Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

Arlie Hochschild ( 1940-) teaches sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. Her academic work has attracted respectful notice from media commentators because of her thoughtful attention to the emotional and domestic consequences of the changing economic world. Two of Hochschild's earlier books--The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling ( 1983) and The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home ( 1989)--were mentioned as notable books by the New York Times. The selection below is from The Time Bind: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work ( 1997), based on Hochschild's study of the effects of the family-friendly worktime policies of a Fortune 500 corporation to which she gave the fictitious name Amerco.


Working Women in the Time Bind

Arlie Hochschild ( 1997)

Amerco, a highly profitable, innovative company, had the budget and the will to experiment with new ways to organize its employees' lives. Its Work-Life Balance program could have become a model, demonstrating to other corporations that workforce talents can be used effectively without wearing down workers and their families. But that did not happen. The question I have asked is: Why not? The answer, as we have seen, is complex. Some working parents, especially on the factory floor, were disinclined to work shorter hours because they needed the money or feared losing their jobs. Though not yet an issue at Amerco, in some companies workers may also fear that "good" shorter-hour jobs could at any moment be converted into "bad" ones, stripped of benefits or job security. Even when such worries were absent, pressure from peers or supervisors to be a "serious player" could cancel out any desire to cut back on work hours. The small number of employees who resolved to actually reduce their hours risked coming up against a company Balashev. But all these sources of inhibition did not fully account for the lack of resistance Amerco's working parents showed to the encroachments of work time on family life.

Much of the solution to the puzzle of work-family balance appeared to be present at Amerco--the pieces were there, but they remained unassembled. Many of those pieces lay in the hands of the powerful men at the top of the company hierarchy, who had the authority and skill to engineer a new family-friendly work culture but lacked any deep interest in doing so. Other pieces were held by the advocates of family-friendly policies lower down the corporate ladder, who had a strong interest in such changes but little authority to implement them. And the departmental supervisors and managers, whose assent was crucial to solving the puzzle, were sometimes overtly hostile to anything that smacked of work-family balance. So even if the workers who could have benefited from such programs had demanded them, resistance from above would still have stymied their efforts.

But why weren't Amerco working parents putting up a bigger fight for family time, given the fact that most said they needed more? Many of them may have been responding to a powerful process that is devaluing what was once the essence of

____________________
Excerpt from The Time Bind. When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work ( New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1997), pp. 197-199, 214-216, 229-230, 232-233, 257-259. Copyright © 1997 by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Reprinted by permission of Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

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