Achieving work-life balance


Interview with Professor Abigail Gregory, MBE.

HE Consultant, Executive Coach & Mentor, England.


Keywords: Work-life balance, gender, insurance, social work, TV and film production, trades unions, work-life integration.


How to reference this article: Gregory, A., 2022,  Achieving work-life balance, Entrepreneurial Mindset Network, accessed [insert date], <www.e-star.academy/transfer-knowledge/v5n2-ag>.


First published in 2022 in the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE Volume 5 no 2.

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How did you first become interested in researching work-life balance?


My interest in researching work-life balance stemmed from my PhD when I explored working patterns in grocery retailing in Britain and France. This showed that many women in both countries – and particularly in Britain – were working part-time in supermarkets in order to accommodate their family life, and particularly childcare. I went on to research women and work in the two countries (Gregory and Windebank, 2000), which flagged the important role of the state in facilitating the reconciliation of paid work and family.


How does a consideration of gender influence your research?


Gender has continued to be a key feature of my research because it is culturally embedded and intersects with work (both paid and unpaid) to create differential outcomes for men and women. I have looked at how fathers engaged with family-friendly working opportunities in insurance and social work in Britain and France, to see the complex intersection of organizational factors with national frameworks and individual and couple characteristics impacting on fathers’ work-life balance (Gregory and Milner, 2011). Latterly, I have researched women and work-life balance in TV and film production in the UK (Milner and Gregory 2021) where gender inequality still exists in pay, job type, and career trajectories. Although these entrenched issues remain, the creation of new businesses by women seeking to provide a more work-life friendly working environment gives hope for change.


Image credit: Pixabay


What are some of your key findings about how to achieve work-life balance?


My research has focussed particularly on the role of the state, employers and trades unions in impacting men’s and women’s choices to balance work and family and open up the space for negotiation. Much has been written about how to take practical steps to improve work-life balance as an individual; for example, Lupu and Ruiz-Castro (2021), identify a cyclical approach combining reflexivity (questioning oneself to enhance self-awareness) and role redefinition following their research in accounting and law. In the coaching world, empowering individuals to take control of their work-life priorities through tools such as the “Wheel of Life” (Flower, 2021: 441-2) is an established approach. A new four-stage approach by coaching specialists Haddock-Millar and Tom (2020:10) advocates focussing on four interrelated themes to enhance work-life balance: positive view of self, success and life satisfaction, resilience and coping with setbacks and decision making and negotiation with stakeholders at home and at work.


DEFINITION OF WORK-LIFE BALANCE:

This has been widely debated (see Gregory, 2016: 503-504). It refers to the relationship between individuals’ work and non-work interests. It is being challenged by other terms such as “work-life interface” or “work-life integration”, the latter being seen to better reflect our multiple overlapping life interests than just the opposition between two spheres.



What are the common obstacles that most people encounter juggling their work and life commitments?


Much work-life balance literature has focussed on couples struggling to balance growing caring responsibilities, expectations for parental involvement, access to affordable childcare, and organisational demands. Key issues can be long working hours, inability to access more flexible working times and patterns owing to organisational policy or line management, or indeed the consequences of blurring work and non-work through the proliferation of IT. New research is looking at staff work-life balance in the gig economy where low-income staff may be particularly challenged (Warren, 2021).


How did the COVID 19 pandemic change work patterns - for better or worse?


The long hours of homeworking during COVID have transformed into hybrid working for office staff in many countries and broader working time experimentation (Kollewe, 2022). Recent surveys reported in the BBC (Morton, 2022) stated that average attendance among 50,000 office workers surveyed in June and July this year in the UK was only 29% with a peak of 39% midweek, with similar results across 12 other countries. In a context of tight labour markets and changing individual priorities post-pandemic, employers and employees are engaging in new and evolving work-life balance territory with impacts depending on variables such as gender, type of work, sector, location, management approach and career stage. For the time being at least, though, hybrid working looks to be here to stay.◼️


Acknowledgement


Thanks go to my colleagues Professor Susan Milner (University of Bath, UK) and Professor Jan Windebank (University of Sheffield, UK)whose joint research publications with me are cited below.


References


Flower, J. (2021) “Technique 14: The Wheel of Life”, in J. Passmore, The Coaches’ Handbook. Routledge: London.


Gregory, A. (2016) “Work-life balance”. In S. Edgell, E. Granter and H. Gottfried (eds) The Sage Handbook of Sociology of Work and Employment. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 502-519.


Gregory, A. and Windebank, J. (2000) Women and Work in Britain and France: Practice, Theory and Policy. Baskingstoke: Macmillan.


Haddock-Millar, J. and Tom, E. (2020) Coaching and Mentoring for Work-Life Balance. London: Routledge.


Kollewe, J. (2022) “Thousands of UK workers begin world’s biggest trial of four-day week”, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2022/jun/06/thousands-workers-worlds-biggest-trial-four-day-week. Accessed 20 September 2022.


Lupu. I. Ruiz-Castro, M. (2021) Work-Life Balance is a Cycle, Not an Achievement, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2021/01/work-life-balance-is-a-cycle-not-an-achievement. Accessed 18 August 2022.


Milner, M. and Gregory, A. (2021)“Time for a change: women, work, and gender equality in TV production”, inMedia, Culture & Society,see:https://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/M6RVA8H8EXFIIVYN73CK/full


Morton, B. (2022) “Workers going into office 1.5 days a week, survey suggests”, https:/ www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-62542537. Accessed 15 August 2022.


Warren, T. (2021) “Work-life balance and gig work”: ‘where are we now’ and ‘where next’ with the work-life balance agenda”, Journal of Industrial Relations, 63 (4), 522-545.