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Striking a balance: Work, family, life

American book review, October 2007

Deloitte, Diversity, Websites resourcesRobert Drago's book explores the gaps in the American social fabric which are leading so many Americans to an imbalanced life. In an analysis of work and what balance means, Drago asserts a balanced life as including components of paid and unpaid work and leisure and that imbalance occurs when we are missing one of these elements (p35). Including paid work as part of a balanced life may seem surprising, but research outlined in the book suggests that a balanced life includes components of all three aspects of work and leisure.

Throughout the book, Drago draws on research from a range of academic disciplines, including his own findings, and asks the reader to examine deeply held beliefs about work, womanhood, and society and how these beliefs affect the way we live and subsequently our work-life balance. He concludes by discussing solutions for change and how we can address the challenges he has laid out.

In essence Drago identifies analyses three core gaps which are fuelling this imbalance, namely (i) the care gap; (ii) the gender gap; and (iii) the income gap, and then provides solutions to bridge the gaps. These solutions centre on inclusion and economic support.

5.1 The gaps

The gaps identified by Drago are:

  1. The care gap - people who are receiving either no care or substandard care, whether they be children, the elderly or those with disabilities, are falling into a care gap which is the key cause of imbalance for millions of adults who strive to fill it. Drago outlines the size of the care gap in the US and one solution: "shared care" the notion that when men and women equally share in care and limit paid work, the care gap can be alleviated
  2. The new gender gap - the increasing distance between those women who succeed in professional careers and those who engage in care work for little or no pay. This gap has an economic component: the pay gap between mothers and non-mothers has risen in recent decades. Women who seek workplace success often delay childbirth and limit the number of children they have and once they have children, they have to order their lives strictly and make a show of prioritising work. Meanwhile the norm of women as carers persists and women in this category often work without pay, or provide paid care at low wages for others
  3. The income gap - economic and social changes since the 1970s have resulted in an increasing gap between rich and poor, and rich becoming richer while poor become poorer. This has caused imbalance for high-end workers who have little time for leisure, and for low-end workers who lack resources for leisure.

Working through these gaps are three destructive norms of behaviour which are then discussed in relation to each area. These are the motherhood norm (women as carers as mothers), the ideal work norm (how we view the ideal worker in terms of commitment and associated reward) and the individualism norm (that the government should look after the needy).

5.2 Solutions

In discussing solutions to a balanced life for all, Drago stresses the need to view work as paid and unpaid, and to enhance the value of care for family and community. Through looking at balance as a mixture of paid and unpaid work, and leisure, we can also value leisure for all. The norms of inclusion and economic support are described as two approaches to a balanced life for all. Economic supports are discussed and include paid family leave, early childhood education and child care financing, guaranteed health insurance and a minimum wage to lift people out of poverty.

Inclusion describes settings where differences are not papered over but rather expressed, thought is put into how to effectively confront difference, and actions are taken accordingly (p123). Inclusive processes involve: (i) workgroups in the redesign of tasks and implementation of flexible work practices; (ii) workplace constituencies, employees, managers, unions in the redesign of benefits programmes and career paths; and (iii) community organisations, care providers, workplaces and government to better allocate resources and coordinate paid work and care.

5.3 Conclusion

In conclusion, Drago identifies two challenges that need to be undertaken in an effort to find balance. The first is for us to become more active and involved in changing public policy to ensure economic foundations of balance are available to all. The second is to give people the tools to create balance through inclusive environments, through opportunities for voices of employees, family, community and citizens to be heard.

For more information, Drago, R. (2007) 'Striking a balance: work, family, life Dollars and Sense: Boston': Striking a Balance.

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