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The legitimation and reproduction of discourse‐practice gaps in work‐life balance

Paula McDonald (School of Management, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia)
Keith Townsend (The Department of Employment Relations and Human Resources, Griffith University, Brisbane, Australia)
Amy Wharton (College of Liberal Arts, Washington State University, Vancouver, Washington, USA)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 1 February 2013




Critical scholarship on work‐life balance (WLB) and its associated practices maintains that workplace flexibility is more than a quasi‐functionalist response to contemporary problems faced by individuals, families or organisations. Beginning with Fleetwood's contention that WLB discourses have become “detached” from their associated practices, this paper aims to explore how workplace practices support or challenge dominant WLB discourses evident in socio‐cultural, political and organisational sources.


The authors analyse individual and group interview transcripts derived from 122 white‐collar employees in two different organisational contexts (one public, one private) in the construction industry in Australia.


Four major themes were identified in the data, which illustrate discourse practice gaps. First, the demands facing this particular industry/sector were framed as heightened and unique. Second, productivity was prioritised, dominating employees' care‐giving and lifestyle concerns. Third, employees' caring responsibilities were communicated as personal and individual choices. Fourth, commitment and efficiency were judged on the basis of presence in the workplace.

Research limitations/implications

Even in industries that have embraced WLB, workplace practices legitimate and reinforce the status quo, and maintain a gap between the promises of WLB and its potential to ameliorate conflict and assist workers to span the boundaries of paid work and other life domains.


While the practices demonstrated in the research are focused on one industry, the study provides a critical analysis of how the contextually‐influenced meaning of WLB is constructed, created and contested in these workplaces and the effects it produces.



McDonald, P., Townsend, K. and Wharton, A. (2013), "The legitimation and reproduction of discourse‐practice gaps in work‐life balance", Personnel Review, Vol. 42 No. 2, pp. 205-222.



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Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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