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Well‐balanced families? A gendered analysis of work‐life balance policies and work family practices

S.B. Burnett (Department of Management Learning and Leadership, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, UK)
C.J. Gatrell (Department of Management Learning and Leadership, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, UK)
C.L. Cooper (Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, UK)
P. Sparrow (The Centre for Performance‐Led HR, Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, UK)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 5 October 2010

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Abstract

Purpose

The paper considers the impact of work‐life balance policies on the work and family practices of professional, dual‐earner parents with dependent children, by assessing the extent to which “well‐balanced families” have been resultantly facilitated. It poses two research questions: the first centres on how far work‐life balance policies have better enabled working parents to manage their commitments to employers and children, whilst the second focuses on how far parental and employer responses to work‐life balance policies may be gendered. The ultimate aim is to (re)‐articulate the importance of gender in the work‐life balance agenda.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper draws upon historical and conceptual research on work and family practices. It invokes gender as a lens through which notions of the “well‐balanced family” are considered.

Findings

It is argued that work‐life balance policies have not led to well‐balanced, or “gender‐neutral”, work and family practices. This is for two reasons, both relating to gender. First, the take up of work‐life balance policies is gendered, with more mothers than fathers working flexibly. This is partly because organizational expectations fail to acknowledge social change around the paternal parenting role. Second, work‐life balance policies focus mainly on the issues of paid work and childcare, failing to take account of domestic labour, the main burden of which continues to be carried by mothers.

Practical implications

Deeply ingrained social assumptions about the gendered division of labour within heterosexual couples limit the impact of work‐life balance policies on work family practices.

Originality/value

The paper moves forward the debate on work‐life balance through taking an interdisciplinary approach to an issue which has often been addressed previously from discipline‐specific approaches such as health, psychology or policy.

Keywords

Citation

Burnett, S.B., Gatrell, C.J., Cooper, C.L. and Sparrow, P. (2010), "Well‐balanced families? A gendered analysis of work‐life balance policies and work family practices", Gender in Management, Vol. 25 No. 7, pp. 534-549. https://doi.org/10.1108/17542411011081356

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2010, Emerald Group Publishing Limited