No. 3, pp. 4-11. Stopper, W.G., Ezzedeen, S.R., Swiercz, P.M., Philip, R., Conner, J. and Plasman, J. (2003), “Current practices”, Human Resource Planning, Vol. 26 No. 3, pp. 5-14.

Further reading Economist (1998), “The ties that bind”, Economist, 9 May, pp. 5-8. About the author Fiona Moore is Lecturer in International Human Resource Management at Royal Holloway. She gained her doctorate from Oxford University. She now researches German businesspeople in the City of London and Frankfurt, managers and workers in German and British car plants, and Korean expatriates in the UK She can be contacted at [email protected]

To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected] Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints

Work-life balance in an MNC 399

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm

ER 29,4

Employee availability for work and family: three Swedish case studies


Ann Bergman Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden, and

Jean Gardiner Leeds University Business School, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this article is to explore the concept of availability, both empirically and theoretically, in the context of three Swedish organisations, and identifies the structural influences on availability patterns for work and family. Design/methodology/approach – The article is based on quantitative case studies using employer records and an employee questionnaire in three organisations. Multivariate descriptive statistics and multivariate logistic regression are used to illustrate and analyse patterns of availability for work and family. Findings – The descriptive data demonstrate the influence of the organisational context and type of production process, as well as gender, on availability patterns. Patterns of work availability appeared to differ across the organisations to a greater extent than patterns of family availability, which were highly gendered. The logistic regression results indicated that: occupation was a significant influence on both temporal and spatial availability patterns across the organisations; gender was the most significant influence on time spent on household work and part-time working for parents with young children; age of employees and age of employees’ children were the most significant factors influencing the use of time off work for family. Research limitations/implications – Analysis limited to case studies. More extensive quantitative research would be needed to make empirical generalisations. Qualitative research would be needed to establish whether and how employees are able to make use of different availability patterns to improve their work-life balance. Originality/value – The concept of availability is a new way of trying to capture and analyse tensions in people’s everyday lives as they try to manage multiple demands. Keywords Family, Gender, Jobs, Hours of work, Sweden Paper type Research paper

Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 4, 2007 pp. 400-414 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0142-5455 DOI 10.1108/01425450710759226

Introduction This article draws on empirical findings from three case study organisations in Sweden to argue that the concept of availability, both temporal and spatial, can contribute to developing an analytical framework for comparative work-life balance research across different organisational and institutional settings. The article explores the different patterns of availability for work and family amongst employees in a mill, a bank and a college and identifies the influence of gender, occupation, parental responsibilities and organisational context on these patterns. The first section introduces the concept of availability and suggests why this concept offers a potential analytical framework for exploring work-life balance issues from an employee perspective. The second section provides an overview of general

patterns of availability for work and family in Sweden. The research methods are then presented. The data analysis is presented in five sub-sections. The first three of these sub-sections in turn present the findings from the three case study organisations. The fourth sub-section discusses the differences and similarities in the findings from the three organisations. The fifth sub-section summarises some multivariate logistic regression results, highlighting structural influences on availability patterns. The final section of the article provides a conclusion and suggestions for future directions for work-life balance research. “Availability” and work-life balance Work-life balance practices may be conceptualised as actions and structural arrangements that address the competing demands experienced by individuals arising from working life and life outside work. To be available is to be accessible in time and space and responsive to the needs and wants of others, for example one’s employer or family. Availability is both a disposition and a capacity, emphasising both structural conditioning and action. It therefore has the advantage of connecting structure and agency without merging them together or giving priority to one over the other (Bhaskar, 1978; Sayer, 2000). It is actors, not structures, that are available, but the interplay of material and normative structures condition the way actors’ availability is manifested. Availability is also a relational concept that highlights the distinction between being available to meet the needs of another/others and claiming another’s/others’ availability. Here we are not concerned with the motives and intentions related to different availability practices, such as working part-time or overtime hours, but rather with how different factors such as organisational context, occupation and gender influence the take-up of these practices, hence the main aim in this article is to identify the key structural influences which provide a context for individual action. The concept of work-life balance is grounded in discourses of choice and flexibility (Smithson and Stokoe, 2005; Hogarth et al., 2000) that became predominant in Europe from the 1990s, replacing earlier political discourses of equal opportunities and family-friendly policies. The change within the political discourse reflects a more individualistic and gender neutral framework for analysis and policy in which structural inequalities and durable power relations are easily submerged, with the focus shifting instead to individual difficulties in reconciling work and family commitments. Both employment relations and gender relations tend to be hidden in the discourse on work-life balance. The focus is rather on seeking equilibrium between two apparently separate and equal entities: work and family or work and “life”, which can be combined harmoniously. By using the concept of availability, it is possible to highlight the asymmetry in the social relations of employment and the family. Employment can be conceived as the purchase of a certain share of workers’ availability, which is then used in different ways and under different conditions. The concept here has parallels with the Marxist concept of labour power. Likewise in families there are more or less explicit demands and claims for availability in order that different tasks can be done and needs met. Within the family, one partner’s availability may liberate the other partner from household and care work, thus increasing their availability for employment (Jonasdottı´r, 1994). Whilst availability refers to human capacity and potential,

Employee availability


ER 29,4


work-life balance can be understood as a preferred outcome in which multiple demands from work, family and other spheres of life are met. Work-life balance is therefore a normative concept in comparison with the more analytical concept of availability. Availability can also be distinguished from flexibility. Flexibility implies variability, with adaptation to changing circumstances, either internal or external to the organisation, and therefore change, in some state or capacity (Jonsson, 2006). Whereas availability is not necessarily related to change and variation in time, it is rather a disposition or a capacity among actors that can be continuous or take different manifest forms depending on the situation. Flexibility requires availability and is one way that availability can appear in certain structural contexts. This article does however follow the typical focus of work-life balance research and policy by examining the inter-relationships between work and family (though we do recognise that there are other important work-life balance issues, for example those affecting older workers in transitions to retirement, see Gardiner et al. (2007)). Policy-makers have tended to focus on flexibility in working time arrangements as the solution to work-life imbalance for families with young children (DTI, 2003), implicitly adopting a mutual gains philosophy (Tailby et al., 2005). However the tensions between business imperatives for temporal flexibility to meet service demands on the one hand and family-friendly flexibility on the other are well established in the research literature (Hyman et al., 2005). Tailby et al. (2005) have highlighted the co-existence of work-life balance policies and work intensification within the workplace. Flexibility is also a relational concept and Jonsson (2006) makes a distinction between “being flexible” and “having flexibility”. Because of the asymmetrical power relation between the employer and the employee, it is typically the employer who has flexibility whilst the employee has to be flexible in relation to organisational needs. Here, Fleetwood’s (2007) notions of employer-friendly and employee-friendly flexibility are relevant, with flexibility that can be positive or negative for each party. Flexible working practices may enable or limit work-life balance. The needs of the business, not the needs of the family, tend to be the determining factor. Therefore the demands emanating from employment tend to set the rules for what is possible or preferable in other spheres. In other words “balance” tends to be about balancing practices within the private sphere in relation to work, rather than the reverse (Lewis and Lewis, 1996). The demands emanating from the family are less visible. Coser (1974) suggested that the workplace and the family should both be seen as greedy institutions, each grasping for people’s time, presence and commitment. Here the relationship between work and family is seen as a conflictual rather than a symmetrical, potentially harmonious relationship (Guest and Conway, 2002). Much of the research on work-life balance undertaken from an employment relations perspective has adopted case study methodology applied to a specific workplace. There have been relatively few comparative studies of different organisations. A comparative study using qualitative interview-based research methods was conducted by Charles and James (2005) of three workplaces in South Wales (manufacturing, retail and public sector organisations). Charles and James’ research focused on employees’ perceptions of gender roles, job insecurity and work-life balance. It explored the relationship between gender, perceptions of work-life balance and different working time arrangements and family-friendly policies in the three organisations. This article is also based on comparative research, though of three

different organisations in a region of Sweden. However, it takes a rather different approach by addressing the interplay between variations in availability patterns, gender, occupation and nature of work processes, and employing a quantitative research methodology. Patterns of availability for work and family in Sweden Equal opportunities policy in Sweden is directed towards women’s and men’s availability patterns for family and work. The measures adopted have encouraged women’s availability for employment on the same conditions as men but have also attempted to increase men’s availability for the family, mainly through increased paternal leave (Bekkengen, 2002). The Swedish welfare state has been characterized as an individual earner career model requiring both women and men to provide financial support and care for children and the home (Esping-Andersen, 1990). In practice, there are still gendered patterns, especially in relation to the family. Hence in Sweden both women and men have a strong connection to employment and the demands and rewards emanating from it. A high percentage of women were employed in 2005 (80 per cent) compared with 86 per cent of men. However, a much higher percentage of women work part-time (65 per cent) compared to men (11 per cent). Parents with children aged eight years or younger have a legal right to reduce their working hours by 25 per cent; though take-up is far more usual amongst women than men (SCB, 2006). Women also do more unpaid household work then men in Sweden. However women’s unpaid work hours decreased between 1990 and 2005, while the time spent by men on unpaid work was stable. Hence, the gender difference in time availability for family was reduced, not because men were spending more time on household work but because women were spending less time. During the same period, time spent on paid work decreased for men but was stable for women (SCB, 2006). It seems that women’s availability for the family decreased, whilst their availability for paid work was stable and that men experienced the opposite pattern. It has been argued that the male breadwinner model is declining in favour of the adult worker family model of full-time paid work for both women and men, and equal participation in household tasks (Duncan et al., 2003). However, even in gender-egalitarian welfare regimes such as Sweden, women still have the main responsibility for family availability (Bjo¨rnberg, 2002; Duncan et al., 2003; Gustafson, 2006). The Swedish labour market also has a high level of horizontal and vertical gender segregation. Women and men work in different sectors, occupations and hierarchical levels. Fifty-two per cent of women work in the public sector and 48 per cent in the private, while 81 per cent of the men work in the private sector and 19 per cent in the public sector (SCB, 2006). Amongst the thirty largest occupations in Sweden, only five have a balanced proportion of women and men – defined as within a 60/40 percentage ratio. Regarding vertical segregation patterns, the managerial levels in the private sector are male-dominated (78 per cent of these occupations are held by men and 22 per cent by women). However, in the public sector 56 per cent of managerial positions are held by women and only 44 per cent by men (SCB, 2006). The case studies discussed in this article are within manufacturing (which is a male-dominated sector), finance (which has a balanced gender ratio), and education and

Employee availability


ER 29,4


research (which is female-dominated). The remainder of the article focuses on how patterns of availability manifest themselves among female and male employees at an organisational level. The next two sections describe the research design and present the findings. Research methods The data presented in this article originates from a quantitative study of three organisations in Va¨rmland, a province in central Sweden, conducted in 1997 for another research project (Bergman, 2004). Whilst that research did not focus on work-life balance issues per se, some of the material is relevant to debates on work-life balance and, in particular, the relevance of the concept of availability. Further data analysis, using this concept, was then conducted giving rise to the research findings reported here. The three organisations studied were a paper and pulp mill, a bank and a university college. The data-set came from two sources: employer records and a questionnaire sent to all employees (sample number ¼ 2192), excluding hourly paid employees. Employer records were available for all employees. The questionnaire response rate was 72 per cent for the Mill, 84 per cent for the Bank and 78 per cent for the College. The employer records provided data for each employee on job, hierarchical position, age, gender, type of employment contract and working hours. The questionnaire provided other demographic data and responses to questions on temporal and spatial availability for work and family. Employer records and employee responses were matched and related to each other providing a combination of objective and subjective data. The aim of this article is to explore the use of the concept of availability, both theoretically and empirically, in the context of the three case study organisations and not to generalise about availability patterns in the labour market. What patterns exist in other organisations, or in the Swedish labour market as a whole, is an empirical question that cannot be answered here. Nonetheless, it is hoped that the analytical reasoning and empirical findings will provide convincing evidence of the relevance and further potential use of the concept of availability. Data analysis The three case studies are presented, by descriptive cross-tabulations, in separate sub-sections below. This data are followed by a discussion of the similarities and differences in availability patterns across the case study organisations. The final sub-section provides a multivariate regression analysis for selected availability variables. In the tables presented, availability is operationalised in three different ways. The first two relate to temporal and spatial availability for (paid) work and the third to availability for family. Temporal availability for work refers to availability in time, for example, whether respondents are working full-time or part-time, how their working hours are regulated, and patterns of overtime working. Spatial availability refers to the extent to which the employee is available outside the physical boundaries of the site of the organisation, for example whether respondents bring work home or go on business journeys. Availability for family is measured by responses to questions concerning how time off work is spent, whether the respondent or their partner does the most

unpaid household work, whether the respondent or their partner spends the most time working and whether the respondent works or has worked part-time during a child’s early years. The Mill The Mill was a traditional process industry producing paper and pulp. It was the largest of the three organisations (1,277 employees) and male-dominated, both numerically (21 per cent women and 79 per cent men) and vertically, with men over-represented in the higher positions and women in the lower white-collar positions (see Table I). Table I indicates the gender composition of occupations within different hierarchical levels, as defined by the Swedish Standard for Occupational Classification (SSYK), which ranks occupations in accordance with the qualifications required for the occupation. Employees in managerial occupations were almost exclusively male. Professional occupations, requiring engineering, economics or human resource management qualifications, were also male-dominated. Intermediate white-collar occupations within administration, sales and logistics were more gender-balanced. The female-dominated lower level white-collar jobs consisted of support staff including clerks, secretaries, receptionists and caretakers. Skilled blue-collar occupations, comprising production and maintenance workers, were male-dominated, as was the lower level blue-collar category that covered truck-drivers, packers and odd-job workers. This organisation reflected a common pattern in male-dominated manufacturing industries, with a higher percentage of female than male employees in white-collar occupations (41 per cent and 21 per cent respectively). Nonetheless, a majority of the female employees were employed in blue-collar occupations. The work-related availability patterns in the Mill are indicated by the variables in Table II. Men and women showed some differences and some similarities in temporal availability patterns. Men worked full-time to a higher extent than women and were more likely to work on a rotating shift system, providing 24-hour availability for the employer. For the employee, shift-work may be difficult to reconcile with family commitments but is at least predictable. The second most common pattern of working hours was traditional office hours, and this constant and predictable pattern was experienced by a similar proportion of women and men. Few employees, though more women than men, had unregulated working hours. A normal contractual week is 40 hours in Sweden. (If contracts are based on unregulated working hours, employees can

Occupational level

Organisational ratios Men Women

Occupational ratios Men Women

Managerial Professional Intermediate white-collar Lower white-collar Higher blue-collar Lower blue-collar Total % No.

98 84 58 28 88 70 79 1,015

11 5 3 2 64 15 100 1,015

2 16 42 72 12 30 21 262

1 4 8 28 34 25 100 262

Employee availability


Table I. Mill: gender ratios for organisation and occupations (%)

ER 29,4


Table II. Work and family availability patterns in the three organisations (% by sex)

Men Full-time Office hours Shifts Unregulated hours Frequently works overtimea Frequently takes work home due to workloada Frequent business journeysb Wants to reduce work hours Time off mostly devoted to work Time off devoted to both work and family Time off devoted mostly to family Time off mostly devoted to myself Spends less time working than partner Does more household work than partner Works/worked part-time with young children

98 42 57 1 14 5 6 45 3 2 80 15 12 4 1

Mill Women 63 40 48 12 14 3 3 25 0 3 88 9 35 70 57

Men 100 74 – 26 58 34 29 23 5 12 75 8 7 4 3

Bank Women 59 91 – 9 48 6 3 19 2 4 85 9 30 60 70

College Men Women 85 21 – 79 68 75 36 36 22 42 28 8 6 5 6

66 55 – 45 43 46 22 37 15 25 52 8 35 64 60

Notes: aTwice a week or more; btwice a month or more, for more than one day

decide how to allocate their working hours themselves over the week or month, with actual hours worked decided by the employee and not monitored by the employer.) More male respondents (45 per cent), than female respondents (25 per cent), wanted to reduce their working hours. However, actual overtime working showed no gender difference and a low overall frequency. Only 14 per cent of either gender frequently worked overtime hours. The demand for this type of availability from the employer was low at the time of the research. Turning to spatial availability, very few of either gender frequently brought work home because of workload pressures, or went on business journeys. This pattern reflects the character of the production process. A majority of employees were involved in work that was tied to the plant and therefore could not be disconnected in time and space. With respect to family availability, 79 per cent of male and 82 per cent of female respondents were living with partners, and these employees were asked about the time they and their partners spent on paid and household work. A total of 74 per cent of the males and 79 per cent of the females had children (24 per cent of women and 38 per cent of men having children aged eight years or younger), and these employees were asked whether they worked or had worked part-time when their children were young. Table II shows that both men and women spent most of their time off work with their families. However, a much higher proportion of women (70 per cent) than men (4 per cent) spent more time doing household work than their partners. Women (57 per cent) were also much more likely than men (1 per cent) to work part-time when their children were young, in accordance with parental leave entitlements in Sweden. Nonetheless, whilst women were more available for family than their partners, 65 per cent of women worked as much, or more, than their partners. The Bank In the Bank the core business was the provision of financial services and there were 317 employees, all engaged in managerial and white-collar occupations (see Table III).

The Bank was female dominated (68 per cent women and 32 per cent men) but men were over-represented in managerial and professional positions that included legal and marketing occupations. The majority of women (92 per cent) and men (65 per cent) worked in intermediate and lower white-collar occupations. But men were most likely to be employed in intermediate positions, mostly financial advisers and estate administrators. Women were most likely to be employed in the lower white-collar occupations such as clerks, cashiers and secretaries. There was a gender difference in the work-related availability patterns in the Bank, as indicated by the variables in Table II. All men at the Bank worked full-time, while 59 per cent of women did so. Whilst both women and men worked mainly office hours, men were more likely than women to work unregulated hours. On the other hand, frequent overtime working was almost as common among women (48 per cent) as among men (58 per cent). This pattern suggests that flexible and unpredictable temporal availability was demanded from employees, irrespective of gender. The proportion of women wanting to reduce their hours was almost as high as for men at about a fifth of the respondents. However, these statistics indicate that availability for work appeared to be compatible with the demands of availability for family for a majority of employees. Turning to spatial availability, there were clear gender differences since significant proportions of men, but very few women, took work home or went on frequent business journeys. In the Bank women were available temporally, but not spatially. Of the respondents, 88 per cent of women and 92 per cent of men were living with partners, whilst 84 per cent of women and 79 per cent of men had children (25 per cent of the women and 38 per cent of the men have children aged eight years or younger). Both men and women spent most of their time off with their families but men were more likely than women to spend time off on work as well as with their family. Most women spent more time doing household work than their partners and a high proportion of women (70 per cent), but very few men (3 per cent), worked part-time when their children were young. Whilst women were more available than their partners for the family, 70 per cent of women worked as much, or more, than their partners.

Employee availability


The College At the College the core activities were education and research. The organisation had 598 employees roughly equally split by gender (see Table IV). About a half (51 per cent) of female employees were in the higher-level managerial and professional occupations (mostly lecturers), reflecting the character of the core activities. However, there was vertical gender segregation with 84 per cent of male employees in these

Occupational level

Organisational ratios Men Women

Occupational ratios Men Women

Managerial Professional Intermediate white-collar Lower white-collar Total % No.

64 75 44 10 32 102

26 9 50 15 100 102

36 25 56 90 68 215

7 1 31 61 100 215

Table III. Bank: Gender ratios for organisation and occupations (%)

ER 29,4


higher-level positions. Both intermediate white-collar occupations (administration and computer/IT support) and lower white-collar occupations (secretaries, receptionists and clerks) were female-dominated. On all measures of temporal availability, men at the College were more available for work than women, more likely to work full-time, unregulated hours and frequent overtime (see Table II). Over a third of both women and men wanted to reduce their work hours. Whilst the gender difference in part-time working was not as great as in the other two organisations, with 15 per cent of men working part-time, compared to 34 per cent of women, this difference was mainly because these men had second jobs elsewhere, mostly at other colleges or universities. A gendered pattern was also visible in spatial availability with men much more likely than women to take work home and also more likely to make frequent business journeys. However, College women were much more likely to be available for work in these ways than women in the other two organisations. Amongst the respondents at the College, 80 per cent of men and 81 per cent of women were living with partners, and 78 per cent of women and 70 per cent of men had children (32 per cent of the women and 30 per cent of the men had children aged eight years or younger). College employees, male and female, were much more likely to devote a large part of their “time off” to work and less time to family than employees in the other organisations. Again there was a gender difference with 28 per cent of men and 52 percent of women devoting most of their time off to family. Most women spent more time doing household work than their partners and a high proportion of women (60 per cent), but few men (6 per cent), worked part-time when they had young children. Whilst women were more available than their partners for the family, 65 per cent of women worked as much, or more, than their partners. Differences and similarities between the three organisations The descriptive data presented above demonstrate the influence of the organisational context and type of production process, as well as gender, on availability patterns. The work was most easily disconnected from the workplace in the College and least easily disconnected in the Mill. The Bank was in an intermediate position, but closer to the College because it was a service provider. The different character of the tasks involved in production generated different conditions for employees to be available – temporally and spatially. Availability patterns were also related to gender in the three organisations. In each case, men were more available than women for work, both temporally and spatially. Comparing the three organisations, the gender differences in availability were

Table IV. College: Gender ratios for organisation and occupations (%)

Occupational level

Organisational ratios Men Women

Occupational ratios Men Women

Managerial Professional Intermediate white-collar Lower white-collar Total % No.

72 60 32 20 50 301

16 68 6 10 100 301

28 40 68 78 50 297

6 45 14 35 100 297

generally smallest in the Mill and greatest at the College. This finding is surprising given that the women at the College also demonstrated more temporal and spatial availability for work than women in the other organisations. The Mill, numerically the most male-dominated of the three organisations, showed the most gender-neutral patterns in a number of respects. Women and men had similar availability patterns in the extent to which they worked overtime, brought work home, travelled on business journeys or devoted their time off to work. Working hours tended to be predictable, although longer than preferred for a significant proportion of employees, especially men. There was a clear separation of work and family time. With respect to family availability, most employees at the Mill and the Bank devoted their time off to the family and the gender difference was small. There was a different pattern at the College, with more employees, both male and female, devoting time off to work instead of, or as well as, to family. However, the gender difference in how time off is spent was also greater at the College, with men much less likely than women to devote time off mostly to family. In terms of the extent to which employees did household work and reduced their working hours because of young children, there was a clear gender pattern in all the organisations. Women did most of the household work in their family, and it is they who reduced their working hours when their children were young, not the men. Most male employees had a partner who devoted more of their time to household work than themselves. It is however striking that about two thirds of the women in each organisation spent as much time or more working than their partner. This finding is consistent with aggregate data suggesting that the decline in the gender gap in working hours within the family has not been matched by an equalisation between partners of availability for household work (SCB, 2006). There is a dual demand of availability that rests more heavily on women than men. The College women appeared to experience the greatest pressure from these dual demands, as evidenced by a higher percentage wishing to reduce their working hours than women elsewhere. Thus, the patterns of work availability differed across the organisations to a greater extent than the patterns of family availability. There was a general tendency for men to be disconnected from demands emanating from the family by women’s family availability patterns (Jonasdottı`r, 1994). In the descriptive presentations above, patterns of availability appeared to be influenced by type of workplace and gender. However, the presence of vertical segregation patterns in the three case study organisations raises the question of whether it is gender or hierarchical position that has the greatest influence on patterns of availability. In order to test more rigorously the impact of various influences on patterns of availability – such as gender, hierarchical level and organisation – the next section presents some regression analysis. Multivariate analysis This section explores some variables and their statistical associations with different types of availability, as shown in Table V. The purpose of the logistic regression model is to show the probability that these types of availability will occur in relation to the independent variables listed in Table V. The model measures each category of temporal, spatial and family availability by two dependent variables that are examples of the types of availability discussed above.

Employee availability


0.57 0.93 1.22 1 (ref.) 1 0.72 34.5 * * * 25.7 * * * 9.60 * * * 1 1 225 0.43

1 1.32 2.17 * 2.76 * * 1.04 * * * 1 1 255 0.58

1.21 * 1

2.32 * * * 1 0.43 0.80 0.66 1 (ref.)

0.60 * * * 1.69 * * * 1

Often overtime

0.03 * * * 0.23 * * * 1

Notes: * * * , 0.01; * * , 0.05; * , 0.10

Organisation: Mill Bank College (ref.) Gender: Man Woman (ref.) Age: 2 35 36-45 46-54 55 – (ref.) Children: 8 yrs or less (ref) 9 yrs or more Level: Managerial Professional White-collar Blue-collar (ref.) Count N R 2 Nagelkerke

Table V. The association between different availability variables and organisation, gender, age, children and hierarchical level. Logistic regression and odds ratios 86.24 * * * 110.6 * * * 18.03 * * * 1 1 224 0.60

1 1.20

1.07 1.03 1.02 1 (ref.)

2.74 * * * 1

0.09 * * 0.26 * * 1

62.63 * * * 38.57 * * * 16.83 * * * 1 1 258 0.35

1 0.92

1.96 1.99 1.63 1 (ref.)

2.20 * * * 1

0.36 * * * 0.48 * * 1

Spatial Often work Often business at home journeys

Work availability

1.03 1.23 1.74 1 1 112 0.56

1 1.12

1.56 1.86 1.68 1 (ref.)

0.03 * * 1

1.02 * * 0.53 1

Most household work

0.95 0.95 2.22 1 1 251 0.20

1 0.20 * * *

1.44 3.66 * * * 1.51 1 (ref.)

0.93 1

2.50 * * 1.67 1

Time off with family

Family availability


Unregulated hours


ER 29,4

Each dependent variable is dichotomous, for example working unregulated hours/not working unregulated hours or often working overtime/not working overtime. The table shows the association between the three different types of availability – temporal, spatial and family – and the independent variables – organisation, gender, age, children, and occupation. The figures in the table are odds ratios that show to what extent the various categories of respondents are available in relation to the reference category, in other words the strength of the relation. The following provides an example of how the regression results are used to compare the influence of specific variables on availability patterns, in this case the influence of gender on working unregulated hours. For the independent variable “gender”, the reference category “women” has a value of 1. Table V indicates that men are more than twice (2.32) as likely to work unregulated hours as women, all other variables being equal. Thus, the regression analysis is a technique for controlling for the separate impact of each independent variable on the dependent variable. If the independent variable, “men” in this case, has an odds ratio that is higher than 1, the probability of working unregulated hours for “men” is statistically higher than for the reference category “women”. If the independent variable has a lower value than 1, the probability is lower than for the reference category. For example, the odds that men did most of the household work were considerably lower, at 0.03, than for women. Some significant patterns emerging from the regression results are highlighted below. For the temporal availability variables, there were statistically significant associations with organisation, occupational level and gender but not age or having young children. These findings confirm that employees at the College were more likely to work unregulated hours than employees at the other two organisations. Employees in managerial and professional occupations were between two and three times more likely to work unregulated hours than white and blue-collar workers. Men, other things being equal, were over two times more likely to work unregulated hours than women. Working unregulated hours was strongly and equally connected to gender and hierarchical level. Employees at the Bank were more likely to work overtime than employees at the College who, in turn, were more likely to work overtime than employees at the Mill. Men were slightly more likely to work overtime than women, as were full-time employees compared with part-time employees. Comparing hierarchical levels white-collar workers were more likely to work overtime than blue-collar workers but the odds that professionals and managers frequently worked overtime, in relation to blue-collar workers, were particularly strong. Overtime working is very strongly connected to hierarchical level, followed by organisation and then gender. For the spatial availability variables, frequently bringing work home and going on business journeys, there were significant statistical associations with organisation, gender and occupational level. Employees at the College were the most likely to bring work home and go on frequent business journeys, followed by employees at the Bank. Male employees were almost three times more likely to bring work home than female employees and twice as likely to go on business journeys. But again the different occupational levels showed the strongest connection to these two types of spatial availability. Professionals were the most likely to be spatially available, followed by managers and then white-collar workers. Previous research shows that business journeys are a predominantly male activity (Presser and Hermsen, 1996; Bergman,

Employee availability


ER 29,4


2004; Gustafson, 2006) and that, further, this type of spatial availability is related to masculinity (Leed, 1991; Wolff, 1993). These findings suggest that it is not only gender that matters, but also hierarchical position and type of work. Rather different patterns emerge regarding family availability. In respect of who did most household work, what counted was gender, not work-related variables. However, in respect of who spent most time off for family, age of children, age of respondent and workplace counted more than gender or any other variables. Those employees with children aged eight years or less, aged 36-45 years and working at the Mill were the most likely to devote time off to family. To summarise, occupation and hierarchical level had the greatest influence on work availability patterns, followed by gender and organisation. In terms of family availability patterns, gender had the greatest influence on time spent on household work. However, employees aged 36-45 years, those with young children and those employed at the Mill were the most likely to devote their time off to family. Conclusion This article has introduced the concept of availability and argued that this concept offers a potential analytical framework for empirically exploring work-life balance issues from an employment relations perspective. Availability has been defined as accessibility in time and space and responsiveness to the needs and wants of others, including employers and family. Availability is both a disposition and a capacity and therefore shaped by both structural conditioning and action. It offers a useful framework for going beyond the subjective experience of work-life balance to map inter-relationships between work and family in different organisational contexts. The descriptive data from the case study organisations demonstrated the influence of the organisational context and type of production process, as well as gender, on availability patterns. Patterns of work availability appeared to differ across the organisations, to a greater extent than patterns of family availability that were highly gendered. Further data analysis using logistic regression indicated that the occupation and hierarchical position of the employee were related to both temporal and spatial availability patterns across the organisations. Statistically significant associations were also found with gender for the temporal availability variables, and with organisation and gender for the spatial availability variables. The research evidence reported here suggests that availability patterns are strongly influenced by position in the occupational structure. The higher the position, the greater the associated availability for work – irrespective of gender and organisation. The notion of a “time famine” appears justified for professional and managerial workers (Bruegel and Gray, 2005) but cannot be generalised across all occupational groups. In terms of family availability patterns, gender was the key factor influencing time spent on household work and part-time working for parents with young children. Employee age and age of children were the most significant factors influencing the use of time off for family. This study provides further evidence that even in gender-egalitarian welfare regimes such as Sweden, women still take the main responsibility for family availability (see also Bjo¨rnberg, 2002; Duncan et al., 2003; Gustafson, 2006). The balancing act between work and family is something that still

rests more heavily on women than men, even when they are working as many hours as their partners. The nature of production and associated opportunities for disconnecting work from the workplace in time and space varied between the organisations. This disconnection had consequences for the degree of permeability in the boundaries between work and family. Spatial availability for work is a form of flexible working that may mean reduced availability for family and intensification of work demands rather than an improvement in work-life balance. This potential outcome is illustrated by the flexible working patterns at the College for both women and men. These patterns, which reflect a disconnection of work from the workplace, might be interpreted as enhancing work-life balance but they might also be interpreted as the intrusion of availability for work into family life. On the other hand, at the Mill, where there was much less scope for flexible working, the boundaries between work and family were more intact, enabling time off work to be more focused on family. This finding suggests the need for more empirical research on the implications of temporal and spatial disconnection of work from the workplace for the subjective experience of work-life balance. Using the concept of availability, this article has attempted to reframe analysis of work-life balance. The main aim of the article has been to identify the key structural influences – such as occupation, gender and organisational production process – that provide a context for individual action, using quantitative research data from three case study organisations. Further research is needed in order to establish whether and how employees are able to make use of different availability patterns to improve their work-life balance. This research should include the use of combinations of quantitative and qualitative methods to explore individual perceptions and experiences of different availability practices. Also studies of other organisational settings and of the family dimension are necessary for analytical and empirical developments of the concept. References Bekkengen, L. (2002), Man fa˚r va¨lja – om fo¨ra¨ldraskap och fo¨ra¨ldraledighet i arbetsliv och familjeliv, Liber, Malmo¨. Bergman, A. (2004), Segregerad integrering. Mo¨nster av ko¨nssegregering i arbetslivet, Karlstad University Press, Karlstad. Bhaskar, R. (1978), A Realist Theory of Science, Harvester Press, Brighton. Bjo¨rnberg, U. (2002), “Ideology and choice between work and care: swedish family policy for working parents”, Critical Social Policy, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 33-52. Bruegel, I. and Gray, A. (2005), “Men’s conditions of employment and the division of childcare between parents”, in Houston, D.M. (Ed.), Work-Life Balance in the 21st Century, Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp. 147-69. Charles, N. and James, E. (2005), “Gender, job insecurity and the work-life balance”, in Houston, D.M. (Ed.), Work-Life Balance in the 21st Century, Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp. 170-88. Coser, L. (1974), Greedy Institutions: Patterns of Undivided Commitment, Free Press, New York, NY. Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) (2003), Balancing Work and Family Life, available at: www.dti.gov.uk/er/workingparents Duncan, S., Edwards, R., Reynolds, T. and Alldred, P. (2003), “Motherhood, paid work and partnering: values and theories”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 309-30.

Employee availability


ER 29,4


Esping-Andersen, G. (1990), The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, Polity Press, Cambridge. Fleetwood, S. (2007), “Why work-life balance now?”, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 18 No. 3. Gardiner, J., Stuart, M., Forde, C., Greenwood, I., MacKenzie, R. and Perrett, R. (2007), “Work-life balance and older workers: employees’ perspectives on retirement transitions following redundancy”, International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 475-88. Guest, D. and Conway, N. (2002), “Communicating the psychological contract: an employer perspective”, Human Resource Management Journal, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 22-38. Gustafson, P. (2006), “Work-related travel, gender and family obligations”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 513-30. Hogarth, T., Hasluck, C. and Pierre, G. (2000), Work-Life Balance 2000, DTI, London. Hyman, J., Scholarios, D. and Baldry, C. (2005), “‘Daddy, I don’t like these shifts you’re working because I never see you’: coping strategies for home and work”, in Houston, D.M. (Ed.), Work-Life Balance in the 21st Century, Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp. 122-46. Johnsson, D. (2006), “Flexibility, stability and related concepts”, in Fura˚ker, B., Ha˚kansson, K. and Karlsson, J. (Eds), Flexibility and Stability in Working Life, Palgrave, Basingstoke. Jo´nasdo´ttir, A. (1994), Why Women are Oppressed, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, PA. Leed, E.J. (1991), The Mind of the Traveller, Basic Books, New York, NY. Lewis, S. and Lewis, J. (1996), The Work-Family Challenge, Sage, London. Presser, H.B. and Hermsen, J.M. (1996), “Gender differences in the determinants of work-related overnight travel among employed Americans”, Work and Occupations, Vol. 23 No. 1, pp. 87-115. SCB: Statistics Sweden (2006), Sweden Pa˚ tal om kvinnor och ma¨n. Lathund om ja¨msta¨lldhet 2005, Statistiska centralbyra˚n, O¨rebro. Sayer, A. (2000), Realism and Social Science, Sage, London. Smithson, J. and Stokoe, H. (2005), “Discourses of work-life balance: negotiating gender blind terms in organizations”, Gender, Work and Organization, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 147-68. Tailby, S., Richardson, M., Danford, A., Stewart, P. and Upchurch, M. (2005), “Workplace partnership and work-life balance: a local government case study”, in Houston, D.M. (Ed.), Work-Life Balance in the 21st Century, Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp. 189-210. Wolff, J. (1993), “On the road again: metaphors of travel in cultural criticism”, Cultural Studies, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 224-39. About the authors Ann Bergman is Senior Lecturer in Working Life Science at Karlstad University. Her research interests are gender and working life, inequality and everyday life. She can be contacted at [email protected] Jean Gardiner is Senior Lecturer in Employment Relations at Leeds University Business School. Her current research interests include labour market transitions, work-life balance over the life-course, inter-relationships between paid work and non-work activities, and equality and diversity in the workplace. She can be contacted at [email protected]

To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected] Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints

The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm

family Work and family balance through Work andbalance equal employment opportunity programmes and agreement 415 making in Australia John Burgess and Lindy Henderson University of Newcastle, Newcastle, Australia, and

Glenda Strachan Department of Managment, Griffith University, Nathan, Australia Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this article is to assess the ability of formal equal employment opportunity (EEO) programmes and workplace agreement making to facilitate work and family balance for women workers in Australia. Design/methodology/approach – This article uses documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews in six Australian organisations that are required to develop formal EEO programmes. Findings – Formal EEO programmes and agreement making are limited in their ability to promote work and family-friendly arrangements at the workplace. Informal arrangements and managerial discretion are important in realising work and care balance. Research limitations/implications – The paper is Australian based, and the case studies were confined to six organisations, which restricts the findings. Practical implications – Leave and work arrangements need to be required within agreements and EEO programmes. Most programmes gravitate towards minimum requirements, hence, it is important to ensure that these minimum requirements provide for work and care reconciliation. Programmes beyond the workplace, such as funded childcare, are important in this context. Originality/value – The article highlights that formal mechanisms cannot achieve work and care reconciliation for women workers if they are built upon very limited minimum requirements, are voluntary and are dependent upon a bargaining process at the workplace. Keywords Family friendly organizations, Equal opportunities, Women workers, Australia Paper type Research paper

Introduction Discussions of work and family policies, work-life balance and family-friendly workplaces or similar terms are now commonplace in both the academic and popular press. These debates, while they present a gender-neutral face, are of particular importance in relation to women’s labour force attachment because of the historic roles women have played within the home and within the public sphere of paid work in most western countries. The difficulties faced by women who are both paid worker and family carer has been the subject of extensive research (Bardoel et al., 2000; Campbell and Charlesworth, 2004) and considerable debate in Australia (ACTU, 2004; Pocock, 2003; Howard, 2005). Research indicates that Australian families are finding it difficult to “juggle” their dual roles as employees and parents, with 60 per cent of women and 90 per cent of men in the workforce being part of a two-parent household with dependent

Employee Relations Vol. 29 No. 4, 2007 pp. 415-430 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0142-5455 DOI 10.1108/01425450710759235

ER 29,4


children, and with the number and share of single parent families increasing (Russell and Bowman, 2000; Pocock, 2002). Bittman and Rice (2002) have catalogued the growing time pressures for individuals and families in the face of extended paid and unpaid working hours, especially for women workers. The pressure of time and energy expended at home may impinge on work performance, and pressures at work may impact on home and family life (Glezer and Wolcott, 1998). Management practices or attitudes within the workplace can make the juggling act more or less practicable (Eaton, 2003). Which policies and practices enable individuals to balance paid work and family commitments or even what constitutes that balance, is contentious. The most common approach is to present a checklist of measures that are assumed to be family-friendly (OECD, 2001; ACTU, 2005). Where the checklist originated is far from certain but it appears in official reports and documents such as the OECD (2002) report on family-friendly policies which covers three areas: employment and workplace relations, the tax transfer system and direct support for parents. In Australia, the forms of direct support for work and family are limited (Pocock, 2005). The peak trade union organisation, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), identifies working hours, control over hours of work, and leave arrangements including parental, annual and carer’s leave as the three main areas to be addressed in reconciling work and family needs, assuming adequate safety nets and adequate incomes (ACTU, 2004; ACTU, 2005). Other research has identified similar groupings. For example, in their review of family-friendly arrangements, Campbell and Charlesworth (2004) identified three broad categories of arrangements that are important in reconciling work and family: access to special leave and absences that allow temporary withdrawal from work for caring needs while retaining workforce attachment, access to part-time work, and flexible work schedules that allow for fluctuations in the pressure and responsibilities of care. These criteria have been accepted as the basis for work and family balance in the present study. These policies alone do not necessarily promote positive inter-relationship between work and family demands. For example, several research studies have questioned the contribution of temporary and part-time work in realising work and care balance. This type of working arrangement can offer little security and few career prospects (Campbell and Burgess, 2001; Watson et al., 2003), little control over working conditions and generally fewer rights and benefits or lower pay (Watson, 2004) in comparison to other forms of work. Yet working part-time is a common expedient for Australian women who are also carers. There is a large body of macro-level information on workforce and working time arrangements (Preston and Burgess, 2003; Pocock, 2003) and on the content of agreements in Australia (Whitehouse and Zetlin, 1999) that provides a pointer to ongoing developments in reconciling work and care arrangements. Formal policies and programmes do not always translate into actual outcomes (Campbell and Charlesworth, 2004; Eaton, 2003). It is therefore important to examine not only the policies available but also access to these and the views of individuals about their use. The quality of work and family policies and the extent to which they are available across the workforce is an important issue currently in Australia. New industrial relations legislation (Workplace Relations (Work Choices) Act 2006) passed in Australia in 2005 and 2006 has changed the ways working conditions are regulated by

drastically reducing the coverage of industry and occupational awards (that establish minimum employment conditions across industries and occupations) and emphasising workplace and individual agreements for wages and working conditions (Australian Government, 2006). This change has placed the onus on trades unions (where they have members) and employees to negotiate settlements with employers for appropriate conditions and opportunities for all workers, including men and women who have the care of children or elderly family members. This bargaining system occurs in an environment with few minimum standards that apply to all workers (Sappey et al., 2006). This change is justified as being in the interests of economic growth (Howard, 2005). As with earlier moves towards the decentralisation of the industrial relations system, it is claimed this will offer “better ways to reward effort, increase wages and balance work and family life” (www.workchoices.gov.au). This study seeks insights into how tensions between work and family commitments are reconciled at the workplace using both formal and informal processes. We undertook a number of case studies in 2004, before the new legislation was introduced, and here we re-examine the interview and organisational data. Factors which militate against a harmonious balancing of work and family pressures are easier to identify than those that promote this balance, but in these cases we sought to uncover both positive and negative issues. Did women in the sample have an acceptable balance between paid work and family responsibilities and, if so, how was this achieved? If not, what were the major obstacles to achieving work and family balance? What role did legislation, mechanisms for encouraging and monitoring equal opportunity for women at work, agreement making and formal equal opportunity policies in the workplace play in striking the balance? It seemed that these case studies might provide important clues about the potential impact of the latest industrial legislation. While “choice” is the current slogan for the government in terms of industrial relations, how did this “choice” occur within the workplace? This article focuses largely on what the organisation provides and what accommodation is made at the workplace, although we recognise that individuals also use strategies and processes outside work to balance work and care. We examine leave arrangements, part-time work access and flexible work schedules in the case study organisations. These are not the only care arrangements available nor the only ways through which work and family balance can be obtained but may be regarded as “core” workplace programmes to assist women workers meet care responsibilities. These are also processes that may be formalised through industrial instruments, such as workplace agreements, and company policy documents, and may be developed and monitored through compulsory reporting. The research methodology and the research process The article reports on an analysis of six private sector enterprises with employee numbers ranging from 325 to 1,800. They were chosen because they are diverse in terms of size, industry, location, trade union membership and proportion of women in their workforces, and because they had demonstrated in EOWA (Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency) reports that they were committed to equal opportunity for women. In Australia there is a requirement for organisations with over 100 employees to develop Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) programmes at the workplace and to provide EEO reports annually to the EOWA (Burgess et al., 2005a).

Work and family balance


ER 29,4


Of the six organisations, two had exceeded the minimum reporting status by being classified by the EOWA as an Employer of Choice for Women Employees (EOCFW) and another had successfully applied to have annual reporting requirements waived in recognition of having achieved good practices (EOWA, 2007a). They had not necessarily made an undertaking to provide family-friendly workplaces or develop programmes to promote work-family balance, and such programmes are not a specific requirement of the legislation. However, other studies have shown that policies and practices that deal with “work family balance” are a feature of organisations’ reports to the EOWA, as in the finance industry All six workplaces were located in the east coast of Australia, two located in state capital cities and the other four in large regional cities. Table I outlines their main characteristics. Other findings from the case studies have been published elsewhere (Burgess et al., 2005a; Burgess et al., 2005b). The research combines the analysis of formal documents, namely reports to EOWA and workplace industrial agreements, with interviews at the workplace. Equal employment opportunity reports to EOWA and Enterprise Agreements are public documents and provide some insight into the way employment matters are dealt with in organisations. Enterprise Agreements state the conditions of employment such as access to carer’s leave, sick leave, and family (maternity and paternity) leave, flexible start and finish times, flexible vacation arrangements, and requirements regarding overtime and weekend work which are relevant to achieving work and family balance. These are formal and enforceable documents and represent an agreed baseline for workers in that organisation (or section of it). The researchers visited the main work-site for each organisation and interviewed human resource (HR) managers, other managers and a selection of female employees, using a semi-structured interview protocol – typically, three sets of interviews at each workplace. One focus group was conducted at each workplace with between two and nine women employees in each organisation. Interviews took place at the workplace and averaged 30 minutes each. The interviewees were volunteers but were nominated by the HR manager in each organisation. They were asked about the work they did, their working conditions, their level of satisfaction with current arrangements at the workplace and their ambitions. The interviews included discussion of work-family balance issues and programmes. A condition of access to the organisation was that the identity of the organisations and its employees would remain confidential. Using these four sources of data (reports, agreements, interview with HR manager and with female workers) allows examination of the process whereby policies and programmes are developed and applied, and also examination of women’s perceptions and experiences at work of programme development, relevance and access. The interviews also reveal the role of informal mechanisms in managing work and family. The case study method is limited (Punch, 2005) in terms of its generality and the interviews were limited in terms of their coverage of the workplace. Nevertheless, the case studies are instructive. Our interest is with how work-care balance is negotiated within workplaces and what function, if any, formal processes associated with EEO reporting and agreement making have in determining these outcomes. In this sense, the experiences collected at the workplaces are suggestive of what role the formal mechanisms play in balancing work and care and how this role is reconciled at very different workplaces across a number of locations.




98 Multi-national

13 14

17 4



Machinery, component manufacture and service Metropolitan 1,049

Heavy manufacture Regional 1,007 5


Metal manuf’ture

Source: EOWA online searchable database of reports

Ownership EEO reporting status

Industry sector Location Total employees Female employees (%) Female managers (%) Full-time % female Part-time or casual female (%)



75 Religious – not for profit

65 86


Health care Metropolitan 1,800



US listed company


50 82


Design, market, whole-sale, retail Regional 704



64 Australian þ US

32 47


Tourist park Regional 327

Recreation facility


Private, Australian


1 10


Heavy and light manufacture and service Regional 335

Engineering manufacture

Work and family balance


Table I. Profile of the research organisations

ER 29,4


Results Reports to EOWA The Workplace Relations Act 1999 requires non-government organisations with more than 100 employees to prepare and implement a programme intended to eliminate employment discrimination and to contribute to the achievement of equal employment opportunity for women. Reports are submitted annually (biennially from 2008) to the EOWA, the statutory government agency responsible for educating employers and monitoring their programmes. Most reports are public documents and can be accessed online at the EOWA website (www.eowa.gov.au). However, organisations that apply and have met certain criteria to the satisfaction of EOWA are exempt from reporting for up to three years and do not have their reports displayed on the EOWA website. In the case of the waived organisation, the EEO report was provided to the researchers by the organisation. The reports are structured to the extent that there are certain employment matters (recruitment and selection; promotion, transfer and termination; training and development; work organisation; conditions of service; harassment; and pregnancy, potential pregnancy and breastfeeding) that must be addressed. Policies and practices that relate to work and family balance are not requested specifically but since the juggling of roles in and outside the paid workforce has been shown to be a major issue for women workers, it seems reasonable to expect that organisations would consider this issue. In addition, the analysis depended on the researchers identifying components of the organisations’ stated workplace programmes that address what we regard as the core elements of a programme that would support work and family balance, namely appropriate leave arrangements, access to part-time work and flexible work schedules. In Australia the EEO reporting mechanism is management focused (Thornton, 1999; Bacchi, 1996). Organisations are directed to analyse the gender equality issues in their workplace and to formulate appropriate strategies (EOWA, 2007a). Table II indicates the range of issues identified as priorities for action and shows a wide variation in the sorts of issues deemed important. The male-dominated organisations focused their efforts on recruiting women in non-traditional roles to prevent or remedy instances of harassment and overt discrimination and to provide more opportunities Organisation

Priority issues

Metal manufacture

Non-display of inappropriate material, supply networked computers for flexible work from home, supply appropriate protective equipment, women in management and non-traditional roles Lack of female representation in non-traditional areas; promotion, transfer, termination; revamp EEO committee Review selection process, succession planning, training/development, work-life balance policy, leave policy Education re EEO and harassment policy Leadership training, wages and benefits equity Lack of women in non-traditional roles, increasing women managers, EEO/harassment training, formalising HR policies and procedures

Technology Hospital

Table II. EEO reports: priority issues

Leisurewear Recreation facility Engineering manufacture

Source: EOWA online searchable database of reports

for women in professional and managerial grades. Four of the reports were silent on the issue of work-life or work and family policies but two mentioned work-life balance or the need to “help employees balance work and family”. These were the hospitals that faced a chronic shortage of nurses, and technology, which has relatively few female employees and many employees who work long or unsocial hours or travel extensively. Two organisations made mention in their reports of their facilities for working from home, especially for women on maternity leave, and several reports included statements about keeping in contact with employees on maternity leave. The organisations used a variety of means to identify issues of concern for their female employees. Four of the six organisations used an employee survey as one part of the process of arriving at priority areas, and although all but one had an employee consultative committee on site, the reports do not reveal the extent to which these two mechanisms were able to influence the construction of the reports or the issues identified as important in them. What we can conclude from the case studies is that the formal EEO reporting process does not appear to have generated formal programmes specific to reconciling work and family balance. EEO was largely seen in terms of procedures and practices applying within the organisation. There was a lack of engagement with the intersection between work and care responsibilities for women workers. Workplace agreement making If the EEO reporting mechanism is able to by-pass the issue of how women reconcile paid work and family life, does the industrial relations system do any better? An examination was made of the content of publicly available industrial agreements for each organisation for their potential to assist in reconciling work and family balance. In the course of the last 20 years, Australia has moved from a regulatory system of arbitration and central wage-fixing, resulting in federal and state awards (minimum pay and conditions provisions across industry), to a system of decentralised agreement making between workers (unionised and non-unionised) and management at the enterprise level. Since 1996 collective agreements have been augmented by individual (largely non union) agreements known as Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) (Burgess and Macdonald, 2003). The Australian industrial relations system has become extremely complex since the varieties of instruments and agreement making processes that are available have proliferated (Bray and Waring, 2005). This complexity of industrial instruments for each organisation was evident in the case studies. A variety of awards, enterprise agreements and individual contracts (registered and unregistered) governed the minimum working conditions and arrangements for the women workers. While the content of individual agreements are not in the public domain, previous studies have highlighted that in the main they contain conditions that are inferior to awards and collective agreements and contain very few work and family arrangements (Burgess et al. 2005b; Van Barneveld and Waring, 2003). This finding could not be tested in the current research as the confidential individual agreements were not made available to the researchers. At the time of the interviews, common law rights to minimum terms and conditions of employment, including holiday and sick leave, and conditions in the underlying industrial award provided a basic safety net for all employees regardless of the form of agreement making. Where women were employed in production plants, they were

Work and family balance


ER 29,4


subject to the same conditions as men. The Workplace Relations Act 1996 provides for minimum conditions for carers’ leave and parental leave, unless an alternative agreement is made, and some of the agreements simply referred to or echoed this legislation. At Metal Manufacture, a certified collective workplace agreement with the main trade union covered most employees, including women working in manufacturing processes. Two weeks’ personal leave for all employees included time for personal sickness or carer’s leave, with notice to be given before taking the leave. Limited paid parental leave had been negotiated outside the enterprise agreement (EA). This EA states that “[Metal Manufacture] is committed to providing its workforce with opportunities to improve the quality of their working lives through the consideration of new working arrangements” which include flexible working hours “in harmony with the needs of the business”. Flexible start and finish times were allowed in the agreement but depended on individuals, managers and the work unit agreeing. Clerical and administrative employees at Metals Manufacture are covered by a different federal award, which allows for flexible start and finish times by agreement with the section manager. Personal leave for these employees is identical to that in the EA. Technology presents a more complex picture and is more typical of the case study organisations. As the HR manager said when asked about the industrial instruments in place: We have a massive wash-wash of everything. We have EAs mainly, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne. We have AWAs, they are for a group of our facility technicians and also for our customer service centre downstairs. We were able for the AWA for the [customer service centre] to put in some pretty good flexible clauses and everyone else is pretty well on a standard [Technology] contract.

Specific enterprise agreements relating to particular worksites, none of which applied to the interview sample, allow employees to “make up” time taken as personal leave, including periods from one hour to one day, including leave which may be “e.g. a visit to a bank or solicitor” and offered more flexibility than is required by law. Maternity leave is in accordance with the legislation. A number of State Awards (for example Private Hospital Nurses Award State 2003, [Hospital] Enterprise Award State 2003) ensure that Private Hospital employees have access to the minimum standards laid out in the Family Leave Award (State) 2003 – that is, five days per year carer’s leave from the pool of personal leave and the option to work part-time when returning from maternity leave until the child’s second birthday. In addition, six weeks paid maternity leave is included. The Awards contain the clause “discussion should take place at each enterprise to provide more flexible working arrangements, improvement in the quality of working life” but there are no further guidelines on how this is to be undertaken. Leisurewear’s EA applies only to clerical and warehouse staff and a federal award applies to retail workers. Here, sick and carers’ leave are pooled but increase with length of service. In common with other awards, there is no paid parental leave but employees may take one year unpaid leave and return to work on a part-time basis until the child reaches school age. Most employees of Leisurewear have individual contracts that are not available for scrutiny. The Recreation Facility has an enterprise bargaining agreement that includes most workers. A few employees fall outside this agreement and work under the awards

relevant to their qualifications and role. Managers in this organisation, as in others in the study, have individually negotiated contracts, which remain private. The EA refers to the legislative minimum in terms of parental leave, with 60 hours of sick leave, cumulative to a maximum of 13 weeks, which includes carer’s leave. Part-time and casual workers are governed by the EA and receive pro-rata benefits. Engineering manufacture presents a complex picture of industrial instruments. A union-negotiated EA allows employees the statutory leave entitlements or in accordance with a general Award, but restricts the amount of time taken as carer’s leave. The working conditions of the majority of the small number of women were governed by individual contracts that did not allow for part-time work or flexible start and finish times. This company was alone in not including provisions to govern the conditions of part-time workers. In this sample, industrial instruments did little more than conform to the minimum provisions of the Workplace Relations Act. There were no innovative work/care practices built into agreements such as homework, childcare provision or job sharing. Table III provides a summary of the leave provisions that exceeded those that had to be included in agreements. Overall, the industrial relations arrangements that were available in the public domain were not used as a medium for formalising work and care practices. Also, it was clear that there was very little interface between EEO reporting and policies, and industrial agreements.

Work and family balance


Organisational policies and practices Access to information about organisational policies was obtained by asking the HR Manager in each organisation to outline the organisation’s polices in regard to equal employment opportunity in general, and in particular to the way those policies, and the practices that followed from them, fostered or militated against women employees’ ability to strike a reasonable balance between work and family. Not surprisingly, there was a wide variation among the organisations, both in the policies themselves and in the way they were interpreted, but the tension between work and family, especially in terms of time management, was recognised everywhere. When asked about work-life balance or work and family balance, HR managers almost always saw this in terms of temporal flexibility, such as part-time work, gradual return from maternity leave, variations in starting and finishing times, and in access to short periods of leave at short notice to deal with a sick child or family emergency. Formal policies regarding recruitment, maternity and carer’s leave, job sharing, part-time work, pregnancy and breast feeding were contained in written documents such as HR manuals or staff handbooks, and in half the companies were available to (most) employees via the company intranet. On the whole, they echoed the statutory

Provision Metal manufacture Technology Private hospital Leisurewear Work facility Engineering manufacture

None Generous interpretation of personal leave Six weeks paid maternity leave Extended period of part-time on return from maternity leave Extended period of part-time on return from maternity leave None

Table III. Leave provisions in agreements or awards that exceed legislative minimum

ER 29,4


rights of employees or those contained in the relevant Award or Agreement and were concerned with administrative and procedural matters. Two companies had formal policies for employees, including new mothers, who wanted to work from home. These policies included attention to network links and occupational health and safety in the home environment. The right to return to work on a part-time basis after the birth of a child was included in some organisational policies. At a less formal level, the policies concerning maternity leave were supported by particular HR practices such as keeping in touch with women on leave, inviting them to visit the workplace, and continuing some worker benefits (in one case, occasional movie tickets). In several organisations flexibility around working hours was part of formal policies. For example, at Engineering Manufacture “most of the admin staff work from 8.30 to 5.00. If an employee goes to their manager and says can I change my hours to be 9.00 to 5.30 to fit in with school or whatever, if that is acceptable to the manager, then that can be done” (HR manager, Engineering Manufacture). At Technology “things like being able to leave early on certain days, and grouping up your hours, having time in lieu” were in the forthcoming contract (HR manager, Technology). But just as often such arrangements are worked out informally between employees and their supervisors or co-workers. In one section at Leisurewear coordination was left to staff: “Reception is job shared, three ways. They are all mums . . . they coordinate amongst themselves to make certain someone is there” (HR manager, Leisurewear). The HR managers considered that they did all they could within the constraints of the business to provide the sort of flexibility that women needed to fulfil their dual roles as worker and family member. This willingness to be adaptable was particularly the case if the organisation faced a tight labour market. One HR manager in a smaller organisation was working towards changing company policy because “the thing that keeps coming back is we are not perceived to be family-friendly. We don’t have the flexibility that is offered in other industries” (HR manager, Engineering Manufacture). Other HR managers accepted that helping to resolve work-life conflict was in the interests of both employer and employee. A lack of flexibility was recognised as contributing to absenteeism and high staff turnover: “Definitely, it effects workplace attendance, because if people’s childcare falls through, something has got to happen” (HR manager, Engineering Manufacture). Faced with a tight labour market, recruitment and retention were important factors in the health sector organisation: “There is quite a bit of flexibility in our work environment, we bend over backwards to accommodate people’s rostering needs and we have paid maternity leave” (HR manager, Hospital). At the Recreation Facility, “the working conditions are fairly flexible to suit the different needs of different people and particularly because a lot of our casuals were females” (HR Coordinator, Recreation Facility). The resources available and the need to serve the needs of the business governed the HR managers’ input into finding an acceptable level of work and family balance for women employees. As an example, the lack of adequate childcare was repeatedly raised as a source of difficulty for employees, but none of the organisations was actively seeking to resolve this. At Technology, the demand of long and sometimes unsocial hours was accepted as making work-life balance difficult but was part of the job role and not always seen as negative: “Most people who are doing assignments and things this is what they want to do. It is part of their role . . . ” (HR manager, Technology).

Women employees The women in this study did not question their dual roles as paid employees and key family members (see Pocock, 2005); they regarded both roles as important. Generally, women who were mothers or carers were content with their working arrangements as long as they were able, and felt permitted, to take time out occasionally to fulfil other commitments for themselves or their families. Including those working part-time and as casual (temporary) employees, they value their work and happily accept their responsibility and commitment to the enterprise that engages them, while also taking on significant family responsibilities. While several interviewees voiced the opinion that they were willing to forgo promotion for the time being to spend more time and energy with family, this preference did mean they were not committed to the job they were doing or would not, in the longer term, seek more training or career progression. The case studies confirm that for these women, commitment to the paid workforce is ongoing but uneven in terms of the time commitment they can give paid work at some points in their lives. Did women at all levels of the case study organisations want the things identified as part of the work and family agenda discussed above? The interviews with women employees confirmed that women prize most of all the ability to balance their paid work with obligations to family and community. Carer’s leave, access to part-time work and flexible hours (discussed below) were all very important in maintaining their attachment to paid work. However, there was one issue of critical importance that no organisation had tackled. Mothers in every organisation considered obtaining suitable childcare as a source of stress in balancing work and family needs. Some of the key issues are discussed below. Special leave and carer breaks. These arrangements were achieved at most organisations through a mix of formal policies and informal arrangements made at the local department level. Typically, leave came at the cost of personal sick leave as the two types of leave were bundled together. Employees at Recreation Facility, faced with a family emergency, felt they could take leave at short notice using combined sick leave and personal leave entitlements. Technology and Leisurewear employees were able to take time off for personal reasons but were expected to make up the time and meet deadlines. One manager described the situation of a mother of a three -year-old: She’s full-time but if he’s got green snot in his nose he’s not allowed to go to day care. So, I’ll let her go until she can get her father to look after him, mid-morning, or whatever, and we make that time up. We just try and be really flexible with that (Supply chain manager, Leisurewear).

There was little flexibility in leave arrangements at Engineering Manufacture however, and personal leave was extended at the minimum rate. One woman, clearly anxious and unhappy about her situation said, “I have a one year old, so in the past year, he has been sick quite often. I have used my five days plus, so I have to take leave without pay. I know that I have used everything” (Employee, Engineering Manufacture). Access to part-time work. Women said that they valued the opportunity to work part-time, and to switch between full-time and part-time work, and this opportunity was available in most workplaces. While one workplace (Engineering Manufacture) offered rigid hours and conditions with no access to part-time work or extended

Work and family balance


ER 29,4


maternity leave elsewhere, women related to the experience of moving between full-time and part-time work as a source of satisfaction in their working lives. I came back two days-a-week when they were five months and then three days a week when they were one year. And then four days a week when they were about eighteen months, then full-time when they were two. So, I had a staggered increase, which was fabulous (Mother of twins, Metal Manufacture). I was on maternity leave when I was here but only for a few months. Then I did part-time for twelve months but the last few years I changed down to a four-day week doing school hours only. Then I increased it doing a project for the next 12 months, so I am back here full-time, at the moment (Clerical worker, Metals Manufacture).

Flexible working-time arrangements and control over hours worked. Most women in these organisations had access to a degree of flexibility in the hours and times they worked but this flexibility depended on business demands and the nature of their work. Some women chose to undertake casual work in order to maximize their control over working arrangements. In some organisations short or irregular shifts at peak periods suited the needs of the employer and the employee, for example at Recreation Facility and Leisurewear, where seasonal and even daily demand varied. Elsewhere, skilled workers were in short supply and temporary workers could fill the inevitable gaps. When one HR manager explained that some employees “are up early in the morning to speak to the US and they are up late at night to speak to UK or whatever, so the hours are not always set and they are actually quite flexible” (HR manager, Technology) it is clearly the interests of the business that come first. At the Hospital, managers said that they went to a great deal of effort to make rosters suit individuals’ personal and family needs. One nurse manager said: Work life balance is always an issue particularly when one is doing rostering. That’s something you have to take into account and it’s all the more these days because nursing is at a premium, the nurses are at a premium. To maintain your staff and to retain your staff you have to be very flexible and you have to take into account their family life – their children, if they are carers. I do that all the time (Nurse manager, Hospital).

Nurses appreciated but also expected this kind of control over their working lives: On the ward where I work we’ve got a mixture of four-hour, six-hour, eight-hour, 12-hour shifts. Most of our night shifts are a 12-hour night. Some of them [nurses] only want to do say four hours-a-day. They want to pick the kids up in the afternoon or whatever (Nurse, Hospital).

It was apparent that individuals made informal arrangements with co-workers, such as “swapping” a few hours, a shift or part of a shift to fit in with out-of-work responsibilities, or where childcare had to be rearranged at short notice. At Leisurewear the reception staff job-shared and determined their own roster. At Engineering Manufacture, it was the lack of “room to move” (Morehead, 2003) that most angered women employees: “My daughter is getting her School Certificate on Friday and I have to take annual leave to be there” (administrative officer, Engineering Manufacture). Conclusions Legislation protects individuals from overt discrimination, and managers in the organisations studied had a firm understanding of the consequences of discrimination

and unfair dismissal, and were diligent in complying with the law in each of the workplaces. The EOWA characterises equal opportunity as ensuring that “all employees are treated with fairness and respect in that they are not subject to discrimination or harassment in the workplace” (EOWA, 2007b), yet this Agency does not in itself guarantee women a balance between work-and family, which is not part of the EEO reporting mechanism. Work and family reconciliation is not generally or universally addressed in the industrial agreements applying in these cases and in the end do little more than restate the standards in the legislation. Some agreements in this study provided superior conditions in terms of choice and accessing leave arrangements, yet no agreement addressed childcare issues. Within organisations, formal HR policies and practices varied but were not unsympathetic to the dual pressures on their female employees. Outside of formal mechanisms it appeared that informal processes and supporting mechanisms within the direct work area were the main means for negotiating work and family balance in some of the case study organisations. Within these organisations, the application of EEO work and family policies and practices was pragmatic and dependent on labour market forces and the influence of HR managers on overall policy. An understanding that employees’ needs and interests change over the life cycle (Leisurewear, Hospital), or a more prosaic need to fill the vacancies and retain skilled workers in a tight labour market or particular geographic location (Hospital, Technology, Metals Manufacture) were also important. Swapping shifts or “filling in” for a co-worker were ways in which reciprocal obligations were undertaken and resolved for some women. Other research indicates that informal arrangements such as sharing or swapping shifts in order to juggle work and family involves considerable time and potential stress to workers (Morehead, 2003). The findings from the research suggest that having an organisational EEO programme and workplace agreement is no guarantee that work and family measures will be introduced at the workplace. Legislated minimum standards that protect workers against overt discrimination and harassment effectively motivate companies, but only in establishing a floor. In 2004 Australian legislation already contained few minimum safeguards and hence conditions were inconsistent between organisations and even within them. Neither the industrial agreements accessed, nor the reports to EOWA offered more than token acknowledgement of work and family issues. Some organisations embrace more elaborate or sophisticated ways of enticing workers or retaining them. This difference is largely in response to labour market forces, such as a shortage of workers with the appropriate skills or the costs to business of losing highly trained personnel, which are important determinants of workplace policies and practices. While the reporting process raises awareness of the issues and empowers HR managers to be pro-active in developing programmes that assist in balancing work and family, this function is not the specific intention of the Agency and these programmes are revealed only indirectly in the reporting process. Neither do industrial agreements involving trade union negotiations appear to have a large impact on women’s working lives in these organisations. Frequently, access to arrangements which reduce the work-life tension for women with caring responsibilities is provided in an ad hoc or informal way, or is negotiated outside both statutory obligations and union-negotiated agreements. Much is left to the

Work and family balance


ER 29,4


discretion of the HR practices of the organisations and the individual line manager. The findings from the case studies accord with earlier research on EEO programmes and workplace agreements that found that these mechanisms did not in the main facilitate family-friendly workplace arrangements (Campbell and Charlesworth, 2004; Whitehouse and Zetlin, 1999). Workplace culture and support is important in ensuring women have, and feel that they have, access to such programmes as exist (Eaton, 2003). Informal procedures and arrangements at the workplace were extensive and reportedly useful. Exchanges in hours or shifts worked were accepted as mutually beneficially to women, particularly at hospital. he HR managers were mindful of the business case for good practice, particularly where labour or skill shortage prevailed or where employees had been highly trained or proved themselves effective in a particular role. They also supported an approach that was in accord with the regulatory approach. The EEO and workplace bargaining regime are both very dependent on the “business case” for family-friendly employment measures, one which is supported by government and its agencies (for example EOWA) but is in tension with other ideas based on arguments about equity and social justice (ACTU, 2005). In turn, such measures are unevenly distributed within and across workplaces (Gray and Tudball, 2002), and development and implementation becomes dependent upon managerial prerogative. While businesses may deploy “flexible” employment arrangements these are not necessarily compatible with integrating work and family responsibilities. In terms of advancing the policy agenda for work and family in Australia, the research suggests a number of points. First, without clear legislative instructions and requirements that are built into EEO programmes and the minimum conditions for workplace agreements, it is likely that a voluntarist regime will tend to gravitate towards the minimum. This outcome was apparent from the review of the industrial agreements. As a result, prescribing and setting the minimum is important. Secondl, negotiating to balance individual work and care demands becomes dependent on the goodwill of managers and the economic circumstances of workplaces. Such a regime will lead to uneven access. Third, government can support work and family reconciliation through supporting programmes and policies that apply to all workers and are independent of workplace size or profitability. This approach would include funding childcare places and providing for funded maternity leave. Finally, the shift in Australia towards individual bargaining and fewer base conditions associated with the 2006 Work Choices legislation will enhance managerial prerogative (Sappey et al., 2006) at the workplace and lead to a greater dependence on informal arrangements for reconciling work and family. References ACTU (2004), Work and Family Test Case 2004, ACTU Outline of Contentions, available at: actu_Outline_of_Contentions/pdf (accessed April 2006). ACTU (2005), Workchoices: Family Impact Statement, available at: www.actu.asn.au/public/ papers/workchoices_family_impact-statement (accessed April 2006). Australian Government (2005), Workchoices, available at www.workchoices.gov.au (accessed April 2006). Bacchi, C. (1996), The Politics of Affirmative Action, Sage, London.

Bardoel, E.A., Thoreau, P. and Ristov, D. (2000), “The changing composition of the Australian workforce relevant to work-family issues”, International Human Resources Issues, Vol. 1 No. 1, pp. 58-80. Bittman, M. and Rice, J. (2002), “The spectre of overwork: an analysis of trends between 1974 and 1997 using Australian time diaries”, Labour and Industry, Vol. 12 No. 3, pp. 5-25. Bray, M. and Waring, P. (2005), “Complexity and congruence in Australian industrial relations”, Journal of Industrial Relations, Vol. 47 No. 1, pp. 1-15. Burgess, J. and Macdonald, D. (2003), “A decade of enterprise bargaining in Australia: an introduction”, in Burgess, J. and Macdonald, D. (Eds), Developments in Enterprise Bargaining in Australia, Tertiary Press, Melbourne. Burgess, J., Henderson, L. and Strachan, G. (2005a), “Women workers in male dominated industrial manufacturing organizations: contrasting workplace studies from Australia”, Management Revue, Vol. 16 No. 4, pp. 458-72. Burgess, J., Strachan, G. and Henderson, L. (2005b), “Equal opportunity for women: workplace policies and programs: case study analysis”, Working paper 13, Employment Studies Centre, University of Newcastle, Newcastle. Campbell, I. and Burgess, J. (2001), “Casual employment in Australia and temporary employment in Europe: developing a cross-national comparison”, Work, Employment and Society, Vol. 15 No. 1, pp. 171-84. Campbell, I. and Charlesworth, S. (2004), Key work and family trends in Australia, Centre for Applied Research, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Melbourne. EOWA (Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency) (2007a), Developing a Workplace Program, available at: www.eeo.gov.au/Developing_A_Workplace_Program. asp (accessed February 2007). EOWA (2007b), About Equal Opportunity, available at: www.eeo.gov.au/About_Equal_ Opportunity.asp (accessed February 2007). Eaton, S. (2003), “If you can use them: flexible policies, organisational commitment and perceived performance”, Industrial Relations, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 145-58. Glezer, H. and Wolcott, I. (1998), Work and Family Values, Preferences and Practice, Australian Family Briefing 4, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Melbourne. Gray, M. and Tudball, J. (2002), “Access to family-friendly work practices: differences within and between Australian workplaces”, Family Matters, Vol. 61, pp. 30-5. Howard, J. The Right Hon. (2005), “Workplace relations reform: the next logical step”, Address to the Sydney Institute, Sydney, available at: www.pm.gov.au/news/speeches/speech1455. html (accessed April 2006). Morehead, A. (2003), “Managing flexible working time arrangements: negotiations between mothers and managers in a Canberra hospital”, Labour and Industry, Vol. 14 No. 1, pp. 95-106. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (2002), Babies and Bosses: Reconciling Work and Family Life,Vol. 1, OECD Publishing, Paris. Pocock, B. (2002), “The effect of long hours on family and community life”, ACTU Policy Background Paper, Melbourne, available at www.actu.asn.au/papers/pocock lit (accessed May 2006). Pocock, B. (2003), The Work/Life Collision, Federation Press, Sydney. Pocock, B. (2005), “Work-care regimes: institutions, culture and behaviour and the Australian case”, Gender, Work and Organisation, Vol. 12 No. 1, pp. 32-49.

Work and family balance


ER 29,4


Preston, A. and Burgess, J. (2003), “Women’s work in Australia: trends, issues and prospects”, Australian Journal of Labour Economics, Vol. 6 No. 4, pp. 497-518. Punch, K. (2005), Introduction to Social Research Quantitative and Qualitative Approaches, 2nd ed., Sage, London. Russell, G. and Bowman, L. (2000), Work and Family: Current Thinking, Research and Practice, Macquarie Research Limited for Department of Family and Community Services, Canberra. Sappey, R., Burgess, J., Lyons, M. and Buultjens, J. (2006), The New Federal Workplace Relations System, Pearson Education, Sydney. Thornton, M. (1999), The Liberal Promise: Anti-Discrimination Legislation in Australia, Oxford University Press, Melbourne. Van Barneveld, K. and Waring, P. (2003), “AWAs: a review of the literature and debates”, Australian Bulletin of Labour, Vol. 28 No. 2, pp. 104-20. Watson, I. (2004), “Contented casuals in inferior jobs? Reassessing casual employment in Australia”, ACIRRT working paper 94, University of Sydney, Sydney. Watson, I., Buchanan, J., Campbell, I. and Briggs, C. (2003), Fragmented Futures: New Challenges in Working Life, Federation Press, Sydney. Whitehouse, G. and Zetlin, D. (1999), “Family-friendly policies; distribution and implementation in Australian workplaces”, The Economic and Labour Relations Review, Vol. 10 No. 2, pp. 221-39. Further reading Burgess, J., Sullivan, A. and Strachan, G. (2004), “Australian workplace agreements, EEO and family-friendly arrangements in the retail sector”, Employment Relations Record, Vol. 4 No. 2, pp. 61-70. Charlesworth, S., Campbell, I. and Probert, B. (2002), “Balancing work and family responsibilities: policy implementation options”, a report prepared for the Victorian Department of Premier and Cabinet and Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development, Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, Melbourne. Houston, L. (1996), “Equity or exclusion? A case study of the workplace bargaining process”, Journal of Interdisciplinary Gender Studies, Vol. 1 No. 2, pp. 127-37. Thornthwaite, L. (2002), “Working time and work-family balance: a review of employees’ preferences”, Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 166-83. About the authors John Burgess is Professor and Director at the Graduate School of Business, University of Newcastle, Australia. He can be contacted at [email protected] Lindy Henderson is Research Associate at the School of Business and Management, University of Newcastle, Australia. She can be contacted at [email protected] Glenda Strachan is Professor of Management at the School of Management, Griffith University, Australia. She can be contacted at [email protected]

To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected] Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints