|Abstract:||After approximately an entire generation following the now-steadily increasing presence of women in the workforce, from the 1990s onward, the issue of how to balance conflicts between the demands of work and non-work life, especially for women, has become an object of scholarly research. This generated various frameworks for characterizing and addressing work-life balance, although several other similar constructs have been proposed and explored.
While non-governmental sectors were some of the first to experience enough pushback from women that they gradually, if slowly, began to take the issue of work-life balance seriously, higher education institutions (HEIs) have been slower to pick up this topic. Moreover, majority of studies have focussed almost exclusively on work-life balance for faculty staff and not non-faculty staff.
Using qualitative interviews, this study uses a work/life border theory framework to explore the work-life balance experiences of 10 non-faculty women at an HEI. Findings from analyses of the interviews (and post-interview follow up interviews) disclosed five key themes around (1) benefits and support, (2) gender disparities, (3) family involvement, (4) cultural change and policy development, and (5) technology. Here, the lens of border theory—which frames the work-life distinction as a constant “middle-ground” space where home-life exerts pressures at work and work-life exerts pressures at home—proved especially illuminating, given that almost none of the experiences described by all ten participants ever positioned work issues as completely divorced from home-life and vice versa.
Moreover, none of the ten participants agreed that their daily navigation of work and non-work life could be characterized in terms of balance. Not only did they insist that a “balance” between work and non-work life could only be an aspirational condition never to be reached, several also explicitly rejected “balance” as desirable, because home-life should always come first. As such, all participants agreed that a notion of work-life management more accurately characterized their relationship to the competing resource demands, especially around time, between work and non-work life.
Equally, common to all the five themes that emerged from the data analysis is a tacit conflict around the resource demands, especially for time, between work and non-work life. Such conflicts are ubiquitous in the data such that they seem not just inevitable but constitutive of participant experiences. As such, while participants describe negotiating these various conflicts in different (sometimes effective, sometimes ineffective) ways, the very situation of such conflicts itself becomes unavoidable. And since these conflict situations between the demands of work and non-work like recur chronically, to “cure” them is not possible (except by quitting work) such that managing such situations is mandated. In this way, these “unavoidable conflicts” independently of the data disclose a fundamental need to move away from notions of work-life balance (which none of the participants subscribed to as feasible) and instead consider the notion of work-life management.
Recommendations based on these insights and directions for future research are discussed as well.