Too much of one and less of the other: graduates' conceptualizations and expectations of work-life balance

Chatrakul Na Ayudhya, Uracha (2009) Too much of one and less of the other: graduates' conceptualizations and expectations of work-life balance. PhD thesis, Manchester Metropolitan University. [Thesis]

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What does ‘work-life balance’ (WLB) mean to today’s generation of university graduates and what support do they expect?

This thesis examines the relationship between these young people’s conceptualizations of the WLB discourse and their expectations of employer and government WLB support.
In recent times, the topic of WLB has gained wide academic and public attention. However, an emergent critical perspective signifies the problematic nature of the WLB discourse (e.g. Lewis, Gambles, & Rapoport, 2007). Furthermore, much of the work-life literature tends to focus on workers who have caring and/or other family responsibilities, thereby confining our understanding of WLB experiences to a particular demographic cohort. Accordingly, this study focuses explicitly on the WLB perspectives and expectations of young British and Asian people who are in transition from university to work and employment. By including young Asian people’s viewpoints, this study provides insight into how young people from this region talk about and conceptualize the WLB discourse. More specifically, the research examines the variability in the ways in which these young people from Western and Eastern contexts make sense of the WLB discourse in the here-and-now Britain as they and their personal, social, and cultural contexts undergo transformation.

Thematic analysis was employed on qualitative data obtained from semi-structured interviews and focus groups conducted with 30 women and men from the UK, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand, all of whom are studying in the UK. Drawing on an integrated theoretical framework of life course theory (Giele & Elder, 1998) and the sense of entitlement concept (Lewis & Smithson, 2001), the analysis suggests that the notion of ‘individual choice’ strongly underpins these young people’s conceptualizations and expectations of the WLB discourse. While most participants largely consider WLB as a matter of individual choice, there are also variations in preferences for how to prioritize their impending employment and personal lives, illustrated in a proposed typology of four emerging WLB orientation preference patterns of ‘balancer’, ‘careerist’, ‘career-sacrificer’, and ‘integrator’.
Findings also indicate that the notion of individual choice impacts on the participants’ expectations of employer and government WLB support, where the majority have a low sense of entitlement to such support. Although most participants demonstrate an awareness of the ‘business case’ for employers to adopt WLB initiatives, many question their effectiveness. Instead, there appears to be a stronger sense of entitlement to individual choice. In terms of government WLB support, young people feel disconnected to what the government can do for them. The findings reveal that social comparisons are made among these young British and Asian people at both personal and national levels, which in turn shape perceptions of what kind of external WLB support is feasible, normative, and appropriate for them to expect.Overall, the findings indicate that while individual choice is fundamental in the young people’s conceptualizations and expectations of WLB, the choices that they have are inextricably interlinked with their life course contexts and structural and cultural realities.

The thesis highlights the importance of contextualizing meanings and expectations of the WLB discourse in the timing of these young people’s lives as well as their multiple contexts (structural, national, and cultural). It contributes theoretically to the field of work-life research by proposing and developing an integrated theoretical framework of life course theory and sense of entitlement to examine the various ways in which WLB is conceptualized and expectations of external WLB support are formed. Finally, the thesis discusses the theoretical and applied implications of the findings for understanding the diverse WLB expectations of today’s generation of young workers and considers future avenues for research.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Research Areas: A. > Business School > Leadership, Work and Organisations
Item ID: 15555
Notes on copyright: Access to full text restricted pending copyright check.
Depositing User: Dr Uracha Chatrakul Na Ayudhya
Date Deposited: 29 Apr 2015 16:01
Last Modified: 30 Nov 2022 01:31

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