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Home Sweet Work

THE TIME BIND: When Work Becomes Home & Home Becomes Work.\o7 By Arlie Russell Hochschild\f7 . \o7 Metropolitan Books: 306 pp., $22.50\f7

June 01, 1997|JOANNE B. CIULLA | Joanne B. Ciulla holds the chair in leadership and ethics at the University of Richmond and is finishing a book on the meaning of work

The 20th century began with scientific management and it will end with total quality management, different sides of the same coin. While scientific management routinized the minds and muscles of workers and multiplied productivity, TQM achieves productivity and quality by digging into the very hearts and souls of workers. It's one thing to make people work faster and another to get people to want to spend most of their time at work.

Sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild says TQM did for work what Benjamin Spock did for child rearing. "It presumes that a worker is a capable adult, not a wayward child." To most people, this sounds like progress, until they read Hochschild's new book, "The Time Bind," and discover the dark side of the enlightened workplace.

Hochschild has written some of the best critiques of work in America: "The Managed Heart" explores service work as a form of emotional labor, and "Swing Shift" takes a poignant look at the tensions at home when two parents work. "The Time Bind" is the study of how people balance work and family at a Fortune 500 company that Hochschild renames Amerco, identified as one of the 10 most family-friendly companies by the Family and Work Institute, Working Mother magazine and the organization Companies That Care.

Hochschild studied four two-parent families and two single-parent families for three years and had access to company employees and the company's climate surveys, which management uses to get feedback on the working environment. From these surveys and interviews with employees and their families, Hochschild discovered a paradox. At Amerco, the average employee worked 47 hours per week, and the majority of employees reported that they needed more time with their families. When Amerco offered generous policies designed to give them more time with their families, none of them took advantage of the policies that would have let them cut back on their hours.

In "The Time Bind," Hochschild attempts to unravel this paradox. She begins by eliminating the usual reasons people might not want to work less, one of which is typically financial. Oddly, people who made more money were less interested in cutting back on time than those who made less. Another reason employees might not want to work less is the company's leadership. Workers believed that the chief executive was sincere in his support of family friendly policies. Although some middle managers did not like these policies, others did. Nonetheless, even people who had supportive managers didn't take advantage of the family policies. Employees reported that they were not worried about layoffs, an answer Hochschild accepts early in the book but questions later on. A line from the employee handbook says, "Time spent on the job is an indication of commitment. Work more hours."

The paradox begins to unwind when we read about the families that Hochschild studied. She is an engaging writer, and it doesn't take long for the reader to feel the exhaustion and strain on these families. Linda, a shift supervisor and 38-year-old mother of two, is married to Bill, a technician in the same plant. They both work overtime on opposite shifts. Linda says she usually goes to work early to get away from the house. The workplace is friendlier and more supportive than her home. Hochschild observes that for many people, work has become home and home has become work. As Hochschild mentions, men have always used work as a refuge from unhappy marriages and from wives and children who do not offer the same deference as employees. It's not surprising that women would also use work as an escape, especially when they think they are not appreciated at home.

Not all of the people Hochschild studied were escaping to work. Some were seduced by their own career ambitions; others simply enjoyed either their jobs or their friends at work. Next to work, home life can be boring. Hochschild notes that the home used to be a place that produced entertainment, whereas today it is a place where people consume entertainment.

Other Amerco employees seemed to have created their own circle of hell at home. By working long hours, they have less time to take care of their houses and children. So they respond by instituting rigid time schedules and outsourcing parenting responsibilities to day care and baby-sitters. While their workplace has a feminine and caring feel, their homes become masculine and impersonal. The children protest their parents' efficient time management. They stage sit-down strikes and refuse to go bed after quality time. They riot, produce shoddy work at school and extort toys, treats and exemptions from their parents. It's no fun for parents to go home to a family that behaves like an angry labor union, especially when they are riddled with guilt.

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