Public sector austerity cuts in the UK and the changing discourse of work-life balance

Lewis, Suzan ORCID logoORCID:, Anderson, Deirdre, Lyonette, Clare, Payne, Nicola ORCID logoORCID: and Wood, Stephen (2017) Public sector austerity cuts in the UK and the changing discourse of work-life balance. Work, Employment and Society, 31 (4) . pp. 586-704. ISSN 0950-0170 [Article] (doi:10.1177/0950017016638994)

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The relative importance of economic and other motives for employers to provide support for work- life balance (WLB) is debated within different literatures. However, discourses of WLB can be sensitive to changing economic contexts. This article draws on in-depth interviews with senior HR professionals in British public sector organisations to examine shifting discourses of WLB in an austerity context. Three main discourses were identified: WLB practices as organisationally embedded amid financial pressures, WLB practices as a strategy for managing financial pressures and WLB as a personal responsibility. Despite a discourse of mutual benefits to employee and employer underpinning all three discourses, there is a distinct shift towards greater emphasis on economic rather than institutional interests of employers during austerity, accompanied by discursive processes of fixing, stretching, shrinking and bending understandings of WLB. The reconstructed meaning of WLB raises concerns about its continued relevance to its original espoused purpose.

Item Type: Article
Keywords (uncontrolled): austerity, discourse, flexible working, human resource management, work-life balance
Research Areas: A. > Business School
Item ID: 18968
Notes on copyright: Published version: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License ( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access page (

Accepted manuscript Version:: Lewis, S., Anderson, D., Lyonette, C., Payne, N., Wood, S., Public sector austerity cuts in Britain and the changing discourse of work–life balance, Work, employment and society, Vol 31(4), pp. 586 - 704. Copyright © 2016 (The Author(s)). Reprinted by permission of SAGE Publications.
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Depositing User: Nicola Payne
Date Deposited: 04 Mar 2016 12:04
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 20:43

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