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Tag Archives: work-life balance

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by Alex J Wood

‘I had to change hours. . . I felt really sick, it just hit me, it hit all of us.’ These are the words that Colin used to describe the painful reality of workplace temporal flexibility for many workers. And it is an experience which is becoming increasingly common.

In the US, economists Lonnie Golden found that 28% of workers report having schedules with variable start and end times. A similar situation exists in Europe where around 35% of workers report facing changes in their work schedule.

The growth of flexible scheduling has caused significant public debate in UK. In particular, the growth of zero hour contracts, a form of employment which does not guarantee any hours of work, figured prominently in the 2015 general election. Labour party leader Ed Miliband coined the term ‘zero-zero Britain’ to highlight the unfairness of a ‘recovery’ in which the ‘rich paid zero tax while the poor received zero hours contracts’.

In response to such criticism the UK government drew upon think tank research to argue that such flexible scheduling was actually a good for workers, enabling them to ‘flex their work… [and thus be] more satisfied with their work life balance.’

In a recently published ethnographic study, I sought to evaluate whether such flexible employment could truly be considered beneficial for work-life balance.

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glass_blogimage_june-20141by Christy Glass

In a recent article published in Forbes (here), business writer Tim Worstall wonders why family-friendly policy advocates support paid maternity leave policies. In his view, such policies are not just ineffective but harmful to women because they damage women’s professional standing—and ultimately reduce their wages. Quoting a woman CEO who shares his views, Worstall argues that mothers should limit their time on paid leave or risk losing the confidence of their employer. So why on earth would anyone argue for more or better paid leave policies?

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by Erin A. Cech and Mary Blair-Loy

The widespread fascination with the TV series Mad Men is partly due to the stark contrast it draws between the postwar professional workforce portrayed in the series and the realities of that same workforce today. Although still largely male-dominated, professional occupations are no longer predominantly populated by men who serve as family breadwinners and have stay-at-home spouses. Women are in the workforce standing shoulder to shoulder with men as household earners and nearly half of couples with young children now juggle childcare responsibilities along with two careers. Despite a professional workforce demographic that is decidedly post-Mad Men, workplace arrangements and expectations of “ideal workers” in professions today could be ripped right out of a Mad Men script.

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The beauty of contrast is that looking at one thing makes you focus on another. That is true in art but also for work and non-work. Which is why looking at pictures of motherhood can make us appreciate how important our images of work are: work does not work until we know what work looks like.

In late 2013, two contrasting photo series of women as mothers made the news in the UK. The first series was of Licia Ronzuli, Italian member of the European Parliament, and her daughter Vittoria. Pictures taken in parliament showed mother and daughter over three years, Victoria on her mother’s lap, playing with whatever tools of the trade were within the reach of her growing arms (pens, paper, headphones) and learning to raise her arm(s) to vote. In an earlier interview, Ronzuli said she brought her daughter to the workplace as a political act, to make women’s struggle between careering and caring more visible. The second series was the polar opposite: a collection of baby photographs from Britain’s Victorian days. Back then photography required several minutes of exposure, so mothers camouflaged themselves as chairs and curtains to hold their little darlings still for long enough. The babies’ expressions range from sceptical to petrified while their mothers morph into shapeless background figures.

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AppelbaumUnfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy by Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman (Cornell, 2014).

This book analyzes the history of California’s decade-old paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which began operating in 2004.  Based on original fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California adult population, it analyzes the impact of paid family leave on employers and workers in the most populous state in the U.S., and explores the implications for crafting future work-family policy for other states and for the nation as a whole.

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by Erin L. Kelly and Phyllis Moen

Overworked? Overwhelmed? You’re not alone. Seventy percent of employed Americans say work interferes with their non-work lives. Over half feel they don’t have enough time with their children or spouses. This isn’t just one group: it’s mothers, fathers, married workers, singles, Boomers, GenXers and Millennials.

“Work-life balance” has been discussed for 40 years and many companies have tried to address the issue. Seventy-seven percent of workplaces with more than 50 employees allow some employees to change their schedules and 63% allow some regular work to be done at home. Unfortunately, flextime, telecommuting and shifting to part-time hours are usually provided as “accommodations” to help a few employees.

The root problem, of course, isn’t that employees have family or personal commitments. The root problem is the rigid conventions of work that assume work must occur at certain times and places and that mistakenly gauge productivity by the number of hours spent at work.

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by Joan Williams

A recent article in Slate (based on an article in the Guardian) reports that many young Japanese have lost interest in sex. The Japan Family Planning Association found that 45 percent of women aged 16-24, and 25 percent of the men, “were not interested in or despised sexual contact.” A 2011 survey found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in a romantic relationship. A third of Japanese under 30, according to another study, have never dated at all.

What’s the turnoff? Traditional gender roles. “Japan’s punishing corporate world makes it almost impossible for women to combine a career and family,” the Guardian journalist Abigail Haworth writes, “while children are unaffordable unless both parents work.” Nearly 70 percent of Japanese women quit their jobs after their first child, forced out by long hours and hostility toward working mothers, not-so-affectionately called oniyome (“devil wives”).

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