Work-Life Balance

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Introduction: a divergence starting form concepts and definitions

The concern about how individuals can integrate their work and personal lives is being increasingly at the centre of attention in governmental and supra-state policies, in organizational agenda and in personal expectations.

Consequently, the concept, causes and possible solutions of this area of interest are being widely researched, raising a debate in which there is no agreement just starting from the terminology used.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s the most used term in this field was ‘work-family’ as the issue mainly referred to working mothers with family responsibilities. In the last 15 years the area of interest has been broadened and the use of the expression ‘work-life balance’ has been adopted more extensively, as it seems to include in the debate not only the family commitments but all aspects of non-work personal life (Townsend and McDonald 2008). So in a general sense, work-life balance can be defined as a ‘satisfactory level of involvement or ‘fit’ between the multiple roles in a person’s life’ (Hudson, 2005, p.3).

On the other hand, the term ‘balance’ has been criticized because it implied that work and life domains could be in equilibrium (for example, Taylor 2002), so that some authors prefer to use the term ‘articulation’ (Crompton et al. 2007), ‘harmonisation of paid work and personal life’ (Gambles et al. 2006) or ‘work-life integration’ (Kossek and Lambert 2006) (Townsend and McDonald 2008).

In summary, the disagreement about terminology reflects the complexity of the issue, which is often focused on family but may encompass wider employee needs. Moreover, these needs can vary throughout the lifetime and according to different individual situations and perspectives.

It could be argued that ‘work–personal life integration’ is a more appropriate expression as it assumes that both work and personal demands are part of an individual life and both should be closely coordinated. However, for the purposes of this essay the expression ‘work-life balance’ will be adopted as it is the most commonly used in the researched literature and government policies (Fagan et al. 2012).

Work-Life Balance analysis

In the last decades there have been profound changes in society with deep repercussion in the employment patterns, which have increasingly raised the public attention on how employed people can manage work commitments and personal life. These changes are:

• More women (and mothers) present in the labour force

Statistic figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS 2011) show that female employment are increasing and, in particular, over the last fifteen years the percentage of women with children in work has increased more than the percentage of women without dependent children. At the end of 2010, mothers in work were 66.5% and women without children in work were 67.3%.

Although the majority of mothers in UK still work part-time (37.4%), the percentage has remained stable over the years, while the number of mothers working full time has increased from a 23.1% in 1996 to 29.0% at the end of 2010.

In addition, mothers who are living with a partner have an employment rates higher than those not living with a partner (71.8% vs. 55.4%).

• More men with family responsibilities

The increasing number of women in employment has direct influences in family structures. Using Glass and Estes (1997: 290) words cited in Bach (2005), “Without housewives at home to attend to the organization and provision of care to children, fathers are also experiencing tensions between their work and family obligations, although not necessarily the same kind nor to the same degree as mothers”

• More lone parent households

In the bulletin Families and households in the UK, 2001 to 2011 presented in January 2012 by The Office for National Statistics (ONS) it is...
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