Lotte Bailyn wrote Breaking
the Mold: Women, Men, and Time in the New Corporate World in
1993, many of us were working too many hours and seeing too little
of the families we loved. In subsequent years, she’s continued researching
the relationship between managerial practice and employees' lives.
When we spoke in June, she talked of her work, her projects, and
the wonderful ways that personal life can actually improve, not
hinder, work life.
Would you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on?
My colleagues and I have been working with organizations of various
kinds to look at the way they do their work. We look at things like
their work practices, their work structure, the cultural assumptions
surrounding who’s a good worker, and how they evaluate performance.
With them we work to rethink those aspects in such a way that employees
are able to live up to their highest potential in their work, and
are also able to integrate their work with their personal lives.
That is what we call the dual agenda.
We specifically do
not use the term “balance” because it connotes that these two domains
in people’s lives have to be equal; that it’s a balance scale—hence
if one goes up, the other goes down. The underlying premise of our
work is that this need not necessarily be so. We talk about “the
integration of work and personal life” to show that work is also
part of life. The term “work-life” implies that somehow the two
are different, and of course they are not. Work is obviously an
important part of life but shouldn’t be the only part.
We have been fairly
successful in experimentally collaborating with people in work groups
to make changes that serve the dual agenda of both allowing employees
to integrate their work and personal lives better, and more effectively
reach organizational goals. That approach also serves the purpose
of gender equity because the current view of what’s required of
work very much fits men’s lives and characteristics, and has made
it difficult for women to reach the high positions that most organizations
would like them to reach. This way of working also constrains men
because they have to follow a model of the ideal worker who takes
his work as the most important priority and as his identity.
your approach working?
we have had some successes. And loosening those constraints helps
both men and women. Looking at work through the lens of work-personal
life integration allows one to rethink the way that work is being
done, which is not easy because these ways are so ingrained. The
assumptions upon which they are based are taken so for granted that
one doesn’t usually question them.
wonder! This is no easy task.
It sounds easy when you say it, but it is very difficult to do.
think “dual agenda” is a far better choice of words than “balance.”
like it. And, as I said, instead of “work-life balance” or “work-family
balance,” we’ve been using “work-personal life integration.” It
may be an awkward phrase, but we’ve never quite found a way to say
it that encompasses all these ideas, mainly that the two go together,
and that they are not adversarial, and that changes can meet both
goals. It doesn’t have to be either/or.
are things, though, we must learn to do differently to be able to
succeed... just to be able to relish that time in either area or
both areas. What specific things have you learned that we all could
are things that have to be learned in both domains. In the domain
of paid employment, we must learn to rethink the way that work is
usually done, and the sort of definitions or assumptions upon which
it’s based. For example, one often assumes the best worker is the
one who’s always there, always available, and who spends long hours
at work. But, as we know personally and from research, when there’s
fatigue, there’s burnout and stress. There are costs to working
too much, but there is a deep belief that that’s how to define the
Another assumption deals with the whole notion of time: the more
time you put in, the better the work that comes out. We know that’s
not true. The interesting example of the moment is in the medical
field, where life-threatening mistakes come from people who are
overworked or who work too long.
Learning has to be done in the work domain that deals with understanding
the underlying assumptions, which often tend to be assumptions based
on a different model of the world than we are in now.
Perhaps men could
work all the time when women were at home supporting them and taking
care of the personal side of life, but that’s not the world we are
in now. Those underlying assumptions still define the routine, the
work practices, and the way we evaluate performance. We have to
learn about these types of assumptions and bring them to the surface
so we can look at them, challenge them, and rethink how they affect
the way we work. This would allow us to consider alternatives. We
need to find ways of working that don’t take all this time and complete
commitment, because one sees the negative consequences of that for
the work itself.
In the personal sphere,
learning has to be done around valuing the activities one does in
communities and in families—activities that can provide self-esteem,
satisfaction, and joy. But instead of learning from them, we’ve
gotten to the situation where we feel these activities prevent career
success. Which is too bad, because we have so much to learn from
caring for other people and doing cooperative, collaborative work.
isn’t that what we hear business wants people to do?
but their work cultures aren’t set up to take advantage of these
kinds of activities or to learn from the personal and private world.
Putting up this barrier of separation, that the two will never meet,
may be one of the reasons why organizations are having such trouble
getting to true collaboration and cooperation.
I’ve often wondered how organizations that ask their employees to
have great passion for their work and to be evangelists for the
messages of the organization, can also ask those same employees
not to bring their emotions and feelings to work, which has been
the tacit request for years.
right. If you think of integration instead of this notion of separation
of spheres, your emotions will be there. Businesses can’t expect
you to bring all your passion to the work if they don’t, at the
same time, legitimize and value your passion for your personal life
and the activities that you do there, including the care of family,
the care of communities, and the care for oneself.
think that leads to the overarching question, which is what do we,
as employees, need to learn?
have to learn to do things differently. We have to let people experience
a different way of working and a different way of interacting and
giving. Naming those new ways and recognizing them is a huge learning
experience. It’s scary to think of doing things differently, allowing
emotions to surface, and bringing your personal world into the public
world. That's why we begin with trial attempts.
sounds like they then learn from experience.
it sounds like it helps them also make changes and modifications.
If you say, “Let’s just try it for six weeks,” it somehow allows
that experience to occur. If you were to say, “We’re going to change
forever, from tomorrow on,” it probably wouldn’t work.
to small steps. Thank you.
Bailyn is T Wilson (Class of 1953) Professor of Management and Behavioral
Policy Science (BPS) at MIT Sloan where she studies the relationship
between managerial practice and employees' lives. She is author
the Mold: Women, Men, and Time in the New Corporate World and
with her research team the upcoming Beyond Work-Family Balance.
Learn more about her on the MIT
Sloan Website .
Marcia Conner is Editor in Chief of LiNE Zine and
CEO of Learnativity.com. She’s in the process
of finishing a book on how learning influences life. Write her at
(c) 2000-2004 LiNE Zine (www.linezine.com)
Zine retains the copyright in all of the material on these web pages
as a collective work under copyright laws. You may not republish,
redistribute or exploit in any manner any material from these pages
without the express consent of LiNE Zine and the author. Contact
for reprints and permissions. You may, however, download or print
copyrighted material for your individual and non-commercial use