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The changing face of work and leisure: a global issue?
Transitions is a European Union sponsored qualitative research project examining the transition to parenthood among employees in changing European workplaces in France, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, The Netherlands, the UK, Bulgaria, and Slovenia. Although the focus is on work and family rather than leisure it illustrates some of the issues of the paid work_/non-work boundaries in the contemporary European workplace. One phase of the research involves organizational case studies in the private and public sectors, using focus groups, interviews, questionnaires and document analysis.
Preliminary findings show, for example, a drive for more efficiency and an intensification of work across all the countries as fewer people are expected to do more work. The study also reveals a widespread implementation gap between policies to support the reconciliation of work and family, whether at the state or workplace level, and actual practice; and persisting gender differences in work_/life responsibilities and experiences in a range of social policy contexts.
National economic and social context does, however, make some difference to the ways in which this intensification is experienced. A short questionnaire on work, family and well-being was completed by individuals participating in the focus groups and interviews. This small-scale quantitative data contribute to the contextual setting. A comparison of life satisfaction scores for employees in the private sector organizations showed Norway to be the highest, followed by The Netherlands, Portugal, the UK, then Slovenia and finally Bulgaria. Although likely to be related to wider social and economic factors, preliminary indication is that these differences may bear some relation to differences in the experiences of work and non-work in these countries.
The Transitions case studies show that both managers and work colleagues have a decisive role in creating the organizational climate and culture that contribute to the well-being of employed parents. Whatever the stated objectives and work_/life policies of the organization, experiences vary across departments with managers playing a key role, as found in many other studies (Crompton, 2003; Lewis, 1997, 2001). But increasingly responsibility for flexible working hours and the management of employees’ needs for time for family is devolved to self-managing teams.
This focus on collaboration and teamwork ostensibly provides employees with more flexibility to integrate work and non-work activities. In practice, however, in the context of the intensification of work, employees are often reluctant to take time off work or work flexibly when they realize that already overburdened colleagues will have to take on their work. Reciprocity can be effective, but often colleagues can become agents of social control, ensuring that work responsibilities most often take precedence over non-work ones (Peper et al ., 2004).
Some of the potential implications of the intrusion of work into all areas of life emerge in an international study supported by the Ford Foundation, Looking Backwards to Go Forwards: the Integration of Paid Work and Personal Life . This involved looking back at what has happened in the work_/personal life field in a range of countries*/the UK, USA, India, Norway, The Netherlands, South Africa and Japan. Past levers for change and problems and sticking points preventing further development were identified, with the ultimate goal of suggesting ways to turn these sticking points into new levers for change, so as to move forward (see Gambles et al ., forthcoming; Lewis et al., 2003; Rapoport et al., in press).
These countries offered comparative insights into the trends and issues being felt in a range of contexts with different levels of state or workplace support, at various stages in the evolution of ‘development’, dealing with different diversity and identity issues, expectations and assumptions. Data collection was via country timelines to capture the history and evolution of these issues, and country meetings with diverse groups of people working with these issues, and conversational interviews with creative people involved in some way with the issues.
One of the conclusions of this study is that global forces are calling for more and more effort in employment with very little consideration for the effect of this on people or societies (Rapoport et al ., 2004). Formal paid work is highly intrusive into other aspects of people’s lives across contemporary Western societies (Lewis, 2003a; Lewis et al ., 2003; Taylor, 2002) and increasingly in non-Western societies as globalization gains pace. Thus, the invasiveness of paid work into people’s lives is moving from the ‘developed’ world to the ‘developing’ world. For example, people working in multinational companies in India tend to work long and intensive hours and report ‘work_/life balance’ as one of their major problems (Gambles et al ., forthcoming).
Such one-sidedness has negative effects for life satisfaction and other aspects of well-being. Many people find they are increasingly isolated from family and leisure activities in an ever-increasing climate of long hours and work intensity. As Bauman (2003) argues, intimate relationships or institutions such as families, friendships, or communities are increasingly squeezed out or subjected to consumer forces and market mentalities, and growing numbers of people reject, leave, or switch relationships and corresponding institutions. In this climate, the Looking Backwards study found that many men and women in the countries studied report increased loneliness, and eroding support networks.
Many commentators have noted the negative effects of current working patterns and expectations on people’s sense of connectedness with others, and on life satisfaction and happiness (Jacobs & Christie, 2000; Layard, 2003; Voydanoff, forthcoming). There is also mounting concern about declining interest and participation in local communities and civic activities, which is threatening community sustainability and democratic and civic spirit (Blunkett, 2001; Putnam, 2000).
As Rapoport et al . (2004) argue, ‘it is clear that current patterns of work create a lack of time and energy for the care of children, elders, and communities, as well as for pursuits that refresh the spirit and create the will and motivation for both employment and other activities’. They argue there is a need to see this as a central issue in the global economy and point to the need for fundamental change for people sustainability. In a similar vein Webster (2004) argues that work needs to be socially as well as economically sustainable. Socially sustainable work would take account of the need for adequate time for leisure and other non-work activities to sustain and enhance the well-being of employees and thus ultimately of employers.
Clearly, fundamental changes are needed, but the findings of the Looking Backwards to Go Forwards study also indicated that the barriers to satisfying and equitable harmonization of paid work and personal life are largely societal and global rather than residing within individuals. They include, for example, consumerism and the power of money, a culture of constant busyness with expectations of quick fix solutions to problems, and fragmented thinking*/failing to consider the implications of changes at multiple levels for individuals, families, employing organizations, communities and societies.
For example, positive attitudes and experiences in one domain may spill over to the other domain, permitting fuller and more enjoyable participation in that role. They note that ‘Stressful, rigid work environments that demand extended commitments can interfere with family life, whereas, flexible work environments that provide opportunities for self control can enrich family life’ (p. 409). They call for the adoption of a life stage perspective in research, and more research into dual earner families.
Taylor (2002), in a report on the ESRC funded Future of Work Programme, advocates that a determined effort is required to assess the purpose of paid work in all our lives, and the need to negotiate a genuine trade-off between the needs of job efficiency and leisure. The report considers that class and occupational differences remain of fundamental importance to any understanding of the world of work.
Arguably, class is also important in understanding the world of leisure. Critcher and Bramham (in press) state that ‘Where access to leisure increasingly rests on the capacity to purchase goods and services in the market, the distribution of income becomes an important determinant of leisure life chances’ (pp. 37_/38). Research is crucial in monitoring the distribution of resources available for work and leisure in different groups in society, whether these are analyzed by class, gender, age, ethnicity or location.
Equally important in societies characterized by diversity is research into the experiences and motivations of individuals with varying work and leisure lifestyles. Recognizing the diversity of human experience and requirements, and the social and temporal nature of human endeavor, means there is no one correct policy for work and leisure. In rapidly changing societies, time is needed for social practices to meet new requirements.
Implications for guidance and counseling
Guidance and counseling professionals can play an important role on two levels, the individual and the collective. At the individual level they can help by raising awareness of these issue, the potential impact of long and/or intense working patterns on health and well-being and ways of avoiding or dealing with stress. They can also encourage apparent ‘workaholics’ or those in very demanding roles to think ahead to the consequences of a one-sided, work dominated life, and support those who are unemployed or underemployed in finding meaningful work.
However, we have indicated that many work_/leisure issues are the result of structural and social constraints, and so individual counseling will be of limited value in challenging wider social values around work and leisure. Group counseling may be useful in helping to raise awareness of the wider issues and to encourage people to talk about their concerns, and develop the skills for collaboration and campaigning for more radical social change that recognizes the place of paid work and leisure over the life course and the importance of both for well-being.
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