Lewis, S. (2003) 'The integration of paid work and the rest of life. Is post industrial work the new leisure?' , in Leisure Studies, 22: 343 - 55.
There has been much discussion of work-life balance, and the blurring of boundaries between work and leisure. For some, work is now a matter of choice and enjoyment, and so it qualifies as leisure. However, the usual constraints are apparent on choice, so work is never just simply leisure.
Paid work is increasing in the UK in terms of hours spent on it, so that work-life balance is now an issue. This is especially so given the global 24 hour economy. Is this kind of work popular because it is a source of interest, or should we see it as a source of encroachment on life? Is it as a result of choice, or is it a new kind of oppression? Is the increase in working hours leading to a decline in well-being? 50 accountants were interviewed, following a questionnaire, to find out why they found work attractive, and whether it was source of challenge and enjoyment. Problems with this view soon emerged [not just from the empirical study?]:
(a) Work-leisure definitions. Work was reported as being 'increasingly enjoyable and seductive' (344). Internet use in particular spanned both work and leisure. Leisure was still seen as an opportunity to exercise free choice, as something that went on in non- obligated time. However, we know that the issue of unpaid domestic labour complicates this picture, and, for some leisure theorists, states of mind are more important. The work on flow indicates that pleasurable states can be found at work as well. It is probable that notions of choice and enjoyment are increasingly found in both work and leisure.
(b) The blurring of boundaries between work and the family follows especially from increased female work. The female worker has multiple roles, and often experiences some conflict between them. This is also increasingly the case for men. The research showed that there were some boundaries put around work by workers, but that stress at work can cross over into family life. At the same time, women can experience work and family as offering multiple sources of satisfaction. Work can also protect against excessive family stress. It is issues like these that led to discussion of the work-life balance in the 1990s. The knowledge economy has increased the problems. The issue now is to find active ways to reintegrate work and family life [including normalization?].
(c) New policies include the use of flexitime and family-friendly employment. There is a strong business interest in these policies too, since they can assist recruitment. The impact of these policies has been limited, however, since they do not lead to real autonomy and control for employees. Those with the most choice also experience the most pressure. Flexible opportunities often lead to a person pursuing more work, seen especially in 'home-based teleworking'. Work intrudes, and is never completed. It is family commitments, which have to be met as well, which limit choice in practice.
(d) Intensive work is nearly always female, working-class and low paid. Choice and enjoyment in this kind of work is unusual, especially in the UK. However, there are elements of genuine choice even here, as the respondents confirm:
(1) It can be that work is more absorbing than home, so that the latter is hard work.
(2) More choice and autonomy can be experienced in paid work, so that it can come to look like leisure by comparison.
(3) There is some concern about 'driven' personalities who display absorption in the work, a sense of obligation and duty, high self expectations, and an obsession with mastery ['addicts'].
(4) There is also the matter of an occupational identity, especially the notion of a service ethic which provides a responsibility to clients. This overwhelming responsibility becomes connected with professional identity, especially with female occupations. Workers here sometimes described this obligation as a lack of choice [equivalent to the 'sacrifice ethic' noted for male manual workers?]. American teachers report this kind of feeling of obligation.
(5) There is a social context to intensive work as well [almost peer pressure].
(6) Individuals tend to blame themselves for any stress, rather than seeing this as a result of structural constraints at work, including changes in work, different work practices and cultures: better time management is often seen as the solution, whereas downsizing and efficiency drives are also to blame.
(7) Certain types of worker autonomy are best seen as a management strategy, and requiring workers to discipline themselves. The organisational culture becomes the main form of managing workers rather than strict adherence to the clock. Long hours are valued as an operational measure of commitment and productivity [presenteeism].
(e) There is still an effect of gender. The traditional pattern of work is still designed for a man with no other obligations. There is an active dislike for those who go home early, even if they are working flexibly. When men adopt flexible working, is to pursue leisure, while women do so for family reasons. It is still the case that women are not expected to be flexible at work in order to pursue leisure.
Overall, it seems that the decision to work longer hours does not display real choice. There are many constraints at work, rather than the pursuit of enjoyment. Patterns are horribly individualised and problems rendered as requiring individual solutions, including working harder. Additional work cannot simply be described as a new form of leisure. There is still a substantial problem of how and whether to balance work and life. Absorption in work can be very satisfying, but those who are absorbed can also help to set demanding standards for others to meet. We still need research on the long-term effects.
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