Work-life balance in the recession and beyond

Lead Research Organisation: Middlesex University
Department Name: Business School

Abstract

Prior to the current widespread economic recession there had been growing attention to the importance of work-life balance (WLB). Relevant legislation and normative pressures led to developments in employer WLB policies, albeit unevenly between sectors and often with an implementation gap between policies and practice. There are two arguments about how this progress will be affected by the economic crisis. On the one hand, it is argued that financial problems may eclipse social and individual concerns and that WLB and associated policies will be sidelined, as other priorities take centre stage. On the other hand, there is an argument that employers may use flexible working arrangements as a means to manage the impact of the crisis, leading to increased availability of quality flexible or part-time jobs and the evolution of flexible efficiency-driven ways of working that could challenge assumptions about ideal, constantly visible workers. Emerging research suggests a complex picture with both being true to some extent and in some contexts. This has implications for policy makers, employers, employees, their families and wider society.

This seminar series will focus on the impacts of the recession on WLB and associated policies and practices, and on potential strategies for supporting a triple agenda, which we define as enhancing employee WLB, sustaining or enhancing organisational effectiveness, and contributing to social justice. The overall aims are a) to understand the WLB challenges for employees, employers and policy-makers posed by the current recession and austerity measures, and b) to provide a forum for researchers from the UK and internationally and a range of research users to exchange information and ideas for meeting these challenges in the recession and beyond. The severity of the recession and austerity measures, and the associated impact on WLB policies and practices, varies across the EU. For example, in the current UK context: 1) the full impact of the recession and austerity measures have yet to hit many organisations; 2) there has been increased deregulation of employment law, accompanied by a greater emphasis on employer responsibility to implement WLB initiatives; and 3) austerity cuts affect the working conditions of public sector service providers and community-based services and supports, as well as reducing the safety net for working families. Comparisons will be made in the seminars with other European countries, especially those in which WLB is similarly threatened from severe cuts and competing priorities, enabling national and European effects to be distinguished. Other international participants will highlight innovative practices and policies with the potential for maintaining the triple agenda during recession and beyond. The seminars will therefore make a timely contribution to current policy debates on WLB, quality of work across Europe, social justice, equalities, care, and to developments in evidence-based workplace practices.

The series will comprise seven one-day seminars which will be structured to present emerging research and allow for extended open discussion, interaction and collaborative thinking by researchers, practitioners and other stakeholders. Seminars will focus on the meaning of WLB in a recession, the impact of recession on well-being, caring, equality and other aspects of social justice, quality of work and employment relations, innovative workplace practice and social policy to support WLB, and the future of WLB in recession and beyond. During an initial consultation period the proposal has stimulated a great deal of interest, both nationally and internationally, and we have commitments to participate from a wide range of academics and stakeholders. The series will also be widely disseminated beyond participants via a dedicated website, stakeholder websites and newsletters, practitioner publications and a book or special issue of a journal.

Planned Impact

Policy makers (e.g. Government departments) and policy shapers (advisors, charities and think-tanks) need the latest evidence about how current and planned WLB-related government policies (e.g. changes to employment law and maternity leave), together with changes in working practices triggered by the recession, will affect the triple agenda (see objectives). Policy shapers need information on the wider impacts of the changing policy landscape and regulatory framework on employees' work and personal lives, including the provision of informal care, as this has implications for benefit systems and services. Equality organisations (e.g. the EHRC and the Centre for Social Justice) require specific information on the impact of the recession on vulnerable workers to help them support these groups, including any required improvements to public service provision. The seminar series will meet these needs by disseminating and fostering discussion of the latest research on organisational and social impacts of the recession on WLB. Discussion of the latest research on policy initiatives and their outcomes elsewhere in Europe will enable benchmarking, indicate areas of consensus and disagreement about policy impacts and implications, and contribute to recommendations for future evidence-based policies.

Employers across sectors and in SMEs, HRM practitioners and the CIPD have expressed concerns about sustaining employee engagement and also public sector services with increased job insecurity and demands on 'survivors' in lean organisations. While some see WLB support as unaffordable, some HRM practitioners see flexible working arrangements as the only benefits they can offer during the recession and require information and support to enable this. The seminars will address these needs by disseminating up-to-date research on the impacts of the recession on WLB, diversity in employee experiences and needs, cost-effective ways of using flexible working and the consequences of such initiatives. This will feed into existing employer-led initiatives on defining and measuring the business case for WLB . Through information-sharing and stakeholder discussion, the seminars will also empower HRM professionals in making the case for maintaining WLB supports.

The needs of the policy and business communities are linked. Policy makers and shapers whom we consulted note that changes in workplace cultures are needed to enhance the effectiveness of existing and planned WLB legislation and policy (e.g. on transferable maternity leave and flexible working). Many HRM professionals were frustrated, even before the recession, by the slow progress towards culture change on WLB, and are eager to discuss initiatives to overcome barriers to progress. The presentations and discussions on barriers to systemic organisational change, processes for challenging and overcoming these and innovative practices during the recession will provide opportunities for longer-term changes in workplace cultures. Discussions will also focus on whether innovations and good practices can be adapted in diverse workplace contexts in the recession. Papers on techniques for challenging gendered workplace assumptions and other barriers (seminar 6) will provide tools for embedding wider cultural change.

Finally, employees need opportunities for flexible working and other WLB supports but also confidence that they can use these without penalties, especially when jobs are perceived to be at risk. Employees and their advocates, e.g. unions, charities and NGOs, will benefit from information about the feasibility of WLB initiatives in the UK and beyond, e.g., on how to change culture and practice to support fathers' WLB without compromising workplace effectiveness or incurring costs. The seminars will provide them with information to enhance employee expectations and sense of entitlement to WLB support and could contribute to increased take-up and improved health and well-being.
 
Description Key achievements and findings.
1. Facilitating multi stakeholder discussions of work-life balance (WLB) in austerity and beyond, embedding issues of fairness and social justice. The seminar series encouraged multi stakeholder discussions of WLB in austerity and beyond, embedding issues of fairness and social justice. The main achievement was to broaden discussion of WLB from a narrow focus on mutual benefit of policies and practices for employers and employees, to a triple agenda of seeking to support employee WLB (and well-being), workplace effectiveness and social justice. Explicitly bringing fairness, social justice and especially gender justice into discussion appears to be more challenging. This is evidenced, for example, by the relative neglect of precarious and other vulnerable workers in discussions of WLB, by changes in the law that disproportionately affect working carers and by the difficulties that some employers experience in accepting or articulating the social justice aspect of workplace WLB practices. Moreover, evidence was presented that some employers were focusing more on saving money , with less attention to employee needs or even using the WLB discourse to justify cost cutting practices . Recommendations from mixed academic/practitioner discussion groups in the final seminar included the need to change the social conversation and terms of the WLB debate to include social justice. This involves reframing the social justice and business case and the triple agenda as being good for everyone, whether in times of austerity or not. It was deemed likely however that the reconstruction of WLB debates around a specific triple agenda will be a long term project
2. Facilitating the emergence of some practical recommendations for specific changes in social policy and workplace practices. The triple agenda for WLB requires a shift in focus from the individual to the organisation. The academic-practitioner dialogues, including world cafés and other discursive processes, facilitated the emergence of some practical recommendations for specific changes in social policy and workplace practices. These included, for example, making the right to request flexible working a collective (e.g. work team) rather than just an individual entitlement, and the collaboration of academic and third sector organizations in providing evidence of health and societal costs of neglecting WLB issues in terms which policy makers and business leaders can accept and act upon.
3. Demonstrating to a multi stakeholder audience the value of action research processes for developing workplace innovations to support the triple agenda for WLB. The seminar series provided evidence that action research, involving collaboration between researchers, employers and employees, can challenge taken-for-granted assumptions and develop workplace innovations to meet the needs of multiple stakeholders. Evidence was provided from government supported research in South Korea and the USA. For example, following an action research process the introduction of a new short day shift for nurses with the most pressing work-family needs reduced staff turnover, benefiting nurses and patients in South Korea. 4. Raising new questions for research and public policy debates. The seminar series has raised new research questions about processes for developing innovative workplace practices for supporting the triple agenda, which recognise the potential unintended consequences of, for example, flexible working solutions, if fairness is excluded. It also raises questions about the role of the state in ensuring that social justice is embedded in both public policy and workplace practice.
Exploitation Route Academic route
• More focus on workers who are often neglected in WLB research, including those in precarious and low paid work, or those combining paid and unpaid care, and the organizational as well as social benefits of WLB supports for these workers.
• Research examining the outcomes of workplace WLB practices adopted and/or adapted to manage austerity from the perspectives of employees, employers and social advocacy groups.
• Organizational action research, involving collaborative problem solving, seeking solutions to individual, workplace and social problems might produce innovative interventions which can be monitored and evaluated by different stakeholders.

Stakeholder route
• Charities and advocacy groups might work with employers who experience difficulty in articulating the social justice element of the triple agenda, producing evidence based case studies of the overall benefits, even during a time of austerity.
• The charity Working Families has a large employer members base and also an employee helpline receiving many calls from vulnerable workers, so is in a key position to understand impacts of austerity on employees and employers and to promote the benefits of a triple agenda approach via user engagement.
• Policy makers should consider the policy implications of a triple agenda for WLB during austerity and beyond.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Financial Services, and Management Consultancy,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Other

URL http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org
 
Description Narrative Impact ESRC seminar series on work-life Balance in recession and beyond http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org This series aimed to provide a forum for academic-practitioner dialogue, sharing knowledge and creative thinking for researchers and key stakeholders to consider the impact of recession and austerity on work-life balance. A key focus was to consider ways of sustaining and enhancing employee work-life balance, effective organizations and social justice in difficult economic circumstances. The team and participants This highly collaborative seminar series was organised by a multi-disciplinary team, including academics from the universities of Middlesex, Warwick, Cranfield, Manchester, Reading, Strathclyde and Leicester and the head of research at the charity, Working Families. Other partners included the British Psychological Society and Ernst and Young, which each hosted one of the seminars. All seminars were highly participative with a wide range of stakeholders attending, including representatives of employers and employer groups, unions, policy-makers (Government departments, policy shapers and advisors), international organizations, charities and think-tanks. Up to 50 delegates attended each seminar and at least 50% of these were stakeholders. Some stakeholders presented research, practitioner experiences or case studies (e.g. International Labour Organization, Scottish Government), while others acted as discussants (e.g. Stephen Williams from ACAS, Sally Brett from the TUC, Gloria Mills from UNISON, Sue Cohen from Single Parent Action Network, Katherine Wilson from Carers UK, Ian Greenaway from MTM Products Ltd., Caroline Waters from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Sachia Thompson from the Ministry of Justice). All participated in collaborative thinking about work-life balance issues in difficult economic times, facilitated by group discussions or world café discussions centred on the topic of the specific seminar and questions raised by presenters. Reframing debates about work-life balance to include issues of social justice The main impact of the series was to reframe debates about work-life balance by highlighting issues of social justice in current socio-economic contexts. Debates on work-life balance workplace policies have increasingly centred around a dual agenda of addressing interdependent employee and employer needs. A major theme of the seminar series was the importance of moving beyond this to address a triple agenda of employee work-life balance, organisational effectiveness and social justice. Social justice in this respect includes, for example, fair treatment of all workers, ensuring workers have adequate income and time for family and community, wider gender justice, support for the most vulnerable workers and families and enabling caregiving, thus contributing to a fairer society. Speakers and other delegates were encouraged to think in these terms. Accordingly, discussions throughout the seminar series were intended to influence policy and practice agendas with potential benefit for employers, employees (especially the most vulnerable) and their families. Outcomes of these discussions, which included suggestions for social policy or workplace practice, were summarised after each seminar and disseminated on the seminar series website. As the series progressed, the triple agenda discourse became increasingly embedded. All authors of the book associated with the series considered the implications of their research for the triple agenda (Lewis, S., Anderson, D., Lyonette, C., Payne, N. and Wood, S. (eds) (2017) Work-Life Balance in times of Recession, Austerity and Beyond. New York: Routledge). Impact via Working Families : "new thinking" on work life balance and pathways to wider impact The partnership with Working Families was highly productive and led to a number of short-term impacts on voluntary sector organizations, contributing to the potential for evolving longer-term impacts on employers and policy makers. An email from Sarah Jackson, the CEO of Working Families on March 1st 2018 summarised this: The impact of austerity on working families continues to be an ongoing concern. This is not a soft issue and has implications for families, workplaces and society. Working Families' partnership in the seminar series contributed to our understanding of the deeper impact and of how we might begin to present to employers the necessity of considering the triple agenda. We have built this into our benchmarking work and its annual report, and we have also worked with Child Poverty Action to produce a report, Britain Works, which we intend to be the beginning of a conversation led by employers. This is important as Working Families works with a large employer membership, has a campaigning arm working with policy-makers and also a helpline supporting vulnerable workers. According to Jonathan Swan (co-investigator) from Working Families, the concept of the triple agenda, which was a central foundation of the seminar series, has influenced the charity in terms of both their thinking and practice. It is seen as "new thinking" in relation to employer support for work and family. While social justice has long informed Working Families' work, they now realise the need to articulate the importance of social justice alongside and in interaction with employer and employee benefits of work-family supports. Consequently, this new thinking now permeates their work and this is evidenced in changes to their practice which provide potential pathways to wider impact. For example: • the Triple Agenda (and the influence of the seminar series) is still promoted to employers on the Working Families website, which includes organisational case studies (see https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/the-social-case/ ). • Working Families also talked to employers about the Triple Agenda at their Autumn conference and introduced questions into their annual work-life balance benchmark for companies, thus promoting the idea that work should deliver an element of social justice. • The benchmark has identified a gap in employer thinking and practice which Working Families are working to address. Generally most employers initially struggle with this new thinking of introducing social justice as a third component of the agenda for work-life balance policies, but case studies help them to think about how this could be implemented in practice. One public sector employer member of Working Families specifically asked for support in sustaining a social justice perspective on work-life balance in the context of public sector cuts and the agile working agenda. • Relatedly, Working Families have also begun to gather data on individual participation in local communities, In their annual survey of working parents, questions were asked about parents' ability to have a fulfilling family life as they would want it, but also asked about whether work encourages or impedes their participation in their local community . The findings will be used to inform future campaigns. • In order to spread the concept of the triple agenda in public discourse, the triple agenda and the seminar series have been raised and discussed by Working Families in numerous informal and formal settings. This has included meetings with employer members, a meeting at the European Institute for Gender Equality and a steering group meeting of a Business in the Community project. Development of partnerships to address work -life balance issues for working families in poverty Another major theme running through the seminar series (and related to the social justice element of the triple agenda) was the need for policy, practice and research to focus more on low income and vulnerable workers. As a direct outcome of the seminar series, Working Families partnered with the Child Poverty Action Group under the umbrella "Britain Works," with a view to creating a wider partnership of organisations and individuals interested in making work effective, in terms of pay and time, for families in poverty. The PI and two other co-investigators participated in the inaugural Roundtable discussion of this initiative. The discussion paper from this group Britain Works, published by Working Families and the Child Poverty Action Group in November 2017 addresses the increasing challenges of work for low income families and makes recommendations for practice to support these families in the current context, which Working Families intends to be the beginning of a conversation led by employers. This group also aims to play a visible role in influencing future government and employer policy in relation to the disconnects between supports for getting into work and the reality of work- especially insecure and unpredictable work. Future research on supporting work-life balance for vulnerable workers This focus on low income workers also needs to be supported by research. Thus the PI and four other investigators from the seminar series are currently working closely with Working Families to develop a collaborative research proposal to take forward some of the key issues raised in the 'Britain Works' discussion paper. This will focus on facilitating discussion between agency, zero hours, gig economy and other low wage workers, and their managers, with the aim of encouraging collaborative thinking about ways of moving forwards to support these workers and their families. Thus the partnership between Working Families and four of the university-based organisers of the series will continue. Summary In summary, the series provided opportunities for a range of stakeholders to jointly shape future agendas for research and practice relating to WLB in recession, austerity and beyond. The short-term impacts of the series include developments in third sector practices, and changing debates and discourses on work-life balance more broadly, to highlight a social justice dimension. Plans are being developed to enable these changes to feed into longer-term impacts on employer practices and on social policies, particularly in relation to the most vulnerable workers. This remans crucial in the context of ongoing austerity and economic uncertainty, including that associated with Brexit. The 2017/2018 narrative impact summary (above) reported developments in a third sector organization's practices, and in changing debates and discourses on work-life balance more broadly to highlight a social justice dimension. These medium-term impacts of the series have been sustained during 2018/2019 in a number of ways outlined below. 1. Continuing to influence practice in the third sector organization Working Families in order to reframe debates about work-life balance to include issues of social justice. The seminar series emphasized the importance of policies and practices to address a triple agenda of enhancing employee work-life balance, while at the same time enhancing organisational effectiveness and contributing to social justice, even in times of austerity. Impact has been achieved via the partnership with Working Families, a voluntary sector organization with a large employer membership, a campaigning arm working with policy-makers and also a helpline supporting vulnerable workers (see 2017/2018 Narrative impact summary above). Evidence includes: a. The Triple Agenda is promoted to employers on the Working Families website, which includes organisational case studies (see https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/the-social-case) and contains links to the seminar series and the edited book based on the series b. The edited book was publicised at launch to working families networks: twitter 7,037 members, facebook 4,150 members and waving not drowning group for parents of disabled children 605 members. c. To reinforce the Triple Agenda message and further encourage a change in the debates and discourses about work life balance Working Families has continued to ask employers about the triple agenda through their benchmarking exercises about flexible working policies and the extent to which the organisation sees these as a way to address social inequality and injustice. In 2018 employers said: 25% no consideration to social justice; 18% low consideration; 25% moderate consideration; 18% high consideration; 14% very high consideration, indicating a slow but positive trend towards considering social equality and justice in relation to flexible working policies. d. Working Families has also continued to developed their employer awards with the creation of new categories that incorporate elements of the Triple Agenda: these are the award for best flexible recruitment programme, looking at how work is structured and offered, and best mental health and wellbeing initiative. Both of these are the result of steering employers into thinking more fundamentally about work and its effects, and how it might be better configured. 2. Development of partnerships to address work-life balance issues for working families in poverty. As reported in the 2017/2018 narrative impact statement, a direct outcome of the seminar series and the triple agenda focusing on social justice, Working Families partnered with the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) under the umbrella "Britain Works," with a view to creating a wider partnership of organisations and individuals interested in making work effective, in terms of pay and time, for families in poverty. Working Families are committed to working with CPAG for the next 3 years on issues around work quality, in particular helping public understanding of the risk of poverty even when in work. It has been agreed that Working Families and CPAG will work to incorporate the Triple Agenda where possible in the upcoming work programme.
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

 
Description Impact on practice of third sector orgnaization Working Families
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Warwick University Institute of Advanced Study Advancing Grants
Amount £1,263 (GBP)
Funding ID IAS/22007/15 
Organisation University of Warwick 
Department Warwick Business School
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2016 
End 07/2017
 
Description Collaboration with Working Families in judging best employers for Working Families 
Organisation Working Families
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution Discussions at the seminars provided insights into criteria and processes involved in evaluating top employers in relation to their supports for working families and realisation of the triple agenda (a theme running through the seminars). The PI of the seminar series was appointed in 2015 to the panel of judges for Working Families' top employer awards and has fed into the process for refining the categories and processes to be judged. See https://www.workingfamilies.org.uk/news/the-top-employers-for-working-families-award-winners-are-unveiled/
Collaborator Contribution Working Families has a range of sponsored awards for which member organizations can apply
Impact Collaboration led to new categories of awards added and the criteria for all awards being refined to include questions on fairness, and equality of access to work life balance policies
Start Year 2015
 
Description University of Warwick 
Organisation University of Warwick
Department School of Life Sciences
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Clare Lyonette has been awarded a grant of £1,262.50 from from the University of Warwick Institute for Advanced Study under their 'Advancing Grants' scheme to initiate a 2-day meeting for 5 members involved in the seminar series to prepare a new research proposal on work-life balance in the public sector during difficult economic times. This proposal will build on this ESRC seminar series and publications resulting from this (i.e. a new 4* journal publication and a book). In this proposal, we aim to include a mixed-methods approach, incorporating both quantitative and qualitative data on flexible working and work-life balance among public sector employees, with an additional focus on under-employment and social class during difficult economic times. The qualitative data would include interviews with both employees and line managers, which would directly complement the research with HR Directors already undertaken by members of the research team and presented during the seminar series. Brexit (and ongoing austerity) has also thrown up a new context from which to explore these issues. The team members have an excellent record in research funding and publications and are considering applications to the ESRC, the Nuffield Foundation or the Leverhulme Trust.
Collaborator Contribution As described above, Clare Lyonette, who is employed by the University of Warwick, has been granted funding from their Institute for Advanced Study under their 'Advancing Grants' to develop a collaboartive research funding proposal on experiences of work-life balance in challenging economic times. Building on the outcomes of the seminar series and the partnerships involved , a research project is being developed to explore the negative as well as positive impacts of "flexibility" at work, in its contemporary forms, focusing on low skilled precarious work and involuntary remote knowldge work
Impact The team is multi-disciplinary, including members from health and organizational psychology, business and sociology.
Start Year 2016
 
Description "Scientific analysis and advice on gender equality in the EU 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact Invited presentation to Thematic seminar "Work-Life Balance: Impacting on Women's Employment" by the PI, Suzan Lewis Brussels on 24 April 2018. This was part of a consultation exercise regarding potential EU Directive on work life balance. The presentation drew on the seminar series and promoted the importance of a triple agenda , including social justice int he debates
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Meet the authors session on work-life balance in times of recession, austerity and beyond 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact Meet the author session to discuss and debate issues from the edited book that followed the seminar series ie Lewis, S., Anderson, D., Lyonette, C., Payne, N and Wood, S (eds) ( 2017) Work-Life Balance in times of Recession, Austerity and Beyond . This took place at the international Community, Work and Family Conference in 2017 in Milan. Approximately 40 participants attended the session . There was a lively discussion of the impact of economic on work-life balance, including social justice issues ,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Practitioner workshop 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact .A number of themes emerged from seminar 6 on Work-­life balance and well being in times of austerity , but the most persistent related to the role of line managers. It was argued that assumptions need to change so that promoting work life balance should be an integral part of a managerial role. This applied during austerity and beyond . Drawing on this theme the Middlesex partners ran a workshop on Contemporary reproduction, work, and working life: Toward an agenda for research and practice , based on their research on this topic. Delegates included HR professionals, voluntary organizations and . A major theme emerging was the need for policy at organizational and governmental levels. Subsequently Nicola Payne was Invited to discuss the research and implications for managers and organizations and possible policy or practice developments with a team at the Government Equalities Office
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Presentation to European Commission 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Presentation ' Can flexibility in the workplace enable men and women to adapt working time to private needs throughout their working lives? to European Commission employees ' at a seminar on 'Towards a New Strategic Framework for Gender Equality'
October 3rd, 2019 , Fondation Universitaire, Brussels .
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
 
Description Seminar 1: What is Work-Life Balance in a Time of Financial Crisis and Austerity? 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Seminar 1 at Middlesex University considered how work-life balance (WLB) is being articulated and treated in times of austerity. Approximately 45 delegates attended. They comprised academics, including PhD students and post docs, and representatives from the ACAS, Department of Work and Pensions, Local Government Association, Ford, Nomura, Wandsworth Council, Sheffield City Council, Health and Safety Laboratory, The Wainwright Trust, Working Families, One Plus One and several independent consultants.
Presentations included WLB policies, practices and discourse and public sector cuts (Suzan Lewis, Middlesex University); Is WLB really family-friendly? (Dalia Ben-Galim, Institute of Public Policy Research); The place of gender equality in current WLB debates (Olga Salido, University of Madrid) and Working-time capabilities during economic austerity across Europe (Colette Fagan, University of Manchester). Discussants were Stephen Williams (ACAS) and Laura Addati (International Labour Organization). Discussions following presentations and breakout groups debated: the relationship between government policy and workplace practices, with a particular focus on issues raised by changes in the right to request flexible working; Individual versus collective or team approaches to WLB and work organisation, and impacts of unpaid care, including by grandparents, on paid work. There was a view that the Right to Request flexible working changes (extending this to all employees) need to be communicated better by Government and employers in order to manage the scaremongering about the changing legislation, flexibility generally among employers. It is important to work on showing how flexibility can be managed to meet the needs of both employees and employers. Although there were different views on whether there should be a limit to flexibility in workplaces, it was suggested that there is less likely to be a limit to flexible working if WLB is regarded as an issue of collective responsibility rather than an individual issue. This may require organisational change and increased team working.

Information about the seminars has been disseminated through a number of user organizations (as well as through our dedicated website http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org/ ). In particular it has stregthened the relationship between the participating universties and the charity Working Families Working Families has disseminated information about the seminar series to both its employer membership network (approximately 100 members) and also to the charity's wider employer and policy lists. These currently cover around 10,000 unique contacts, comprising large and small employers and policy specialists. Working Families has also carried information about each seminar on its website. Working Families also advises clients/members directly and through their helplines about the feasibility of and entitlements to WLB supports during austerity and beyond.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org/
 
Description Seminar 2: Worklife balance, fairness and social justice during recession and austerity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Seminar 2 at the University of Manchester considered work-life balance, fairness and social justice during recession and austerity. It was attended by approximately 50 delegates including academics and students plus practitioners from the TUC, Greater Manchester for Voluntary Organizations, Equality and Human Rights Commission, Better Health, Social Enterprise North West, UCU, NW TUC Equality Forum, HSE Economic & Social Analysis Unit (ESAU) and UNISON.
The seminar considered the following questions; is WLB becoming more difficult for everyone, or is the impact uneven? Are economic pressures reducing employers' willingness to implement WLB initiatives, or making it more difficult to do so? Which national and organizational WLB policies and services are resilient, which are adapting and which are being cut back? How do these developments impact on different groups of workers? Presentations included: recession, work-time and work-life balance: class inequalities in the UK (Tracey Warren, University of Nottingham); recent reforms in WLB policies in France: the ambivalent impact on parents in precarious work arrangements (Jeanne Fagnani, CNRS, Paris); long hours of work as a strategy for care dodging, (Mustafa Ozbilgin, University of Brunel) and austerity measures and access to justice following pregnancy related discrimination (Grace James, University of Reading). Greet Vermeylen (European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, EuroFound), the discussant for the first session, commented on some findings from European work and conditions survey analysis. The final discussant, Jonathan Swan discussed Working Families' wide ranging research and work with employers and employees. Breakout sessions discussed: employer and government policies and practices that could address WLB issues faced by low paid workers and those with precarious jobs; reforms that are needed to eradicate pregnancy discrimination; what workplace policies and innovations might be useful to challenge the 'long hours culture' where it exists and other issues. Key recommendations included raising the minimum wage, strengthening contractual rights, ensuring all women are entitled to maternity leave and enhancing the availability, affordability, flexibility and quality of childcare especially for parents who work unsocial hours. Suggested reforms to eradicate pregnancy discrimination included abolishing tribunal fees, ensuring SME's know they can claim statutory maternity pay from government; raising awareness of pregnancy discrimination, including encouraging a change in public discourse from blame on employees/employers to identifying creative solutions and targeted training for line managers. Recommendations for workplace policies and innovations to challenge the 'long hours culture' where it exists included a combination of changing work patterns (e.g. flexible work, job redesign), and interventions aimed at changing workplace culture and individual behaviour, based on a collectivist approach.

Feedback on the seminar was sought via an evaluation form. More than 80% of the delegates who completed this provided the highest rating to the following questions: information about the seminar was clear, organisation and structure of the seminar was effective, morning sessions were interesting and informative, and break-out groups were thought provoking and well managed. An example additional comment was: "How to engage with employers and discuss solutions to improve work-life balance barriers and opportunities. There was lots of fantastic energy/information/understanding about how this can translate into practice".

We were invited to run a symposium on work-life balance in the recession and beyond at the International Work Family Researchers Network conference in New York. Papers presented in the symposium were based on the seminar papers but were also developed to incorporate issues raised by practitioner delegates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org/
 
Description Seminar 3: Employment relations and workplace initiatives 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Seminar 3, on employment relations and workplace initiatives was held at the University of Warwick. Approximately 35 delegates were from UNISON, TUC, UCU, HSE, Wright Hassall, One plus One and Working Families, plus universities and research centres.
Presentations and discussions considered the role of employment relations and workplace initiatives in seeking solutions to the "triple agenda" of how to enhance employees' Work-Life Balance (WLB), organisational effectiveness and social justice. Three papers were presented, one, by Lucy Stokes (National Institute of Economic and Social Research), providing an overview of new research from the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study (WERS) and two presenting more detailed sectoral research focusing on a) WLB among civil servants (Steve French, Keele University), and b) trade union interventions in WLB, with a specific focus on the grocery and print media sectors (Mike Rigby, London South Bank University). Two discussants, Sally Brett from the TUC and John Purcell, Deputy Chairman of the Central Arbitration Committee and ACAS arbitrator also added to the debate and stimulated a lively discussion within breakout sessions. The group discussions picked up on some of the key issues raised by the seminar speakers and provided examples of HR, line manager and union interventions which could provide a support system for individual employees, at a time when WLB has been slipping down the agenda for employers and is being seen more and more as an issue to be addressed by the individual, rather than by the organisation.

Feedback on the seminar was sought via an evaluation form. More than 80% of the delegates who completed this provided the highest rating to the following questions: information about the seminar was clear, organisation and structure of the seminar was effective, morning sessions were interesting and informative, and break-out groups were thought provoking and well managed. No delegates disagreed with these statements.

Information about the seminars has been disseminated through the British Psychological Society Division of Occupational Psychology work-life balance working group's biennial publication and mailing lists. Consultants and Organizational and Occupational Psychologists who are group members or affiliates will be provided with enhanced knowledge and skills to work directly with employers on WLB and flexible working during austerity and beyond. It has also been disseminated at the Work Family Research Network conference in Bew York in June
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
URL http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org/
 
Description Seminar 4: Caring and work-life balance in austerity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The fourth seminar considered the impact of austerity and recession on caring and work-life balance. Three inter-related papers questioned and analysed caring and work-life balance issues in a time of austerity. Nicole Busby (University of Strathclyde) provided an overview of the UK's Coalition Government's austerity agenda, describing how it has provided justification for labour market deregulation alongside reductions in the welfare budget and cuts to public services which disproportionately affect women with caring responsibilities. The second speaker, Lydia Hayes (Cardiff University) focussed on the Care Act as a statute of austerity and its implications. Particularly for homecare workers, which threaten client care and carers' ability to support their own families - undermining all aspects of the triple agenda. Shereen Hussein (Kings College London) then drew on a longitudinal study of the social care workforce in the UK, noting that many care workers face various work stressors while providing highly emotional care work in their personal lives.
A world café break-out session provided opportunities to discuss practical implications and possible solutions for care and work-life balance. Topic discussed were 1. Carers and Employment: identifying key workplace-based initiatives/ideas that would help carers to balance care commitments with paid work, 2. Social Care: suggestions for improvements to social care which would better facilitate work-life balance for both carers and those requiring care, 3. Individual Care Needs: suggestions for improvements in identifying and meeting the care needs of individuals to enable independent living (i.e. employment opportunities, etc.) and 4. Care Work: how to improve the quality, experience and terms and conditions related to care work. Finally a roundtable discussion, led by practitioners from the CIPD, Single Parent Action Group, Unison, Carers UK plus a professor of economics from the Open University reflected on the seminar and the challenges for those interested in care and WLB in a time of austerity.
More than 80% of the delegates who completed an evaluation form provided the highest rating to the following questions: information about the seminar was clear, organisation and structure of the seminar was effective, morning sessions were interesting and informative, and the world café was thought provoking and well managed. No delegates disagreed with these statements.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org/
 
Description Seminar 5: Innovation in workplaces 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Seminar 5, hosted by EY in London brought together approximately 35 researchers, practitioners and relevant user community representatives (including a number of MDs and HR Directors) to seek solutions to a 'triple agenda': how to enhance employees' work-life balance (WLB), organisational effectiveness and social justice in times of austerity. All the speakers demonstrated how it is possible to change assumptions about how work should be done. In the first talk Hyosun Kim, from Chung Ang University, Korea introduced the approach of Collaborative Interactive Action Research (CIAR) and the dual and triple agendas of gender equity and workplace effectiveness. She described the CIAR process and presented case studies of CIAR projects in hospitals with successful outcomes including changes in working practices to address staff turnover problems which enhanced both employee and patient satisfaction and reduced patient waiting times for patients and optimised patient context. The second speaker Charlotte Gascoigne (a flexible working consultant) challenged assumptions that part time work is not possible or suitable for managerial and professional workers. Based on a study of part time managers she described four stages of development of part time working arrangement by trail blazers which can start to shift workplace cultures. Part time work came to be viewed as a resource issue, not a value exchange. Ways of changing workplace cultures were also discussed by Craig Morris, (Scottish Government) who described current policies and flexible working options as well as ongoing developments in workplace transformation and location neutral initiatives. Finally Ziona Strelitz (ZZAResponsive User Environments) discussed trends in innovative forms of distributed and remote work with potential to meet the dual or triple agenda although more research is needed on such outcomes. The talks were followed by a break out session in which practical implications for employers to meet the triple agenda were discussed. One question addressed how employers can maintain an innovative approach to ensure new working practices meet the needs of all employees. It was felt that property and infrastructure issues were often divorced from the people agenda within organisations. These two aspects need to work much more closely together, and it is probable that HR needs to be able to summon metrics and evidence to match the arguments of property and business services departments. A second question considered how innovations in working practices can address structural social inequalities and support access to social justice, and whether organizations should have this on their agenda. It was felt that a key concept in achieving more social justice is for the idea of neutrality to come to the fore: neutrality in terms of access to flexible working, work location and hours worked. Finally invited discussants (Sarah Jackson, Working Families; Caroline Waters, EHRC/Carers UK; Ian Greenaway, MTM Products; Craig Morris, Scottish Government), drawing upon their own experiences, views and knowledge, offered particular insights on innovative processes for building an organisational culture and working practices that delivered the dual and triple agenda. From a small business perspective, this meant a management approach that took as its default position a positive stance on flexible working. All arrangements were acceptable unless proven to be detrimental. In larger organisations, predicting the needs of a future workforce had determined extensions to flexible and remote working to employees on a large scale. However, in addition to essential HR work there was also a need for sustained cultural work, including engaging employees in their new workplaces and working styles, and understanding that 'hearts and minds' activities were essential.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org/
 
Description Seminar 6: Work-life balance and well-being in recession and austerity 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Seminar 6 hosted at the British Psychological Society at their Tabernacle Street headquarters examined work-life balance and well-being in times of austerity. Delegates were less diverse than other seminars, suggesting that the topic has yet to reach a wider practitioner audience, although delegates included some representatives from unions and charities as well as researchers and consultants. The structure of this seminar differed from the others. There were five presentations. Thorsten Lunau from the University of Duesseldorf, Germany using data from the 2010 European working conditions survey noted great variation by country in terms of time based conflict, related to gender regimes. Rea Prouska from Middlesex University then presented qualitative data on work- life balance and quality of working life in Greece in times of financial crisis. A strong theme was that professionals are not immune to work-life balance problems , reporting working long and unsociable hours, but also feeling unable to provide the level of service needed in the austerity context. Fran McGinnity and Helen Russell from the Economic and Social Research Institute in Dublin presented data on gender, recession and work-life balance from the European Social Survey. Julia Fernando from the Kings Fund then presented internal NHS data on staff well-being, highlighting that funding pressures in the UK national health system will mean at least another five years of austerity. Presenteeism is a prominent feature in the NHS where staff work whilst sick. However, the research shows that good HR practice is key, and is linked to decreased patient mortality. Finally, Emma Donaldson-­Feilder from Affinity Health at Work discussed the importance of supporting line managers to enhance employee well-being and work-life balance, drawing on her practitioner research related to well-being and employee engagement. Emma reinforced the crucial role of supervisor relationships and line manager support for implementation of supportive workplace practices. However, she also raised caveats, as overly transformational leadership may lead to burnout. She argued that managers should not be blamed but need to receive support themselves. To close the day delegates were invited to reflect on what came out of the day's sessions. A number of themes emerged but the most persistent related to the role of the manager. It was argued that assumptions need to change so that promoting WLB should be an integral part of a managerial role. Work design and structure needs to be addressed from the recruitment stage onwards, so that WLB is embedded into all aspects of work.
Feedback on the seminar was generally positive. More than 70% of the delegates who completed an evaluation form provided the highest rating to the following questions: information about the seminar was clear, organisation and structure of the seminar was effective and talks were interesting and informative. There were a range of additional comments such as appreciation for the good use of sticky notes and prompts to think of things learnt/new ideas/questions and many thanks for a useful and enjoyable day
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org/
 
Description Seminar 7: The future of work-life balance in austerity and beyond 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The final seminar at Birkbeck, attended by a diverse group of academics and research students, employers, and representatives from unions, charities and professional organizations, the EHRC, the Ministry of Justice and consultants, revisited the current context and considered future directions. While the context of economic crisis had framed all previous sessions, this seminar began with two papers critically examining what is meant by crisis and some ramifications of current developments at the European level as they affect gender and WLB. Sylvia Walby (Lancaster University) explored ways in which the 'crisis' is restructuring the gender regime in Europe and some implications for work-life balance. Roberta Guerrina (University of Surrey) then expanded on socio-economic challenges to work-life balance in times of crisis in Europe, arguing that the 2008 financial crisis and the associated austerity measures have posed a serious challenge to gender equality objectives. Moving on from the focus on context to consider the impact of post-recession trends on work -life balance, Laura Den Dulk (from Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands) discussed self-employment which has grown and taken on many heterogeneous forms since the economic crisis. The final presentation by Ellen Kossek from Purdue University, USA explored a range of workplace interventions with the potential to meet the triple agenda in the future (building on seminar 5) . Breakout groups in the afternoon discussed some implications for the future in terms of: the social and workplace policies needed to address the triple agenda; ways of ensuring that gender is kept on the agenda in difficult economic times; ways of influencing future change; and what advice might be given to future generations facing economic challenges based on what we have learnt about WLB and the triple agenda from the current context. Finally, invited discussants from the Working Families helpline and Timewise, reflected on the day from the perspectives of vulnerable workers and in terms of the future of working time.
A number of suggestions for future policy developments emerged from the day and included cutting the financial impediments to businesses so that, for example, it costs the same to employ 2 part-time workers as 1 full-time worker and making the right to request a work group, not individual, right, i.e., a collective request - the whole team to have the right to request a joint change to working patterns. This would help to move away from flexibility being positioned as solely an individual matter. Overall recommendations from the day included reframing the social justice and business case with more focus on social justice, which requires a shift in focus from the individual to the organisation. It was argued that social justice should be embedded whether in times of austerity or not. There is a need to change the social conversation and terms of debate to include social justice.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.esrc-work-life-seminars.org/