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Work-life ‘balance’, recession and the gendered limits to learning and innovation (or, why it pays employers to care)

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Al JamesORCiD


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The everyday challenges faced by workers ‘struggling to juggle’ competing commitments of paid work, home and family remain stubbornly persistent and highly gendered. Reinforcing these problems, many employers regard work–life balance (WLB) provision as too costly. In response, this paper explores the learning and innovation advantages that can result from WLB provision in knowledge-intensive firms, as part of a WLB ‘mutual gains’ research agenda. These synergies are explored through a case study of IT workers and firms in two high-tech regional economies — Dublin, Ireland and Cambridge, UK — prior to (2006–8) and subsequent to (2010) the economic downturn. The results suggest that by making available the kinds of WLB arrangements identified by workers as offering meaningful reductions in gendered work–life conflicts, employers can also enhance the learning and innovation processes within and between firms, which are widely recognized as fundamental for firms' long-term sustainable competitive advantage.

Publication metadata

Author(s): James A

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Gender, Work and Organization

Year: 2014

Volume: 21

Issue: 3

Pages: 273-294

Print publication date: 01/05/2014

Online publication date: 13/12/2013

Acceptance date: 25/09/2013

ISSN (print): 0968-6673

ISSN (electronic): 1468-0432

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12037

Notes: Paper nominated for 2015 Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research


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