'You don't get sick of your colleagues" - Workplace and work content in the strategies of work-family conciliation
DIES - Innovazione e società Università di Roma "La Sapienza" Italy,
DISPO- Dipartimento di Scienza Politica e Sociologia Università degli studi di Firenze Florence, Italy
The 1980s and the 1990s have been recorded in social science literature as a period of unparalleled change in the work organization and the workplace. Leaner structures with more flexible work and empowered employees have been at the centre of the new imagery. As the century closed, extra attention has been focused on the direction of change in the "negative" side of flexibility, with long work hours and the overstressing workplace environment, mainly in connection to work-life balance.
The paper aims at offering a critical reflection on the range of everyday life practices couples adopt to cope with their job requirements and parenting activities. It illustrates the findings of a qualitative research based on 120 interviews of parenting workers, selected among dual and one and half earner couples in 7 European countries (Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Italy Poland, Portugal and UK). Cross-national in scope, qualitative in perspective - with in-depth and interpretative investigation - the research adopts a life-cycle approach.
The paper considers the question: how the quality and time, the type and content and the organizational scenario of work interact with parents "daily capabilities to care for their private and children lives". The structural and institutional asset within which workplaces and work contents are developed, even if unquestionably crucial, can not account for the whole set of couples and individual strategies of combining work and family realms. Motivations and orientations, but especially capabilities and adaptations of the actors involved - such as informal arrangements, solidarity among coworkers, employers-employees relationships - are investigated as key factors. Such an emphasis is even more important given the broader aim of understanding relationships between work and family where boundaries are complexly built and re-built according to the changing needs of both sides. I further maintain that the inter-relationships between flexible work and work-life balance vary according to educational credentials and social backgrounds because of the influence these latter have on the capabilities to shape strategies and adaptations to the changing requirements of work organizations.