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Why work-life balance now?

Research output: Working paper

  • Steve Fleetwood


In the vast literature on work-life balance one question remains seriously under-elaborated: Why now? The paper opens by recognising that flexible working practices can be employee friendly or employer friendly, and that current employer friendly practices tend to constrain, rather than enable, possibilities for work-life balance. Part two introduces neoliberalism, interpreting it as a new class strategy: the iron fist of a renewed ruling class offensive is wrapped in the velvet glove of freedom, individualism, and (re-habilitated) discourses of flexible working practices. Part three introduces socio-linguistics to overcome an elision between work-life balance as a set of practices and as a set of discourses. We then see that discourses of flexibility have been un-coupled from discourses associated with employee unfriendly flexible working practices, and re-coupled with discourses associated with employee friendly working practices and, hence, with work-life balance. Data show that current flexible working practices are characterised as much by employee unfriendly working practices that tend to constrain work-life balance, as they are by employee friendly practices that tend to enable work-life balance. Shorn of its employee unfriendly connotations, the term 'flexibility' has been discursively 'rehabilitated' such that it no longer connotes any negativity. In conclusion one of New Labour's work-life balance policies (the right to request and the duty to consider flexible working practices) is analysed in an attempt to answer the initial question: 'Why work-life balance now?'