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Action research to develop work‐life balance in a UK university

Liz Doherty (Faculty of Organisation and Management, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK)
Simonetta Manfredi (Oxford Brookes University, Oxford, UK)

Women in Management Review

ISSN: 0964-9425

Article publication date: 1 April 2006




This paper aims to show the extent to which an action research approach, which incorporates learning from previous studies and interventions, can be used to progress work‐life balance (WLB) policies and practices in a university context.


The paper builds on the now considerable knowledge relating to the theory and practice of WLB. It adopts an action research/change management approach as part of a project partly funded by the Department for Trade and Industry partnership scheme. Specific methods utilised include a fundamental review of organisational policy using an evaluative matrix and an analysis of the outcomes of four workshops with 51 line managers.


The findings show considerable differences between the experiences of administrative, professional, technical and clerical (APT&C) staff and academics. In particular, APT&C staff seek a greater sense of “entitlement” and more trust and autonomy, whereas academic staff seek a more manageable work load. By moving through the stages of the action research cycle, many of the limitations associated with past WLB initiatives can be overcome for APT&C staff. By comparison, universities' disinclination to tackle academic work intensification is best explained by the lack of labour market pressure to do so and the fact that sustainable WLB does not constitute part of the “tablestakes” of academic employment.


The paper presents theoretical models, together with practical approaches for embedding WLB into organisational cultures. It also offers theoretical explanations for employers' predisposition to adopt WLB change programmes.



Doherty, L. and Manfredi, S. (2006), "Action research to develop work‐life balance in a UK university", Women in Management Review, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 241-259.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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