Absences and Silences In the Production of Work-Life Balance Policies In Canada

Michelle Brady’s “Absences and Silences in the Production of Work-Life Balance Policies in Canada” focuses on developments in Work-Life Balance policy in Canada since the 1990s by engaging with the discursive shift in federal documents away from
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     ABSENCES AND SILENCES IN THE PRODUCTION OF WORK  - LIFE BALANCE POLICIES IN CANADA Michelle Brady I ntroduction  At first glance, Work-Life Balance policies seem progres-sive, perhaps even radical. They appear to challenge the harsh employment policies of the current era in the name of a more human element. In this article, I challenge this interpretation through an analysis of the “ensemble of discursive and nondiscursive practices” that have constituted Work-Life Balance as an object of thought and as a problem that can be acted upon. 1 In particular, I focus upon the way in which the problematic of WLB is constituted within current policy discourses emanating from the Canadian federal government and demonstrate that this problematic is inherently narrow and conservative. The current Work-Life Balance problematic and the federal policies that form part of it were developed under the previous Chrétien/ Martin Liberal government and include the dissemination of information on “best practice” HR policies and success stories, as well as limited income support programs. This article critically examines this problematization from the perspective of the poststructuralist postulate that there is no reality that preexists how it is constituted in language. Thus, state policies are not simply responses to self-evident needs or issues; rather, they constitute, administer, and produce them. 2 This perspective suggests that policy responses establish what constitutes valid political claims and  who can legitimately make them. 3  As the case for this perspective has been cogently presented elsewhere, the purpose of this article is not to repeat these arguments but to utilize such insights to grasp how the problem of  work-life imbalance has been constituted within Canada. 4 Studies in Political Economy 81 SPRING 2008 99    Studies in Political Economy The discourse and problematization of Work-Life Balance is peculiar to the liberal welfare states 5 of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, which historically have been reluctant to subsidize many of the costs of social reproduction. 6 The judisdictional particularity of this problemati-zation is also recognized within official Canadian policy documents, such as the recent Human Resources and Skills Development Canada report 7 by Sheri Todd, which states that the European (corporatist/conservative and social democratic) 8  welfare states do not endorse “Work-Life Balance as an explicit policy goal,” although in many cases their legislation, programs, and policies have the same goals as liberal welfare states’ Work-Life Balance policies. 9 This report notes that Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden have developed “a broad range of legislative and other measures to support the same goals [of Work-Life Balance] without promoting Work-Life Balance to the same degree.” 10 This article diverges from Todd’s implicit assumption that Canada’s Work-Life Balance policies (and those of other liberal welfare states) have responded to some preexisting problem of imbalance, while European welfare states have responded to preexisting problems of “gender gaps in the labour market.” 11 It argues that Work-Life Balance is a specific problematic in which interactions and conflicts between time spent on unpaid  work within the home, paid work within the formal labour market, personal care, volunteer activities, and personal interests are produced as a problem of unbalanced lives. According to the problematic of Work-Life Balance, this imbalance within individual lives is a concern because it has negative effects on relationships with partners and children, is associated with increased absenteeism, and has detrimental effects on individuals’ health. While this article presents a case study on Canada rather than a comparative analysis of different jurisdictions, it is important to note that the problematizations that constitute the policy initiatives in European welfare states (save in the United Kingdom) are rather different. For example, as Todd recognizes later in her report, “active support for gender equality in paid and unpaid work is empha-sized” in European welfare states, 12  whereas it is not within the Work-Life Balance initiatives of liberal welfare states. Canadian Work-Life Balance policy has centred on three areas: first, research into work-life conflict and the policy responses of other countries; 100     Brady /  WORK  - LIFE BALANCE second, disseminating information on “productive HR management practices” and “best case examples of workplace programs”; and finally, new income support benefits for those caring for terminally ill family members, along with extensions to existing benefits for parents of newborns (including adopted children). 13 In section one, I present the results of a detailed textual analysis of Canadian government documents and illustrate that the problematic of  Work-Life Balance, which is linked to state institutional practices, consti-tutes individuals’ “imbalanced lives” as the object that must be acted upon and reformed. I further demonstrate that this object is constituted as entirely divorced from the historical and contemporary gendered division of paid and unpaid work. 14 By constituting imbalanced lives as the core problem, Work-Life Balance naturalizes policy approaches in which the solution ultimately lies with individuals, their families, and their individual employers. This detailed elucidation of Work-Life Balance and its connection to current federal government programs provides the necessary background for section two, which examines the key absences and silences within Work-Life Balance. These include a total disregard for the suggestion that unpaid caring and housekeeping are actually work. Within Work-Life Balance, any activity outside of the public workplace is defined as life and distinguished from paid work. Furthermore, the article argues that Work-Life Balance policies ignore the existing unequal distribution of unpaid work between men and women; at the same time, these policies ultimately depend upon and serve to reinforce such inequalities. In the conclusion, I argue that challenges to current Work-Life Balance policies must also challenge the problematic of life and imbalance. I suggest an alternative problematization centred on  work and fairness.  Work-Family Balance and the Emergence of Work-Life Balance The problematization of Work-Life Balance emerged from criticisms of Work-Family Balance or Work-Family Challenge that circulated in the 1990s. In early 1999, the Canadian federal government published two major reports that addressed the time spent in paid work, unpaid work, and leisure activ-ities, using the discourse of Work-Life Balance. These reports are Work, 101    Studies in Political Economy Family and Community: Key Issues and Directions for Future Research and Health Implications of the Work-Family Challenge: A Literature Review of Canadian Research  . From late 1999 onward, the federal government released a number of reports that explicitly argued that the discourse of Work-Family Balance was too narrow and argued for a new discourse of Work-Life Balance.  While the discourse of the latter was presented and promoted as a superior replacement to the former, the new problematization did not replace the older one entirely. Work-Family Balance continues to exist as a subordinate discourse attached to particular policies, while Work-Life Balance is now dominant.  While there are certain continuities between these two problematiza-tions, they are dissimilar in the attention they devote to the gendered division of labour. At the heart of Work-Family Balance is the assumption that policies are needed to resolve conflicts that have arisen in the relationship between unpaid work and paid work, and that these problems have a gendered dimension. 15 In contrast, the problematization of Work-Life Balance has explicitly attempted to distance itself from any focus on the relationship between paid and unpaid work and the gendered dimension of this relationship. I will establish these differences by comparing two major reports on Work-Family Balance produced in early 1999 with the “Work-Life Balance in Canadian Workplaces” website (2005) and five major reports on Work-Life Balance produced from mid-1999 to 2005.  A 1999 Work-Family Balance report produced for Health Canada clearly establishes that the problem that needs to be addressed is difficulties in balancing paid and unpaid work. It argues that “the ‘work and family challenge’ is a key issue facing Canadians as we enter the next century” because changes in modern economies, the family, and the role of govern-ments “have had an enormous impact on family life” and because “it is important to consider the extent to which stress and health outcomes are related to parents’ employment and to unpaid work obligations, such as housework and care for dependants.” 16 In contrast, the first official Canadian report to use the term “Work-Life,”  An Examination of the Implications and Costs of Work-Life Balance Conflict in Canada  , referred to unpaid work oblig- 102   Brady /  WORK  - LIFE BALANCE ations as “non-work roles” and this terminology was also used in subsequent  work-life reports. 17  Work-Family Balance reports also explicitly made the case that imbalance has a gendered dimension. For example, in the opening paragraph of the 1999 WFB report, the authors argue that “both men and  women are vulnerable to the impact of work and family conflict, although  women experience more role overload, more interference from work to family and more interference from family to work.” 18 In contrast, the opening paragraph of the first Canadian report on Work-Life Balance states that “many workers, both men and women, now face dual roles as employees and caregivers.” 19 The implication is that work-life imbalance does not differentially affect men and women. While the Canadian problematiza-tion of Work-Family Balance has never been strongly concerned with promoting gender equality in the labour market or in the household division of labour —in contrast to, for example, the European Union employment strategy agenda — as the quotes above illustrate, it does contain a limited recognition that the current structure of paid work can conflict with the  work of raising children and that the results of this conflict are dispropor-tionately borne by women within the heterosexual family. In contrast, as I  will illustrate in greater detail below, the problematization of Work-Life Balance produces the policy problem as essentially gender neutral and only tangentially related to problems of social reproduction and gender relations. The move from the nomenclature of Work-Family Balance to Work-Life Balance has been actively promoted by the federal government as progres-sive and more inclusive. Its Work-Life Balance in Canadian Workplaces  website argues that the issue of Work-Life Balance is subsumed under the broader issue of Work-Life Balance. Work-Life Balance is more inclusive, since “not everybody has family responsibilities, so work-family balance can be less relevant to them,” 20 and because:  You can have work-family balance — where the kids are taken care of, parents are taken care of, and everything’s under control — but you have nothing left for yourself, nothing left for your community, nothing left for your own personal growth and development, rest and relaxation. So it is possible to have  work-family balance and still need to achieve Work-Life balance. 21 103

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Mar 10, 2018
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