Beyond Work-Life 'Integration'
Posted: 6 Jan 2016
Date Written: January 2016
Research on the work-family interface began in the 1960s and has grown exponentially ever since. This vast amount of research, however, has had relatively little impact on workplace practice, and work-family conflict is at an all-time high. We review the work-family research to date and propose that a shift of attention is required, away from the individual experience of work and family and toward understanding how identity and status are defined at work. Several factors enshrine cherished identities around current workplace norms. The work devotion schema demands that those who are truly committed to their work will make it the central or sole focus of their lives, without family demands to distract them. Importantly, the work devotion schema underwrites valued class and gender identities: Work devotion is a key way of enacting elite class status and functions as the measure of a man — the longer the work hours and higher the demand for his attention, the better. Advocating change in the way work is done and life is lived meets resistance because it places these cherished identities at risk. Resistance to these identity threats keeps current workplace norms in place. This is why even the business case — which shows that current practices are not economically efficient — fails to persuade organizations to enact change. What is needed now is sustained attention to the implicit psychological infrastructure that cements the mismatch between today's workplace and today's workforce.
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